Richard Dawkins discusses The God Delusion on Minnesota Public Radio

March 17, 2009 | By | Reply More

Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and author of The God Delusion, has spent countless hours defending his positions before lay audiences.   What’s really impressive about Dawkins is the way he keeps his cool under fire (I was first impressed with Dawkins’ composure when I viewed this episode, involving Dawkins’ interview of the gay-bashing hypocrite, Ted Haggard).

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Image by Matti A at Flickr via Creative Commons

Consider this condescending interview conducted 3/4/09 by Kerri Miller of Minnesota Public Radio.  You can listen to the entire one-hour interview here. At the beginning of this interview, Miller could barely hide her disdain for Dawkins.   Many of the people calling the show to ask questions were much more open-minded than the host–they certainly didn’t pick up the host’s mocking tone.

Miller began the interview by branding Dawkins a failure because people weren’t running to convert to atheism, despite Dawkins’ hope (expressed in The God Delusion) that people reading his book would be caused to rethink their beliefs in religion.  Dawkins explained that he did hope that people would rethink their beliefs, but that his book didn’t fail merely because people didn’t abruptly quit their religious affiliations. Here’s the hope Dawkins expressed when he wrote The God Delusion:

I hope to persuade . . . a substantial number of middle of the road people that there’s nothing wrong with a disbelief in God … there’s nothing outlandish about it.  It’s probably what they’re like anyway, whether or not they admit it to themselves.

Miller then worked to corner Dawkins with a belief expressed by theist John Polkinghorne that there are no hard and fasts truths.  Dawkins agreed with Polkinghorne on this general point, but advised Miller that this doesn’t mean that we have no understanding of anything.  Dawkins then pointed out that Polkinghorne is a Church of England Vicar, and that he had traditional religious beliefs, which are “very different from the god of physics” (Dawkins characterizes the “God” of Einstein as a potentially respectable position).   Dawkins expressed that all belief systems were “infantile”  to the extent that they included an invisible friend who looked after us, or Virgin births, or people raising from the dead.  When Miller then asked Dawkins about biologist/theist Francis Collins, Dawkins praised the scientific work of Collins, but then characterized Collins as “a curious split brain phenomenon.”

I took notes as I listened to the interview.  Here are some of the other points made by Dawkins:

– How arrogantly confident must one be to assert that one “knows” that Jesus was born of a virgin or that Jesus was raised on the third day.

– If you really are a person who doubts, why bother to call yourself a “Christian?”   Why not simply call yourself a deist and admit that you don’t know anything about any “higher power.”  Yet most Christians still believe in the resurrection, despite the common claim by these Christians that they are “skeptical” in their beliefs. The more we know about the world and morality, the less reason to believe in God, according to Dawkins. He further argued that there is no real moral person would base their sense of morality on the Bible or the Koran.

– Scientists love mystery.   They try to figure it out, understand it and dispel it.  Mysteries are wonderful things to solve.  Believers try to revel in mystery, however, and they get angry that others that are trying to solve them.   It is possible that there will be some mysteries that will never be solved.   Some mysteries might be questions that are not even answerable. The greatest mystery that remains unsolved is human consciousness.   This is an issue worth working on.   Neuroscience and computer science are the proper approaches.  Computer science gives us insight because it is capable of mimicry of mental functions.

– Many Christians claim that they are relying on historical events.   In the case of the resurrection, however, historical evidence is extraordinarily poor.   All ancient historians agree on the paucity of relevant historical evidence.

– In evolution, there is much on which we can rely.  Gaps in fossils are not a problem, because scientists make no claim that all animals fossilize. Are there gaps in evolution?   Theologians invented the phrase “god of the gaps” to criticize other theologians.  Sophisticated theologians don’t believe in this.

– Dawkins expressed that he is not certain that there is no god.   In The God Delusion, Dawkins offered a 7-point scale related to religious belief, placing himself at 6.5 on the scale. Why not 7? Because no scientist should ever say “There is no [anything].”   There might possibly be a supernatural being.

– Irreducible complexity goes back a long way.   This claim is that if you take away one bit, the whole thing collapses and it won’t work e.g., eyes—therefore couldn’t evolve.  This claim is false, because you might have scaffolding that allows a feature to build up and then the scaffolding can be taken away.    New research shows that there are precedents to bacterial flagella, for example.   You can’t simply assert these things without evidence.  For these reasons, Ben Stein’s Expelled is a “deeply disreputable work.”

– What was there before the big bang?  Nobody knows.   Physicists sometimes say that this question is meaningless because time itself didn’t exist, but Dawkins is not clear what this claim means (e.g., it sounds as jumbled as the question: What’s north of the North Pole?”).   What happened before the big bang is a mystery, but this mystery is not helped by postulating a divine intelligence.

– Is there any chance that Dawkins will become a religious convert?  Maybe, he says, but only if he has lost his mind.   Dawkins can’t say categorically that there is no life after death, but it’s implausible.  “Everything we know about how minds work shows that they are bound up with brains, and brains don’t survive death.”   Human consciousness evolved by degrees over millions of years.   The claim that conscious survives the death of the body “does not ring plausible.”

Dawkins is currently working on a new book, a lay person’s guide to evolution that will be titled The Greatest Show on Earth.  The book will be released this Fall.  Why does the world need yet another book on evolution?  Because “many people still haven’t thought of evolution.”  Maybe this book will help them.

As always, Dawkins earnestly and elegantly stated his positions.  In fact, by the end of the interview, I sensed a shift in tone in the voice of host Kerri Miller.  Was she now a Dawkins convert?  I doubt it, but by the end of this interview I believe that she was unconsciously broadcasting an increased respect for the views of Dawkins.

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Category: Evolution, Human animals, ignorance, Religion, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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