November 3rd, 2015

Dr. Richard Dawkins on Dr. Ben Carson: “he clearly doesn’t understand the fundamental theorem of his own subject”

Sunday’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS on CNN/U.S. features an interview with renowned evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, DPhil.  He discussed the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and the beliefs of the candidates and the influence of those beliefs upon their policy positions.

MANDATORY CREDIT for reference and usage: “CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS”

Dr. Dawkins explains why he says “the most powerful evidence [for evolution] is probably not fossils:

Dr. Dawkins on why the GOP fills him “with despair”:



FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: In 1859, Charles Darwin published his seminal book, On the Origin of Species.  In it, he laid out his theory of evolution – eventually applying it to all animals from finches to human beings. The opposing theory, of course, is creationism – which states that God created men and women in his own image, as the Bible states.

According to the Pew Research Center, 98 percent of the professional scientists who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science believe that humans and other living things have evolved over time. But when the American public was polled, just 65 percent said they believed that. And of the GOP candidates? Well, as you’ll find out in a moment, almost none of them seem to believe it.

I wanted to learn about evolution from one of the greatest scientific thinkers out there. Richard Dawkins is a British evolutionary biologist. He’s a long-time Oxford professor who has written prolifically — on science and atheism, which he espouses. He has a new memoir out called, Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science (2015).   Listen in.  (more after the jump)

ZAKARIA: So, if I look at the United States, currently the Republican presidential candidates, as far as I know, every single one of the declared candidates, with the exception of Trump, about whom one doesn’t know which way he would answer, when asked about evolution, essentially say they don’t believe it. And Jeb Bush was asked, and he said, well I sort of believe it, but I don’t think it should be taught in schools…

RICHARD DAWKINS, EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST: Ah yeah. Well does this fill me with…

ZAKARIA: What would you say about that?

DAWKINS: — this feels me with despair. This is not something you believe in or not. I mean, this is a fact. It is a fact. It’s just as much of a fact as that the earth goes around the sun. You can’t not believe it unless you’re ignorant. And I don’t believe those presidential candidates are all ignorant. I believe what they’re doing is they think that they’ve got to say that in order to appeal to their constituency. And if that’s true, it’s deeply depressing.

ZAKARIA: In your wonderful little book, “The Magic of Reality,” you talk about some of this. So how would you explain to somebody who says I don’t believe in evolution? What to you is the most powerful evidence for evolution?

DAWKINS: Right. I think the most powerful evidence is probably not fossils; although, fossils are the main evidence for the actual history of life.

The most powerful evidence that evolution has happened IS probably molecular genetics, because whereas in Darwin’s time the comparative data — you looked at a human hand and you compare it with a bat’s wing, a whale’s flipper, a lion’s paw. You see the same bones. You can identify them bone for bone — the humerus, the radius, the ulna, the phalanges, and so on.

That was in Darwin’s time. Now we can do that same kind of thing but with molecules, with actual coded letters of DNA and equivalent in protein. You can actually look at long reams of code, and you can actually compare the letter by letter, exactly as you might compare two versions of the Book of Jeremiah or something. I mean, it’s letter-for-letter comparison.  And you can actually count the number of differences in millions between, say, humans and chimpanzees — humans plus chimpanzees, and monkeys. Shrews, hippopotamuses. You can take any two animals you like and look at their molecules and literally count the number of letters that are different. And that is just so overwhelmingly strong evidence. Darwin would have loved it.

ZAKARIA: What do you say to Ben Carson? Teaches, you know — medicine at Yale, and he says he’s a creationist, he thinks that God created the world, and he says, you’re going to tell me that the complexity of the human brain — and he’s a brain surgeon — came out of a soup full of chemicals and, and such?

DAWKINS: Well, I am going to tell him that, but not suddenly. I mean, it took a very, very long time, but by gradual stages. That’s what these people don’t understand. They think it all happened suddenly. Well, if you think that, of course you don’t believe it, obviously. It couldn’t happen suddenly. But if it happens gradually, each stage just gives way to the next stage, and the next stage, and the next stage, and each stage is only a tiny bit different from the one before — then you can start understanding it.

You’ve just told me that all the Republican candidates except one say they don’t believe in evolution. I mean, that’s a disgrace. But for a senior — a very eminent distinguished doctor, as he is, to say that, it’s is even worse, because, of course, evolution is the bedrock of biology, and biology is the bedrock of medicine. And so for a distinguished doctor to not understand — I have to use the word understand — he clearly doesn’t understand the fundamental theorem of his own subject. That is a terrible indictment.

ZAKARIA: So when people say it’s a theory, it’s worth point out, it’s a theory like all of science is a theory in the sense that it does rest on evidence.

DAWKINS: Yeah, we’ve got to stop calling it a theory because the word theory is misunderstood. It’s taken to mean hypothesis. Evolution is a fact. It’s a simple as that. It is a fact.

ZAKARIA: Another way of putting it would be, it’s a theory that has been confirmed by thousands of pieces of data…

DAWKINS: Thousands and thousands of independent, mutually confirming pieces of data.

ZAKARIA: Carson – I’m dwelling on him because, you know, he is a very important Republican candidate, but also because I think he represents what a lot of people think. It’s that this represents the height of arrogance of humans to believe that they can understand God’s mystery.

DAWKINS: Yes. I mean, I wouldn’t want to call Mr. Carson arrogant. He’s a nice man; I’ve met him, and I liked him. But it is a form of arrogance to say we know what God does. I mean we — the only way to know anything is by looking at the evidence, and in this particular case, the evidence is overwhelming. There are plenty of scientific ideas where the evidence is not overwhelming, and there scientists disagree, and it’s open to doubt and needs further research. But in the case of evolution, there is no doubt. It is a fact.

ZAKARIA: Richard Dawkins, pleasure to have you on.

DAWKINS: A great pleasure, as always. Thank you very much.