English Evolutionary Biologist, Ethologist and Author
English Evolutionary Biologist, Ethologist and Author
You've just said a very revealing thing. Are you telling me that the only reason you don't steal and rape and murder is that you're frightened of God?
Your DNA may be destined to mingle with mine. Salutations!
You don't have to be a scientist
You could give Aristotle a tutorial and you could thrill him to the core of his being. Aristotle was an encyclopedic polymath, an all-time intellect, yet not only can you know more than him about the world, you also can have a deeper understanding of how everything works. Such is the privilege of living after Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Planck, Watson, Crick and their colleagues.
You don't have to be a genius to sound like one. Here's a collection of the most profound and provocative wit and wisdom in the English language in two lines or less. Edited by entrepreneur John M. Shanahan, who created the wildly successful Hooked on Phonics program, this wonderful book presents the best that has been thought and said on every imaginable topic.
You contain a trillion copies of a large, textual document written in a highly accurate, digital code, each copy as voluminous as a substantial book. I'm talking, of course, of the DNA in your cells.
You could almost define a philosopher as someone who won't take common sense for an answer.
You cannot be both sane and well educated and disbelieve in evolution. The evidence is so strong that any sane, educated person has got to believe in evolution.
Yet scientists are required to back up their claims not with private feelings but with publicly checkable evidence. Their experiments must have rigorous controls to eliminate spurious effects. And statistical analysis eliminates the suspicion (or at least measures the likelihood) that the apparent effect might have happened by chance alone.
Yet the final indictment against the television decision-makers is more profound and more serious. Their recent splurge of paranormalism debauches true science and undermines the efforts of their own excellent science departments. The universe is a strange and wondrous place. The truth is quite odd enough to need no help from pseudo-scientific charlatans. The public appetite for wonder can be fed, through the powerful medium of television, without compromising the principles of honesty and reason.
Words are our servants, not our masters. For different purposes we find it convenient to use words in different senses.
Yes, testosterone-sodden young men too unattractive to get a woman in this world might be desperate enough to go for 72 private virgins in the next.
With so many mind-bytes to be downloaded, so many mental codons to be replicated, it is no wonder that child brains are gullible, open to almost any suggestion, vulnerable to subversion, easy prey to Moonies, Scientologists and nuns. Like immune-deficient patients, children are wide open to mental infections that adults might brush off without effort.
Wild animals almost never die of old age: starvation, disease, or predators catch up with them long before they become really senile. Until recently this was true of man too. Most animals die in childhood, many never get beyond the egg stage.
Why would an all-powerful creator decide to plant his carefully crafted species on islands and continents in exactly the appropriate pattern to suggest, irresistibly, that they had evolved and dispersed from the site of their evolution?
Wielding his sword of reason in one hand and shield of acerbic scepticism in the other, Professor Richard Dawkins rides out against the forces of faith, superstition and New Age nonsense. It's hardly a fair fight, Dawkins easily destroys the arguments of astrologers, dowsers and the tricks behind the trade of mediumship. His manner may be off-putting but Dawkins' message is clear
Why should it be that it's perfectly legitimate to support the Labor party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows - but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe ... no, that's holy? ... We are used to not challenging religious ideas but it's very interesting how much of a furore Richard (Dawkins) creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you're not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn't be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn't be.
Whether we ever get to know about them or not, there are very probably alien civilizations that are superhuman, to the point of being god-like in ways that exceed anything a theologian could possibly imagine. Their technical achievements would seem as supernatural to us as ours would seem to a Dark Age peasant transported to the twenty-first century. Imagine his response to a laptop computer, a mobile telephone, a hydrogen bomb or a jumbo jet.
Who will say with confidence that sexual abuse is more permanently damaging to children than threatening them with the eternal and unquenchable fires of hell?
Who'd go back to astrology when they've sampled the real thing -- astronomy...?
Whenever a system of communication evolves, there is always the danger that some will exploit the system for their own ends. Brought up as we have been on the 'good of the species' view of evolution, we naturally think first of liars and deceivers as belonging to different species: predators, prey, parasites, and so on. However, we must expect lies and deceit, and selfish exploitation of communication to arise whenever the interests of the genes of different individuals diverge. This will include individuals of the same species. As we shall see, we must even expect that children will deceive their parents, that husbands will cheat on wives, and that brother will lie to brother.
Where are these facts leading us? They are leading us in the direction of a central truth about life on Earth... This is that living organisms exist for the benefit of DNA rather than the other way around. This won't be obvious yet, but I hope to persuade you of it. The messages that DNA molecules contain are all but eternal when seen against the time scale of individual lifetimes. The lifetimes of DNA messages (give or take a few mutations) are measured in units ranging from millions of years to hundreds of millions of years; or, in other words, ranging from 10,000 individual lifetimes to a trillion individual lifetimes. Each individual organism should be seen as a temporary vehicle, in which DNA messages spend a tiny fraction of their geological lifetimes.
When two sides disagree, the truth may not necessarily lie partway between them: it's possible for one side to simply be wrong