tv After Words Richard Dawkins CSPAN October 20, 2013 9:00pm-10:01pm EDT
because as the soviet authorities might to suppress that kind of information nonetheless could get out as well as that chernobyl gave books but the most important thing we need to learn about that event took time to emerge. up next on book tv, "after words." our guest host this week is sally quin, the co creator of
"the washington post" blog on faith. she interviews richard dawkins on his book"an appetite for wonder: the making of a scientist." he talks about his guidance with religion and embrace of science and the secular world. this program is about an hour. >> host: richard i can't help but notice and admire your tie which has pangolins. was there a significance to that? >> guest: it was handpainted by my wife as all of my ties are. this is a one off tie. nothing else like it in the world. we went to antarctic last christmas on a cruise and we spent christmas on the boat in an arctic so this was like christmas present. >> host: to you have a particular interest in
pangolins? >> guest: they are astonishing animals the way they fly in the water. they look clumsy on land. then they get under water and they are dirt. the streamlining is beautiful. and so, like dolphins they are astonishingly fast. and they jumped out of the border and back in again in a dolphin like way. >> host: you're first big success was the selfish gene and then forgot the delusion that need to the controversy will figure. then along with christopher hitchens and daniel benet you need the word atheist acceptable i think before that people were ashamed to say they were an atheist or embarrassed.
and as you have pointed out before you can't run for office in this country for an atheist. if you say you are not a believer. but i know that you come in your autobiography that is one of two parts and appetite for wonder you hardly mention religion. why is that? >> i've written about 12 books in the god delusion and all of them about science but they're about it implies a theism so it is kind of implied. this book is about my ear early life. childhood school day is coming university life and early research careers. so i suppose i just wanted to hold the story of my life in case anybody is interested.
it didn't dominate nor should it. >> host: i know wherever you go there are crowds that want to talk about the universe and why are we here. our you tired of that? >> guest: the questions are so important and something you said just now about making a theism respectful not quite sure we did that but what people tell me in the book signing which are very gratifying, they tell me that "the god delusion" gave them the courage. in some cases actually converted them but in many more cases they were already the guests and it encouraged them to come out which suggests to me there were a hell of a lot more atheists in the country than anybody realizes and maybe a certain a fact that nobody actually speaks out and says that they are an
atheist. and yet, there's enough of them that suddenly we get a kind that tipping point effect. >> host: we are talking about members of congress and out of all of the 535 members of congress there is only one person who claims not to be a believer. t believe that? >> guest: statistical the it can't be true. it has to be at least 100 or 200 members of congress who are not religious believers. if you just look statistically at the rest of the population is especially the educated population, which many of them are, they're about to be many common as people who worry if yes, but they just don't want to talk about it because they think it will lose them votes and once again i wonder what your the emperor's new clothes' affect and if some of them - eight timoney to be quite surprised. >> host: you're on capitol hill yesterday with steven and
you met with a number of senate staff and house staff who came to listen to you talk about secular is some. what was that about? >> guest: they did come in quite substantial numbers and the scene very enthusiastic it was a very good meeting. it had a sort of feel of in the enthusiastic atmosphere. >> host: are they trying to figure out >> guest: i didn't get the feeling.
it is an astonishing fact that more than 40% of the people in this country believe the world is less than 10000-years-old. it's not just wrong but it's 4.6 billion years. a tiny fraction as an equivalent to the meeting. yet 40% of american people believe it and textbooks in texas are tailored to cope with this extraordinary opinion. >> host: at the press club where you were speaking, i sort of felt as though i were in the presence of the dalai lama or
the pope of atheism. you have this incredible following. people were getting out there saying you saved my life. i was going to become a nun until i read your book "the god delusion." >> guest: i was slightly embarrassed that i love that actually. any more, two of them in quick succession did that. >> host: it was reminiscent. i have seen leaders get up and say you saved my life. >> guest: nevertheless it is moving and it is a reaction that i get. a little bit more subdued than that but it's a reaction that i often get. a majority of the people in my book signings say something similar to that which is
gratifying. >> host: you can imagine -- does it go to your head? [laughter] when you started out you said there was very little that you were talking about religion in your book, but can you tell me -- i think you said you were quite religious when you are about 13 you became confirmed and you got into religion in a big way. then when you were about 17 or 18 do became militantly antireligion. tell me about that. was it to the science that did it for you? >> guest: it's unusual for a child to be religious. my parents actually warrant but nevertheless my schools were and everybody at the school was. there was one boy from a catholic family was confirmed in to the anglican church.
it wasn't a big decision on my part. i just went with the flow and then faugh was pretty religious and gave it up. when i found out it works as an explanation for the apparent design of living things i was impressed. they look designed for swimming very fast through the water. they are more. it took me until i was about 16 to really understand that properly. and then i gave up. >> host: talking about the dalai lama and the pope of the theism. the sense when i see you around other people that they are coming to you hoping to find the answers and of course you have
talked about how one of the things that guides you the most is the existence, why are we here, what is the meaning of life. do you ever feel somehow inadequate that you can't provide the answers they are looking for? because it does have a feeling about. i went and i didn't understand a thing he said but people were weeping and so -- do utility should have the answers you don't? >> guest: heaven forbid that i should be treated and out of the swing. these are the answers of science and i can try to express' the
answers. these are the deep questions, why are we here, when did light start of these sort of questions. they are not my answers. these are the answers of standard science and i have done my bit to try to explain them and all of my books and so i try to do that -- >> host: one of my favorite bumper stickers was i don't know and you don't either. i thought in a way i guess you call yourself an atheist. what does that mean to you? >> guest: the great fallacy is to say science doesn't know. there are plenty of things that we don't know. there are things science doesn't
know but if science doesn't know something there is no real the delete key reason to believe that religion doesn't know and there's a kind of religious the fault when science can't provide the answer. science is working on the answer and in some cases will never get the answer that that is absolutely no reason to think that we default on a religious answer. >> host: you talk about different labels. there's a fiesta, agnostic -- how do you define the difference and what works for you? >> guest: as you know it is the belief to get the universe and going and so it doesn't listen to prayers, doesn't know what we think, no interest in
human affairs, that is deism. theism is believing some kind of personal not such as the christian god, the muslim god it's characterized as kind of what einstein would believe. he didn't believe in any kind of personal god but he had a kind of reverence for that which we don't yet understand. some feel as a kind of, i don't know -- it's hard to characterize exactly. agnostics are people who don't know. that word was coined by darwin's friend and colleague. some people come to use agnosticism with a kind of 5050 tossup whether there is or not and there is really no reason to
go 50/50. in a sense we are all agnostic because we can actually never disapproved. we have to be agnostic for all practical purposes. [laughter] in the same way we can be atheists while technically admitting that we cannot disprove the existence of any particular god. >> host: then why wouldn't you call yourself an agnostic? >> guest: i do sometimes, but i am a bit weary of that because people sometimes think that means a total non-commitment and i would rather say that i'm an atheist in the same sense as i am and athoothfairyist. >> host: has your view changed since you wrote "the god
delusion"? you seemed at least when the book came out it seemed that you were much more militantly atheistic and you are now. you seem to have pulled back a little bit. >> guest: i think it is a myth and it is a militant book. it has been criticized and it's been called aggressive and things like that. i think if you read it again i've actually had people say that to me that they thought it was going to be a militant book because they read critics of it and then one woman told me she should get around to reading it because she heard of such an aggressive book and she couldn't believe it was the same but because of was quite a gentle dhaka. my next book an appetite for
wonder is a gentle book, too. >> host: this is an extremely gentle but i found any way. it's very cozy. but no, it was very thoughtful and it sort of has the impression that you are this radical fundamentalist. when you talk about pantheism, deism, all of that you have to look at science. and to say okay we can trace it back to the big bang, the creation and then we don't know what happens after that --
before that. you've talked about nothingism. how can you put your mind around that? you say you don't like not understanding things. you're whole life is about trying to understand things. doesn't it make you crazy sometimes think you don't understand it? >> guest: yes. i am a biologist and so i know that the human brain was never evil to understand the mysteries of quantum theory for example. the human brain and evolved to understand how to find water holes and how to find shelter for the night to lead the these are all practical problems.
very surprisingly and wonderfully the human brain turns out to be capable of doing all sorts of other things like poetry and music and logic and mathematics and quantum theory. there are physicists who can cope with these difficulties of modern physics. it isn't easily compatible with common sense. >> host: wendi amine? >> guest: the big bang, the statement physicists make the time and space began gives more meaning to the board before. i can't comprehend that. i would think you can. >> host: i'm not to the number one thinker in the world. [laughter] >> guest: that is more of a reason to retreat from it
because if you could do physics by common sense we wouldn't need physicists. there are difficulties that common sense can't cope with and some say that they were there when they actually tried to understand it with their own subjective feelings. they can't either. they can do the mathematics and it works. my colleague we did a film together and he had written a book called the universe for nothing and he produces a physical pherae mathematically worked out to show you can get something from nothing and in some way it cancels itself out to produce something and the quantum theory allows that to happen. i'm humbled enough to say that i don't understand its therefore
it can't be right as i said before if we could do physics by common sense we wouldn't need physicists. >> host: it's hard to understand is if there is creation and there was a creator what they are saying is there was nothing. that's just too hard to understand. >> guest: it's hard to understand as a ordinary human being the the physical theory is there. we are not all capable of grasping everything that the human mind has managed to grasp and i am excited to be in the company of those that and make
it easier to get complexity from the simplicity and that is what evolution does. i wasn't quite prepared to start with absolutely nothing but i sort of imagined that things started with great simplicity. now i'm told you can start with absolutely nothing. mind you except for dispute. >> host: you live and work in an atmosphere of academia say you know a very smart people. some of them are religious. >> host: i don't know what
percentage, maybe 5% or 10%. >> guest: it depends on how you measure it. if you take all scientists in the united states the polls suggest about 40% are religious. if you take the elite scientists or the members of the national academy as distinguished scientists then it's about 10% religious and these are scientists that claim to be religious. you ask what they really believe and it's likely to turn out to be some kind of pantheism. quite often religion i wouldn't call god belief at all. >> host: when you are in a debate with somebody that is a believer and believes in, or
that jesus is the son of god, how to use -- can you expect somebody the believes that -- do you think they are stupid? >> guest: i try to respect the individual people whether or not i respect their belief. but in the case of the people who are christian but have a sensible view of science i can even respect them that i can't respect of the belief of the creationists. i regard them as either ignorant or stupid i hope i treat them with a polite mess. a british journalist said i respect you as a person to much to respect your ridiculous beliefs. >> host: because your book is called an appetite for wonder and also wonder often is what
people who are religious believers talk about the wonders of the universe and all that can you separate those out? >> guest: of course. i think any good scientist is filled with wonder. they rely on their imagination. einsteins had no imagination is more important than wonder. and i think that scientists have a better handle on wonder than theologians. we are aware of the fact that the converse is gigantic, that life must produced by explicable phenomena marking a very long time working on very simple
beginnings, just until walls of chemistry and molecules in collecting with each other and by this astonishing process called evolution by a darwinian natural selection produced ever increasing complexity of living creatures in putting ourselves, including our brains which is so complex and so large that they finally become capable of understanding the very process that gave rise to them and that is a wonderful thought. who among the theologians could possibly match that for a wonderful accelerating fought? >> host: let's talk about this means. so, you say that if hitler's father had sneezed at a certain time, hitler may not have been
conceived. would you explain that? >> guest: every one of our existence is by astonishing lot. so i chose hitler because the whole 20 a century would have been different what i am saying is that it would have been enough to change the circumstances such that he came into existence because they happened to hit that a particular time. it's expressed rather abundantly in the pelham that went 1 million of them all of them
live out of the cataclysm but one who dared to stir five. and of that billion might chance to be shakespeare but no one was me. all of the others remain outside >> host: explain what this means had to do with it. >> guest: the moment of conception of any one of us, 1 million sperm and the timing that gave each one of us what a totally change with 1 million sperm hit the jackpot on that particular occasion. now, a sneeze immediately before could clearly have that effect and simply change the timing.
20 years earlier would change the timing of when he bent to get on the bus to berlin. there is a whole series of a fact which we can't possibly reconstruct were determined which happen to work not just in hitler's generation that in every generation that you can think of you and me and our plan grandparents and great grandparents. none of us have any right to have any entitlement to be alive, yet we are. somebody had to be alive, and it happened to the s. i expressed this in the sentences of another of my books. we are going to die. that makes us the lucky ones. most of us are never going to
die because we were never born. we are lucky to have been born. i said in another way in another part of the book if the second dinosaur to the left of the feared hadn't happened to sneeze, he would have caught at his feet which was destined to give rise to all the mammals who are descended from one creature that lived let's see in the jurassic era and that one creature that we all descended from could easily have been eaten by a dinosaur and save the life of that one mammal and make possible the life of every mammal including ourselves. >> host: you have used the word of luck several times in
the last few minutes and it sounds a little bit like feet. it doesn't sound very scientific >> guest: it's to save something like certain people are lucky. you say somebody is a very lucky person. if all you mean is that they have had a lot of luck that's fine but if you mean that they are prone to lucky and you couldn't predict -- the most extreme example of who bats first is determined by the toss of of a clan and it certainly does matter that some people actually believe they tossed a coin and one of the captains calls heads or tails some people believe that some individuals are more lucky at getting that call at the toss them others and
the even choose the plan year as captain because they think he's more likely to win the talks said they believe some people are lucky people. that is total nonsense so that is the sense that it's not scientific. but it's not to say that so and so is very lucky because he had a series of good things happening. nor is it wrong to say that we are lucky to be alive because a sneeze at any time in the past would probably have meant that we wouldn't be. >> host: it still sounds like a lot to me. >> guest: what you must not do is talk about what foresight and say i feel that luck is with me tonight. i feel lucky tonight i'm going to play roulette because i feel
lucky tonight. or i have a lucky number. or the roulette spain has come up read five times in a row so the lack suggests it's about time to change to block. >> host: but look at you you are an incredibly lucky person. you've had a wonderful childhood, a great education, fantastic career. you've had an amazing life and then we look at some of the people that have just been cast in syria or starving in africa or who are being stoned somewhere, that your natural catastrophe.
how you explain suffering but from the neediest point of view how do you explain that you get to have such a fabulous life and someone else is not lucky to have? >> guest: i've been talking with hindsight, so that's it comes up heads or somebody is lucky at roulette that is luck with hindsight. it has nothing to do with it and the devotee is still in hindsight. when you say somebody has had a very fortunate life, that isn't just with hindsight. people are born with a silver spoon in their mouth and whose wealthy parents had a good education and get a good job and
they go on to make a success out of their life i wouldn't use the word glock for that. i would say that it's their upbringing, their education, their parents brought up. you don't want to attribute that to chance. that is a set of circumstances. they were well endowed in all sorts. that isn't mysterious. >> host: i find it mysterious. i find that if you look at the division between rich and poor and the people that suffer and the people that don't, it's mysterious why me, why do i get to have a good life and somebody else loses all their children in the massacre?
>> guest: that is because you feel there ought to be a natural justice. you feel it's wrong that somebody should have all of this good fortune and others not. if it were natural justice it wouldn't happen and certain societies do their best to as it were redistribute the good fortune. countries like those with high tax rates and take a lot from the rich and give to the poor, things like obamacare is trying to do in a very small way. this is trying to achieve a certain amount of justice and redistribute and you are protesting when you say some people have a good life and other people in that being gassed and syria. that's terrible.
your sense of justice rebels against that because you feel it's wrong and we do redistribute the good fortune of it but the natural justice the universe doesn't owe them the same living as rich people it's just the way things happen to turn out. when people say something like if somebody gets a terrible disease and they say why did it happen to me i didn't do anything wrong. it's a total fallacy to think that because you are a good person there for bad things shouldn't happen to you or you are a bad person and you have perfect health. there isn't any natural justice. that's one of the plants. your genes affect certain things like yourself, your mental or
physical ability, the choice of good genes to help you survive in the wild. all animals are subject to that natural selection which means the genes that make them good at surviving because it gives them good eyesight, those all represent good genes that survive to the next generation and then the next so they are very important in the ability to not just survive but to do all sorts of other things some people undoubtedly would be better than others. people may die because the of genetic diseases and others may have genes that make them live a long and healthy life. >> host: in the bucket fascinated me the fact that
people -- essentially we all come from the same gene, that we are all related at some level but then you see if you go three or four generations along, the person on the last generation probably won't have very much a genetics. will you explain that? >> guest: if you want to ask the question how long did they share a common ancestor the answer is probably not very far. each one of us has got for grandparents, eight grand grandparents and so on. that increase cannot go on because if it did, if you actually calculate how many people there would have had to
have been it would be more than the population of the world and we do the same for everybody else. so obviously we all share. if you look the other way around, you don't have to go back very far until you reach the point on mathematical grounds we are on an island and we didn't divide into separate groups at all you would only have to go back a few thousand years for everybody in the world to be descended from the same common ancestor.
>> guest: it is a bit of a game so far because not and what is known. the most interesting to look at are probably the mitochondrial because they are the ones that go down the female line only. males have them but we get them from our mother. so the little things in the so-called mitochondrial -- so i got it from my maternal grandmother and great-grandmother and so on. one side of the family tree with other possible ways you could have gotten them. so this makes it very easy to trace because it doesn't constantly being swapped by reproduction. it doesn't combine with others.
so we know when our most recent common ancestor lived with a journalistic name given to her but people of european descent can trace their ancestry back to a much more recent female common ancestor. but remember it's only one way of doing it. there are all sorts of other ways. there are millions of other ways and if you do it that way, you and i will turn out to be much more recent than -- we are all relatively close cousins with
chimpanzees and jellyfish. >> host: have you ever done ancestry.com? >> guest: i don't think i have but you can do that. it is the male equivalent that goes down the male line so it enables you to find where the chromosomes come from but it doesn't tell you where the rest of the genes come from. there was a television program on cooking where they took people from jamaica and they had one woman who traced her mitochondria back to and they
then took her to this place in west africa. the rest could have come from absolutely nowhere. it can be interesting but the message is we are all closely related to each other. >> host: you invented the word meme which is part of common language. what does meme mean and how did you come to conceive of that word? >> guest: it is a cultural inheritance and i think of it as the equivalent of a gene.
it came at the end of my book the selfish gene and the rest of the book is all about dna in the natural selection. as i said a moment ago, they survive through the gene pools and so the whole effort was to emphasize as the unit of selection that which benefits from an animal's behavior. it's what animal behavior is all about, but i wanted to not leave the reader with the impression that they are everything. i wanted to leave the reader realizing that natural selection could work on anything which is self copying. anything where information is copied through something equivalent to generations. dna is the most example but it's imitated from human brain to
human brain a closed fashion way of speaking. >> host: can you use the word any sentence? >> guest: the reversed a baseball cap is a meme spread from america in the youth culture all over the world. >> host: you can correlate and. i got it from the greek word and i subtracted the initial and just called it meme. it doesn't quite line with gene. >> host: but it's an imitation? >> guest: imitation is the key. dna can be said to be imitated. if i sing you a tune and you get it in your head you catch it and then you find yourself whistling
at. it doesn't matter. somebody else hears you and they take it up and somebody else hears it and it can potentially spread. a craze at school for a particular toy or game spreads through like a measles epidemic and it has much the same time course. it rises in the benet dies away. it may jump to another school because somebody know somebody's brother or sister at another school. so, that is a meme. it's like a gene, a virus. >> host: people started wearing pangolin tide is coming that would be a meme. >> guest: if people saw my tie on c-span -- [laughter]
you could call it a gene. so long as it is inherited from a sequence of generations. >> host: you have two more years to go to finish part two of your memoirs. why did you decide -- why did you decide suddenly to right at this point? why not another scientific book? >> guest: my father died just before i started so i wasn't able to consult him about past memories. i was able to consult my mother who is 96 and that was very useful to me fix copps.
it was only supposed to be one volume. i signed a contract and then when i got halfway through i said there is a need for a sense of achievement and was a natural breaking point. the publication of my first book was a watershed event in my life because my life could change after that and i did things like television and radio. it was a pretty natural breaking point. >> host: when you finish your next book that is going to occupy your time for the next couple of years and then the endless book tour. if you have a bucket list? >> guest: there are parts of the world like haven't yet seen.
i've seen very little of south america. i haven't seen china at all. i've seen antarctic about what the architect. so yes i wouldn't mind doing that. i've also got other books i would like to write as well. >> host: any novels? >> guest: i've never quite know how to do that. >> host: you just make things up. very different from what to do. >> host: i've written a couple of novels. i talk a lot. so i don't find it that hard. >> guest: i like the close observation of the way people
talk and the way people are. whenever i'm in airports listening to people around me i sort of feel i should write a novel and hearing the way people talk. i like modern satirical novels, that sort of for perceptive look at contemporary life. i like science fiction, too. >> host: you said one of your favorite books was gone with the wind and you read it in number of times. what was it about gone with the wind -- i must have read it ten times. i liked it as a child.
>> host: is taking lsd -- use if someone offered to take you on a trip and you turned them down. why did you turn them down? >> guest: there is a chapter about my time in berkeley which was the late 60's and you might think that i tried it than that nobody offered it to me then. >> host: did you ever try -- you never did any at all? >> guest: later marijuana but never a hallucinogen like lsd. recently a friend offered to mentor me through a lsd trip and said she would take half a empathizing but still capable of making sure i didn't think i could fly or something like that. i couldn't decide whether to do it. i have a cousin.
my father's first cousin who is mentioned in the book is an expert on such at least as a pharmacologist and psychiatrist. he was who i think influenced huxley to do the famous experiment. so i asked whether he would advise and he gave me a balanced opinion and said on the whole lot because of the dangers of a bad trip. and -- but i don't know. maybe you can guard against that >> host: but it did intrigue you. >> guest: yes because i'm reading descriptions which i think is a quote from something
else. i would be very curious. >> host: have you ever been to a psychiatrist? >> guest: no. >> host: how you feel about psychiatry? >> guest: it's important for some people. i feel very fortunate that i don't think i needed. >> host: i am interested in the constant between psychiatry that so many people they often play the role and we've talked before about the idea of good and evil and good genes and evil and what makes a person could and moral. and i think sometimes when you see a psychiatrist or talk to a
priest you are trying to bring out the best of yourself. >> guest: there is a lovely part in crocodile dundee where he is told everybody in new york goes to a psychiatrist he says what's the matter [inaudible] [laughter] >> host: i didn't remember that. but there is some similarity there and i think most people if you ask them they would say they want to be good and moral and we talked about this before, but how do you define that and do you think that people will say you can't be if you are not --
>> guest: i think we do not define it. it is true that at any particular time in history or a particular society at least for example the modern western society in the 21st century as a very distinctive morality which we all share what we are religious or not and it's a kind of consensus that we accept. it's somewhat based on the golden rule treat others as you would wish them to treat you. >> host: do you go by the golden rule? >> guest: to a greater or lesser extent we are all subscribe to this sort of feeling that together we try to decide what society we want to live in if it's where people don't steal or kill, the texas.
we take care of the poor, the sec, the elderly. we live in a society which cares for each of her and other human beings indeed and we can sort of work out for ourselves the kind of society in which we wish to lift. without any religious belief i wouldn't wish to live in the kind of society where people cheat or don't pay their taxes and i suppose you could say it's a free directed selfishness because you don't want that to happen to you. dhaka to live in a society in which you are protected from ad. but actually counts as a well ordered good society varies from century to century. in the 19th century it was highly successful.
women couldn't vote until the 1920's or in most of europe. so we have moved on as a whole society collectively, some kind of collective zeitgeist. we have abandoned that kind of sexism that says women are not capable of voting because they cannot think. but yet in the 19th century, thomas henry huxley, charles darwin, abraham lincoln, these men will all enlightened for that kind but they would be regarded as extremely backward and that it has nothing to do with religion. what it has to do with this complicated but it moves on. >> host: profess their