Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Richard Dawkins

English Evolutionary Biologist, Ethologist and Author

"Group selection theory would therefore predict a tendency to evolve towards an all-dove conspiracy.... But the trouble with conspiracies, even those that are to everybody's advantage in the long run, is that they are open to abuse."

"Hot on the heels of its magnanimous pardoning of Galileo, the Vatican has now moved with even more lightning speed to recognize the truth of Darwinism."

"How do we account for the current paranormal vogue in the popular media? Perhaps it has something to do with the millennium "

"How should scientists respond to the allegation that our 'faith' in logic and scientific truth is just that - faith - not 'privileged' (the favorite in-word) over alternative truths? A minimal response is that science gets results."

"How else could you remember it? But here is the bombshell: you weren"

"However many ways there may be of being alive, it is certain that there are vastly more ways of being dead, or rather not alive."

"However many ways there may be of being alive, it is certain that there are vastly more ways of being dead."

"I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world."

"I am at a loss to reconcile the expensive and glossy production values of this book with the breathtaking inanity of the content."

"However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the Ultimate Boeing 747."

"Human psychology has a near universal tendency to let belief be colored by desire."

"I am not advocating a morality based on evolution. I am saying how things have evolved. I am not saying how we humans morally ought to behave."

"I am often accused of expressing contempt and despising religious people. I don't despise religious people, I despise what they stand for. I like to quote the British journalist Johann Hari who said, I have so much respect for you, that I cannot respect your ridiculous ideas."

"I am sometimes accused of arrogant intolerance in my treatment of creationists. Of course arrogance is an unpleasant characteristic, and I should hate to be thought arrogant in a general way. But there are limits! To get some idea of what it is like being a professional student of evolution, asked to have a serious debate with creationists, the following comparison is a fair one. Imagine yourself a classical scholar who has spent a lifetime studying Roman history in all its rich detail. Now somebody comes along, with a degree in marine engineering or mediaeval musicology, and tries to argue that the Romans never existed. Wouldn't you find it hard to suppress your impatience? And mightn't it look a bit like arrogance?"

"I am thrilled to be alive at a time when humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding. Even better, we may eventually discover that there are no limits."

"I believe natural selection represents a truly hideous sum total of misery. When you look at something like a bounding lion, a sprinting cheetah, and the antelopes they are bounding and sprinting after, you're seeing the end product of a long, vicious arms race. All along the route of that arms race lie the corpses of the antelopes that didn't make it, and the lions and cheetahs that starved to death. So it is a process of vicious misery that has given rise to the immense beauty, elegance, and diversity that we see in the world today. Nature is beautiful. Even a cheetah as a killing machine is beautiful. But the process that gave rise to it is, indeed, nature red in tooth and claw. If nature were kind, she would at least make the minor concession of anaesthetising caterpillars before they are eaten alive from within."

"I became a little alarmed at the number of my readers who took the meme more positively as a theory of human culture in its own right -- either to criticize it (unfairly, given my original modest intention) or to carry it far beyond the limits of what I then thought justified. This was why I may have seemed to backtrack."

"I can think of no moral objection to eating human road kills except for the ones that you mentioned like 'what would the relatives think about it?' and 'would the person themselves have wanted it to happen?', but I do worry a bit about slippery slopes; possibly a little bit more than you do."

"I believe that an orderly universe, one indifferent to human preoccupations, in which everything has an explanation even if we still have a long way to go before we find it, is a more beautiful, more wonderful place than a universe tricked out with capricious ad hoc magic."

"I am treating a mother as a machine programmed to do everything in its power to propagate copies of the genes which ride inside it."

"I don't believe you until you tell me, do you really believe, for example, if they say they are Catholic, Do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer, it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood? Mock them. Ridicule them. In public. Don't fall for the convention that we're all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits. Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt."

"I don't think God is an explanation at all. It's simply re-describing the problem."

"I do remember one formative influence in my undergraduate life. There was an elderly professor in my department who had been passionately keen on a particular theory for, oh, a number of years, and one day an American visiting researcher came and he completely and utterly disproved our old man's hypothesis. The old man strode to the front, shook his hand and said, My dear fellow, I wish to thank you, I have been wrong these fifteen years. And we all clapped our hands raw. That was the scientific ideal, of somebody who had a lot invested, a lifetime almost invested in a theory, and he was rejoicing that he had been shown wrong and that scientific truth had been advanced."

"I do not say that science knows everything, but I most certainly say that religion knows nothing."

"I don't want to sound callous. I mean, even if I have nothing to offer, that doesn't matter, because that still doesn't mean that what anybody else has to offer therefore has to be true."

"I don't withdraw a word of my initial statement. But I do now think it may have been incomplete. There is perhaps a fifth category, which may belong under insane but which can be more sympathetically characterized by a word like tormented, bullied, or brainwashed. Sincere people who are not ignorant, not stupid, and not wicked can be cruelly torn, almost in two, between the massive evidence of science on the one hand, and their understanding of what their holy book tells them on the other. I think this is one of the truly bad things religion can do to a human mind. There is wickedness here, but it is the wickedness of the institution and what it does to a believing victim, not wickedness on the part of the victim himself."

"I doubt that religion can survive deep understanding. The shallows are its natural habitat. Cranks and fundamentalists are too often victimized as scapegoats for religion in general. It is only quite recently that Christianity reinvented itself in non-fundamentalist guise, and Islam has yet to do so (see Ibn Warraq's excellent book, Why I am not a Muslim). Moonies and scientologists get a bad press, but they just haven't been around as long as the accepted religions. Theology is a respectable discipline when it studies such subjects as moral philosophy, the psychology of religious belief and, above all, biblical history and literature. Like Bertie Wooster, my knowledge of the Bible is above average. I seem to know Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon almost by heart. I think that the Bible as literature should be a compulsory part of the national curriculum - you can't understand English literature and culture without it. But insofar as theology studies the nature of the divine, it will earn the right to be taken seriously when it provides the slightest, smallest smidgen of a reason for believing in the existence of the divine. Meanwhile, we should devote as much time to studying serious theology as we devote to studying serious fairies and serious unicorns."

"I had always been scrupulously careful to avoid the smallest suggestion of infant indoctrination, which I think is ultimately responsible for much of the evil in the world. Others, less close to her, showed no such scruples, which upset me, as I very much wanted her, as I want all children, to make up her own mind freely when she became old enough to do so. I would encourage her to think, without telling her what to think."

"I suspect the reason is that most people... have a residue of feeling that Darwinian evolution isn't quite big enough to explain everything about life. All I can say as a biologist is that the feeling disappears progressively the more you read about and study what is known about life and evolution. I want to add one thing more. The more you understand the significance of evolution, the more you are pushed away from the agnostic position and towards atheism. Complex, statistically improbable things are by their nature more difficult to explain than simple, statistically probable things."

"I have just discovered that without her father's consent this sweet, trusting, gullible six-year-old is being sent, for weekly instruction, to a Roman Catholic nun. What chance has she?"

"I think we must beware of a reflex and unthinking antipathy to everything unnatural. Certainly cloning is unnatural. We haven't bred without sex for perhaps a thousand million years. But unnatural isn't a necessary synonym for bad. It's unnatural to read books, or travel faster than we can run, or scuba-dive, or fly. It's unnatural to wear clothes, but we do. Indeed, the people most likely to be scandalized at the prospect of human cloning are the very people most outraged by lack of human clothing."

"I think it would be mind-bogglingly fascinating to watch a younger edition of myself growing up in the twenty-first century instead of in the 1940's."

"I think it is not helpful to apply Darwinian language too widely. Conquest of nation by nation is too distant for Darwinian explanations to be helpful. Darwinism is the differential survival of self-replicating genes in a gene pool, usually as manifested by individual behavior, morphology, and phenotypes. Group selection of any kind is not Darwinism as Darwin understood it nor as I understand it. There is a very vague analogy between group selection and conquest of a nation by another nation, but I don't think it's a very helpful analogy. So I would prefer not to invoke Darwinian language for that kind of historical interpretation."

"I want science to be taken seriously, because, after all, it's less ephemeral--it has a more eternal aspect than whatever the politics of the day might be, which, of course, gets the lead in the news."

"I want to persuade the reader, not just that the Darwinian world-view happens to be true, but that it is the only known theory that could, in principle, solve the mystery of our existence. A good case can be made that Darwinism is true, not just on this planet but all over the universe wherever life may be found."

"I want to say that killing for God is not only hideous murder "

"I want to examine that dangerous thing that"

"I was reminded of a quotation by the famous American physicist Steven Weinberg, Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist. Weinberg said: Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it, you'd have good people doing good things, and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion."

"If death is final, a rational agent can be expected to value his life highly and be reluctant to risk it. This makes the world a safer place, just as a plane is safer if its hijacker wants to survive. At the other extreme, if a significant number of people convince themselves, or are convinced by their priests, that a martyr's death is equivalent to pressing the hyperspace button and zooming through a wormhole to another universe, it can make the world a very dangerous place. Especially if they also believe that that other universe is a paradisical escape from the tribulations of the real world. Top it off with sincerely believed, if ludicrous and degrading to women, sexual promises, and is it any wonder that na"

"If only everybody would agree to be a dove, every single individual would benefit. By simple group selection, any group in which all individuals mutually agree to be doves would be far more successful than a rival group sitting at the ESS (Evolutionary Stable Strategy) ratio.... Group selection theory would therefore predict a tendency to evolve towards an all-dove conspiracy... But the trouble with conspiracies, even those that are to everybody's advantage in the long run, is that they are open to abuse. It is true that everybody does better in an all-dove group than he would in an ESS group. But unfortunately, in conspiracies of doves, a single hawk does so extremely well that nothing could stop the evolution of hawks. The conspiracy is therefore bound to be broken by treachery from within. An ESS is stable, not because it is particularly good for the individuals participating in it, but simply because it is immune to treachery from within."

"If it's really true, that the museum at Liberty University has dinosaur fossils which are labelled as being 3000 years old, then that is an educational disgrace. It is debauching the whole idea of a university, and I would strongly encourage any members of Liberty University who may be here... to leave and go to a proper university."

"If God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them? Who's God trying to impress? Presumably himself, since he is judge and jury, as well as execution victim."

"If people think God is interesting, the onus is on them to show that there is anything there to talk about. Otherwise they should just shut up about it."

"If that gives you offense, I'm sorry. You are probably not stupid, insane or wicked; and ignorance is no crime in a country with strong local traditions of interference in the freedom of biology educators to teach the central theorem of their subject."

"If the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies like the crashing of a bus (full of children from a Roman Catholic school and for no apparent reason but with wholesale loss of life) are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind."

"If there is no God, why be good?...When a religious person puts it to me in this way (and many of them do), my immediate temptation is to issue the following challenge: "

"If the history-deniers who doubt the fact of evolution are ignorant of biology, those who think the world began less than ten thousand years ago are worse than ignorant, they are deluded to the point of perversity. They are denying not only the facts of biology but those of physics, geology, cosmology, archaeology, history and chemistry as well."

"If there is mercy in nature, it is accidental. Nature is neither kind nor cruel but indifferent."

"If we want to postulate a deity capable of engineering all the organized complexity in the world, either instantaneously or by guiding evolution, that deity must have been vastly complex in the first place. The creationist, whether a naive Bible-thumper or an educated bishop, simply postulates an already existing being of prodigious intelligence and complexity. If we are going to allow ourselves the luxury of postulating organized complexity without offering an explanation, we might as well make a job of it and simply postulate the existence of life as we know it!"

"If there is only one Creator who made the tiger and the lamb, the cheetah and the gazelle, what is He playing at? Is he a sadist who enjoys spectator blood sports? ... Is He maneuvering to maximize David Attenborough's television ratings?"