Summary of the Richard Dawkins AMA

richard dawkinsA few days ago Richard Dawkins popped up on Reddit and did a AMA (Ask Me Anything) session. As you might expect there were thousands of comments and so only a small subset of the questions could be addressed in any meaningful manner …

It started as follows …

Hello Reddit. This is Richard Dawkins, ethologist and evolutionary biologist.

Of my thirteen books, 2016 marks the anniversary of four. It’s 40 years since The Selfish Gene, 30 since The Blind Watchmaker, 20 since Climbing Mount Improbable, and 10 since The God Delusion.

This years also marks the launch of — an interactive website where you can simulate evolution. The website is a revival of programs I wrote in the 80s and 90s, using an Apple Macintosh Plus and Pascal.

You can see a short clip of me from 1991 demoing the original game in this BBC article.

Here’s my proof

I’m here to take your questions, so AMA.

You might of course be tempted to proceed to trawl through the thousands of comments, or to simply dip in and get a flavour of it all, and to be frank either would be tedious at best because you really want the gems. However, worry not, because reddit being reddit, others have done all the hard lifting for you and distilled it down into a potent beverage. To be specific, ItsYaBoyChipsAhoy was gifted 2 months worth of Reddit gold for doing it …

Here it all is …

Question Answer
Why did you scowl at me? I don’t recall
Why is the Atheist Religion so violent? There is no “Atheist religion”. And let’s not start talking about violent religions.
Hilary or trump? Need you ask? Do you think I’m insane?
What is the most misunderstood thing about evolution? They think it’s a theory of random chance.
Which one of your own books is your favorite and why? Climbing Mount Improbable, strangely the book that has sold the least.
how do you feel about the fact that Emma Watson looks like you? How sure are you that that photo pairing has not been photoshopped or put throiugh a Morphing program?
What was the funniest bit of hate mail you’ve received? “I hope you lose your watch and are late for an important appointment.”
How do you respond to the “Embryology in The Quran” argument? The embryo is like a blob and then like a leech. Oh my, such stunningly advanced science!
Is there a question that has given you pause from debaters, referring to god? No
Which one do you think is the most dangerous religion or belief of them all and why? Anyone who believes that what is written in a holy book is true even if the evidence is against it is dangerous. Christianity used to be the most dangerous religion. Now Islam is.
Can you comment on what insights writing software has given you on evolution? The answer for this is too long for here, but you can look at the 2nd volume of my autobiography, Brief Candle in the Dark as it is more extensive
If you had to convert to a religion, which one would it be? I would only convert to a religion is some evidence turned up to support it. So far there is none, so your question is unanswerable.
What do you think of Game Of Thrones? I have never watched it
How does it feel like to be owned over and over again? What are you talking about?
Do you agree with Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims? Of course I don’t agree with it. I doubt if he agrees with it any more. Does anyone know what he really thinks?
My question to you is whether you have any specific book(s) you would recommend to follow on from your own? Sam Harris’s The End of Faith (although it was published before TGD). Dan Dennett’s Breaking the Spell. Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing. Anything by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Why didnt you try smuggling some honey through airport security by concealing it in your diaper? Oh very funny. Stupid little twerp
I am currently reading Frans de Waal’s “Primates and Philosphers”, in which you are criticized for supporting “Veneer Theory”. What type of evidence do you think best supports this theory? de Waal has never understood The Selfish Gene. If you want to criticise a book, you really have to read past the title
Any advice for the atheists in Arab countries? Did you ever think that there is 0.0001% that god exists? I am delighted that there seem to be so many readers of the illicit Arabic translation. Salaams to all of you.1 WHICH god are you talking about? Baal? Mithras? Zeus? Thor? There’s a small but finite chance that gossamer winged fairies exist2
Assuming you have one, who is your favorite philosopher? Tossup between Daniel Dennett and Jonathan Glover, among living philosophers
Do you think marijuana should be legalized at the Federal level in the United States? Yes. Read Johann Hari’s latest book
What has been the most surprising thing about evolutionary biology that’s been turned on it’s head, convincingly? The close cousinship of whales to hippos, revealed by molecular sequencing. But there’s lots of other fascinating stuff..
How are you? Pretty well, thank you. Still can’t sing but that’s not a great deprivation. My voice croaks somewhat too
Are clocks or honey more dangerous to people? I suppose you think you’re clever. You are not.
What is your opinion on the phenomenon of the regressive left, and the rising anti-free speech and censorship in that movement? I have nothing but contempt for it, and I do think it’s a passing phenomenon.
When was the last time you thought about two animals in full 69? What is the point of asking a silly question like that? You think it’s clever?
You also say that nature is neither kind nor unkind. Could you explain that? Judged objectively, natural selection is cruel. But it has no intentions and is therefore, in that sense, neither kind or unkind
How did you like working with Nightwish? I loved working with Nightwish. They are a wonderful group of people, highly intelligent as well as brilliant musicians.
Are you afraid of eternal non-existence? Think of death as a general anaesthetic to spare you from eternity..
Can you tell us anything interesting (important lessons learned, personality quirks) about your academic advisor, Niko Tinbergen? Takes too long. There are discussions of him in my autobiography, volume 1, An Appetite for Wonder
What’s your opinion on GMOs? GMO is not a substance like arsenic. It is a technique which can be used for good or ill. The important thing is to use it for good.
Do you ever still hear from people who don’t realize that “gerin oil” was satirical? No. It’s quite hard not to realise it’s satirical, although not everybody spots the anagram
What has the recovery process been like for you for the past few months? I was very impressed with the British National Health Service. Physio or other therapists came to my house every day (except weekends) for six weeks after I left hospital.
Many of your articles in Free Inquiry have gone viral or been incorporated into later books. Are there any you wish had gotten more widespread attention? I’m now working on a new volume of collected essays, a bit like A Devil’s Chaplan but with many of the Free Inquiry essays included
Could you explain a little bit about Lateral/Horizontal gene transfer, and what its implications are for the current evolutionary paradigm ? It’s common in bacteria. Very rare in eucaryotes and not of great evolutionary significance.
…are there any other examples like this in animals or humans where evolution has “made a mistake” so to speak and created a complicated solution for a simple problem? The recurrent laryngeal nerve has long been one of my favourite examples is UNintelligent design in nature.
What is the most compelling argument for religion you’ve heard? I have never seen a compelling argument for religion. If I ever saw one I’d convert.
What’s the biggest unsolved question in biology/evolution? What is consciousness and why did it evolve?
What is your favourite sci-fi flick? I enjoy Doctor Who in Lalla’s era. And Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is good, though marred by being soft on religion. 2001 is good too but, surprisingly too optimistic about how far things would get by that date. Jurassic Park has lovely dinosaurs and is marred by the presence of superfluous and irrelevant human drama.
Do you ever go on /r/atheism? No. Do you recommend it?
What is your favourite type of carnivorous plant? Venus fly trap
Professor, I’m very curious about this statement of yours: – [insert long quote] Could you elaborate on this? It’s a big question, too big to answer here. My most extensive discussion of it is in the title essay of A Devil’s Chaplain
What are your thoughts on the 2016 Presidential Race? Hillary will beat Trump. I’m sorry Bernie Sanders will not have the chance to do so.
Do you have any ideas on what caused the current anti-scientific mindset that is particularly prevalent in the US? I don’t know enough about whatever research might have been done. Is it, perhaps, a manifesation of more general anti-intellectualism?
What would you say is best course of action for those living in uber religious third world countries who are unable to express themselves without fear of isolation or even violence? It’s a terrible situation to be in and I am deeply sympetheti. I think the Internet is a great hope because it penetrates barriers to freedom…
What are your thoughts on Pantheism? Harmless but not very interesting
What is another physical example similar to the laryngeal nerve that refutes the idea of intelligent design and what does it indicate about our past? The path of the human vas deferens is a similar example. More famous is the vertebrate retina being installed backwards for historical reasons
Do you think religion is something that humans will ever be able to move on from? Religion is dying from decade to decade. It will take a while but the long arc of history is pointing in the right direction
Hi Dr. Dawkins, Great admirer of your work on evolution and of course your commitment to the spreading of rational thinking and atheism. My question(s) concerns the EU referendum. Where do you stand on Brexit? Is it responsible to entrust a decision on such a complex and high stakes matter to the electorate? As a scientist, what is your view on economists (and their field of study, whose status as a “science” is hotly debated), and what weight should we attribute to forecasts regarding Brexit? Wishing you well. Many thanks. I am not entitled to an opinion on Brexit since I don’t have a degree in economics or history. It is an outrage that ignoramuses like me are being asked to vote on such an important and complicated question which is way above our level of expertise. Nevertheless I shall vote to stay in Europe, applying the precautionary principle and because the arguments the leaving are mostly emotional, those for staying mostly rational and evidence-based. But I repeat, it is a disgrace that this important question has been put to plebiscite, apparently as a sop to UKIP-leaning members of the Tory party.. I believe in democracy but in parliamentary, representative democracy, not plebiscite democracy.

Those were all the questions. Side comments from him include

MRW I’m doing an AMA

Just chilling with the fam in Penguin Offices



Side note: If you are a Reddit member, go and give ItsYaBoyChipsAhoy a few well deserved upvotes for this.

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