Religion: For Dummies

Scientist Richard Dawkins on Darwin, the Sistine Chapel, and why the world would be better off without religion.

Continued from page 1

You seem to agree with E.O. Wilson that science can be a satisfying replacement for religion.

Yes, I've written a book to that effect: "Unweaving the Rainbow."

What about intelligent people who accept evolution and do marvel at scientific advances (and perhaps were raised without much religion), but who suddenly find themselves wanting more-wanting a specifically religious dimension to their lives that science can't fill?

Well, I've never met one. I've met plenty of people who

call

themselves religious, but when you actually probe, when you ask them in detail what they believe, it turns out to be this very same awe and wonder that Wilson and Einstein talked about. If they're genuinely intelligent, it does not involve the supernatural. Unless they were brought up that way-but you were careful to say people who were not brought up religious.

My suggestion is that you won't find

any

intelligent person who feels the need for the supernatural. What you will find is the need for a sense of transcendent wonder, which I share as well.

Especially since 9/11, we've seen quite a debate about whether the world might be better off without religion. If you had to make a case for religion-one positive, if minor, thing religion has done--what would it be?

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It's true that some kind, nice, sympathetic people are also religious, and they might say that their kindness is motivated by religion. But equally kind people are often not religious. I really don't think I can think of anything; I really can't.

Not even something like the Sistine Chapel?

That's not religion; it's just because the church had the money. Great artists like Michelangelo or Bach and Beethoven would have done whatever they were told to do. Michelangelo painted what his sponsors told him to paint.

Speaking of artists, your field, some might say, is somewhat left-brain: science and math. Yet you often quote Yeats, for example. Who are your favorite right-brain people-poets, artists, musicians?

I love Yeats, Housman, Keats, Shakespeare, Mozart, Schubert above all, Beethoven.

Housman's pretty pessimistic.

I'm not a pessimistic person myself, but I just love his verse.

Yeats, on the other hand, is very into mysticism and the supernatural.

Quite. I sort of have to apologize for Yeats [laughs].

In one essay you mention that the Abrahamic faiths, in particular, can lead to intolerance and violence. Does this mean you find Eastern traditions like Taoism a little less objectionable?

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Interview by Laura Sheahen
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