Religion: For Dummies

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

BY: Interview by Laura Sheahen


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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?

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?

I don't know very much about them, but I suspect the answer is yes. One of the most salient stories of all three Abrahamic religions-the story of Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac-is such an utterly disgusting story, yet it is iconic for all three religions.

It's disgustingly cruel, a story of child abuse and violence.

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