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Richard Dawkins on the Hugh Hewitt Show

posted by Susan Johnson

Richard Dawkins was on Hewitt last night plugging his new book. I can’t link to the podcast (since you have to pay for it now) but he’s posted a transcript, so you can at least read it.
Hewitt did a great job asking penetrating questions and the hour was quite interesting and informative. Hewitt asks the questions that cut to the chase and get to the point of dispute, like this one:

HH: But the universe is itself awfully complicated, Professor Dawkins. Where did it come from?
RD: Well, the universe is not awfully complicated at the beginning. It has become very complicated through such processes as evolution by natural selection.
HH: No, I’m talking about the whole cosmos. Where did that come from, 13 billion years ago?
RD: It came from the big bang, which is not a complex process. It’s a simple process.
HH: And what preceded the big bang?
RD: Well, physicists won’t answer that question. They will say that time itself began in the big bang, and so the question what preceded it is illegitimate.
HH: What do you think?
RD: I’m not enough of a physicist to understand what I’m saying, but I have to say that that’s what physicists say.
HH: So when you consider before the big bang, what does Richard Dawkins think was there?
RD: I don’t consider the question, because I recognize that it’s an intuitively appealing question. I recognize that I, along with everybody else, wants to ask that question. Then I talk to physicists who say you can no more ask what came before the big bang than you can ask what’s north of the North Pole.

OK, let’s concede for argument’s sake that Dawkins actually accomplishes what he states: that the case he makes for evolution in his book is beyond dispute. What does that prove? It’s doesn’t tell us how the universe began, physicists (and Dawkins) won’t even entertain the question. It still leaves room for a creator God who created the universe and then allowed the planet to populate itself.
And it’s pretty silly to reject the Gospels because they were written “decades” later:

HH: On the person of Jesus Christ, did He exist?
RD: I suspect He probably did. I suspect there are lots of itinerant preachers, and one of them was probably called Yehoshua, or various other versions of Jesus’ name, but I don’t think that a miracle worker existed.
HH: How do you rate the evidence for Christ’s existence, manuscript evidence, eyewitness evidence, things like that?
RD: As I said, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if a man called Jesus or Yehoshua existed. I would say the evidence that He worked miracles, He rose from the dead, He was born of a virgin, is zero.
HH: Well, you repeatedly use the analogy of a detective at a crime scene throughout The Greatest Show On Earth. But detectives simply can’t dismiss evidence they don’t want to see. There’s a lot of evidence for the miracles, in terms of eyewitness…
RD: No, there isn’t. What there is, is written stories which were written decades after the alleged events were supposed to happen. No historian would take that seriously.
HH: Well, that’s why I’m conflicted, because in your book, you talk about the Latin teacher who is stymied at every turn, and yet Latin teachers routinely rely on things like Tacitus and Pliny, and histories that were written centuries after the events in which they are recording occur.
RD: There’s massive archaeological evidence, there’s massive evidence of all kinds. It’s just not comparable. No…if you talk to any ancient historian of the period, they will agree that it is not good historical evidence.
HH: Oh, that’s simply not true. Dr. Mark Roberts, double PhD in undergraduate at Harvard has written a very persuasive book upon this. I mean, that’s an astounding statement. Are you unfamiliar with him?
RD: All right, then there may be some, but a very large number of ancient historians would say…
HH: Well, you just said there were none. So there are some that you are choosing not to confront.
RD: You sound like a lawyer.
HH: I am a lawyer.
RD: Oh, for God’s sake. Are you? Okay. I didn’t know that. All right. I will accept that there are some ancient historians who take the Gospels seriously. But they were written decades after the events that happened, and they were written by people with an axe to grind, written by disciples. There are no eyewitness written accounts. The earliest New Testament…
HH: I understand you believe that, Professor. I do. But what I don’t understand is how you can use the analogy of the Latin teacher or the detective, when it breaks down given your dismissal of evidence you don’t see fit to deal with squarely?
RD: I think that’s a very, very specious comparison, because the Latin teacher is dealing with enormous numbers of documents. Remember, my Latin teacher is supposed to be confronted with skeptics who don’t even think the Latin language was ever spoken. And there’s huge amounts of documentary evidence of the Roman Empire. We’re talking about the entire Roman Empire here. There’s enormous amounts of eyewitness accounts written down at the time. It just is no comparison.
HH: Actually, it is. It’s actually a very persuasive…in fact, the arguments for the manuscript evidence of Christ and His doings is much stronger than anything, for example, Tacitus or Pliny wrote. It’s just much stronger. Now you might counter with Cesar’s Gallic war commentaries, and you do mention those, and those are contemporary accounts by an eyewitness, but so are the Gospel evidences, say, of Luke accompanying Paul about. And yet you’re dismissive of the miracles that occurred in there. So I’m just wondering…
RD: They may be. The accounts of Luke accompanying Paul may be real, but Luke never met Jesus.
HH: But again, I’m not arguing that point with you. It’s just that you dismiss that all without dealing with it serially, which would not be, I think, consistent with your detective argument, or your Latin teacher argument, because…
RD: I cannot believe that you’re doing more than just trying to score points. You cannot seriously be saying that the case for the existence of the Roman Empire is as weak as for Jesus.
HH: That’s not what I’m saying at all. I didn’t say that. I said that your argument, by analogy, to a Latin teacher being harried by people who deny certain things, but especially your idea of a detective using evidence at a crime scene, that it doesn’t comport with your dismissal of the evidence for Christianity and the historical Jesus.
RD: Okay, do you believe Jesus turned water into wine?
HH: Yes.
RD: You seriously do?
HH: Yes.
RD: You actually think that Jesus got water, and made all those molecules turn into wine?
HH: Yes.
RD: My God.

When you look at how oral tradition works in the Middle East, I can’t see how you’d have a problem with a book written years after the death of Christ. Oral tradition explains the similarities in the Gospels and how the NT Gospel writers could be certain they were conveying the words of Jesus.

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posted October 21, 2009 at 9:46 pm

The gratuitous oath at the end is a nice touch.
You cannot seriously be saying that the case for the existence of the Roman Empire is as weak as for Jesus.
Yeah, see, he’s pointing out that all Christianity has, early on, is documents … and Rome’s legacy is massive structural ruins. Christianity doesn’t begin to have artifacts, apart from papyri, until, what, murals in the catacombs in the second century.
RD: Well, the universe is not awfully complicated at the beginning. It has become very complicated through such processes as evolution
Perhaps the concept is misapplied but here, Kurt Wise would introduce the idea of entropy, that a closed system tends towards disorder and breakdown. For a universe to start simply and increase in complexity, it would take outside energy.
I can’t see how you’d have a problem with a book written years after the death of Christ.
That shouldn’t be anybody’s problem. It’s the problem of transmission of the text. What Pliny and Tacitus wrote ain’t a matter of life and eternal death, either.

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posted October 21, 2009 at 11:09 pm

Physicists won’t entertain the concept of what came before the big bang because no information about that time (if time even existed) can reach us. So falsification is not possible and neither is science. The physicists are showing good judgement here.
Moonshadow, Kurt Wise is not alone in claiming that entropy build up would prevent evolution, but the concept is misapplied.
The early universe had essentially no entropy when it was small and dense.
The universe is expanding and actually seems infinite. This means it acts like an open system, not a closed system, so there’s always some where for the waste heat to go to.
The energy that drives evolution is provided by irreversible changes to matter. For example hydrogen fusion in the core of the Sun converts some of the Sun’s mass into light, which provides the energy to drive life. Once this conversion happens it is irreversible and is an increase in entropy. So our order is bought at that cost.

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posted October 21, 2009 at 11:11 pm

but the concept is misapplied.
Thanks, I suspected as much.

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posted October 21, 2009 at 11:15 pm

I’m surprised that Richard Dawkins was surprised that Hugh Hewitt believed that Jesus turned water to wine. It sort of proves my claim in a previous post that Dawkins might not personally know any Christians. Otherwise he would know enough people who believed the biblical claims that it wouldn’t shock him.

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posted October 22, 2009 at 12:39 am

“Oral tradition explains the similarities in the Gospels and how the NT Gospel writers could be certain they were conveying the words of Jesus.”
Well, I was under the impression from my years as a religious studies major that Mark, Matthew and Luke are similar because Matthew and Luke took the already written Gospel of Mark and basically expanded on it and edited it.
And if you’re going to extoll the oral traditions of ancient peoples you would have to also believe in all the miraculous accounts ascribed to other figures. You can’t just be selective and say if those accounts are about Jesus they have to be true because of the reliability of oral traditions but disregard all other traditions about famous historical firgures as mere legend.

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Devin Thomas

posted October 22, 2009 at 2:46 am

HH had Dawkins on his show to discuss his book about evolution not talk about Jesus. It was HH who brought up the topic and made the unsubstantiated claim that Jesus turned H20 molecules into wine which goes far beyond what an average person of science or reason could swallow (both literally and figuratively!) HH was the obvious loser here. At one point he even tried to make the case that if people didn’t accept scientific evidence that would somehow discredit Dawkins or make him less credibility. Wow! That’s some interesting logic going on there. Let’s see, if enough people deny the Holocaust, then it never happened?
From the transcript:
HH: So if people don’t believe that those sets of evidence are the same, doesn’t that undermine your credibility?
Hey how about this? If people don’t believe that Jesus turned water into wine, doesn’t that undermine YOUR credibility?
The problem with religion is that it doesn’t have science on its side. BUT it desperately wants to use science to prove that it is right by finding loopholes or “gaps” in the theory. (Sarcastic tone) So Richard Dawkins, you don’t know how the universe began? (smirk, smirk)–So it could have been God!
Yeah, and it could have been a hundred other causes, so you have not made your case. Sorry. It doesn’t follow. Anything that science can’t explain now, could be explained in the future, which has often been the case in history (just look up Galileo sometime).
HH believes in the “god of the gaps” without cause or good reason. There is no evidence for an invisible being who requires no creator and yet creates everything (including itself?) It doesn’t make sense,but more importantly there is absolutely no evidence for it.
Evolution has ample evidence to make it a fact. It doesn’t matter what religious people “believe” about it. They are wrong.
Devin Thomas

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Moishe Sanchez

posted October 22, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Dawkins lost credibility because he claimed that denying evolution is denying the holocaust. But Hugh nicely refuted him by showing that there are films of the holocaust (and no films of macroevolution), and many reputable people deny or doubt evolution, while NONE deny the holocaust.

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posted October 22, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Showing a lot of anger around this, aren’t you Devin?
The religion vs. science argument is a false one. God (or whatever) gave us a physical universe to live in and the tools (primarily a brain) to slowly understand it. Discovering things about it doesn’t disprove that a God may exist? Science doesn’t always get things right either.
People that believe in God cannot prove he exists anymore than an atheist can prove that he doesn’t exist. Both positions, eventually and ironically, require an act of faith.

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edward del colle

posted October 22, 2009 at 1:47 pm

there is ample concern and evidence the gospels were tampered with. that would disqualify them on their face for extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence. the big 4 books contradict each other, they were not written by the names they go by! jesus himself did not know of the virgin birth, or three gods in one! he was an individualist on the order of a lao =tse. and dr. hewitt is obviously referring tyo the christian god, how could he possibly know.

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Roberto G

posted October 22, 2009 at 3:44 pm

I am a Christian (of the calvinist variety) and I heard this interview in its entirety. I found it extremely telling that Dr. Dawkins attempt to draw attention to Hugh’s belief in a minor miracle in order to ridicule it. After all, Dawkins knows very well that Jesus’ turning water into wine does not occupy the place of a cornerstone in the Christian belief system. He knows very well that where Christian faith and Science intersect are the big issues: creation ex nihilo, cosmology, physics, the fine tuning of the universe as a brute fact versus purposeful, the beginning of life on earth, evolution braodly defined, chance versus guided descent of life, etc. His attempt at ridicule only served to distract from the difficulties of defending both his overarching, positivistic philosophy of science and the particular details of his book Hugh was questioning him about at that portion of the interview.
Now, I’m not saying that Dawkins’ position is absolutely untenable. He is an eminent biologist and a gifted writer. However, for some odd reason he chose to try to turn the table on you in order to ridicule you (and by extention, all Christians’ belief in miracles) when he could have simply answered your questions about his new book.
Unlike Dawkins’ disingenuous dismay at Hugh’s faith in miracles, I was not dismayed at his supreme confidence in science. I have come to realize that all people will place their supreme confidence in something for whatever they consider the issue that matters most. Dawkins’ supreme confidence in science, his faith, will one day either be confirmed or disconfirmed. Just like mine.

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Roberto G

posted October 22, 2009 at 3:51 pm

“you” should = Hugh in my 3rd paragraph above. Lol.

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David Ferguson

posted October 22, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Very revealing of Dawkins mind. Not for the least reason that people like Dawkins are usually fawned over by a friendly media.
Dawkins use of the Holocaust Denial comparison is a straw man in and of itself. “So when did you stop believing in the Holocaust, Christian? A purely rhetorical and political attack akin to accusing someone of racism. In truth, Dawkins use of Holocaust equivalence arguments is much closer to Holocaust denial, inasmuch as the attack has ideological roots rather than rational roots.
Dawkins surprize at finding out Hugh’s beliefs was amusing? I wonder if the surprize was real. Methinks that Dawkins will be seeking much more friendly interviewers next time around.
This was one of Hugh’s best interviews, and a major win for Hugh to have the conversation on record.

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posted October 22, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Dawkins lost credibility because he claimed that denying evolution is denying the holocaust. But Hugh nicely refuted him by showing that there are films of the holocaust (and no films of macroevolution),
First, evolution occurs over millions of years, second while there may not be any ‘films’ of it, there is an extensive geological and archaeological record. I suggest you look into that.
“and many reputable people deny or doubt evolution, while NONE deny the holocaust.”
Science Research 101: Large consensus does not equal scientific fact. I have never come across a biologist or scientific scholarship in my years of study that denied evolution. Just as there is evidence for the Holocaust there is evidence for evolution.

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posted October 26, 2009 at 9:43 am

The New Atheists are just as dull-witted as the old fashioned atheists.
Dawkins is just a salesman fattening his bank account. The easily led filling it as usual.
0 x 0 = Atheism
Even on Dawkin’s calculator.

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posted October 26, 2009 at 9:45 am

Is that “The God that wasn’t there” DVD I see advertised?
Proves my point.
An ex-librarian takes that new atheism dribble to task:

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carte memoire

posted November 4, 2009 at 4:27 am

Great Conversation!
I can’t explain that how much i am excited to watch this kind of brilliant shows. I really enjoy your article. Thank you much for sharing it here.

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posted December 16, 2009 at 12:39 pm

I remenber how the oral tradition worked in elementary school. Got in a circle and whispered a message around. It was always considerably altered. There were many traditions of virgin births, son of god, sacrificial death and resurection, miracles, with the raising of the dead being the rabbit trick of the day. They were all fables and shams, just as christianity and all other religions are.

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