Clinton Richard Dawkins, DSc, FRS, FRSL is an English ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and writer. He is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, and was the University of Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008. Dawkins came to prominence with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, which popularised the gene-centred view of evolution and introduced the term meme. In 1982, he introduced into evolutionary biology the influential concept that the phenotypic effects of a gene are not necessarily limited to an organism's body, but can stretch far into the environment, including the bodies of other organisms. This concept is presented in his book The Extended Phenotype. Dawkins is an atheist, a vice president of the British Humanist Association, and a supporter of the Brights movement. He is well known for his criticism of creationism and intelligent design. In his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker, he argues against the watchmaker analogy, an argument for the existence of a supernatural creator based upon the complexity of living organisms. Instead, he describes evolutionary processes as analogous to a blind watchmaker.
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Hello reddit. I am Richard Dawkins: ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and author of 12 books (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_7?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=dawkins&sprefix=dawkins%2Caps%2C301), mostly about evolution, plus The God Delusion. I founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science in 2006 and have been a longstanding advocate of securalism. I also support Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, supported by Foundation Beyond Belief
I'm here to take your questions, so AMA.
would you like to take a moment to chat about our lord and savior jesus christ?
No thank you
Will you be treating us to another fireside reading of your hate mail in the near future?
EDIT: Added link to "Hate e-mails with Richard Dawkins"
Yes, but not fireside. Instead, a young woman sits beside me playing sweet music on the cello. Film still being edited. I'm looking forward to seeing it.
Hi Dr. Dawkins, huge fan, thanks for all your contributions!
What are your thoughts on multi-level selection? Do you feel it is incompatible with your prior work, or can the two explain different parts of a single issue?
Multi-level selection is an obfuscatory tactic, obscuring and confusing what is well understood in terms of selection of replicators and vehicles.
Richard, who was the most frustrating person with whom you have debated evolution?
Do you ever feel like the the instant association most people make between your work and anti-religion means that your work on biology and evolution is overlooked or misinterpreted?
Occasionally I worry about that. But only one of my 12 books is about religion and all of them are still in print and selling well
As an expert on evolution, what do you feel is the strangest creature on Earth, or the one that just doesn't seem to make sense from an evolutionary standpoint yet continues to survive? (besides people)
Nautilus (because of its pinhole camera eye). But that's just off the top of my head. I'd probably think of a better answer given more time (that is so often true!)
Richard, what would you say to Muslims who point out (correctly) that during Islam's Golden Age, science and education flourished in the Caliphate as Muslim scientists either started new fields, or built on past work by Greek and Indian scholars.
I'm reminded of this fact quite often as I'm an ex-Muslim living in the Middle East.
Thanks for your time!
Great job in the Middle Ages, guys. What went wrong?
Just wanted to say thanks. The Selfish Gene ended my infancy as a human.
What a nice thing to say. Thank you. Are you perhaps picking up on the opening sentence of the book: "Intelligent life on a planet comes of age when it first works out the reason for its own existence."
Thank you so much for spending your time with us.
I used to be a Muslim for most of my youth. I come from a country where the penalty for apostasy is no less than death, and women are forbidden from basic rights such as driving, travelling alone, and visiting the graves of their loved ones.
Your works, as well as those of Hitchens, Dennett and Harris have had an enormous impact on my position as a strident atheist today. I feel indebted to you for making me realize how invaluable our fleeting moments of existence really are, and that it is a crime against human potential to spend any amount of time or energy on unsubstantiated, ancient beliefs.
I am now part of an ex-Muslim community that is helping those who have lost their faith find a sense of themselves without the aid of religion.
Do you have any advice you would like to impart for my community?
If an ex-Muslim were to write a book or make a documentary about leaving Islam, what would especially interest you?
I congratulate you on the stand you have taken. You probably already know Ibn Warraq's 'Why I am not a Muslim' and the various books by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Strongly recommended. You don't say where you live, so I don't know how easy it is for you to find like-minded ex-Muslims.. In Britain we have the CEMB, and in USA the Richard Dawkins Foundation has recently helped to facilitate three groups of ex-Muslims. See RichardDawkins.net for details. If you are in Pakistan I see tweets from an obviously flourishing group of Pakistan atheists.
Hello Dr. Dawkins, thank you for taking the time to do this AMA.
How do you feel now that memes, first discussed in your book The Selfish Gene, have become ubiquitous in internet culture?
Do you have a favorite internet meme?
I'm pleased that the concept of meme has become widely understood, but the true meaning is a bit broader than the common understanding. Anything transmitted with high fidelity from brain to brain by imitation is a meme.
If you had to pick one debate that you enjoyed the most, which would it be and why?
Stephen Pinker, because we each had things to learn from the other.
How do you feel about South park's depiction of you and their take on the argument?
Satire is supposed to satirise. Depicting somebody as having a predilection for buggering a bald transvestite is not satire and not witty. The futuristic projection of wars between atheist factions is genuine satire and quite witty. I think it's important understand the difference. I preferred the experience of going on The Simpsons.
Who, in your many years of research and debates, is the most respected person you have debated with, that has differing views than yourself?
Either Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, or Richard Harries, former Bishop of Oxford, or Father George Coyne, former Director of the Vatican Observatory.
In discussions I hear lots of biologists talk about, “All life that we know of is life based on DNA, except for minor exceptions ….” What are those exceptions, and are they interesting?
Some viruses are based on RNA instead of DNA
Why do you think it is so hard for people to let go of their beliefs in the supernatural or paranormal?
Childhood indoctrination. And fear.
>I do not, by nature, thrive on confrontation. I don't think the adversarial format is well designed to get at the truth, and I regularly refuse invitations to take part in formal debates. [...] Despite my dislike of gladiatorial contests, I seem somehow to have acquired a reputation for pugnacity towards religion. Colleagues who agree that there is no God, who agree that we do not need religion to be moral, and agree that we can explain the roots of religion and of morality in non-religious terms, nevertheless come back at me in gentle puzzlement. Why are you so hostile? What is actually wrong with religion?
-"What's Wrong with Religion? Why Be So Hostile?" The God Delusion. 317-318.
>People can’t bear clarity. They want you to weasel around and obscure. But if you’re clear, if you stand up and say clearly what you think and what you’re saying, then they will think you’re being threatening, aggressive, strident, shrill.
I truly admire this attitude, and respect that you continue to promote scientific understanding and critical thinking even though it is not the popular opinion. What you are doing is, in my opinion, a vital part of eliminating division and discrimination in our world. I just wanted to sincerely thank you, and say that you have helped countless people worldwide.
P.S.: Since this is an AMA, I better include a question. Is it disheartening to read through your "fan mail"? While this video is quite funny, it's depressing to think that this is representative of a greater number of people. What percentage of the feedback that you get is generally positive?
I think the best way to deal with hate mail is, indeed, comedy. Ridicule it with laughter.
What question do you get asked the most?
Are humans still evolving? And the funny thing is, everybody who asks it thinks they are the first to do so.
Richard, what is your favorite type of soup?
Leek and potato
This has always fascinated me: Upright walking preceded the development of a higher functioning brain in the evolution of man, contrary to what most would think. What is the best reasoning to convey to and convince someone that walking in fact came first?
Fossils. Australopithecus, from which genus we are almost certainly descended, walked upright and had a brain about the same size as a chimpanzee
Mr. Dawkins, I've watched many of your debates and I am consistently impressed by your ability to retain your composure and politeness when the people you debate either resort to insults or, worse, when your carefully constructed arguments fall on deaf ears. How do you do it?
It's sometimes hard. Thank you for your kind words
I am very excited to read your book The Magic of Reality to my young son. Do you have any plans on a second children’s book aimed for younger kids?
Yes, the idea appeals to me, but I have no immediate plans. Might be my next book but one.
Hi Richard. I study molecular biology at the University of Gothenburg, and from day one it has been clear that you are the most influential scientist and author there is today. For three years now, practically not a day goes by without your name being mentioned by someone when discussing the by far most popular subjects: science, religion, ethics, and more. Students talk about your ideas, our professors quote you and recommend your books. Are you aware just how highly regarded you are among a whole generation of young scientist and your impact on what gets talked about in the classroom?
I was not aware of that. I hope it is true but I shall not be surprised if others deny it!
Do you ever see yourself getting back to writing about evolutionary biology?
I've read "The Ancestor's Tale" cover to cover twice, and it seriously changed the way I think about evolution. Not that I didn't accept the theory before, you just have a way of expounding on it. I'd love to read something like that from you again.
I'm so glad you like The Ancestor's Tale. I don't think I could every manage another book on the same large scale, but I expect I shall write about evolution again (as I did in The Magic of Reality).
You were gracious with your time and letting me take your portrait.
Again thank you ever so much for giving your time to our little southern city.
You visited The University of Oklahoma in 2009. As president of the Darwin Student Society at the time, I helped organize the event. I want to thank you for your visit and your lecture. Do you have any plans to visit that part of the US anytime soon?
It was a memorable visit, the only one I can remember where I was heckled and also where a state senator tried to get me banned. He accused the University of paying me $30,000 and ended up with egg on my face because I had refused to take a cent in payment.
Hello, If you were honoured with the offer of having your ashes interred in Westminster Abbey alongside Newton, Darwin, et al., would you accept?
Of course I would. But it isn't going to happen!
Afternoon Professor Dawkins, thank you for doing this IAmA.
I was wondering what your thoughts are on the growing number of faith schools here in the UK are. Also, what are your thoughts on the recent "Muslim only" school scandal?
Edit: Got your title wrong, sorry.
Faith schools are harmless so long as they don't teach faith. Teaching ABOUT religion is fine; indeed it is important because you can't understand history without it. And literature (certainly in English and probably most other great literatures of the world) demands familiarity with scriptures if you want to take your allusions.
But teaching tiny children that they are, say, Catholic or Muslim, is evil. You should no more speak of a Catholic child or a Muslim child than you would speak of a "Postmodernist child" or an "Existentialist child". See how absurd that sounds? Yet almost nobody bats an eyelid at "Catholic child" or "Muslim child". PLEASE stop using such language, and please protest when you hear anybody else using it.
Did you ever go drinking with Christopher Hitchens?
Dining. And of course there was drink
What's your average response to religious people who try to convince you that your're wrong/convert you?
Depends obviously on what they say. If they are creationists I tell them to read a book.
Not really a question, but I went to Emmanuel College, Gateshead. I believe you had a bit of a public falling out with our head of science. I remember our school categorically denying teaching creationism in science classes, while I was being made to bring bibles to the lessons and being shown very biased creationism vs evolution powerpoints.
(Edit: grammar correction)
Thank you for this useful information.
Richard, are there any examples of non-human species acting religiously?
Hard to know what that would mean. Elephants have been said to mourn their dead. Some people have semi-seriously suggested that domestic pets might feel religious towards the people who feed and care for them. Not very convincing, I'd abandon that train of thought!
I'm currently half-way through The God Delusion, having been in Catholic education my whole life (until last year when I entered university) it is giving me a completely new perspective on life. Thank you for all you've done and I have the utmost respect for you and your colleagues.
That is so nice to hear
Do you have any thoughts on Scottish Independence?
I don't know whether it would be good for Scotland (I doubt it, although Edinburgh is a great capital city) but I think it would be terrible for the remainder of the UK. Wouldn't we be condemned to perpetual Toryism without the Scots?
The God Delusion was the first book of yours that I read, and I'd like to say thank you for kickstarting my reevaluation of what I've been taught throughout my life and for the motivation to ask questions that I'd been taught not to ask.
Thank you, that means a lot to me
Mr. Dawkins, 'The God Delusion' is arguably your most famous work. Which of your other 12 books would you most like to gain a similar attention and why?
Climbing Mount Improbable is my most under-rated book, and I think it is one of my best.
In your opinion,what's your greatest achievement?
Are you planning to visit Croatia anytime soon?
The Extended Phenotype.
No immediate plans, but I hear it's a beautiful country
What do you think should be changed about the american education system, more specifically the science classroom? Also, what age do you think schools should start teaching evolution in the classroom? Thanks for the AMA!
I think evolution can, and should, be taught early. Certainly it makes little sense to teach any biology BEFORE teaching evolution because nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution (Dobzhansky)
During a debate, or any exchange really, with a religious person, have you ever thought "This is going nowhere with this person. Why am I even trying?"? What keeps you going in the face of insurmountable ignorance?
Frequently. I try to be polite but I fear I don't always succeed in the end.
How exhausting is the process of being a public figure, specifically one which has a large proportion of attention from people who dislike/hate you? I imagine that fame in this area must be a large burden.
I derive comfort from the belief, which I think is well substantiated, that those who most strongly dislike me have never actually read my books, but instead have listened to second or third accounts of what is (or more likely is not) in them.
Hello Dr. Dawkins,
Your work is really inspirational and made me excited evolution. I was curious about opinions on how it applies to human behavior; specifically your thoughts on the field of evolutionary psychology. What in your opinion is a good example of ev psych research and why is it good? What do you think ev psych as a field can do better to validate itself to its naysayers in biology?
I have a high regard for much (not all) of Evolutionary Psychology. And am baffled by the extraordinary levels of hostility that it seems to arouse, especially in people who know rather little about it.
Dr. Dawkins, do you plan on publishing more books on the subject of religion? Follow up, have you ever thought about penning a children's book?
I have published a children's book: The Magic of Reality, illustrated by Dave McKean.
What's your current and biggest challenge?
Writing the second volume of my autobiography. I'm still wrestling with the question of whether to write it chronologically like the first volume, An Appetite for Wonder, or whether to arrange the chapters thematically, and semi-independent of chronology. Maybe some combination of both.
Did you and Lala enjoy the Dr. Who anniversary special?... She was always my favorite Romana. Love and have read all your books, especially the audio ones where you two trade off sections. Lovely stuff!
I'll tell her. She went to the London meeting, but wisely (as all her colleagues agreed) refrained from taking part in the BBC special show
What's your opinion on Panspermy theory?
Panspermia is improbable but not totally impossible