Sunday, May 01, 2005

Dawkins, God's Epidemiologist

Richard Dawkins has just given a long interview to Salon where he discusses his recent book "The Ancestor's Tale" and gives a taste for his forthcoming "The God Delusion". As usual it is a pleasure to read. Here are a few juicy bits:

You won't find any opposition to the idea of evolution among sophisticated, educated theologians. It comes from an exceedingly retarded, primitive version of religion, which unfortunately is at present undergoing an epidemic in the United States. Not in Europe, not in Britain, but in the United States. [...]

A delusion is something that people believe in despite a total lack of evidence. Religion is scarcely distinguishable from childhood delusions like the "imaginary friend" and the bogeyman under the bed. Unfortunately, the God delusion possesses adults, and not just a minority of unfortunates in an asylum. [...]

A delusion that encourages belief where there is no evidence is asking for trouble. Disagreements between incompatible beliefs cannot be settled by reasoned argument because reasoned argument is drummed out of those trained in religion from the cradle. Instead, disagreements are settled by other means which, in extreme cases, inevitably become violent. Scientists disagree among themselves but they never fight over their disagreements. They argue about evidence or go out and seek new evidence. Much the same is true of philosophers, historians and literary critics. [...]

[How would we be better off without religion?] We'd all be freed to concentrate on the only life we are ever going to have. We'd be free to exult in the privilege -- the remarkable good fortune -- that each one of us enjoys through having been being born. An astronomically overwhelming majority of the people who could be born never will be. You are one of the tiny minority whose number came up. Be thankful that you have a life, and forsake your vain and presumptuous desire for a second one. The world would be a better place if we all had this positive attitude to life. It would also be a better place if morality was all about doing good to others and refraining from hurting them, rather than religion's morbid obsession with private sin and the evils of sexual enjoyment.

Apart from being the creationist movement's public enemy #1, Dawkins also has the dubious distinction of being largely responsible for my having dedicated my professional career to evolutionary biology. For some of my generation it was David Attenborough's "Life on Earth" documentary; Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" (immediately followed by "The Blind Watchmaker") did it for me. The following year I began studying Biology at the University of Lisbon.