Biographical noteRichard Dawkins was born in 1941 in Nairobi, Kenya. He spent his childhood in Malawi, where his father, a lover of the natural sciences, was a British colonial civil servant involved in agriculture. When Dawkins was eight, the family returned to England. He admits that he believed in god until he was 16 when he realized that the theory of evolution explained life in purely material terms. He studied zoology at Oxford, was tutored by Professor Nikolaas Tinbergen, and graduated in 1962. His professional career developed mainly through academia, but with a brief pause in studies at the end of the sixties, when he taught at Berkeley. He was married three times and has a daughter from his second marriage. “The Selfish Gene” and “The God Delusion” are his two best-known books. Dawkins is an zoology ethologist and evolutionary biologist. From 1995 – 2008 he was a professor endowed with the first appointment as chair of the Simonyi Professorship for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford. “The Selfish Gene” popularizes the concept of George C. Williams in which the central object of evolutionary studies should focus on genes rather than species or individuals. In 1982, he put forth the powerful concept that the effects of the gene phenotype are not limited to the body of an individual animal but extended to its environment, including the bodies of other organisms. This principle was comprehensively illustrated in his 300-page book “The Extended Phenotype”. Professor Richard Dawkins is an atheist, vice president of the British Humanist Association, and supporter of the Brights Movement. In 2006 he published “The God Delusion”, in which he argued that god almost certainly does not exist. Over two-million copies of the book have been sold in English and the work has also been translated into 31 languages. Dawkins supports The Great Ape Project, which aims to grant basic legal rights to all great apes, namely gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos.
Subjective Viewpoint: A Candidate for the Nobel Prize
- What object does evolution act upon? An individual in a species, an entire species or just the genes? Who are the real players? Dawkins argues persuasively in favour of the George Williams’ concept that genes are the protagonists. It’s a kind of Copernican Revolution within the theory of evolution.
- We are machines, gene vehicles, the product of millions of years of evolution – nothing more. Sci-fi movies exploit the theme of man’s encounter with robots, portraying them as unable to feel, cry; lacking a certain “something”– a soul. However, real human encounters with robots reveal that man himself is also a complex machine. There’s no place for tears.
- Although the Dawkinian concept of the extended phenotype may reveal unexpected truths, he hasn’t proposed a pivotal theory in the same league as that of Darwin, nor has he been inscribed in the annals of history like geneticist James Watson. But in the field of disseminating scientific knowledge, Dawkins occupies first place. His lectures for children, Growing Up in the Universe, explaining evolutionary biology (one of The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures) recorded in 1991 at Oxford, will go down in history as one of the most exceptional events both in teaching and science. He deserves the Nobel Prize in literature for his literary contribution to the understanding of evolution, science, and the world in which we live.
- What can we say to seemingly brilliant critics like Terry Eagleton? Eagleton is like a ballerina: the rhetoric of Shakespeare and the mind of a teenager. A hot checkout girl with a cute little smile and shapely legs, inept at calculations and who makes lots of mistakes at the till, can still quite aptly propagate her genes. Eagleton’s genes and memes are in trouble. The Lord and Karl Marx won’t help them in the long run.
- Thanks to Dawkins, I was introduced to John Maynard Smith. He was perhaps the first to harness the power of mathematics to calculate the effects of evolutionary games. The simplest example is this. Consider two diverse behavioral types: “the dove” and “the hawk”. Which of these two types is most likely to become dominant in a single species of bird? After a long period of time, what will the group look like? Will the “doves” or “hawks” win? The answer is surprising. An evolutionarily stable group will be composed of approximately 60% aggressive birds and 40% peaceful ones. A far reaching conclusion: a society composed exclusively of pacifists, or one entirely comprised of aggressors, has no chance of survival. It’s essential to maintain a balance between aggression and peace. Dawkins argues in favour of another interpretation of Smith’s findings. That it’s one thing to describe the world, but quite another to administer it. On the other hand, what would cities look like in a society that ignores gravity?
- A man without genes doesn’t exist whereas genes without humans get along quite nicely. This is yet another reminder to ourselves – we aren’t a privileged life form, not “God’s handiwork”, but a hominid species who managed to cope with certain circumstance, and thereby survive, a little better than Neanderthals.
- Discussions with believers don’t make sense. It’s better to work creatively in the advancement of truth than deluding oneself that believers will stop thinking there’s some kind of parallel between having faith and scientific evidence-based atheism. The argument is always the same, “I believe in God and you believe he doesn’t exist.” What can we say to someone who phrases things this way? Nothing. Delete them from our mailing list. But what if that someone is our father or our son? Well, both Oedipus and Jesus had even more serious problems with their fathers.
- Someone’s critique may be: “Uh, his ideas are weak, not new at all. He’s only proved that he’s proved nothing.” And, there are men who in a front of a beautiful, voluptuous, naked women will only mutter: “Uh... nothing special. Just tits.”
- “The God Delusion” invokes the image of Islamic women muffled in burqas and niqabs, clear signs of slavery, suppression of personality and beauty. Burqas symbolize religions that impose their narrow vision of the world through a slit. The Vatican, Mecca and Jerusalem will soon become museums. What new darkness could clarity discover if only she could reign?
- If I’d been born in France, Denmark or the Czech Republic I mightn’t experience the “calling to account” with the Lord so dramatically. Emigrating from my land of birth was an expression of fatigue; being tired of the impossible dialogue with someone who ignores reason – with Catholicism. St. Thomas Aquinas said: “That the saints may enjoy their beatitude and the grace of God more abundantly they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell.” Let’s ponder eternal punishment. Dawkins’ comment on Aquinas: “A friendly guy, right?”
- Pirsig, quoted by Dawkins: “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called a Religion.” What’s the name we give to people who succumbed to a permanent collective hallucination? How do we define a nation that defines itself as Catholic, for instance? Am I still Polish? I’m Polish for two trivial senses: I have a Polish passport and citizenship. I inherited them by being born in Poland, though not my choice. It’s a label assigned to me by outside forces. And Polish is my first language. But there are other meanings to being Polish. People are categorized by being assigned national or racial roots. Science makes it clear that they’re delusions. The nationality label may also be imbued with a certain sense of collective spirituality. The scientific answer is the same – there are no mystical energies or collective spirits. Being Polish can also mean consciously identifying oneself as a member of the group that call themselves Polish people. But what do I have in common with a group identifying itself as Catholic? With a group that rejects drugs? With a group that rejects reason? Nothing. Hands and legs maybe. To be an atheist is to be non-Polish.
- Dawkins, after the attack on the WTC: “Let’s stop being so damned respectful.” There’s no excuse, neither hypocrisy nor the struggle for power are reasons for lenient treatment toward religion. Religious stupidity and crimes don’t become less stupid or less criminal for being religious.
- The thing that impresses me most about Dawkins is his passion and joy at the discovery of truth and that he’s able to infect others like no one. These expressions of my admiration for Dawkins reflect my longing for that youthful joy of discovering the laws of nature.
- What would I ask Dawkins if we met? Unfortunately, I agree with him and that precludes heated debate. I’d prefer to listen to him, and at the end add, “Exactly, as you’ve said”.
Richard Dawkins - quotes & fragments
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Quotes from “The God Delusion”
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
Pope John Paul II created more saints than all his predecessors of the past several centuries put together, and he had a special affinity with the Virgin Mary. His polytheistic hankerings were dramatically demonstrated in 1981 when he suffered an assassination attempt in Rome, and attributed his survival to intervention by Our Lady of Fatima: “A maternal hand guided the bullet.” One cannot help wondering why she didn’t guide it to miss him altogether. Others might think the team of surgeons who operated on him for six hours deserved at least a share of the credit; but perhaps their hands, too, were maternally guided. The relevant point it that it wasn’t just Our Lady who, in the Pope’s opinion, guided the bullet, but specifically Our Lady of Fatima. Presumably Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Medjugorje, Our Lady of Akita, Our Lady of Zeitoun, Our Lady of Garabandal and Our Lady of Knock were busy on other errands at the time.
This is as good a moment as any to forestall an inevitable retort to the book, one that would otherwise — as sure as night follows day — turn up in a review: “The God that Dawkins doesn’t believe in is a God that I don’t believe in either. I don’t believe in an old man in the sky with a long white beard.” That old man is an irrelevant distraction and his beard is as tedious as it is long. Indeed, the distraction is worse than irrelevant. Its very silliness is calculated to distract attention from the fact that what the speaker really believes is not a whole lot less silly. I know you don’t believe in an old bearded man sitting on a cloud, so let’s not waste any more time on that. I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.
The oldest of the three Abrahamic religions, and the clear ancestor of the other two, is Judaism: originally a tribal cult of a single fiercely unpleasant God, morbidly obsessed with sexual restrictions, with the smell of charred flesh, with his own superiority over rival gods and with the exclusiveness of his chosen desert tribe. During the Roman occupation of Palestine, Christianity was founded by Paul of Tarsus as a less ruthlessly monotheistic sect of Judaism and a less exclusive one, which looked outwards from the Jews to the rest of the world. Several centuries later, Muhammad and his followers reverted to the uncompromising monotheism of the Jewish original, but not its exclusiveness, and founded Islam upon a new holy book, the Koran or Qur’an, adding a powerful ideology of military conquest to spread the faith. Christianity, too, was spread by the sword; wielded first by Roman hands after the Emperor Constantine raised it from eccentric cult to official religion, then by the Crusaders, and later by the conquistadores and other European invaders and colonists, with missionary accompaniment. For most of my purposes, all three Abrahamic religions can be treated as indistinguishable. Unless otherwise stated, I shall have Christianity mostly in mind, but only because it is the version with which I happen to be most familiar. For my purposes the differences matter less than the similarities. And I shall not be concerned at all with other religions such as Buddhism or Confucianism. Indeed, there is something to be said for treating these not as religions at all but as ethical systems or philosophies of life.