DATE March 28, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and author of
"The God Delusion," on his atheism, creationism vs. evolutionary
biology, and the logical unnecessity of a sentient God
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Can you be a scientist and believe in God? Are science and religion
compatible? We're going to get two very different responses to that question
from two scientists. Tomorrow we'll talk with Francis Collins, who headed the
human genome project, which maps the genetic code of human beings. He's an
evangelical Christian and believes that, in studying DNA, he's finding God's
Today we hear from Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist and the
author of the controversial best seller "The God Delusion." He's an atheist
and proud of it. He says the God hypothesis, that there is a supernatural
intelligence who deliberately designed the universe and everything in it, is a
scientific hypothesis that should be analyzed as skeptically as any other.
Dawkins is a professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford
University. I asked why he wanted to make atheism the focal point of his
Mr. RICHARD DAWKINS: About six years ago I was talking to my literary agent
in New York, John Brockman, and said I wanted to write an atheism book and he
was--immediately vetoed it. He said, `Don't even think about it. Maybe you
can do that in England but you can't get away with that in America. It just
won't sell. You cannot sell an atheism book in America.' Six years later, and
I guess that's six years of Bush, he's changed his tune; and when I suggested
doing it again, he egged me on and had no difficulty at all in finding
publishers who were eager to publish it.
GROSS: Do you feel particularly strongly about atheism because your branch of
science, evolution, has come under attack by certain Christian fundamentalists
who think evolution violates their religion?
Mr. DAWKINS: Yes. My subject of biology is quite difficult for people to
teach in America now at the school level. I think it's not so bad at
university because at university, I mean, most universities take evolution
seriously and seem not to be under the control of local school boards.
However, there are constant rumors, and more than rumors, of teachers all
throughout the United States being intimidated by parents, by local school
boards, by--even by the children they're trying to teach and prevented by
intimidation from teaching their own subject, from teaching their science, the
science of evolution. And that obviously is very disquieting to any
biologist, and I'm no exception.
GROSS: Now of course, not all religion and not even all Christian
fundamentalists disapprove of evolution or teaching evolution.
Mr. DAWKINS: No, yeah. It's very important to say that, and I'm glad you
raised that because it's one of the unfairnesses that religious people who are
sensible--I mean, relatively sensible religious people who of course accept
evolution just as much as I do and get very annoyed at being tarred with the
same brush as the fundamentalists, many of whom actually literally believe the
world is only 6,000 years old and which is--I mean, it should be a joke but
for the fact that some 50 percent of the American population believe it. But
it is important, as you say, and as I often say, to stress that not all
Christians are of that dotty opinion.
GROSS: Now, compare that opinion with yours, where those two figures come
Mr. DAWKINS: Oh, do you mean the true age of the universe?
GROSS: Exactly. Yes.
Mr. DAWKINS: The true age--the currently established age of the earth is 4.6
billion years. If you compare that with 6,000 years, it's equivalent to
believing that the distance from, say, Philadelphia to San Francisco is about
GROSS: And the 6,000 years comes from?
Mr. DAWKINS: It comes from the Bible. It comes from looking up all those
begats. So-and-so begat so-and-so who begat so-and-so, and their ages are
given. Add the ages up together and you come up with a date of 4004 BC for
the origin of the world--indeed, of the universe.
GROSS: Do you think that religion and evolutionary biology ask a lot of the
same questions, but come up with different answers?
Mr. DAWKINS: Well, I do think that, and not all my scientific colleagues do.
It's a movement among scientists to say that religion and science are about
totally different things and they sort of don't impinge on one another and
they're both equally true in their own sphere. I don't hold to that view. I
think they're about the same thing, in the sense that they both aspire to
explain the universe. They both aspire to explain why we're here. What's the
meaning of life? What's it all about? What's the role of humanity? And so
on. I think that all those questions are susceptible of a scientific
explanation. Traditionally, religion has always given the explanation for
those--the answer to those questions, wrongly, and so my attitude is rather
different from that voguish scientific attitude that there's no overlap. I
think there's plenty of overlap, it's just that religion gets it wrong.
GROSS: What do you mean by that, that religion gets it wrong?
Mr. DAWKINS: Well, it--I mean, obviously in the case of evolution, but as
we've seen, that doesn't apply to all Christians. My point, when I try to say
that religion and science are about the same thing, is that a universe with a
god would be, scientifically speaking, a very different kind of universe from
a universe without a god. It is a scientific question whether there is a
gigantic intelligence somewhere at the root of the universe. Either there is
or there isn't. It's not a sort of poetic matter, it's a scientific matter.
Either there is or there isn't a god. It may be very difficult to decide the
question. I make an effort to look at the probability. I'm quite convinced
you can't disprove the existence of God, but I think you can put a probability
value on it, and I think the probability is very low.
GROSS: You know, some people see God as a more mystical, like unknowable,
invisible, unnameable presencee that somehow holds the universe together and
gives it meaning and expression and beauty and everything else that it has,
but would be invisible to the tools that science has to investigate the world.
Mr. DAWKINS: Let me make a distinction between two versions of what you've
just said. There's what I would call the Einsteinian version, which pays
homage to the mysteries that lie in the universe at the base of physics, the
mysteries that physics have yet to solve and may never solve. Einstein had
immense reverence for that, as do I. Einstein used the word "god" for the
deep problems, for those fundamentals which we don't understand and may never
But I would want to make a distinction between that Einsteinian view and the
one that says there is a spirit which has some sort of intelligence; there is
a supernatural, intelligent, creative being who created the universe and made
up its laws. I think that's radically distinct from the Einsteinian view that
the laws of physics are renamed god, and I have no quarrel with somebody who
wants to use the word god for the fundamental laws of the universe. My only
quarrel would be that it's confusing to everybody else. But once we've set
confusion on one side, then I have no quarrel with that.
What I do have a quarrel with is people who confuse that with God in the sense
of some kind of a supernatural intelligence or creator who worked it out, and
I think there really is a big distinction there.
GROSS: Well, since you brought up Einstein, and since you quote Einstein
several times in your book "The God Delusion," let me ask you to read a few of
the things that you quote by Einstein about religion.
Mr. DAWKINS: Right, well, from page 15 of "The God Delusion":
(Reading) It was, of course, a lie, what you read about my religious
convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe
in a personal god and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly.
If something is in me which can be called religious, then it is the unbounded
admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal
And further down the same page, I quoted Einstein as saying:
(Reading) I'm a deeply religious nonbeliever. This is a somewhat new kind of
GROSS: So do you consider yourself religious in the Einsteinian sense?
Mr. DAWKINS: Yes, I do consider myself religious in the Einsteinian sense,
and I obviously--with great humility. Einstein was the greatest scientist of
the 20th century and maybe ever, and so I humbly am happy to be classed as in
his camp in this respect.
GROSS: Now, you were saying before that you think religion and evolutionary
biology ask a lot of the same questions but come up with different answers and
approach the whole thing, of course, differently. You think that all life
forms on the planet can be traced to a single ancestor, and that was the
subject of a previous book called "The Ancestor's Tale." Would you just give
us like--this is asking a lot--but a brief kind of layman's explanation of
tracing all living organisms to one creature or organism?
Mr. DAWKINS: Right. The evidence that all living organisms that have ever
been looked at are descended from a single ancestor is mainly biochemical.
It's mainly biochemical genetics and the genetic code. The genetic code by
which DNA is translated into protein--you could call it the machine code of
life--is universal. With very, very tiny differences, every single creature
that's ever been looked at--mammals, birds, spiders, insects, worms, oak
trees, amoebas, bacteria--they all have the same machine code. They all have
the same code that translates from DNA into protein. Now, that, I think,
conclusively demonstrates that they have a common ancestor that--which was
probably something, not really a bacteria, but a bacteria might be nearest
approach to it still alive today. It probably lived some four billion years
ago. That's not to say that life has not originated more than once. But if
there have been other origins of life, they have left no descendants. All
surviving life forms are descended from a single common ancestor. That is as
certain a fact as any in biology.
GROSS: Now, I want to quote something that you wrote in "The Ancestor's
Tale," a previous book about evolution. You wrote, "My objection to
supernatural beliefs"--and by that you mean religion--"is precisely that they
miserably fail to do justice to the sublime grandeur of the real world. They
represent a narrowing down from reality and impoverishment of what the real
world has to offer." In what way do you see religion as an impoverishment over
what the real world has to offer?
Mr. DAWKINS: First of all, I think I should say that "The Ancestor Tale" is
an extremely long book, and I believe that that page that you just reead from
is the only place in the entire book where religion is mentioned. I just say
that because I'm sometimes accused of dragging religion in everywhere, so it
is--there's very, very little of that in the book.
Now, dragging down--I think that the understanding of life, and indeed of
science generally, the understanding of the universe generally that we now
have at the beginning of the 21st century, is an astoundingly rich, poetically
valuable, truly wonderful achievement of our species, something that we have
every right to be proud of. You could spend a lifetime imbibing and learning
and understanding and increasing understanding of this view that we now have.
It is incomparably richer than anything that our ancestors in past centuries
could have. It is an enormous privilege to have it. No one individual could
possibly comprehend it. It's a lifetime's work just to understand bits of it,
and I think it is demeaning to retreat from that to a medieval worldview which
simply says, `God done it,' which is so trite, so cheap, so over simple, so
parochial and so impotent in the face of the huge phenomena which need to be
explained and which now are being explained.
GROSS: Now, I think there are some scientists who are both religious and
scientists and find the two compatible, and I'll give as an example Francis
Collins, who is the head of the human genome project and feels that his
investigation of the genetic code is basically a way, also, of investigating
God's design, that the genetic code is an example of God's intricate design.
Mr. DAWKINS: It's so superfluous, isn't it? I mean, here we have a
beautiful explanation for how life comes about, starting from simple
beginnings, and that makes God redundant and then Francis Collins and others
want to smuggle God back in and say, `Oh, well, natural selection was God's
way of doing it.' And what's that's saying is that God the designer chose as
his method of design a method which would look exactly as though he wasn't
there. He chose a method which would make himself reedundant. He chose the
method that made him superfluous. Why bother to postulate him at all in that
GROSS: My guest is evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, author of the best
seller "The God Delusion." We'll talk more with Dawkins after a break, and
tomorrow we'll talk with scientist and evangelical Christian Francis Collins,
who headed the human genome project, about why he finds faith and science
compatible. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: We're back with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. He's an
atheist who finds science and a belief in God incompatible. He's the author
of the best seller "The God Delusion."
You feel a sense of awe from science and from trying to get to the bottom of
what science has to tell us about the history of the world and every creature
on it. Now, some people would argue that science can help explain how the
species evolved but it can't give meaning to existence, that only religion is
the kind of--the worldview, the lens that you can see life and the world
through that is inherently about giving meaning to life and existence. How
would you answer that?
Mr. DAWKINS: I think the first thing I'd say is that the universe doesn't
owe us meaning. There's no reason why there should be any meaning. It might
be comforting if there is, it might be consoling. It would be nice to think
that there's meaning in everything. But we are not owed meaning. If there
isn't any meaning, there isn't any meaning; and that's just tough.
However, you can make your own meaning in two different ways. One way is a
personal one, and each one of us living our lives can give our lives meaning.
Our lives may have meaning in terms of the work that we do, the art that we
create, the music that we create, the science that we do. All our family
life, our love for our spouse or our children, our love for nature, our love
for some sport. There are all sorts of ways in which we can give our own
lives meaning. That's the personal way and that's the first way.
The second way is that we can give meaning to life in a scientific sense,
where we actually say, `The meaning of life is...' and I've tried to do this
in many of my books such as "The Selfish Gene," "The Blind Watchmaker." The
meaning of life is how we understand, how we interpret the existence of life.
It's due to evolution, it's due to natural selection, natural selection favors
certain things and not other things. We develop a deep and satisfying
understanding of the meaning of life in that scientific sense. Similarly,
cosmologists may develop the meaning of their own subject, geologists may
develop a meaning of their own subject. These are very worthwhile and they
give life richness, but I return to my initial point: Even if you are not
satisfied by those things, even if you feel there's got to be some more
detailed meaning, there is absolutely no reason why there should be. The
universe, as I said, does not owe us meaning.
GROSS: As you point out in your book, religion is ubiquitous, so where do you
think it comes from? As you point out in your book, everybody has their
favorite theory about that. What's yours?
GROSS: Yes, it is ubiquitous, at least anthropologically speaking, every
culture seems to have something equivalent to religion. Not every individual
has and that, I think's, important. So it's not ubiquitous in that sense.
I think it's not that difficult to see why ideas which are appealing are ones
that people hold. Ideas like life after death are very appealing, and it does
seem to be a psychological weakness among humans to believe things that they
would like to be true, even if there's no evidence for them. And quite often
when I'm having discussions or arguments with people, they will say, `Oh, but
I couldn't bear to believe that there's no God,' or `I couldn't
bear...(unintelligible)...Life just wouldn't be worth living if there was no
life after death' or something like that. As though that was a reason for
believing it, and I think for them it really is a reason for believing in it.
They can't see the difference between something which you believe because
there's evidence for it and something which you believe because it would be
nice if it were true. Well, unfortunately there are many things that would be
nice but aren't true. But this does seem to be the case, that the human
psychology does suffer from this weakness, and so that would be one approach
to explaining it.
I have various approaches to it. I'm one of those--and there are quite a lot
of people now in biologists--who believe that religion evolved, not because it
had a Darwinian advantage itself but because it is a byproduct of
psychological dispositions which had an advantage. And I suppose this
psychological disposition--one example of that psychological disposition is
the one I just mentioned, which is the disposition to believe things because
it would be nice if they were true. That's one of them. Another one, one
that I particularly stressed in my book, is a disposition among children to
believe whatever they're told by their parents or other elders in the tribal
culture. So I think there is a genuinely good Darwinian advantage in children
believing what they're told, because life is perilous and human children are
very vulnerable, and by far the best way for a child to decide what's the best
thing to do under many circumstances is to listen to your parents.
So I'm suggesting the natural selection, Darwinian selection, built into child
brains, the rule `believe whatever your parents tell you,' and that's why
children don't jump into fires and don't jump into the sea when they might get
drowned and that kind of thing. You obey your parents. But if you have a
built-in rule that says `Believe your parents, believe whatever your parents
tell you,' that rule has no way of distinguishing good advice, like `Don't
jump in the fire' from bad advice, like `Do a rain dance in order to make the
GROSS: Richard Dawkins, author of "The God Delusion" will be back in the
second half of FRESH AIR. This is NPR, National Public Radio.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with evolutionary biologist
Richard Dawkins. In his best seller "The God Delusion," he writes about why
he's an atheist and why he thinks science is incompatible with a belief in
God. Dawkins is a professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford
You know, in trying to investigate the probability that a God exists through
the lens that you have, which is evolutionary biology, you say any creative
intelligence of sufficient complexity to design anything comes into existence
only at the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution. In other
words, what you're saying there, if there was a being as intelligent as God
that God would have had to emerge at the end of evolution, not the very
beginning of it. Would you explain your thinking on that a little bit more?
Mr. DAWKINS: Yes, that's the fundamental consciousness-raising that I think
Darwinian evolution gives us. If it were ever shown that life on this planet
was designed, if somebody came up with unequivocal evidence, say, that
bacterial life was artificially designed on this planet, then I would say,
`How tremendously exciting. Who was the designer? It must have been some
extraterrestrial intelligence, perhaps following Francis Crick's slightly
jokey suggestion of directed panspermia. He suggested that life might have
been seeded on earth in the nose cone of a rocket sent from a distant
civilization that wanted to spread its form of life around the universe.
The point I'm making is that if there is a designer of life, the very nature
of the argument says that that designer has to be immensely complicated,
immensely intelligent, immensely improbable statistically and, therefore,
cannot just have happened, cannot just suddenly spring into existence de novo.
It must have evolved by the same slow gradual process as we have seen in life
on this earth. So if life was created on this planet by a deliberate design,
then the designer must have evolved somewhere else in the universe as the end
product of--as a late product of some kind of evolutionary process, probably a
very different kind of evolutionary process, but some kind of incremental
process that moves step by step from simplicity to complexity.
Now, I don't really believe that's happened on this planet. I don't think
Francis Crick did, either. I believe that life did originate on this planet
as a simple beginning by processes that we can--what we shall eventually
understand, lying within the laws of chemistry, which kickstarted the process
of evolution by natural selection, which then went on its upward way by its
slow steady incremental process producing greater complexity, greater
elegance, greater diversity, until it culminated in the mammals and birds and
trees and things that we see today.
GROSS: So in that sense, you find the idea of an intelligent god incompatible
with the concept of evolution. So--go ahead.
Mr. DAWKINS: Well, put it this way. At least it's incompatible with the
kind of argument which creationists put forward. The favorite argument of
creationists is, `How could you possibly explain the chance existence of
something like an eye or a brain?' And of course, you can't. You have to have
a gradual, slow, incremental process to do it, and by the very same token, God
would have to have the same kind of explanation. You can't use the argument
on the one hand to say, well, `Eyes can't have evolved,' and on the other
hand, use the argument to say God--evade the argument, which will say, `God
can't have just happened.' What I want to say is that God indeed can't have
just happened. If there are gods in the universe, they must be the end
product of slow, incremental processes. If there are beings in the universe
that we would treat as gods if we met them because they very likely may be so
much more advanced than us that we would worship them almost as gods, but they
must have come about by an incremental process, gradually.
GROSS: If you look at like the human sense of morality, can you ask the
question why haven't we evolved more morally as human beings? I mean, we
still have wars and there's still like violence and rape and decapitation and
all of that.
Mr. DAWKINS: Yes.
GROSS: So like--yeah.
Mr. DAWKINS: Well, I mean, I think in a way, the question's the other way
'round. If you look at the selfish gene view of life, the question rather is
why are we as moral as we are? And we are actually quite surprisingly moral
compared to what you might naively expect on a Darwinian
nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw view. On a naive Darwinian view, we should
behave morally towards our close relatives--our offspring, our grandchildren,
our cousins and brothers and things--but not toward just anybody. Similarly,
we should behave morally towards other individuals whom you recognize as
likely to encounter us again and again through life who therefore may be in a
position to reciprocate, to pay back the favor.
Now, there are good Darwinian accounts of both those kinds of altruism, which
I suppose is a kind of proto-morality, but we are faced with a problem of why
we are as moral as we are towards nonrelatives and towards perfect
strangers--indeed, members of other species whom we're never going to meet
again and who have no opportunity to reciprocate. And that I think is a kind
of mistaken byproduct. A mistake which I thoroughly approve of, by the way.
It's a blessed mistake. But I think that we are programmed by our Darwinian
past from a time when our ancestors lived in small groups when every member of
the group in which you lived would have been a clan member, would have been a
cousin of some sort or closer. And every member of every person that you meet
would be a clan member who you would meet again and again and who might
therefore reciprocate. And so the rule of thumb was build into our ancestral
brains, `Be nice to everyone you meet. Behave morally towards everyone you
meet.' Now, that rule of thumb goes on being played out now even though we no
longer live in these small bands.
GROSS: My guest is evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, author of the best
seller "The God Delusion."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Richard Dawkins. He's the
author of the best seller "The God Delusion" about why he's an atheist and why
he doesn't believe in religion. He's a professor of the Public Understanding
of Science at Oxford and has written several books about evolution.
Were you brought up with religion?
Mr. DAWKINS: I had a mildly Anglican upbringing. I went to Church of
England schools and went to chapel each week and learned the scriptures, but
it wasn't rammed down my throat.
GROSS: Do you think that your worldview was shaped by religion--I'm assuming
it was Anglican?
Mr. DAWKINS: Yes, Anglican. Well, I am a product of a Christian culture. I
mean, the literature that we, all of us, imbibe is heavily laden with biblical
references. And for that reason I think it's important that children should
not neglect the Bible. I think they should be taught the Bible as a work of
literature and, in the King James version, it's a very fine work of
literature. Otherwise, you can't appreciate the culture in which you're
brought up. So much of the art, so much of the music, so much of the
literature of our culture, both in Britain and America and Europe, is
thoroughly shot through with Christianity, and we can't avoid that.
GROSS: When did you start to question religion?
Mr. DAWKINS: At the age of about nine, I became conscious of the fact that
there were lots of different religions and they couldn't all be right and that
it was an accident that I happened to have been brought up in a Christian
culture, so that set me towards a path of skepticism. I then reverted to
Christianity and got confirmed into the Church of England at the age of about
13, and then finally lost my faith at the age of about 16, when I discovered
the wondrously powerful Darwinian explanation for life. Because by that time
the argument from design was the only argument that still seemed at all
convincing to me, and when I discovered that it was not convincing, that just
about wrapped it up for God, as Douglas Adams said.
GROSS: What do you mean the argument for design?
Mr. DAWKINS: Oh, the argument that says that living things are so
beautifully elegant that they look as though they've been designed.
Therefore, there must have been a designer.
GROSS: That there must be a god because things are so intricate and
Mr. DAWKINS: Yes. And it's that argument that Darwin blew out of the water
in 1859. Actually, I mean, it was always a bad argument philosophically, even
before Darwin came along, but it was nevertheless such a powerful argument
that, although it was philosophically unrespectable, people went on being
persuaded by it and I was still persuaded by it until I understood what Darwin
had said and done.
GROSS: One of the most common criticisms that I've read about your book "The
God Delusion" is that, in criticizing religion and religous zealotry, that
you've become a zealot for atheism. Do you think that that's a fair
Mr. DAWKINS: Well, I do feel passionately, and my passion does match the
passion of religious zealots and fundamentalists. However, there are
different reasons for passion. I'm passioante about things because I've
looked at the evidence, and the evidence is massively convincing. Religious
zealots, fundamentalists, are passionate the other way, not becuase they've
looked at evidence but because they've looked at the Bible. And it's a very
different thing. And there are plenty of--there's plenty of evidence that the
reason why people who are religious believe what they do has nothing to do
with having looked at real evidence. It's because they've been brought up in
a certain way, they've read certain holy books, they've listened to certain
authorities, and so I vigorously repudiate the charge of being a zealot or a
fundamentalist. I accept the charge of being passionate, but it's passionate
for a very good reason. I've looked at the evidence.
GROSS: You hosted a TV series on Channel 4 in England called "The Root of All
Evil?" that was about religion. Do you see religion as being dangerous and as
being the root of all evil?
Mr. DAWKINS: I don't see religion as being the root of all evil. I had a
long running fight with Channel 4, who were very keen to call it "Root of All
Evil." I was extremely keen not to call it "Root of All Evil," and this has
been a cross that I've had to bear ever since, because ever since then, people
have accused me of going around saying religion is the root of all evil. So
that was just an unfortunate disagreement that I had with Channel 4.
I think religion is the root of quite a lot of evil, but that's not a very
catchy title for a television program. I don't want to claim that religion is
responsible for all the wars in history; that's manifestly not the case. It's
not responsible for all the persecution in history; that's manifestly not the
case. It's responsible for a fair number. I'm not interested in going down
through history and making lists of people who are religous and did horrible
things and totting them up. I don't think that's a very good way to proceed.
I think it's much better to ask a more general question: Would we expect that
religious faith might have bad or good consequences in general? And I think
there is one reason why you might expect religious faith to have bad
consequences, which is that religious faith--in its extreme form,
anyway--means passionate belief in something in the absence of evidence, which
means passionate belief which cannot be swayed by contrary evidence. People
believe in something beecause they just know it's true and nothing will
persuade them out of it, and that's very different from what any scientist
would say. A scientist may passionately believe something, but the scientist
knows exactly what it would take to make him change his mind.
Now, if you have that kind of faith, then if you really follow it through to
its logical conclusion, its logical conclusion might well be that you have to
kill for it because you are so confident, you're so absolutely certain that
your God, whatever you call him, wants you to do this or you're so absolutely
confident that if you do, if you die a martyr's death, you'll get a fast track
to paradise, whatever it might be. If I took seriously the beliefs that are
laid down in the Bible or the Quran, if I really, really, really in my heart
of hearts believed what it says there, then I think I might very well kill for
it because that's pretty much--I mean, you feel so strongly about it, it's so
clear to you, that you are--that your army's strengthened in this horrible
perverted way to do awful things.
Now, I must immediately say, of course, that the vast majority of religious
people do nothing of the kind. But what the really faithful people might say
is, `Well, they're the ones who are not truly faithful. They're the ones who
aren't really carrying through their religion to its local conclusion.' So
nice, gentle, sophisticated theologians who say, `Well, of course, we wouldn't
dream of stoning people to do for breaking the Sabbath,' they're the ones who
in a way are not being true to the faith, according to the people who are
really dyed-in-the-wool, what I call `faith heads.'
GROSS: Would you argue that although religion has been responsible for a lot
of war and persecution, that at the same time religion has been responsible
for a lot of good, for a lot of generous and charitable instincts that have
protected people around the world?
Mr. DAWKINS: Well, yes, it probably is true as a matter of fact that there's
been plenty of good people who are religious. Of course, we all know them. I
mean, some of the nicest people I've ever met have been religious and it
shines through, so that I don't think is in dispute. What I think's more
interesting is to ask: Is there any general reason why religious faith should
predispose you to be good or bad, and I've given you one reason why it might
predispose you to be bad. If there's a general reason why it might predispose
you to be good, I suppose it might take the form, `God wants me to be good.
I'm fulfilling God's will.' Or if I'm bad, `God will punish me,' something
like that. And I'm sure there are people who are motivated by that sort of
consideration. I don't think it's a terribly noble reason to be good. It
sort of smacks a little bit of being good only because you're being watched,
because there's a great surveillance camera in the sky watching your every
move and listening to your every thought. I think that somebody who's good in
spite of not believing that he's watched at all, just simply good for good's
sake, that does seem to me to be a rather more noble reason to be good.
GROSS: But, of course, a lot of good Christians say they want to be good to
embody the life of Jesus and a lot of Jewish people will tell you that
justice--the sense of justice is at the very root of the faith. So those
would be different instincts for good.
Mr. DAWKINS: They would. I mean, I should say, Jesus I think was one of the
outstanding moralists of his time, of all time, and was an outstandingly good
man in many ways. And I've got a T-shirt saying "Atheists for Jesus." I wrote
an article called "Atheists for Jesus." Somebody then gave me a T-shirt. And
similarly if justice lives at the root of Jewish culture, then that doesn't
surprise me at all either. An awful lot of people who call themselves Jews
also call themselves atheists, and they call themselves Jews out of a cultural
loyalty to an ancestral tradition, which I also can understand and respect.
GROSS: You close your book, "The God Delusion," by saying, "I am thrilled to
be alive at a time when humanity is pushing against the limits of
understanding." How do you think that's happening in your field of
Mr. DAWKINS: Well, it's the most exciting time to be a biologist, from--I
mean, Darwin in the middle of the 19th century who essentially told us why we
all exist, why the whole of life exists, moving into the 20th century, the
understanding of genetics culminating in the 1953 discovery of the structure
of the double helix by Watson and Crick, which ushered in an entirely new way
of looking at life. Since Watson and Crick in 1953, biology has become a sort
of branch of computer science. I mean, genes are just long computer tapes,
and they use a code which is just another kind of computer code. It's
quaternary rather than binary, but it's read in a sequential way just like a
computer tape. It's transcribed. It's copied and pasted. All the familiar
metaphors from computer science fit.
This is a complete turnabout from the way biology used to be when one talked
in terms of things like a vital fluid or a life force, a sort of irreducible
mysterious essence of life, a throbbing gelatinous life force. I mean, this
was the way people talked in the--well, as recently as the first half of the
20th century. And now that has completely gone out of the window and now
we've become wholly mechanistic when talking about life, and it's a great
revelation to all of science what can happen with a single discovery like
that. It is a most thrilling and exciting time for a scientist to be alive.
GROSS: Richard Dawkins, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. DAWKINS: It's been a great pleasure. Thank you.
GROSS: Richard Dawkins is the author of "The God Delusion." Tomorrow we'll
hear from scientist Francis Collins, who headed the human genome project.
He's a former atheist-turned-evangelical Christian who finds his belief in God
perfectly compatible with his scientific research.
You'll be able to listen to or download podcasts of both interviews on our Web
This is FRESH AIR.
We often like to talk about religion on FRESH AIR. Religion often divides
people. We try on FRESH AIR to have people explain their faith or lack of
faith to the rest of us so we can better understand the religions of the world
and each other, and better comprehend why some people believe in God and
others don't. Today and tomorrow, we're talking about whether science and
religion are in conflict. If you appreciate this kind of reflection and want
to make sure there's a place on radio where it's possible, please call your
station now and make a pledge. Thank you.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews "Back to Black," American
debut album of British singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse
TERRY GROSS, host:
Amy Winehouse is a 23-year-old British singer/songwriter who takes much of her
inspiration from American soul and R&B. Her American debut album, "Back to
Black," topped the British charts and hit the American charts at number seven.
Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.
(Soundbite from "Wake Up Alone"
Ms. AMY WINEHOUSE: (Singing) "It's OK in the day I'm staying busy. Tied up
enough so I don't have to wonder where is he. I'm so sick of crying. So just
lately when I catch myself, I do a 180. I stay..."
(End of soundbite)
Mr. KEN TUCKER: Amy Winehouse is a pale, little, tattooed British woman
trying her best to sound like the missing Ronette, the baby the Marvelettes
never had, the kid who idolizes Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway as long-lost
stateside uncles. Although she puts on a bold front of surly bravado, there's
something meaty in her lyrics and in her canny imitations of '60s Motown soul.
This gives her music a much-needed vulnerability. Here's her variation on
"Ain't No Mountain High Enough." She calls it "Tears Dry on Their Own."
(Soundbite from "Tears Dry on Their Own")
Ms. WINEHOUSE: (Singing) "All I can ever be to you is a darkness that we
knew, and this regret I got accustomed to. Once it was so right, when we were
at our height, waiting for you in the hotel at night. I knew I hadn't met my
match, but every moment we could snatch, I don't know why I got so attached.
It's my responsibility. You don't owe nothing to me, but to walk away, I have
no capacity. He walks away, the sun goes down. He takes the day, but I'm
grown. And in your way in this blue shade, my tears dry on their own. I
(End of soundbite)
Mr. TUCKER: I don't mean to suggest, by pointing out her direct influences,
that Amy Winehouse is nothing more than the sum of her idols. To hear her at
her most swaggeringly self-confident, you have to listen to the best song on
"Back to Black," an exceedingly clever number called "Rehab."
(Soundbite from "Rehab")
Ms. WINEHOUSE: (Singing) "They tried to make me go to rehab. I said no, no,
no. Yes, I been black, but when I come back, you'll know, know, know. I
ain't got the time, and if my daddy thinks I'm fine, they's trying to make me
go to rehab, I won't go, go go. I'd rather be at home with Ray. I ain't got
70 days. Cause there's nothing, there's nothing you can teach me that I can't
learn from Mr. Hathaway. I didn't get a lot in class, but I know it don't
come in a shot glass. They tried to make me..."
(End of soundbite)
Mr. TUCKER: Now that is a very astute song, half-soul music revivalism,
half-novelty tune. What could be more ear-catching these days than a woman
singing with casual vehemence over an irresistible melody that she's not going
into rehab even though all of those close to her are urging her to do so. It
immediately invites curiosity. Is the song autobiographical? Is it a put-on?
More to the point of music, its `Phil Spector meets Shangri-La's production'
makes "Rehab" as addictive as the stuff she claims people want her to kick.
She makes you want to hear more of it right away.
(Soundbite from "Rehab")
Ms. WINEHOUSE: (Singing) "The man said, why do you think you're here? I
said I got no idea. I'm gonna, gonna lose my baby. So I always keep a bottle
near. He said, I just think you're depressed. Kiss me, yeah, baby, and the
rest. They tried to make me go to rehab..."
(End of soundbite)
Mr. TUCKER: This sort of sound is, I would think, a gas for American baby
boomers, but are they enough to make Amy Winehouse a smash over here? A
younger audience that can't tell the difference between the influences in
Winehouse's vocals, not just Lauren Hill and Macy Gray but also Smokey
Robinson, Sarah Vaughan and a little Dinah Washington, probably doesn't feel
much resonance here.
That's why it's heartening that one of the best current hip-hop acts in
America, Ghostface, liked Winehouse's song "You Know I'm No Good" so much,
that he rerecorded it with her. That collaboration may give her a little
entre onto the radio or at least some street cred among the kids. For the
rest of us, we have to decide whether Amy Winehouse is just an apt pupil
reciting well-learned lessons from her betters or whether she's the real deal.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"Back to Black" by Amy Winehouse.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite from "You Know I'm No Good")
Ms. WINEHOUSE: (Singing) "Meet you downstairs in the bar and heard. Your
rolled up sleeves and your skull T-shirt. You say, why did you do it with him
today and sniff me out like I was Tanqueray."
GHOSTFACE: (Rapping) "Ya, why you acting like you're more trouble than Tony
Starks and you need to just walk away like Kelly Clarkson. I know we were
free to sleep around town, but I figured you said that cuz how I get down,
now, 'course you were out there messing around. I would've told you once you
go, you never go back, try treating me like I don't know..."
(End of soundbite)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.