Richard Dawkins (born 26 March 1941) is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and author. He is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, and was the University of Oxford’s Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008. An atheist, he is well known for his criticism of creationism and intelligent design.
Dawkins first came to prominence with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, which popularised the gene-centred view of evolution and introduced the term meme. With his book The Extended Phenotype (1982), he introduced into evolutionary biology the influential concept that the phenotypic effects of a gene are not necessarily limited to an organism’s body, but can stretch far into the environment. In 2006, he founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.
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Here is a selection of his most widely quoted observations.
o Natural selection will not remove ignorance from future generations.
o By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.
o The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.
o Biology is the study of complicated things that have the appearance of having been designed with a purpose.
o Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.
o Presumably what happened to Jesus was what happens to all of us when we die. We decompose. Accounts of Jesus’s resurrection and ascension are about as well-documented as Jack and the Beanstalk.
o I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.
o The chances of each of us coming into existence are infinitesimally small, and even though we shall all die some day, we should count ourselves fantastically lucky to get our decades in the sun.
o Natural selection is anything but random.
o There may be fairies at the bottom of the garden. There is no evidence for it, but you can’t prove that there aren’t any, so shouldn’t we be agnostic with respect to fairies?
o I’m fascinated by the idea that genetics is digital. A gene is a long sequence of coded letters, like computer information. Modern biology is becoming very much a branch of information technology.
o The solution often turns out more beautiful than the puzzle.
o We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can’t disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
o It’s a horrible idea that God, this paragon of wisdom and knowledge, power, couldn’t think of a better way to forgive us our sins than to come down to Earth in his alter ego as his son and have himself hideously tortured and executed so that he could forgive himself.
o A delusion is something that people believe in despite a total lack of evidence.
o The essence of life is statistical improbability on a colossal scale.
o My eyes are constantly wide open to the extraordinary fact of existence. Not just human existence, but the existence of life and how this breathtakingly powerful process, which is natural selection, has managed to take the very simple facts of physics and chemistry and build them up to redwood trees and humans.
o Religion is about turning untested belief into unshakable truth through the power of institutions and the passage of time.
o Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.
o If something is true, no amount of wishful thinking will change it.
o Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish.
o The idea of an afterlife where you can be reunited with loved ones can be immensely consoling – though not to me.
o An Internet meme is a hijacking of the original idea. Instead of mutating by random change and spreading by a form of Darwinian selection, Internet memes are altered deliberately by human creativity. There is no attempt at accuracy of copying, as with genes – and as with memes in their original version.
o You can’t even begin to understand biology, you can’t understand life, unless you understand what it’s all there for, how it arose – and that means evolution.
o In every night of our lives, we dream, and our brain concocts visions which are, at least until we wake up, highly convincing. Most of us have had experiences which are verging on hallucination. It shows the power of the brain to knock up illusions.
o As Darwin himself was at pains to point out, natural selection is all about differential survival within species, not between them.
o We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.
o Astrology is an aesthetic affront. It cheapens astronomy, like using Beethoven for commercial jingles.
o All the fossils that we have ever found have always been found in the appropriate place in the time sequence. There are no fossils in the wrong place.
o The fact that life evolved out of nearly nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe evolved out of literally nothing, is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice.
o Don’t kid yourself that you’re going to live again after you’re dead; you’re not. Make the most of the one life you’ve got. Live it to the full.
o Personally, I rather look forward to a computer program winning the world chess championship. Humanity needs a lesson in humility.
o The very idea that we get a moral compass from religion is horrible. Not only should we not get our moral compass from religion, as a matter of fact we don’t. Teachers who help to open young minds perform a duty which is as near sacred as I will admit.
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To learn more about Richard Dawkins’ life and work, please click here.