The biologist and atheist, whose latest book was released this week, talks about the reliability of science, artificial intelligence, religion and the president.
John Horgan in Scientific American:
Richard Dawkins, the biologist and author, is complicated. I reached this conclusion in 2005 when I participated in a fellowship for journalists organized by the pro-religion Templeton Foundation. Ten of us spent several weeks at the University of Cambridge listening to 18 scientists and philosophers point out areas where science and religion converge. Alone among the speakers, Dawkins argued, in his usual uncompromising fashion, that science and religion are incompatible. But in his informal interactions with me and other fellows, Dawkins was open-minded and a good listener. Over drinks one evening, a Christian journalist described witnessing an episode of faith healing. Instead of dismissing the story outright, Dawkins pressed for details. He seemed to find the story fascinating. His curiosity, at least for a moment, trumped his skepticism.
I mention this episode because it is illustrative of the thinking on display in Dawkins’s newest book, Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist. It consists of essays written over the last several decades on, among other things, altruism, group selection, extraterrestrials, punctuated equilibrium, animal suffering, eugenics, essentialism, tortoises, dinosaurs, 9/11, the problem of evil, the internet, his father and Christopher Hitchens. The book showcases Dawkins’s dual talents. He is a ferocious polemicist, a defender of reason and enemy of superstition. He is also an extraordinarily talented explicator and celebrator of biology. He makes complex concepts, like kin selection, pop into focus in a way that imparts a jolt of pleasure. His best writings are suffused with the wide-ranging curiosity that he revealed at the fellowship in Cambridge.