"The Problem with God"

In an interview, biologist Richard Dawkins responds to questions about religion vs. science:

What are your thoughts about the despair some people feel when they ponder natural selection and random mutation? The idea of evolution and natural selection makes some people feel that everything is meaningless—people’s individual lives and life in general.

If it’s true that it causes people to feel despair, that’s tough. It’s still the truth. The universe doesn’t owe us condolence or consolation; it doesn’t owe us a nice warm feeling inside. If it’s true, it’s true, and you’d better live with it.

However, I don’t think it should make one feel depressed. I don’t feel depressed. I feel elated. My book, “Unweaving the Rainbow,” is an attempt to elevate science to the level of poetry and to show how one can be—in a funny sort of way—rather spiritual about science. Not in a supernatural sense, but there are uplifting mysteries to be solved. The contemplation of the size and scale of the universe, of the depth of geological time, of the complexity of life—these all, to me, have an inspirational quality. It makes my life worthwhile to study them.

17 thoughts on “"The Problem with God"”

  1. George says:

    I can part way empathise with what he’s saying. I don’t agree with his atheist ideals because I think it’s overwhelmingly arrogant for anyone to suggest they know the answer for why we’re here. But it’s definitely enlightening to acknowledge that it really doesn’t matter, letting you get on with living morally for your own satisfaction. Sure makes for a higher self-esteem than the attitude that we are born evil and need someone looking over us and we are always just teetering on the edge of fulfilling that evil.

  2. Joen says:

    I agree with part of what you say.

    The thing is, (to quote an atheism FAQ), atheism is the lack of belief in the existence of a god, or gods, not necessarily the belief that there is no god. Or to put it otherwise. Not believing in something doesn’t mean we believe it’s not there. Do you follow me?

    I think Richard Dawkins feels the same way. He doesn’t necessarily believe that there is no god, he just knows that quite a lot of things can be explained scientifically. He merely says that if there is no god, then it’s no reason to be depressed, because nature is so full of wonder in itself that it should fill us with pride.

    That’s how I’m interpreting it.

  3. Thom says:

    I think Richard Dawkins feels the same way. He doesn?t necessarily believe that there is no god…

    But he does equate believing in God to believing a lie.

    I can appreciate the sentiment that he is makes regarding not being depressed about the concept, but his arrogance overshadows that. Bandying about the word “truth” does not make everything black and white, just as ignoring other people’s spirituality does not make it go away. I couldn’t get halfway through that interview before he just aggravated me too much with his own ignorance.

    I don’t want to spark a religion vs. science debate here, but someone who speaks in that manner shows a true lack of understanding on many levels. One of the beauties of science is that it is supposed to be self-correcting. If something is proven wrong, it is changed to what is right. And yet so many scientists seem to ignore the fact that theories change as new knowledge is found and call ideas facts when they are not.

  4. Joen says:

    Thom said:

    But he does equate believing in God to believing a lie.

    You’re referring of course to this quote:

    Wouldn?t it be lovely to believe in an imaginary friend who listens to your thoughts, listens to your prayers, comforts you, consoles you, gives you life after death, can give you advice? Of course it?s satisfying, if you can believe it. But who wants to believe a lie?

    I don’t want to discuss semantics too much, but I do not read this as him saying “believing in god is believing in a lie”. I’m interpreting it as him explaining why he is an atheist, because he thinks it’s a lie (I do too). So essentially what I think he’s saying is that if it’s a lie, who would want to believe it?

    I can appreciate the sentiment that he is makes regarding not being depressed about the concept, but his arrogance overshadows that. Bandying about the word ?truth? does not make everything black and white, just as ignoring other people?s spirituality does not make it go away. I couldn?t get halfway through that interview before he just aggravated me too much with his own ignorance.

    Since I seem to interpret him differently than you do (i.e. I’m reading him explaining his own atheistic beliefs mainly), I don’t find him arrogant. But I do understand your sentiment.

    I don?t want to spark a religion vs. science debate here, but someone who speaks in that manner shows a true lack of understanding on many levels. One of the beauties of science is that it is supposed to be self-correcting. If something is proven wrong, it is changed to what is right. And yet so many scientists seem to ignore the fact that theories change as new knowledge is found and call ideas facts when they are not.

    Yes and no and yes and no. Wow, a lot of good thoughts there.

    Firstly, I dislike the very word “religion vs. science”, because I believe the two can co-exist very peacefully. But I think that was implied by what you said. Just putting it out there.

    Secondly, with regards to scientists ignoring that theories can indeed be proven wrong, I’d like to quote Arthur C. Clarke ( which I’ve done before ):

    “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

    Indeed this applies to many scientists. They like their theories so much, that when a new up-and-coming young scientist proposes a fresh theory that deals away with the old, they irrationally fight back.

    Yet, I do not think of Richard Dawkins as such. Essential to the debate here is Intelligent Design vs. evolution. Personally I do not consider ID a theory at all as much as a thinly veiled guise for creationism. But let’s for the sake of this discussion call it a theory, and have that theory be an alternative to evolution. What Dawkins is saying is:

    I would want them to believe whatever evidence leads them to; I would want them to look at the evidence, judge it on its merits, not accept things because of internal revelation or faith, but purely on the basis of evidence.

    To me, this is neither arrogance nor ignoring the fact that “theories change as new knowledge is found”. To me, this is saying no, evolution is not perfect, but it’s time-tested, it’s based on observable evidence, and it works in a number of cases.

    ID, on the other hand, is not time-tested, it’s not based on observable evidence, and it’s useless for any scientific purposes.

  5. Thom says:

    I?m interpreting it as him explaining why he is an atheist, because he thinks it?s a lie (I do too).

    I can buy that. I think it’s a matter of, if you happen to agree with him it sounds one way, but if you disagree it sounds another. Personally I think it’s a poor choice of words.

    Firstly, I dislike the very word ?religion vs. science?, because I believe the two can co-exist very peacefully. But I think that was implied by what you said. Just putting it out there.

    Thank you thank you thank you! Exactly what I meant – I think it’s ridiculous that people always make it “religion vs science” when I feel that there is no reason for them to be at odds.

    And I do love that Clarke quote – it really sums up what is wrong with many scientists these days. That, coupled with my engineering background, has led me to often take the “devil’s advocate” side when matters of science are broached.

    P.S. Something about your site seems to make potentially volatile discussions remain civil 🙂

  6. Joen says:

    It seems we are in almost perfect agreement on the key issues. Great!

    P.S. Something about your site seems to make potentially volatile discussions remain civil 🙂

    I’m glad you think so! Maybe it’s the calming green 🙂

  7. Jonas Rabbe says:

    Joen said:

    I?m glad you think so! Maybe it?s the calming green 🙂

    Don’t you mean the “institutional green”?

    Another factor may be the fact that there aren’t any trolls. I know trolls also pop up on blogs, but the site has a very serious look (at least at the moment) which might be part of detering trolls?

  8. Joen says:

    Jonas Rabbe said:

    Don?t you mean the ?institutional green??

    No, I mean the calming green, used by institution for that very quality 🙂

    Another factor may be the fact that there aren?t any trolls. I know trolls also pop up on blogs, but the site has a very serious look (at least at the moment) which might be part of detering trolls?

    I’m hoping so. Most comments I get here are always highly intelligent (except those on the for-google archived star wars thread).

    Then again, I’m not really getting that many comments (which serves me just fine). Maybe the site just doesn’t appeal to those who comment a lot, but instead, those who comment a little?

  9. Thom says:

    Oddly enough, you’ve caught me in a rather talkative state where I’m trying to comment more frequently on the sites I read regularly. We’ll see how long I keep this up, though.

  10. EverNever says:

    Hi, I too think it’s kind of refreshing to see a post touching the evolution / creationism controversy that wasn’t flooded with missionary sounding statements.

    However, I’d like to know one thing. Some of the topmost posters claimed that they found Richard Dawkins and his “atheist ideals” arrogant and/or ignorant because “… arrogant for anyone to suggest they know the answer for why we?re here.”

    This makes me wonder because, well, first, sience doesn’t even try to answer the why, just the how (though maybe Dawkins does), second, every religion does claim it does know why “we” and everything else is like it is.

  11. I don?t agree with his atheist ideals because I think it?s overwhelmingly arrogant for anyone to suggest they know the answer for why we?re here.

    Doesn’t that make it equally arrogant for anyone to suggest that they know the answer for they we’re here is god?

    And if you take that further, that their god is the god (or gods).

  12. EverNever says:

    @James AkaXakA: That’s one of the points I tried to tell, although probably through using overly complicated language.

  13. George says:

    “Doesn?t that make it equally arrogant for anyone to suggest that they know the answer for they we?re here is god?”

    Yep. That was supposed to be implied. 🙂

  14. Loic says:

    Joen, I could not agree with you more, and am glad to see that this simple mindset makes sense to others as well.

    I myself am perfectly fine knowing that I don’t have all the answers and keys to the universe; that I can’t just explain away the unkowns with a nice and tidy package that naively contains just us, our tiny planet, and some benevolent, yet conveniently mysterious and unkowable “God”. I revel in not knowing what’s next around the corner; in the knowledge that, although I am in control of my fate to some extent, not everything is spelled out in stone by some omniscient being.

    I definately believe that there are multitudes of unseen and unkown forces at work in our universe, our planet, and even within ourselves.

    And by the way, beautiful site. After reading many of your intelligent interesting posts, you have just gained another reader.

    Cheers,

    Loic van der Sjal

    P.S. – Your installations are wonderfull. I use them as a screen saver when I’m not working on my computer. ; )

  15. EverNever: Left the window open, so didn’t even see your comment. Good to see we’re on the same page on this though 🙂

  16. Jonas Rabbe says:

    Just thought I’d mention this article I found on digg today: Creationism dismissed as ‘a kind of paganism’ by Vatican’s astronomer

    I don’t think it’ll change much, but it’s a refreshing view from one of the largest religious “organizations” in the world.

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