Richard Dawkins in an interview with Vineet Gill
Jan 25, 2012,
Richard Dawkins is amongst the most provocative thinkers of our times. The Oxford University geneticist has waged a blazing intellectual war on religion, calling for the rule of science and rationality. At the recent Jaipur Literature Festival, Dawkins spoke with Vineet Gill about why he prefers science over faith, whether he is an 'atheist fundamentalist', - and issues such as immortality:
What are your views on moderate religion today? You've earlier called this 'a seedbed for extremists'?
I have said that a¦ I fear it's true that if children are taught, however moderately, that faith is a virtue, that you don't need evidence to believe something, then that paves the way for a minority to be extremists. Everybody has been indoctrinated with this view that if it's their faith, you can't argue with them. I think that is pernicious. If children are taught they don't need to defend their beliefs with evidence, that paves the way for extremisma¦the biggest damage religion does is indoctrinating and brainwashing children.
You believe passionately instead in science - but what happens when science gets it wrong?
Science doesn't actually claim to know all the truth. It works hard by getting closer and closer to the truth, but of course science learns by its mistakes and advances by disproving hypotheses and getting things wrong. One of the virtues of science is that it is prepared to change its mind when the evidence warrants it. Public sharing is an important part of science. No scientist will ever say - 'Oh, it's true for me, it may not be true for you.'
Science gets space for research and development - why can't we look at religion too as a living laboratory with people developing their thoughts, rather than just dismissing it?
It would be very nice to study religion in anthropological and psychological ways. By the way, i do think children need to be educated about religion. They just shouldn't be told you belong only to this or that religion. They should be told, there is this religion and that religion. And when you grow up, you may - or may not - choose to join any of those.
If science were to triumph over time, would you like to become immortal with its help?
No. I think if there's something frightening about death, it is eternity. And it's equally frightening whether you're there or not. Actually, it's more frightening if you are there. Just imagine billions and billions and billions of years - terribly boring! I prefer to spend eternity under a general anaesthetic - and that is exactly what's going to happen.
Stepping out of science, how do you explain the powerful effect faith has on people?
It is fascinating. What is it about faith that can make somebody kill? Patriotism is another one - people believe my country is right or wrong. In the World Wars, people were perfectly able to shoot other people just because they belonged to the wrong country, without ever asking what their opinions were. Faith too is like that.
Rejecting belief outright, are you an atheist fundamentalist?
The term 'fundamentalist' means you stick to a holy book and never change your mind. I will change my mind whenever the evidence warrants it.
Finally, your thoughts on your friend and legendary fellow atheist, the late Christopher Hitchens?
Christopher Hitchens was a great warrior, a magnificent orator, a pugilist and a gentleman. He was kind, but he took no prisoners when arguing with idiots.
Source: The Times of India, New Delhi