The subject was his first book and international best seller, The Selfish Gene. I’ve not actually read it all the way through but I know enough about evolution and Richard Dawkins that nothing was lost on me.
Professor Dawkins had to leave quickly after the interview so there was no opportunity to meet him properly or take a picture.
Still, it was a brilliant experience. I was sat in the front row of a very small audience, about 6 feet away from Richard Dawkins. He was intelligent, well-spoken, charming, precise, and humorous at times too.
He answered questions from e-mails, recorded messages, a live telephone question from the USA, and the audience. I didn’t ask him a question but I was planning to at the end but didn’t get the chance. My question would’ve been something like: of all the scientific theories ever proposed, some better than others of course, is evolution in your opinion, the best example of a successful scientific theory? It’s probably a matter of opinion and science is replete with fantastic theories, but is anything more powerful, predictive, explanatory, and personal than evolution? It’s hard to think of such a theory.
I was surprised by a couple of questions from the live audience. One person confronted him on his use of the metaphor “selfish” when talking about genes. Despite my personal admiration for Dawkins, I cannot possibly see what the problem is. Genes are selfish, metaphorically, but organisms aren’t. In fact, anyone who’s read even part of The Selfish Gene will understand that selfish genes give rise to altruistic organisms. As Dawkins himself points out, it is only possible to misquote or misunderstand his metaphor when one hasn’t read the entire book. But in that case in my opinion one shouldn’t attempt to comment on it!
He was also curiously challenged over the fact that copying errors in DNA (mistakes), give rise to progress in evolution, as though this were some sort of flaw in the theory of evolution. This actually sounded more a question a creationist would ask! Dawkins quickly set the gentleman straight: they’re errors in that they’re copying mistakes, which produce diversity. But “progress” and “better” are subjective terms in evolution – progress simply means doing better at a particular task. Deep sea creatures cannot move at the speeds of a cheetah, but a cheetah cannot survive incredible water pressure and in zero sunlight, so which is “better”?
There was also a fascinating question asked about homosexuality and how it came about in evolution, despite the apparent fact that it wouldn’t be good for species as a whole, reproductively. I won’t explain his answers here because it would take too long to reproduce all the points that were covered.
To be honest, on some of the questions that were asked of him I had such a profound sense of agreement and understanding with Professor Dawkins I felt like jumping in and saying “I’ll field that question Richard”, or “have you even read the book?!”
As he is one of the world’s great thinkers and intellectuals, a leading scientist, and one of the most prominent atheists on the planet, it was an honour to be part of such a small and select audience so close to Professor Dawkins. It was an honour and a privilege and I would love the opportunity to do it again.
What I took from the interview was just how wonderful a thing it is to understand evolution. You can see the passion and wonder in Dawkins’ voice as he talks about it, and it is contagious. It is something that he has never gotten bored of, and you can understand why. As he himself says: since Darwin, we can actually explain why we are here! Ten of thousands of years of confusion, doubt, superstition, and fairy tales, but now the human race knows where it came from and how it survives. Surely that’s one of the most important discoveries of all time! And yet, at this time even now, there are people actively lying and spreading misinformation about evolution because it clashes with their personal interpretation of a book of myths. It’s ridiculous really. Dawkins observed that the education system has well and truly let a lot of people down. At the point he said this, there was a “here here” from the audience and a round of applause!
He also reiterated his opinion that anyone who doesn’t believe evolution is either ignorant, deluded, stupid, or evil. Deluded need not be an insult. Stupid and evil doubtless are. What about ignorant? No. If someone is ignorant of evolution that’s not necessarily their fault. If only people would be willing to learn about it and see all the evidence – most doubters would evaporate, and with them, all the silly mythical stories of creationism that go along with a rejection of evolution.
The sad truth though is that because of the religious evil in the world, a simple beautiful truth such as evolution is being subverted and lied about by people who see it as a threat to their beliefs and power. The fact that $25million of taxpayers’ money in America can be spent to build a (tax-exempt) Creation Museum just proves what a sad delusional state some parts of the world are in. One might as well build a museum about Father Christmas.
Fortunately, if people like Richard Dawkins and the people he inspires, keep talking, writing, propagating the beauty of science, and warning about the evils of faith, the world might slowly become a more enlightened place. As Professor Dawkins said last night: “in the end I believe education will win out.”