Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Richard Dawkins

English Evolutionary Biologist, Ethologist and Author

"We must respect the other fellow"

"We no longer have to resort to superstition when faced with the deep problems: Is there a meaning to life? What are we for? What is man?"

"We should not seek immortality in reproduction. But if you contribute to the world`s culture, if you have a good idea, compose a tune, invent a spark plug, write a poem, it may live on, intact, long after your genes have dissolved in the common pool."

"We should take astrology seriously. No, I don't mean we should believe in it. I am talking about fighting it seriously instead of humoring it as a piece of harmless fun."

"We should be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brain falls out."

"We think we know that chimpanzees are higher animals and earthworms are lower, we think we've always known what that means, and we think evolution makes it even clearer. But it doesn't. It is by no means clear that it means anything at all. Or if it means anything, it means so many different things to be misleading, even pernicious."

"Welcome to a dangerous new era - the Unlightenment - in which centuries of rational thought are overturned by idiots. Superstitious idiots. They're everywhere - reading horoscopes, buying homeopathic remedies, consulting psychics, babbling about chakras and healing energies, praying to imaginary gods, and rejecting science in favor of soft-headed bunkum. But instead of slapping these people round the face till they behave like adults, we encourage them. We've got to respect their beliefs, apparently. Well I don't... Maybe you've put your faith in spiritual claptrap because our random, narrative-free universe terrifies you. But that's no solution. If you want comforting, suck your thumb. Buy a pillow. Don't make up a load of floaty blah about energy or destiny. This is the real world, stupid. We should be solving problems, not sticking our fingers in our ears and singing about fairies. Everywhere you look, screaming gittery is taking root, with serious consequences. The NHS recently spent "

"We've reached a truly remarkable situation: a grotesque mismatch between the American intelligencia and the American electorate. A philosophical opinion about the nature of the universe which is held by the vast majority of top American scientists, and probably the majority of the intelligencia generally, is so abhorrent to the American electorate that no candidate for popular election dare affirm it in public. If I'm right, this means that high office in the greatest country in the world is barred to the very people best qualified to hold it: the intelligencia, unless they are prepared to lie about their beliefs. To put it bluntly American political opportunities are heavily loaded against those who are simultaneously intelligent and honest."

"What are all of us but self-reproducing robots? We have been put together by our genes and what we do is roam the world looking for a way to sustain ourselves and ultimately produce another robot child."

"What are bees good for, from the point of view of the flowers? They are guided missiles for firing pollen from one flower to another."

"What changes is the long programs that natural selection has written using those 64 basic words. The messages that have come down to us are the ones that have survived millions, in some cases hundreds of millions, of generations. For every successful message that has reached the present, countless failures have fallen away like the chippings on a sculptor's floor. That's what Darwinian natural selection means. We are the descendants of a tiny "

"What is it that makes natural selection succeed as a solution to the problem of improbability, whereas chance and design both fail at the starting gate? The answer is that natural selection is a cumulative process, which breaks the problem of improbability up into small pieces. Each of the small pieces is slightly improbable, but not prohibitively so."

"What is truly revolutionary about molecular biology in the post-Watson-Crick era is that it has become digital."

"What has happened is that genetics has become a branch of information technology. It is pure information. It's digital information. It's precisely the kind of information that can be translated digit for digit, byte for byte, into any other kind of information and then translated back again. This is a major revolution. I suppose it's probably the major revolution in the whole history of our understanding of ourselves. It's something would have boggled the mind of Darwin, and Darwin would have loved it, I'm absolutely sure."

"What has 'theology' ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody? When has 'theology' ever said anything that is demonstrably true and is not obvious? What makes you think that 'theology' is a subject at all?"

"What is the selfish gene? It is not just one single physical bit of DNA. Just as in the primeval soup, it is all replicas of a particular bit of DNA, distributed throughout the world. If we allow ourselves the license of talking about genes as if they had conscious aims, always reassuring ourselves that we could translate our sloppy language back into respectable terms if we wanted to, we can ask the question, what is a single selfish gene trying to do? It is trying to get more numerous in the gene pool. Basically it does this by helping to Program the bodies in which it finds itself to survive and to reproduce. But now we are emphasizing that 'it' is a distributed agency, existing in many different individuals at once. The key point of this chapter is that a gene might be able to assist replicas of itself that are sitting in other bodies. If so, this would appear as individual altruism but it would be brought about by gene selfishness. it still seems rather implausible."

"What worries me about religion is that it teaches people to be satisfied with not understanding."

"When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong."

"When two sides disagree, the truth may not necessarily lie partway between them: it's possible for one side to simply be wrong"

"What needs to be said now, loud and clear, is the truth: that the theory of punctuated equilibrium lies firmly within the neo-Darwinian synthesis. It always did. It will take time to undo the damage wrought by overblown rhetoric, but it will be undone. The theory of punctuated equilibrium will come to be seen in proportion, as an interesting but minor wrinkle on the surface of neo-Darwinian theory."

"When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion."

"When you see a tiger, you had better not delay your prediction of its probable behavior."

"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."

"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."

"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...?"

"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."

"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?"

"Words are our servants, not our masters. For different purposes we find it convenient to use words in different senses."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"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 see, if you say something positive like the whole of life "

"You could almost define a philosopher as someone who won't take common sense for an answer."

"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?"

"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 don't have to be a scientist "

"Your DNA may be destined to mingle with mine. Salutations!"