The Problem with God: Interview with Richard Dawkins

The renowned biologist talks about intelligent design, dishonest Christians, and why God is no better than an imaginary friend.

BY: Interview by Laura Sheahen


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However, I don't think it should make one feel depressed. I don't feel depressed. I feel elated. My book, "Unweaving the Rainbow," is an attempt to elevate science to the level of poetry and to show how one can be-in a funny sort of way-rather spiritual about science. Not in a supernatural sense, but there are uplifting mysteries to be solved. The contemplation of the size and scale of the universe, of the depth of geological time, of the complexity of life--these all, to me, have an inspirational quality. It makes my life worthwhile to study them.

You criticize intelligent design, saying that "the theistic answer"--pointing to God as designer--"is deeply unsatisfying"--presumably you mean on a logical, scientific level.

Yes, because it doesn't explain where the designer comes from. If they're going to emphasize the statistical improbability of biological organs-"these are so complicated, how could they have evolved?"--well, if they're so complicated, how could they possibly have been designed? Because the designer would have to be even more complicated.

Dawkins on Design
Listen to clips from Dawkins' recent speech:

 The Flaws in the Argument from Design
 There Is an Alternative to Chance
 The Faulty Logic of 'Irreducible Complexity'
 Creationists Adore Gaps in the Fossil Record
 Evolution and Theism Are Incompatible

Obviously, a lot of people find the theistic answer satisfying on another level. What do you see as the problem with that level?

What other level?

At whatever level where people say the idea of God is very satisfying.

Well, of course it is. Wouldn't it be lovely to believe in an imaginary friend who listens to your thoughts, listens to your prayers, comforts you, consoles you, gives you life after death, can give you advice? Of course it's satisfying, if you can believe it. But who wants to believe a lie?

Is atheism the logical extension of believing in evolution?

They clearly can't be irrevocably linked because a very large number of theologians believe in evolution. In fact, any respectable theologian of the Catholic or Anglican or any other sensible church believes in evolution. Similarly, a very large number of evolutionary scientists are also religious. My personal feeling is that understanding evolution led me to atheism.

How would you respond to people who say the most interesting or worthwhile aspect of human beings is behavior that natural selection would not promote? I'm thinking of behavior like adopting children who aren't family members, voluntary celibacy, or people deciding to spend their whole life praying.

Adopting children that are not your own or a close relative's is an interesting question. Why do not just humans, but other species, do what on the face of it is the wrong thing to do from a selfish gene point of view? Cuckoos play upon this and actually engineer it so that other species raise [baby cuckoos]. This is a mistake on the part of the foster parents, which have been "forced" to adopt the cuckoos.

So that's sort of a wild analogy to adopting children, in this case ones who are not your own species.

By the way, I would hate this to be taken as any sort of suggestion that adoptive parents don't love their adopted children; of course they do. But you could think of it as a kind of genetic mistake, in that human adults have strong parental instincts which make them long for a child. If they can't have a child of their own, they can then satisfy those parental instincts by adopting a child.

In the same way, we have sexual instincts; we long for sex and it doesn't matter that we use contraception. That's, as it were, separating the natural function of sex, which is reproduction. But we still enjoy sex in the same way that we enjoy being a parent even if it is not our own child that we're looking after.

You've said, "don't name our present ignorance God"--which you said is what intelligent design proponents are doing. They're taking an area where we're ignorant and naming that God. Do you think science will eventually explain everything we wonder about now?

I don't know the answer. I'm equally excited by both in a way. I rather like the idea of understanding everything and I also quite like the idea of science being a never-ending, open-ended quest.

Where atheists find sources of joy and hope

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  • Continued on page 3: »

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