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In Defense of Darwin?

Monday, July 13, 2009 - 08:30 PM

Richard Dawkins Richard Dawkins (sentxd/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

When evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins' daughter was six years old, he told her that flowers are not here for beauty, not here for the bees, but instead merely to copy their own DNA. Sigh, what a Dad. So is Richard Dawkins always so gloomy and reductionist about the world? Well yes, but he would say that his vision of the world is anything but gloomy, he even calls it romantic. In this conversation from the 92nd St Y, Robert challenges Dawkins on this and a number of other sticky spots on the topic of biological evolution.

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Comments [129]

Nick

It is amazing to me how many otherwise smart people get hung up on this line "survival of the fittest." It is a line that describes evolution very poorly. It neglects the other half of evolution, which i would describe as "survival of the most diverse." evolution is the process of trading diversity for fitness. In times when a population is sufficiently fit, it will spend its energy building up diversity to best handle future challenges. In times when a population is not sufficiently fit, it must trade its diversity to become fit. therefore these sorts of ideas put forth that it would be a good idea to selectively breed humanity to an ideal of fitness to create a super race are very foolish and show a very incomplete understanding of evolution. such a proposal is trading away diversity for nothing, or rather for some foolish biased idea of what fitness is. nature, in its callous wisdom, would happily prove those who believe such nonsense wrong by exterminating a homogenous population with a single disease.

Jan. 11 2013 03:49 PM
Sloppy Boggins from Toronto

As best described by Arthur Keostler, Darwin was right about a great many things but "random" was not one of them. There are always spurts of evolution that are exceedingly faster than possible in randomness. Even Darwin's co-writer on the original origin of the species argued this point which is finally gaining ground. The idea that part of evolution is directed by a creature's environment while it lives. This prompts more or less change in particular areas of the offspring. If we waited for random changes to account for evolution we'd still be aspiring to walk on land. Where are the odds making mathematicians to explain how painfully slow that would be?
This is a change that effects much of a species not just some. The ones who die are not individuals but entire species who were unable to adapt enough or in time or were just too wrong in design for sudden events.

I can only assume that this all or nothing attitude towards Darwinism is as a result of constantly defending it self against contrary religious ideas. I find it ironic that of all theories, evolution is so slow to evolve.

Apr. 01 2012 04:14 AM
Konraden

@Jim Bouton How do you figure? Nothing from this short seemed to be anti-intellectual, which is ordinarily what Fox News et al projects.

Mar. 06 2012 03:07 PM
Jim Bouton

I am a big fan of Radiolab but Robert Krolwich has to go. He'd be a shoe-in at fox news.

Mar. 06 2012 10:43 AM
Jerome Healy from seattle

http://www.wimp.com/nationalgeographic/

Mar. 17 2011 08:51 PM
Mick

Arther C Clark said "Biological life is just an evolutionary step towards machine intelligence". Machines will be able to reach the stars. Maybe God is a machine.
P.S.
RadioLab is Great.
Mick.

Jul. 23 2010 10:51 AM
Tim G.

I'm sorry if somebody brought this up earlier. I didn't read the earlier comments, but I'll say what I'm thinking anyway:

If I decide to take all of my ostensibly less "fit" neighbors and render them completely "unfit" to survive by slaughtering them, nobody seems to have any trouble identifying this as a ghastly, abhorrent application of Darwinistic principles to steer the course of human evolution. If, on the other hand, I take my ostensibly less "fit" neighbors and help them to be more "fit", perhaps by providing medical techniques, prosthetics, education, etc., nobody, not even the great ambassador of evolution, Richard Dawkins, ever sees this as an benevolent application of Darwinism to steer the course of human evolution. Why not? Why does nobody ever say: "No legs? No problem. That no longer renders any human beings 'unfit' to survive. You are now officially 'fit'. This is the new evolution. We got you covered." I consider myself a social Darwinist, and I believe that our goal should be to improve the 'fitness' of our fellow humans by helping them out.

Jul. 22 2010 01:29 AM
Nils D

Robert, I don't really agree with your perspective on this, but I have to come to your defense against all of these people saying you need to go. It's very few and far between times that your more spiritual side comes out and while I think "In Silence" is your weakest work, it certainly doesn't warrant this type of backlash.

Unfortunately, some people on here prove that atheists can be just as obnoxious as the more religious types.

Oct. 26 2009 07:06 PM
Vincent

On the meaning of a flower... I humbly submit an excerpt from "Sadhana" by the great Indian poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore:

In the world-poem, the discovery of the law of its rhythms, the measurement of its expansion and contraction, movement and pause, the pursuit of its evolution of forms and characters, are true achievements of the mind; but we cannot stop there. It is like a railway station; but the station platform is not our home. Only he has attained the final truth who knows that the whole world is a creation of joy.

This leads me to think how mysterious the relation of the human heart with nature must be. In the outer world of activity nature has one aspect, but in our hearts, in the inner world, it presents an altogether different picture.

Take an instance--the flower of a plant. However fine and dainty it may look, it is pressed to do a great service, and its colours and forms are all suited to its work. It must bring forth the fruit, or the continuity of plant life will be broken and the earth will be turned into a desert ere long. The colour and the smell of the flower are all for some purpose therefore; no sooner is it fertilised by the bee, and the time of its fruition arrives, than it sheds its exquisite petals and a cruel economy compels it to give up its sweet perfume. It has no time to flaunt its finery, for it is busy beyond measure. Viewed from without, necessity seems to be the only factor in nature for which everything works and moves. There the bud develops into the flower, the flower into the fruit, the fruit into the seed, the seed into a new plant again, and so forth, the chain of activity running on unbroken. Should there crop up any disturbance or impediment, no excuse would be accepted, and the unfortunate thing thus choked in its movement would at once be labelled as rejected, and be bound to die and disappear post- haste. In the great office of nature there are innumerable departments with endless work going on, and the fine flower that you behold there, gaudily attired and scented like a dandy, is by no means what it appears to be, but rather, is like a labourer toiling in sun and shower, who has to submit a clear account of his work and has no breathing space to enjoy himself in playful frolic.

But when this same flower enters the heart of men its aspect of busy practicality is gone, and it becomes the very emblem of leisure and repose. The same object that is the embodiment of endless activity without is the perfect expression of beauty and peace within.

Science here warns us that we are mistaken, that the purpose of a flower is nothing but what is outwardly manifested, and that the relation of beauty and sweetness which we think it bears to us is all our own making, gratuitous and imaginary.

But our heart replies that we are not in the least mistaken. In the sphere of nature the flower carries with it a certificate which recommends it as having immense capacity for doing useful work, but it brings an altogether different letter of introduction when it knocks at the door of our hearts. Beauty becomes its only qualification. At one place it comes as a slave, and at another as a free thing. How, then, should we give credit to its first recommendation and disbelieve the second one? That the flower has got its being in the unbroken chain of causation is true beyond doubt; but that is an outer truth. The inner truth is: Verily from the everlasting joy do all objects have their birth.
Namaste.

Oct. 17 2009 12:17 PM
Robert Goldberg

We've apparently adapted to a position that any communication less enthusiastic than arm-waving histrionics is beneath our notice. There's no dearth of volume in our public discourse, but I do recall a time when it was possible to disagree agreeably. All this fuss over Robert's (properly, skillfully and frequently) adopting the devil's advocate role quite amazes me. RadioLab is a treasure, and Robert one of the jewels. All this advice to lighten up could well apply to almost any dialogue of substance in contemporary media.

Oct. 04 2009 05:12 PM
chuck

I thoroughly enjoy listening to dawkins, but I wonder how we can truly *know* there has never before been foresight, especially considering that foresight + evolution clearly allows for species-ending conclusions based on unforeseen consequences.

maybe some evolutionary dead-end came from a previous episode of foresight.

in general, absolutes make me uncomfortable.

Oct. 02 2009 03:47 PM
Evidently smarter

Who cares about how billions of stupid primates have misconfigured their brains just because they (cough cough) want to think there's more to it.

What a personal hit piece. A smear campaign. Ugly. People who pretend to know disgust me because they love lies. They'd rather lie than tell the truth, to themselves and to their children. They have not and will not ever win because the truth will never, ever, ever go away.

Sep. 27 2009 08:41 AM
Andrew

I like evolution just fine, but Dawkins is off on at least three major points. The first is that he says we're the first beings to have foresight or the ability to control our adaptations. In fact, we have nowhere near a complete understanding of how mutations and adaptations occur. More and more research is showing complex feedback between organisms and their environment, making the idea of "completely random mutation driving all evolution" unsatisfying and obsolete.

The second is how he supports purely mechanical evolution as the only driver in the past, but then somehow says we should do something different going forward. If in fact, there is no purpose or "what for" to existence, then there is no inherent reason why we should take issue with some brutal group of physically powerful humans out-competing and destroying the rest of us. Only morality explains why we oppose that, and in the purely darwinian worldview, morality is just one more random adaptation. If someone shows up with a different morality (or lack of it) he's just as legitimate a competitor. If you're going to say darwin doesn't have all the answers for human behavior, then you have to accept that he doesn't have all the answers for non-human behavior or evolution either.

The third point is an extension of the second. I don't know how you can say flowers are just machines, but humans are not. Either we're all machines and humans have no such "responsibility", or humans do have some purpose, and then, to some degree, so does everything, including flowers. Flowers look the way they do because it is attractive. To bees, to birds, and to people, and that has spread them all over the world. There's more to that than just pollination.

So go ahead, Mr. Dawkins. Lighten up, open your mind, and accept that random mutation is not the whole story.

Sep. 16 2009 10:43 AM
Dean

“What meaning or purpose will I ascribe to my life?” Now that is a centuries old stupid question! There is NO meaning or purpose to our lives nor are we required to ascribe purpose to it. We are here to enjoy what nature and evolution have given us. Just enjoy this life and forget the false intellectual activity so many love to posit as interesting!

Aug. 18 2009 08:17 PM
Arman

The idea of introducing the family history of Dawkins was shallow and exceedingly inane. What was the point? to ruin him before his speech?
I really enjoy his brilliant ideas, and I am thankful of his relentless endeavor to spread enlightenment.

Aug. 17 2009 11:08 PM
Deborah

Umm... wouldn't foresight be part of evolution? And the results of foresight, coats or flying whatever, be a continuance of the process as well? Whether it leads us to invent a means to survive the next ice age... or leads us to devise the means of our own destruction... seems to me that's still just a part of the evolutionary process.

And what is this pathetic need we have to be 'special' just by virtue of the fact that we are human? Why can't we shake it?

Is it to assuage our guilt over the impact we have on our environment? Is it to justify our power over the other creatures? Or is laziness the appeal? Is it that, "Because I'm human I'm set, I don't have to justify my existence or distinguish myself in any other way. Oh wondrous, wondrous me!" Whether such "specialness" is bestowed upon us by divinity or by Darwin... well... Who would even want to be 'special' if that's all it meant?

As for the question "Why are we here, what's our purpose?" Couched in terms of seeking a universal answer beyond ourselves, the one true answer, it is silly. It's beyond silly. It's dangerous. It's dangerous and destructive because it can't have an answer. We can pretend there's an answer of that kind of course, we do, but we can't prove it to each other. So... Why not just get past it then? Get over it? For goodness sake, why not take on some responsibility for ourselves for a change? The far better question to ask as far as I'm concerned is, "What meaning or purpose will I ascribe to my life?" Now that question has value, in the least because it's one that can be answered. In fact if you find a good answer to that question, why then you truly will be special. Better yet... you will have earned the status.

Aug. 11 2009 02:21 PM
evZENy

We need more people like Dawkins, esp. in USA!

Aug. 06 2009 10:16 AM
GMK

This conversation ignored the aspects of development that influence behavior and assumed that most of "natural" human behavior is a relic of our evolutionary past (therefore we do things such as "favoring biological children over step-children"). This is a highly controversial view and very disputed, as it has become apparent that development interacts with the evolution in ways which lessen the need for such cognitive constraints (or "adaptations") by actually selecting for greater plasticity (such as learning)in development. Dawkin's has been slow on the uptake with this view, even though it is gathering plenty of evidence (see "Developmental Plasticity and Evolution" by Mary Jane West-Eberhard). Radio Labs should think about doing a show on development and specifically how it interacts with the evolutionary process.

Aug. 04 2009 11:09 AM
RiseLikeLions

What is (or who made) that interlude music when that woman was reciting that poem? It sounded Mogwai-like or Explosions in the Skyish. I loved it over that poem.

Jul. 28 2009 03:14 PM
Jerry McGahan

one more addendum:
that the bees and flowers have in a sense created each other in their own shape is an embrace no less powerful to me than that of a loving or jealous god, especially in the added embrace that what molecules made lovely for bees is lovely for us as well, when there is no need whatsoever for that bit of charity

Jul. 28 2009 11:21 AM
Jerry McGahan

There's no need for the dichotomy between Dawkin's Darwinian and anti-Darwinian beliefs. Being a member of a group confers advantages that outweigh certain sacrifices. Some groups succeed better than others but there is no Darwinian selection of groups. Genetic selection still operates on an individual basis. Once the advantage of membership becomes so huge, then another dynamic, one of the group, operates, where altruism and compassion figure and weigh in, all without the necessity that kin be involved. You can be a complete Darwinian and see the errors and miscalculations of Welles, Hitler, and Thatcher.

Jul. 28 2009 11:16 AM
alexandre

So you have a recorded interview with Dawkins actually doing what he does best - talking about evolution and biology instead of bashing on religion and evangelizing atheism - and you only post 20 minutes of it?

Shame on you robert! Please do put the entirety of the interview somewhere...

Also it's due time radiolab make a show about evolution beyond monkeys and dinossaurs. Memes, designing car pieces using genetic algorithm, evolving books and etc..

cheers

Jul. 27 2009 09:47 AM
a person

I agree with James.

Jul. 26 2009 08:25 PM
James

Rin Tin Tin is totally out to lunch. There is nothing wrong with Krolwich, he made a fool of no one, and he didn't try to make Dawkins' view look absurd. He merely raised his objections to it--which may well be the objections that many people would naturally raise. This gave Dawkins the opportunity to elaborate in those directions.

I think Rin Tin Tin should be canned after Radio Lab fans flood the board with protests against him. Krolwich is great and should stay.

Jul. 25 2009 05:28 PM
Wau Wee

Thanks Rin Tin.

I guess you couldn't sift the facts out of the tone.

But I agree with your sentiment that Robert has become an embarrassment.

However, I don't think he can be canned from his own show...?

Jul. 25 2009 05:24 PM
Rin Tin Tin

Just watched the podcast of this show. Ouch! Robert Krolwich has to go. He's become an embarrasment. He tried to make Dawkins view look absurd but just wound up making a fool of f himself. Radio Lab fans shouild flood this board with protests and insist he be canned.

And -- way to go, Windswept. 'Wau Wee' is an insufferble boor and needed to be put in his place.

Jul. 25 2009 12:54 PM
Wau Wee

To sum up:

I don't really care much about Darwin.
One can not prove or disprove the existence of god (yet).
Failure to disprove the existence of god does not make god exist.
Failure to disprove the existence of god does not make god possible.
I like a good duel.

Go to the website if you want more.

Jul. 23 2009 09:13 PM
Wau Wee, aka Snide Sniper

Hey Waif ~

Now that's the spirit!

You are right, I spent too much time on you. I just wanted tell you that comparing someone to something which they are opposite doesn't fool people in text, although it seems to work often when spoken. If you took away the adjectives and adverbs from what you wrote, I'll bet you would have decided not to post it. I won't do the exercise for you.

Your next post, though, was much more entertaining.

So c'mon, don't give up yet.

By the way, I can tell you're a girl.

Jul. 23 2009 08:31 PM
Windswept Waif

Wow, Wau Wee –

I see you stayed up past midnight to respond to my posting of the other day. You must have been punch drunk or overtired to have cranked out such drivel and snotty, unresponsive nonsense. You pretend to handily demolish my argument and expose my pathetic fallacies "bullet point by bullet point." But, in fact, you’ve done nothing of the sort. Most of your retorts were off the point or deliberate distortions of my meaning. Others simply degenerated into spiteful little ad hominem attacks. Do you actually read the bilge you write while you are typing it, or does it just sort of ooze out like some kind of verbal diarrhea? Take a look at some of the ridiculous things you said:

• “Strong modifiers in your language don’t win an argument...The strong words seem like a cover for lack of information...”

• “Oh come on waif-girl (or boy, or whatever you are). Too strong, you got nada. Maybe if you use capital letters it will seem more true. HATRED. SCORN. ALL.”

• “Whole lotta adjectives in the next one.”

You have a problem with my expressing things in "strong language." A certain degree of exaggeration and use of charged words to stress points, provoke response, etc, are standard, time-honored rhetorical devices that have been employed to good effect since the days of Cicero. You deride and harp on my style because there's almost nothing intelligent you can say about my substance.

Some more of your nonsense:

• “Let me guess, you took high school physics and did okay, then went into advertising, where you get paid to write copy empty of substance, but filled with adjectives and adverbs?”

There you go with the adverbs and adjectives again. Do you have something against those parts of speech? Funny, since you use loads of them in your own posts. Here are just a handful from your many self-important mini-rants: "STUPID," "elite," "smarter," "presumptuous," "emotionally," "mentally," "ridiculous," "simple," "gullible," "brainwashed," "religious," "ignorant," "lazy," "flawed," "unwelcome," "insulting," "bad," "screwball," “aggressively," "idiotic," "childish," "contradictory."

As far as me getting paid to write advertising copy, not that it's any of your business, but I am a Java2 programmer and actually spend much of my day writing stuff like:

public static void main(String args[]) {
FixedQueue q = new FixedQueue(10);

Man, Wee-Wee, at some point you must have gotten really wasted or took another drag of your blunt, because about a third of the way down your screed, the language becomes comically puerile, disjointed, and just plain retarded.

• “Are you on the rag? By the way, I know that just asking you if you are on the rag doesn’t mean that you are on the rag, and I also understand that it puts your judgement on trial if someone stupid reads this and gets tricked by such a question. This happens on Fox News VERY OFTEN, (yes, I really mean that). This is also the way Robert Krulwich injects god into a situation without the benefit of god actually existing; by asking the question in a presupposing tone...”

First of all, why do you automatically assume my gender is female (Did the name "Windswept Waif" throw you off? But then, aren't user names intended to disguise a person's identity?). I don't presume to know either your occupation or your sex, although I will say that you tend to come across like a frustrated feminist having a PMS episode. As for the rest of your convoluted spewings, I have no idea what you are talking about or how FOX News suddenly got into the discussion.

And finally there's this gem:

• “I might add a little of that douchebag Rush Limbaugh to your repertoire as well. Big fat liar when backed into a logic corner. ”

What the hell does Rush Limbaugh have to do with anything? I thought we were discussing science and religion -- not politics. Maybe you just got off on the chance to use a word like “douchebag.”

As for your supposed deconstruction of my argument, I'll make just a few points. Many in the atheist and scientific community do indeed make something of a cult out of science and rarely if ever question the limits of its ability to deliver knowledge, nor do they entertain the possibility that there may be realms of reality that the discipline of science cannot access. It is ultimately an epistemological question but one which some scientists shun due to an instinctive disdain for "mere” Philosophy. Scientific reasoning evolved because it conferred on the human race an obvious survival advantage and we have exploited it to the fullest. Survival is extremely important. But, as was said in a book that you probably despise, Man does not live by bread alone.

As for my disregarding “the profound genius and ponderous amount of work" that has been invested in studying what led to the Big Bang, I think you missed the point of my comparison. All of that work and genius will yield fascinating knowledge but will never answer the ultimate question. No matter what they come up with, one can always ask, "Okay, okay -- then what caused THAT to happen?" There will be an infinite regress and the question will always remain a profound mystery, whether you like that or not. If somebody asserts that a divine being was behind it all there is absolutely no evidence we can detect at this time to back up that assertion. But it cannot be totally ruled out either.

Finally, as far as humility is concerned, you don't have a clue.

In short, your lame attempts to bloody me up seem like lot of sound and fury gone to waste, because I have made no extravagant claims. I've only suggested that the militant extremist wing of the atheist crowd share some disturbing traits with religious fanatics all over the globe, in their intolerance, their sneering hostility to those who reject their views, a delight in mocking and ridiculing their opponents, and their self-righteous certainty that they alone possess the truth. It is apparent just from reading some of the comments on this blog and elsewhere, that many, including atheists, agnostics and non-believers, agree with me. Sorry if I pushed some of your hot buttons, bro (or sis), and got you all exercised and steamed about it. From the volume of your postings I get the impression you spend an awful lot of time in these forums, enjoying your adolescent game of hiding behind your computer screen taking cheap shots at all who disagree with you. I suggest you change your screen name to Snide Sniper (rhymes with Pied Piper). And, by the way, this will be my last post on this board. I do have a life. And I'll be more than happy to let you have the last word, my contrary friend, since I know how nice and superior that will make you feel.

Relax, it’s only a blog.

Jul. 23 2009 12:48 PM
Windswept Waif

To Richard Corr

I would like to respond to your post dated July 19th and assure you that your point has not "been lost to everyone reading this thread". In doing so, I will also respond to some of the other posters who, like me, found your comments interesting and worthy of discussion.

First –
to Christobal de Losada

You wrote:
“At the end of The Selfish Gene Dawkins wrote: “We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination.” That seems to me at odds with the purely scientific, for what would be left if the “prime directives” of our genes and our “indoctrination” are removed from the equation? What/Who precisely is rebelling against the tyranny of our “program”, if the rebelling agent or component is not coming itself from the program? It almost seems that a free-willed soul is being evoked.”

I think you hit the nail on the head here, particularly your last sentence. I believe that this uncovers a fundamental flaw in Dawkin's thinking and in that of reductionist-leaning evolutionists in general. Ultimately it is an untenable, logically flawed position which cannot be defended. If you are a devout Darwinian, there is no way to explain how one part of humanity’s evolved nature can freely choose to "rebel against" another part of our nature. As you correctly state, just WHO is it that can be one step removed from the process so as to be able to say, "We ought to 'defy' our selfish genes because it's not nice or ethical to act selfishly." WHO is making this choice? Either we are solely the products of evolution or we are not. You can't have it both ways. Dawkins and his friends get hopelessly caught up in their own contradictions once they get into the realm of ethics and morality. One the one hand they are at great pains to distance themselves from the evil, racist implications of Social Darwinism, as well as to fend off the claims of religious zealots that morality cannot exist in a strictly Darwinian world. On the other hand, there is no way for them to do this without invoking some free-acting moral agent within man who makes the value judgment that such distancing is necessary or desirable.

But, I'm afraid I must strongly disagree with you when you say: “We shouldn’t give much weight to these apparent little contradictions.” Those contradictions are at the very core of Dawkin's theory and to gloss over them is, I believe, to be intellectually dishonest.

To Richard Corr

In your first post you discussed Dawkin's example of condoms as indicative of man's capacity to counter the "selfish" drives of his genes. You said,

It may seem anti-Darwinian to wear condoms but at a deeper, more subtle level it must really be Darwinian because this is how we have evolved to behave.

I would respond by saying that, to a strict Darwinian, NOTHING we do could possibly be 'anti-Darwinian'-- every single aspect of our nature and behavior is the end product of evolution.

In your second post, dated July22nd, you wrote, regarding the same general issue:

“Nevertheless, this does seem to me to be a big contradiction, quite glaring in fact as Professor Dawkins appears to create an artificial divide, splitting us away from the rest of the animal world and suggesting that we can be more than ourselves, the product of Darwinian evolution. It seems strange that he leaves himself so open to misinterpretation, especially when this particular contradiction is likely to give succor to his opponents. If I were an ‘enemy of reason’ I would certainly take comfort from his apparent rejection of Darwinism.”

My question: Wouldn’t it be more characteristic of an "enemy of reason" to shrink away from the implications of this 'glaring' contradiction? Why not just accept that Dawkin's views may not be 100% accurate, that the Darwinian view of man might have some holes in it, rather than wringing your hands over the prospect of "giving comfort" to your enemies? You suggest, with something like trepidation, that Dawkins "may be clinging, perhaps unconsciously, to the idea that we really do have free will and can choose to be other than evolved animals." Why should this “idea” be so threatening? Why not just keep researching this whole fascinating field with an open mind and follow the science wherever it leads?

To Jenny O'Brien

Thank you for the book suggestion. The Stephen Johnson (with whom I’m not familiar) work indeed sounds like a fascinating read and I will be heading over to Amazon later to purchase it. I would also refer you, if you have a mathematical bent, to Paul Davies’s book The Cosmic Blueprint, in which he examines the phenomenon of self-organization in a wide array of systems ranging from cellular automata, to fractals, to embryonic development, to termite mounds. How, for example, does a single cell in a developing zygote "know" that it should turn into a muscle cell rather than a nerve cell, from where does the original, undifferentiated stem cell derive its own individual “mental map” of the big picture? Some of the heavy math was over my head, but otherwise it was an intriguing book. You may be right that large complex institutions such as governments or a stock exchange may be affected by evolutionary principles. Software engineers and scientists working in the fields of AI (Artificial Intelligence) have already shown that computer programs can be written which can behave as live actors -- competing for "resources," choosing courses of action, and reproducing themselves.

Jul. 23 2009 12:47 PM
E H Decker

I wonder if Dawkins' portrayal of Darwinian evolution, especially as it applies to modern humans, isn't a little inaccurate. He harps on the violence and viciousness of our Darwinian natures--the competitive, predatory side. And he pits this against our moral, modern selves--the compassionate, peaceful side.

But viciousness (competition and predation) is only one of several strategies that might help an organism (and its population) persist and pass on its genes. Mutualism (cooperation) and commensalism (benefiting from another without harming it) are both adaptive in certain situations.

Examples abound: some birds and fish eat scraps of food from hippos' mouths; this benefits both parties. Vampire bats will regurgitate some food to non-related bats in their caves if those other bats are in dire need (it's insurance for days when they're in dire need too). Many organisms make their homes in trees without any harm to the trees. And humans share food, sacrifice for others, and band together to build all kinds of things. These are all adaptive behaviors that help the organisms survive and reproduce.

So it IS Darwinian to cooperate, to have compassion, to share, even to sacrifice for others--in the right circumstances. Darwinian shouldn't be understood merely as "vicious, competitive and predatory." Rather, it's really "whatever it takes to help pass on our genes."

And in modern human society, that involves quite a bit of cooperation, compassion, and 'moral' behavior. Viciousness, cheating and predation work too, of course. Which is why we have plenty of each.

And game theory is a useful way to explore the conditions in which those strategies (or a blend of them) are most adaptive.

Jul. 23 2009 02:39 AM
intelligentsia

i have really enjoyed radio lab for years now. i also really enjoy watching/listening to dawkins and reading the books he's written, so hearing him on radio lab was a treat.

even though i don't agree with robert's (i'm assuming) grand purpose for life-type view, i still really like him on the show and think he does much more than wait to inject some religion into the discussion. removing him from radio lab would undoubtedly remove much of what i really enjoy about the show.

this long discussion has been very interesting to read. i like that radio lab draws such an intelligent (and fairly diverse) audience!

Jul. 23 2009 01:00 AM
Wau Wee

Chris,
The poem is by Richard Dawkins (read by his wife in this show). From his book A Devil's Chaplain.

Jul. 22 2009 06:43 PM
Chris

I'm interested in the poem at the end of this piece. Does anyone know if it is part of a larger work, or who the author is?

Jul. 22 2009 05:37 PM
Wau Wee

Hi Richard Corr,

I saw your posts, and Cristobal's and B.H.'s responses, and Jenny O'Brien's post which seems to respond to it (?), not sure.

In any event, I think the discussion about whether Dawkins contradicts himself or not arises in the use of language in the podcast. Words like "evolve", selfish gene" and "political darwinism" can have different levels of meaning, and the debate starts to get in the way of their meanings (or visa versa).

I have understood from what I heard that Dawkins thinks of the theory of evolution as a sensible explanation for the way humans have evolved into the kinds of highly intelligent beings that congregate and behave in large groups (societies), but that the dynamic of the groups and how their behavior changes over time is not exactly the "evolution" he is discussing, although these behavioral results may be related to physical, gene-passing evolution.

Also, to follow up your point #2, I don't think Dawkins is considering evolution a "force"; just a process that naturally occurs; nothing "drives" it, and it "drives" nothing. No purpose required. It just seems a well-reasoned and researched explanation of circumstances leading to now, without any hocus-pocus required.

I think I'm with B.H. on this, and I think he answered more clearly, but I'll post anyway.

Also, I guess I have to disagree with Jenny O'Brien's argument that "institutions" can be "subject to the laws of evolution", because there are no "laws" of evolution (not to be dickish, but the words are important in the discussion), but more importantly, applying these evolution theory principles to social and political behavior starts to move away from the point. Fairly enough, though, Dawkins did leave some language on the recording which, as Richard Corr noted, may seem contradictory.

Not sure what the primary issue is, actually. Is it about the existence of god, or is it about evolution? Do the two subjects NEED to be linked, except in a world where someone imposes the existence of god on others, and in order to do so, must dismiss the theory of evolution? Nope.

Jul. 22 2009 05:15 PM
oehlberg

Robert has a hard time holding back his religious views in the radiolab podcasts. This is all fine and dandy if you agree with him. If you disagree with him, his inclusion of his personal religious views comes off as arrogant because he presumes to know something where there is no evidence to support his views.

I had decided to stop listening to radiolab before this episode due to Robert's religious opinings. After someone mentioned that Robert was talking to Dawkins in the latest episode I decided to give it a listen... Afterwards I'm confident I made the right decision to stop listening to radiolab:

http://oehlberg.com/blog/2009/07/09/why-i-stopped-listening-to-radiolab/

Jul. 22 2009 04:53 PM
Jenny O'Brien

I think it is difficult to talk about Darwinian evolution in terms of individual humans because of free will. However, I think it is very appropriate to discuss evolution in terms of emergent human institutions. In the fantastic Radiolab episode "Emergence", Jad and Robert talked about all sorts of self-regulating and evolving human institutions, like the New York Stock Exchange, Google, a large city, etc. (Check out Stephen Johnson's book "Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software" for a fascinating read!) I would also include in that list most global religious institutions. They behave in much the same way as any complex organism- made of individuals acting together under a common set of basic instructions with communication between the members and a system of feedback. What emerges is a complex "super organism", so to speak, that is capable of much more than any one individual.
Are these institutions subject to the laws of evolution? I would argue yes. A polluted, crowded, crime-ridden city will not function well, and people will move out. A government that doesn't respond to the needs of its citizens will eventually be overthrown. A church that is too far from the mainstream will lose members. It seems to me that these institutions, because of their complexity, cannot be directed much by individual free will, but can be acted on by "natural" selection.

Jul. 22 2009 02:04 PM
B.H.

To Richard Corr,

I appreciate your well considered and thoughtful comments, so please don't take this in any way other than as it is intended: as an invitation for further conversation on the interesting matter of Dawkins' description of himself as a political anti-Darwinian.

I agree that his argument about contraception was weak, but I felt that he clarified his position when he described those who have sought to justify political positions in terms of their understandings of Darwinian evolution and its implications. It sounded to me as if Dawkins perhaps could have more accurately described his political stance as a-Darwinian rather than anti-Darwinian. I took his position to be that evolutionary theory is the best scientific model available for describing the history of the development of life and speciation, but Dawkins maintains that it's not prescriptive when it comes to political action.

I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on this.

Jul. 22 2009 12:08 PM
Richard Corr

Re Comment from Cristóbal de Losada

Thanks for being the only one to respond to my comment. My point seems to have been lost to everyone else reading this thread. You may be right that one should not put “much weight” to these “contradictions”; this certainly seems to be the reaction of most people. I suppose we can all be caught out in various contradictions and philosophical inconsistencies. Nevertheless, this does seem to me to be a big contradiction, quite glaring in fact as Professor Dawkins appears to create an artificial divide, splitting us away from the rest of the animal world and suggesting that we can be more than ourselves, the product of Darwinian evolution. It seems strange that he leaves himself so open to misinterpretation, especially when this particular contradiction is likely to give succour to his opponents. If I were an ‘enemy of reason’ I would certainly take comfort from his apparent rejection of Darwinism. He appears to imply that we need to find our morality from somewhere outside of our evolved animal state – some kind of higher source. What else (I would think were I religiously inclined) could this source be but God?
I can think of only three reasons why Richard may be using this meaning of Darwinism in this context. 1) He is distancing himself from the destructive aspects of ‘Darwinism’ to dissociate himself from the ‘social-Darwinists’ and those who adopt a selfish ‘survival of the fittest’ approach to life. This is understandable, but I wish he would express himself more precisely because it undermines his own position and is confusing. 2) He is dumbing-down his presentation to make his ideas more ‘palatable’ (as you say) to the general public and perhaps to himself (a good point!). The idea of evolution as a blind force with its association with deterministic necessity and loss of freedom/choice is not attractive and Dawkins wants to win people over. 3) He is clinging, perhaps unconsciously, to the idea that we really do have free will and can choose to be other than evolved animals. This ‘act of faith’ is understandable. How free we are to choose our destiny is debateable, although, arguably, every person in making any plan or act is tacitly buying in to the same ‘act of faith’. Whether this freedom is fundamentally different to that of any other primate or animal is a moot point.

Jul. 22 2009 09:55 AM
Wau Wee

Dear skhjdwdfg,

re [Comment from skhjdwdfg
Date: July 21, 2009, 11:55 pm]

You wrote:

"There is no need to throw a temper tantrum. If you have a recommendation for the show then say it politely. If you do not there is no reason to be rude. If you do not like the show,
do not listen to the show. If you
do plan to stop listening to the
show then there is really no reason
to be obnoxious by telling the rest
of us about it."

To follow your sentiment, if you do not like the blog, do not read the blog.

But don't be a little twit and tell me your level of tolerance on such an important subject won't abide some vitriol. Just sit in the corner and suck your thumb quietly, then. The public doesn't need this smoothed out for them, and I think it is a public DISSERVICE for you to shush it.

Just my opinion.

And just a blog. What are you going to do, make a bunch of bloggers get along?

Jul. 22 2009 01:03 AM
Wau Wee

Alright you windswept waif, way to get up some moxie (that's new england for chutzpah). Here we go, point by bullet point:

- I CAN handle my own medecine. Not a baby.

- You described finding in the "new breed of atheists": "Unwavering, unquestioning insistence on the ability of science to reveal all truth (if not today, then tomorrow)" Really? Just made that up? Strong modifiers in your language don't win an argument. You still have to be correct. The strong words seem like a cover for lack of information or back-up in that statement. There isn't even much to discuss or dispute in it; it's just kind of tonal.

- You described finding in the "new breed of atheists": Hatred and scorn for all “non-believers” Oh come on waif-girl (or boy, or whatever you are). Too strong, you got nada. Maybe if you use capital letters it will seem more true. HATRED. SCORN. ALL.

- Okay, with the Newtonian physics vs quantum somehow wiping away confidence in the Newtonian, and your statement that this is ignored by atheists... Let me guess, you took high school physics and did okay, then went into advertising, where you get paid to write copy empty of substance, but filled with adjectives and adverbs? Is this really what you will say of atheists, that they ignore the conflicting and learning parts of science to help them dispute the existence of god? Sounds more like religious-people tactics in reverse, but I guess that is what is necessary for your little thesis, where you try to prove that all the bad qualities of the religious right are somehow now the qualities of atheists. Atheists don't need science to DISMISS (all caps, yes) the existence of god as balderdash. Their defense of learning and scientific study necessarily conflicts with the fundamentalist need to ignore scientific discoveries, as their income diminishes.

- Describing "Smug confidence that you and your tribe are the smartest, most enlightened, most “saved” people in the room" mixes some description with some lie. Smug? Okay. Confident? Yeah. Tribe? Way to give it an olden-timey religious feel. Smartest? If you say so. Most enlightened? Damn skippy. Saved? From what?

- Actually, Francis Collins and Paul Davies were not "viciously condemned" for "daring to profess religious belief". Their commingling of religion with science is called into question. That's it. Disagreement is not VICIOUS CONDEMNATION. Are you on the rag? By the way, I know that just asking you if you are on the rag doesn't mean that you are on the rag, and I also understand that it puts your judgement on trial if someone stupid reads this and gets tricked by such a question. This happens on Fox News VERY OFTEN, (yes, I really mean that). This is also the way Robert Krulwich injects god into a situation without the benefit of god actually existing; by asking the question in a presupposing tone, as if Dawkins is a jerk for not just accepting the existence of god.

- Whole lotta adjectives in the next one. Just to be clear, I would not pitch a "hissy fit" if someone tried to brainwash my child with religion. I would protect my child, like a responsible parent should. I would have the nut arrested. I would sue them. I would have restraining orders. If that failed, I would go further. Good try with using the word heresy.

- At this point, it seems you are running out of creative ideas, which are necessary when you can't support your own argument with plain old reality. You wrote this one: "Demanding that your opponents meet standards that you refuse to apply to yourself (as when atheists insist that believers explain “What caused God?” while feeling no need to explain what caused the Big Bang". See? Now you're just winging it. No need to explain what caused the Big Bang? Do you live at the bottom of the ocean? How shitty of you to dismiss the profound genius and ponderous amount of work behind this kind of study. More words like demand and insist to make ALL atheists seem unreasonable... You're not very good at this. Oh, and I don't think most atheists ask "what caused god?" in seriousness, because they don't believe in one. This is rhetorical. It asks a theist to use logic to support their statements.

- This one's nutzoid: "The vain superstition that man need answer to nothing or to no one greater than himself (every bit as arrogant and vain as the belief that man is the cherished creation of some divine being)". What the hell, Waif? It isn't superstition. It isn't vain. Weak people look for someone else to take responsibility for or to explain their bad behavior. Religion builds this excuse in, but also builds a deterrent in, for those who choose to acknowledge it rather than say "god is on our side" as they march off to an ideologically justified war. My opinon is that everyone could benefit from the humility that comes with accepting the reality that one is their own master.

You're right, the crap you wrote "Sounds a lot like Pat Robertson or the Taliban to me", too. I might add a little of that douchebag Rush Limbaugh to your repertoire as well. Big fat liar when backed into a logic corner. All you really did was lengthen the mistake of your earlier post, which was to try to write your way into convincing me that I am somehow "just like those I disagree with" because you arbitrarily, wrongly and childishly assign their worst characteristics to me, with a series of disparaging adjectives and adverbs and turns of phrase which are lies. At least my pants aren't on fire, like yours.

By the way, if you met me at a cocktail party, you would probably think I was just fine, unless you tried to bullshit me. Even if you did, the exchange would probably be less wordy and more civil, but that's a blog for ya.

Jul. 22 2009 12:48 AM
hoshdwjsxbdsu

Saying Robert is blinded by religion is a little rich, considering how skeptically he responds to everything that appears on the show.

Jul. 21 2009 11:58 PM
skhjdwdfg

There is no need to throw a temper tantrum. If you have a recommendation for the show then say it politely. If you do not there is no reason to be rude. If you do not like the show, do not listen to the show. If you do plan to stop listening to the show then there is really no reason to be obnoxious by telling the rest of us about it.

This Has Been A Public Service Anouncement

Jul. 21 2009 11:55 PM
Listener

Hey folks
The song used here is "The red truth" by Helios. Here is a youtube version
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkDte82h7WA

Jul. 21 2009 11:49 PM
nargosi

you do have to be pretty ignorant to believe that intentionally indoctrinating a child with false beliefs about their eternal soul is anything but child abuse.

Jul. 21 2009 11:25 PM
Windswept Waif

So, “Wau Wee,” (or “Worm Food” is perhaps more appropriate) you object to my "name-calling" and “insulting” comparison of your fanaticism with that of religious believers. Guess you can’t handle a dose of your own medicine. I mean, considering that your very first post on this board began with the words: “You are such an idiot...” addressed to Mark. As for my “insulting” comparison of militant atheism with religious fundamentalism, allow me to expand a bit. What I find in the “new breed” of atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris are the following:

• Unwavering, unquestioning insistence on the ability of science to reveal all truth (if not today, then tomorrow)

• Hatred and scorn for all "non-believers"

• Flippant glossing over of inconsistencies or apparent contradictions in the "revealed scripture" of science (i.e. the way classical Newtonian physics with its ironclad determinism and immutable laws of cause and effect appears to contradict the discoveries of quantum physics, whereby no predictions, only statistical probabilities, can ever be stated with certainty and where that which is observed is always altered by the presence of the observer)

• Smug confidence that you and your tribe are the smartest, most enlightened, most “saved” people in the room ( the "brights" as Daniel Dennet likes to call himself and his fellows)

• Vicious condemnation of those who stray from the party line (as when Dawkins and others attack scientists like Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, for daring to profess religious belief, or even someone like noted physicist Paul Davies, for merely suggesting there may indeed be an underlying order or "consciousness" at the core of the universe)

• Pitching a hissy fit lest anyone dare indoctrinate, recruit, or brainwash someone else into the offensive and evil heresy (as when Dawkins suggests that anyone who raises his child with religious beliefs is guilty of child abuse)

• Demanding that your opponents meet standards that you refuse to apply to yourself (as when atheists insist that believers explain "What caused God?" while feeling no need to explain what caused the Big Bang, or when man's deep-seated religious impulses are dismissed as mere evolutionary adaptations that may have once contributed to his survival but are no longer necessary, while his reliance on reason and "the scientific method" is never so explained)

• The vain superstition that man need answer to nothing or to no one greater than himself (every bit as arrogant and vain as the belief that man is the cherished creation of some divine being)

Sounds a lot like Pat Robertson or the Taliban to me.

At least you are honest enough to admit that you were “aggressive, snotty, sarcastic, better-than-thou in style.” But none of it really matters because “it’s just a blog.” I am often fascinated by the aggressive personas people put on while shielded by the anonymity of the Internet and by their often silly (mine included) User-names . I wonder if you'd be so obnoxious at a cocktail party.

And by the way, spare me any “Bronx Cheers.” I was born and raised in the Bronx, and that would really be “insulting.”

Jul. 21 2009 09:05 PM
Wau Wee

Ben,

re [Comment from ben
Date: July 16, 2009, 10:37 am]

You wrote this:
{I like Chris Hitchens take on
Agnosticism, Militant agnosticism:
“I don’t know, and neither do you.”}

I suggest you try atheism. Then there's no need to decide what you don't know and about which you have no real info. Until someone offers you an experience with one or more of your FIVE senses, why would you bother believing in god, or even considering his existence?

If you like to leave your options open, so do atheists, but they don't need to be bothered with every childish thing said by someone childish. That kind of gullibility is the open door to ruin (and imaginary redemption). How about a little "show me"?

Jul. 21 2009 08:34 PM
Wau Wee

And you, Radishes,

re[Comment from radishes
Date: July 15, 2009, 8:52 pm]

This is part of what you posted:

“Atheists” are as much about faith
as any “believer”. The fact is we don’t know what the origin of the universe is and just like the religous types who invented a creator so too have the “atheists” . seriously big bang or one and creator god of the other, they are both attempts by man to explain that which he/she does not know.

First of all, atheists are not about faith, so why would you bother to write anything? Do you just like to type?

Secondly, the big bang is theoretical, (and still being worked out) and constructed on some evidence collected with great effort and with truly magnificent thinking.

To say "they are both attempts by man to explain that which he/she does not know" is the same as you flushing your own brain down a toilet. An equally valid statement would be: "eating vegetables and eating broken glass are both attempts by man to nourish himself". One of these seems obviously normal, and the other seems obviously stupid, but if a child was raised by their parent(s) to believe they should put a little colloidal silver in their diet, they might just do this idiotic thing until they are completely gray, insisting they are right to do it. Religion sort of does that, but fortunately the comfort it offers (afterlife) won't be disproven by the dead.

Ever watch a religious person hold on at the end of their life, and the fear they experience, wondering if they have led a good enough life to go to "heaven"? I will be just fine, in that regard. I will be as afraid to die as any creature with an instinct to preserve their life, maybe more. At least I won't wonder about being more than worm food.

Jul. 21 2009 08:18 PM
Darwin Fan

What was the point of naming off his relatives? That seemed ridiculous.

Also, much of your audience is growing tired of you inserting your lame religious/spiritual beliefs into everything.

Hope Jad gets back soon.

Jul. 21 2009 08:12 PM
Wau Wee

I almost forgot to respond to this pip:

re [Comment from Damndirtyape
Date: July 13, 2009, 11:49 pm]

Damndirtyape (nice name, by the way, from one of my favorite movies) wrote:
"Ironic that Dawkins spends his life
attacking religion with such religious
fervor...Be nice if he’d lighten up
and give it a rest every once in a
while."

My dear Damned Dirty Ape,

Dawkins is paid to lecture and write about atheism. In his place, I wouldn't give it a rest until either I was tired or until the paying audience got tired. Don't even start with insulting the non-religious by comparing them TO the religious. You might as well self-flagellate!

Jul. 21 2009 07:56 PM
Rob III

I was interested hearing Dawkin's instistence on the lack of "for" on the flower example.

Darwinism often teams closely with Atheism in conversations like this, so semantic wars like "what is a flower for" = "God" become the trope.

I'm a fan of Robert's angle in the discussion, so it would have been interesting to hear Robert pursue Dawkin on what the human brain was "for". I had the impression Dawkins saw intrinsic purpose/value in humanity's ability to think, as was illustrated by his closing remarks. The "For" vs "Darwin" conversation could have ended on a more open-ended note.

Coming from an oft-frustrated, scientific and religous fan, keep asking those questions, Krulwich!

Jul. 21 2009 07:26 PM
Wau Wee

Dear "a mediated restatement of the arguments",

Thanks for the attempt at nut-shelling it for us (sincerely).

I want to enhance some things about my atheistic points made above, and some others.

I didn't say there isn't really proof that there's a god; at least I meant it to be much stronger than that. Plainly speaking, there is not a shred of evidence of (a) god. Proof would be something far beyond presentation of the first shred. So the question is moot, and the debate should be unnecessary.

I also don't think I said god shouldn't be discussed in Radiolab. If that is the show they want, I am willing to stop listening to it. (Strike that; this was the last one I'll listen to.) While I wrote my points with tone that was aggressive, snotty, sarcastic, better-than-thou in style, I am not arguing for Radiolab to be controlled, or for them to hold back in any way; I am just hoping I have been snyde enough for them to think about what they are doing, and whether it is really what they want to do. However, I think god should not be discussed in a formal context anywhere our government is charged with regulating. That should be illegal, AND considered to be in bad taste, regardless of the religion. So far, the line seems to be holding, but if one of these screwball proposals for prayer in public schools gets through, then I am going to insist on Islam and Judaism being given EQUAL time.

I also wrote aggressively because it is just a blog. Anyone who gets their panties bunched about what I write here really ought to go to the dermatologist (...to inquire about thickening up their skin...).

Jul. 21 2009 05:26 PM
a mediated restatement of the arguments.

Here's the argument that is occurring on this forum, non opinionated:

[BEGIN ARGUMENTS]

Atheists say that there isn't really proof that there's a God– something that therefore shouldn't be discussed in Radiolab... argued albeit somewhat aggressively.

Religious people don't really have a counterpoint; they say Dawkins is, quote, "egocentric"... only a small percentage of posts, truthfully.

The moderates say that while there probably isn't a God, it is fair and in the spirit of the show to discuss one. They say the atheists are too aggressive... not much to say about this.

[END ARGUMENTS]

There's all the sides in a nutshell... I just thought I'd sort of reconsolidate the arguments.

Jul. 21 2009 04:57 PM
Wau Wee

This is to UnderTheHedgeWeGo.

Thanks for the defense, I welcome it. Good to have someone to stand back-to-back with when the zombies come.

I like your ironic "God, people are stupid" statement. I catch myself using "Jesus H. Christ" when aggravated and "God Bless You" when someone sneezes, purely as conditioned responses, even with my "devout" atheism (non-religious devotion, that is).

I will tolerate the religious to a point, but not their religion. I will, however, tell them to get off my lawn, when they are on MY property.

Jul. 21 2009 02:03 PM
Wau Wee

This is for you, Windswept Waif:

You may be right about my being supercilious and arrogant, but my mom was not a bitch.

By the way, to apply a quality like "religious" to my atheism is insulting, as you intended, even though you are kinda stupid to do it. That is a standard trick of propagandists; accusing someone opposite them of their own flaw. It is something like imitating another person to aggravate them. Nyah nyah nyah is my appropriate response to you, followed by me sticking out my tongue and making a Bronx Cheer. In your face.

Guess what yourself? I don't need to be very smart to dismiss a bunch of religious baloney. If you think I was trying to be smart, I'll tell you I was just writing common sense. No big stretch, I hope.

Get with the debate if you can, Waif, or just continue name calling if you can't hang with simple arguments.

So, go ahead Waifey. Write something with something in it.

Jul. 21 2009 01:52 PM
Wau Wee

Hey Fernando,

Fair questions. I understand that people would like there to be a god, and that their fear of death, etc, drives them to embrace the "concepts" of greater meaning, life after death, and the existence of a god to the point of certainty.

I do not seek to widen the gap between science and religion. I wish for people to wake up and realize that one is about reality and the other is about fantasy. These "greater questions" are actually lesser questions about that which does not exist, posited in a way that skips over the fact that these are concepts born in rhetoric and reared in flawed logic.

My opinion is that a bridge between the two (reality and religion) should not exist, should not be built, and if one has been built, ought to be destroyed. Educating the public is commendable, I agree with you on that, but religion interferes with, contradicts and ruins education with its lies. It is also now apparent to me that Robert Krulwich, part of Radiolab, which at some level represents or is promoted by NPR, is preaching religious content, not simply discussing it. He is discussing it with the same implied validity as things which are reasonably researched rather than just made up.

So, Fernando, if you think the "us vs them" thing is a problem, I'll remind you that the world has always worked that way, and probably always will. If a Jehova's Witness approaches my door in the future, I will consider their religion unwelcome, regardless of how benign they seem or well-intentioned they are.

Jul. 21 2009 01:14 PM
UnderTheHedgeWeGo

In defense of Wau Wee (not that it is needed).
I think many of you are mistaken. Let me be the first to say, "Wau Wee, you're one smart mouse". It is so refreshing to hear a viewpoint well reasoned and thoughtfully stated with conviction. While there are many people possessing greater intelligence than I, (and I suspect Wau Wee may be one of those individuals) I have to say that not a day goes by without the thought, "God, people are stupid" passing through my brain. The belief in Creationism, the fact that 30 percent of Americans believe our government was complicit in the destruction of 9/11 (as if The Government could pull that off!), the election of George W. Bush to consecutive terms, the belief in a personal god to whom we can each make specific requests (despite a dismal record of success) are a few of the things that spring to mind. John Q Public IS an ignoramus.
Don’t condemn well reasoned arguments because you don’t like the conclusions.

Jul. 21 2009 01:09 PM
Ben

existential nihilism in da house

Jul. 21 2009 12:03 PM
Cristóbal de Losada

Re: Comment from Mike
Date: July 17, 2009, 2:57 am

Very well said. I totally agree.

Jul. 21 2009 11:06 AM
Windswept Waif

Hey there "Wau Wee." You are sure one supercilious and arrogant SOB (like so many of your fellow religious fanatics -- the religion of militant atheism, that is). Guess what? You're not nearly as smart as you think you are.

Jul. 21 2009 01:39 AM
Cristóbal de Losada

@ Richard Corr,

I agree.

At the end of The Selfish Gene Dawkins wrote: “We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination.” That seems to me at odds with the purely scientific, for what would be left if the "prime directives" of our genes and our "indoctrination" are removed from the equation? What/Who precisely is rebelling against the tyranny of our "program", if the rebelling agent or component is not coming itself from the program? It almost seems that a free-willed soul is being evoked.

@12:39: "[...] contraception in itself is good enough evidence that we do go against Darwinian principles, so it can be done and the fact that most of us spend most of our lives striving for purposes, striving for goals which have nothing to do with propagating our selfish genes is further evidence that it can be done." Also, this seems to be confusing proximate with ultimate causes.

But perhaps not all that "anti-Darwinian", after all, because he also said: (@12:04) "[...] here we do have our evolved tendencies which have these unpleasant features and it must be in some sense elsewhere in our brain that we have the desire to fight them [...]" Is this an indication that, in his view, such a desire can in fact be seen itself as part of our evolved tendencies? That would make sense to me, but then I don't quite see the point of representing our inner struggles as some kind of inherent dichotomy between our innate (and acquired) predispositions and some kind of superior and overriding will that extricates itself from them and decides an independent course of action guided by I know not what.

Additionally, one could argue that any behavioral trait that "goes against Darwinian principles" will eventually be "defeated" by natural selection. As long as people have different numbers of children and grand children evolution will continue its course (any trait that constitutes a disadvantage in Darwinian fitness, that "goes against Darwinian principles", will be selected against by Darwinian principles).

Maybe we shouldn't give much weight to these apparent little contradictions, though, because as you pointed out Dawkins is of course perfectly aware that unselfish predispositions have also evolved thanks to our very selfish genes (e.g. altruism, cooperation). Might he be attempting to present his ideas and knowledge—including that evolution is a blind force without purpose—in a more palatable way to the general public? To himself??

Jul. 20 2009 11:52 PM
08Nova

I hope there is a hell and Robert Krulwich goes to it. God on judgment day: "Robert, you were supposed to have faith, but instead you questioned everything. Even I got tired of listening to the podcasts." Trapdoor opens and Robert falls through.

Jul. 20 2009 08:47 PM
08Nova

Please take Robert Krulwich off the show. Whether there is a higher meaning is always a moot point but he has to belabor it in every show. Tedious! I'm unsubscribing to Radio Lab.

Jul. 20 2009 08:22 PM
Fernando Rosales

Jenny, I agree with you. I think what you wish to say is that Radiolab serves as an introductory for scientific understanding to a general public or laymen. And for this, it is commendable.

Wau, you're bisecting the human populace into two categories and I understand how such a thing seems viable, since religion is irrational, and I agree, but you fail to realize the value of a bridge between the two sides.

For that is what Radiolab serves as; Broadcast on national public radio it serves as an intermediary.

You seem to want to "widen the gap" between religion and Science but there needs to be a bridge if there is to be any hope of positive feedback from the other side.

This show gets people thinking and asking questions, Great questions I might add... So, Mau isn't this enough?

The world cannot be classified in dualism, or else it comes down to us and them.(As Hitchens puts it) Radiolab seems to be a positive agent in that respect; working against this trend, instead seeking to educate the public.

Is this endeavor not commendable, Wau?

I too feel versed beyond the conversations held on this show, but Radiolab served to introduce me to a myriad ofinformation and for that I am so very grateful.

Jul. 20 2009 08:02 PM
Wau Wee

Jenny,

John Q Public is an ignoramus. If pandered to broadly enough, we are all in danger of becoming him. If JQP sees the world through a metaphysical lens, he probably doesn't know that he is copping out in the face of having to think too hard, and they probably doesn't know the meaning of "metaphysical", but may think it makes him seem smarter. Even the WAY you wrote your post, with smart words and sentence structures which point toward education beyond high school, there is no substance or foundation to what you wrote. Parenthetically adding that you think Dawkins would agree with you on something is presumptuous and is based on zero research.

By the way, Robert does not help us, as you say, "to fit these sometimes way-out scientific facts and ideas into the framework of our everyday lives, beliefs, actions and relationships." He in fact is pushing the concept of a god or deity or something unfounded in between the parts the ignorant aren't too lazy to understand. Listen to it again. Don't just let it wash over you like you are stoned and think it is soooo cool. You SHOULD read Scientific American. If you want storytelling, the bible can handle that, but don't confuse it with the scientific.

Jul. 20 2009 01:35 PM
Jenny O'Brien

I happen to love Robert and his religious bent on this show, because Robert is the voice of "John Q Public". That would be the majority of Americans who may not be particularly strong in science and who tends to see the world through a metaphysical lens. (I think Dawkins would agree that our brains have evolved to frame information in terms of pattern, relationship, cause-and-effect). Robert's questions allow Jad, and guests on the show to respond to the questions of everyman with answers that are strictly scientific, but that address the metaphysical as well. Robert helps us to fit these sometimes way-out scientific facts and ideas into the framework of our everyday lives, beliefs, actions and relationships. He gives us a STORY to go with the science. If I only want to hear hard science without the storytelling element, I'll read Scientific American.

Jul. 20 2009 11:50 AM
Wau Wee

hey Andrew,

Let's not get into the "belief not related to science" split hair. I think everything is related to everything if you play the "six degrees of separation game" or simply mention one thing with another. However, skipping semantics, it seems that you get the gist.

It really steams my buns when I see someone use science-esque lingo when they try to trick someone else into believing in (their) god. Seems like a trend these days, with religious "universities". I know a few people who go to bible study, too. This "study" is actually a group of people getting their stories straight about how they'll answer real questions in ways that support their bibles' incongruities.

Jul. 20 2009 12:45 AM
Andrew

"it is also not related to science."

Everything is related to science, even religion. It is not as if science cannot comment on it. It can, it just has to say that it is false. Just like purpose, purpose is a concept which has nothing to do with the facts of the universe. It has no bearing on whether science, evolution, etc. are correct. It's non sequitur.

Jul. 19 2009 06:50 PM
Wilbur Stankalovich

I hope divisive podcasts like these drive away those who shy away from the possibility there is no divine being. Their long tirades that say nothing make as much sense as a religion itself.

Jul. 19 2009 02:03 PM
B.H.

This may be a good opportunity to step back and ask why the last few podcasts have provoked the sorts of flame wars we've seen since the "In Silence" piece. Ever since that piece, Radiolab, Radiolab's listeners, and Robert Krulwich in particular have been accused regularly in this forum of being ignorant, evangelizing, stuck in the bronze age, thoughtless, and anti-science.

Now, mind you, the episode that immediately preceded "In Silence" was a conversation between physicist Brian Greene and Robert Krulwich in which the two discussed making a black hole in an apartment kitchen out of a blueberry and then traveling into that black hole to take observations of the universe inside, though those observations would never be communicable to the people outside the black hole in the apartment kitchen. I'm not exaggerating -- not even about the blueberry. This is literally what the two were discussing. And they began their discussion by pointing out that there is not a shred of observational data to support any of this speculation. By the middle of the interview, they were joking about how our universe was made in the kitchen of someone else's apartment.

The reaction to that episode: "Loved it! The physics shows are my favorite..."; "Terrific as ever..."; "So is this how our universe got going?... Who knew? Three thumbs up!!!" There were a couple of critical responses, but most of them simply asked for more detail.

Now, I have no problem with discussions of theoretical physics. But that's not what that show was about. There was no discussion of the mathematics underpinning Greene's musings; the "trigger" mechanism -- the physical process that might actually generate a universe -- was explicitly ignored in the show (because it was, according to Robert, too complicated and boring); and the hypothetical universe, if actually created, would be of no actual scientific value since no observations conducted within that black hole could ever be shared. The show's value -- and it was quite valuable -- was to present a glimmer of the sort of questions physicists explore and why they find them interesting. And that's not science: that's a radio show about people and their questions.

In fact, come to think of it, Greene's closing remarks were about how this mental "make your own universe" exercise was not of value because it was of practical possibility (and indeed, it probably isn't), but because it forced the person doing the thought experiment to "push the laws of physics to the breaking point". In other words, he was talking about the value of considering the limits of the scientific philosophy of knowledge.

Here, in this podcast, we have a very interesting conversation about the exact same problem. The science of Darwinian evolution offers us a robust explanation for how life evolves over time. But as Dawkins and Krulwhich agree, evolutionary science does not, should not, and cannot tell us how we should act as living beings aware of our evolutionary conditions of existence. This is hardly controversial, but the value of thinking about this problem is to illuminate the limits of the scientific philosophy of knowledge. Past those limits, arguments for actions in the world cannot be grounded in descriptive science alone.

This hardly strikes me as a controversial position, but apparently it's already twice as controversial as the idea of spending a show talking about making universes out of blueberries.

I appreciate that people have criticism of the show, but exactly where has this rudeness been hiding for the last, what, five seasons? Why weren't people calling the hosts and other listeners ignorant, brainwashed sheep until now?

Jul. 19 2009 09:46 AM
Richard Corr

When I hear Richard say, as he often does, that he is anti-Darwinian when it come to politics etc. I always think; Now hold on. I have read your books and understand that while evolution has made us competitive and graspingly selfish, it has also developed in us all that is fine and commendable - altruism, considerateness, the foresight to plan for the future and to consider wider consequences (even though this may in a sense be merely a mask and ultimately reducible to fundamental selfishness at the gene level).
It may seem anti-Darwinian to wear condoms but at a deeper, more subtle level it must really be Darwinian because this is how we have evolved to behave. In speaking like this Richard seems to endorse the simplistic and erroneous idea of Darwinian evolution producing only that which is primitive and selfish; this seems to undermine the main thesis of his wonderful Selfish Gene book. I agree that we must resist our destructive urges and instincts, but in doing this our only resource are the urges and instincts that have also evolved through Darwinian evolution - altruism, foresight, etc. (Of course this touches on the whole subject of choice and freewill and whether ultimately we are free to make any choice at all!). I’m a huge fan of Richard’s, but every time I hear him speak like this I sense an inconsistency. I’ve never seen this point brought up before and wonder if anyone else thinks as I do.

Jul. 19 2009 08:35 AM
Shoveldude

Well, it seems we've found a taboo topic for Radiolab (religion, for anyone that has been hiding under a rock). Hmmm.... I'm just going to stay out of this argument from now on.

Jul. 18 2009 11:23 PM
Museum of Techno

I'm rather disappointed about the "human beings ARE special" talk around 17 mins in. I wonder whether Dawkins has adopted that line as a way of engaging with people raised in monotheistic traditions who can't let go of the idea of human beings having a status elevated above that of other animals.

Dawkins himself coined the term "meme" for a cultural self-replicator, which could explain the development of human culture as Darwinian selection operating on ideas, artefacts, words and dances. I see no reason see foresight as anything special: foresight might just be the outcome of Darwinian selection processes running on ideas in our minds.

Jul. 18 2009 06:41 PM
Ea Tme

Robert is ignorant, arguing with someone smart. Follow up on the smart guy's work, and leave radio lab behind.

Jul. 18 2009 03:41 PM
Wau Wee

And for Chris,

re [Comment from Chris Cyrek, Date: July 18, 2009, 2:36 pm]

Thank you for writing back. Sorry you were irritated, but I'm glad you responded to my "childish" jabs.

So, I'll get to your last post.

You wrote, "It is close-minded to assume the evidence as we understand it is complete." I haven't assumed "evidence as we understand it ... is complete". For you to assume I have is closed-minded. I assume nothing. To accept a deity without any basis in reality, and then debate as if it is a foregone conclusion is closed-minded, presumptuous, insulting, and has been historically dangerous to people.

My proposal that there is one or more 100-foot alligators under grand Central was meant to seem as ridiculuous as I actually think it might be (though I won't rule out it's possibility, regardless of how unlikely I think it is). Don't let your feelings overcome you; this is just a simple illustration, not part of my immaturity. It is exactly the point of the debate, in my opinion. Something never seen need not be part of a debate, just because someone says it exists. Imagine if everyone wasted their time on every imagined thing without real basis. My point is that there need not be a debate, and when there is one, that proof ought to be required. Without proof, the debate should be dismissed. Burden of proof is as our (America's) judicial system would intend.

You wrote, "You clamor incessentantly for ‘evidence.’ Evidence is predicated on observation. Observation is often necessarily incomplete or exclusive. Science strongly suggests that observation cannot be separated from the observed. Therefore, objective ‘evidence’ (relating here to the quantum scale, but if you’re rolling with the Big Bang and particle entanglement things get dicey at any level) may in fact be subjective."

I would answer this with a big ole PUH-LEEZE. Come on now, "clamor incessantly"? Dial it down a notch, okay? Are you hearing voices, Chris? Keep it as simple as it is; there is no evidence, so it doesn't matter. The alligator doesn't matter either, unless and until it shows itself. Same thing exactly, at exactly the same measure. Just because more people say god exists than those who believe in the alligator does not make either more real than the other; just more believable by the gullible.

By the way, I didn't talk over anyone; this is a blog, so that's impossible. I think you may have read a little shouting or "shut-up-ness" in my tone, though. That's an attempt to jog the brainwashed out of their hypnosis.

Believe me, I thought about it.

Jul. 18 2009 03:12 PM
Wau Wee

Okay, Kyle, Mike, Jad and Fernando, I'll rephrase it civilly for you:

To Mark,

re [Comment from Mark / Date: July 15, 2009, 1:57 pm]

I wish to respond to your post, piece-by-piece:

After reading many of the posts
I feel like someone has to stand
up for Robert. He is NPR’s Science
correspondant and what seems to be
lost here is that a belief in
purpose, is not antithetical to
science.

While not antithetical to science, it is also not related to science. Therefore, it ought not be connected with Robert's status as NPR's science correspondent, if that is, in fact, his status.

Many of the founders of science
insisted on purpose and reason
being there.

Please provide quantitative substantiation of this statement; clarify your meaning of "many" and name some people who you consider "founders of science", which founders "insisted on purpose".

Many stated quite simply that if
the universe had no purpose there
would be no science.

Please provide quantitative substantiation of this statement; clarify your meaning of "many". Does your use of "quite simply" in this sentence mean "literally" or "almost literally"? If not, please clarify.

When you leave the world of biology
you find that many cosmologists,
physicists, chemists and
mathematicians all believe in
a purpose and a higher power.

Please provide quantitative substantiation of this statement; clarify your meaning of "many", and its relationship to your use of the word "all" in the same sentence. Please name the "physicists, chemists and
mathematicians" who "all believe in
a purpose and a higher power". If the list is too long to fit in a reasonable amount of blog space, just name a few of each. Probably known ones will be best for this purpose, as unknowns would lead to a series of additional qualifying inquiries.

Many point to the big bang as
evidence for a creator.

Please provide quantitative substantiation of this statement; clarify your meaning of "many". Please clarify the meaning of "point to" in your last sentence.

True atheists reject the Big
Bang because of it’s theological
implications.

I think this is false, unless you have redefined the words "true", "atheist", and/or "reject" for the purposes of your last sentence. Please clarify, and name one or more "true atheists" who have "rejected the Big Bang because of it()s theological implications".

I am a former atheist, and I have
a degree in physics and chemistry.

To satisfy my curiosity (and perhaps the curiosity of other bloggers here), may I know from where you obtained the degrees in physics and chemistry? May I also know at what point in your life you stopped being an atheist, and why? Are your former status as atheist and your educational achievements related in any way? Are there other mental or emtional factors involved in your choice to stop being an atheist?

It was science that showed me
the necessity of God.

Can you describe the direct correlation between science (or the feature of science) and the revelation it gave you about the necessity of "God". Please clarify your meaning of "God" as used in your last sentence. Also, please elaborate qualitatively on your estimation of "necessity", also as used in your last sentence; i.e., would you physically die without God, would you go mentally insane without God, or would you become emotionally unhappy without God?

Please let me know if I have offended anyone with this series of straightforward questions, and in which specific way, so I may consider such in my next posting.

~Wau

Jul. 18 2009 02:43 PM
Chris Cyrek

It is close-minded to assume the evidence as we understand it is complete. I have no problem with someone arguing that there is no God, or that religion is nothing more than contemporary folklore. I never suggested otherwise. However, any argument made to that end is going to have be a bit more convincing than "say I told you there is a 100 foot alligator in the sewers." Thats silly and childish, and does disservice to the debate.

You clamor incessentantly for 'evidence.' Evidence is predicated on observation. Observation is often necessarily incomplete or exclusive. Science strongly suggests that observation cannot be separated from the observed. Therefore, objective 'evidence' (relating here to the quantum scale, but if you're rolling with the Big Bang and particle entanglement things get dicey at any level) may in fact be subjective.

I do not pretend to know what that could imply on the grandest stage. I do think it is useful to consider when considering the natural boundaries and limitations of human knowledge. But perhaps you could consider taking your own advice, and try THINKing about the debate, instead of talking over people. It's irritating and immature.

Jul. 18 2009 02:36 PM
Wau Wee

This is for Chris Cyrek. Chris, you wrote: "For all the close-minded complaints in these comments, I think it is important to recognize the crucial nature of these sorts of debates, and the benefit granted into approaching these debates divorced from doctrine and ideology. I don’t think Roberts OR Dawkins managed to do that entirely in this debate, but they did give it a fascinating attempt, which is what really counts."

You wrote a lot of other things, but I'll just address this one paragraph of yours, which addresses a point important to me.

I don't think it is closed-minded to dismiss god, higher power, greater purpose, etc. There is no evidence of the existence of any such truck; just a generational passing down of fantasy which morphs to suit the brainwashed slightly over time. If I describe the 100-foot-long alligator living under Grand Central Station to you, will you accept it without question, or agree that it is equally likely to its non-existence? In my humble opinion, one should want some evidence before they go along with something. Also, to give your opinion that the debate should have been divorced from doctrine and ideology means that you have entirely missed the point. The debate is between an atheist and a (presumed) believer about existence of a higher power, greater purpose, etc. The only way to divorce the debate from doctrine and ideology would be to end the debate, so... do you just like writing stuff which has smart-sounding words in it? THINK. You're welcome for the good advice.

Jul. 18 2009 12:56 PM
Wau Wee

This is for Mike, who quoted Kyle "for Truth" (with a capital T, apparently).

Mike, claiming something as truth requires proof, unless the statement you you start with is axiomatic. I think one ought to hold themselves to a higher standard. Stating or agreeing with opinion is fine, but don't call it truth unless you prove it.

Next, to address your statement about goals, my goal was to express my opinion, inject some tone to insult and provoke those who annoy me with their baseless yet strongly-worded statements, and see who is the crybaby.

Guess you are. You should worry about that, instead of how porr widdew atheists might look bad if one or more of them talks straight. Really, grow a pair, and let your ego do its job, too. Otherwise, you'll be stuck quietly expressing yourself to no one listening.

Jul. 18 2009 12:39 PM
Wau Wee

Hey Kyle,

Sorry you feel connected to someone making YOU, as an atheist, seem "awful and elitist".

First of all, don't include yourself in my opinon if you don't feel like it, and don't worry about what the cattle (sheep) out there think of you if they are so presumptuous as to connect you to me.

Second, I am not "elitist". I am elite. Anyone who wants to put a negative connotation on that should move to, or stay in Alaska. As someone who is smarter than all the fools who would vote for creationists, I will hold my ground unless and until I lose it. If I lose it, I'll move out of this melting pot of kraft american cheesiness. No apologies are forthcoming.

Third, I think my tone may actually help persuade someone who is intelligent, and is willing to read through it to the substance at the center. If this one is too much or too harsh for you (or Jad from Radiolab), then I guess I'll aim somewhere else, toward a place with fewer geldings.

Fourth (Jad), I don't feel like being "civil" if that means watering down my opinion for your taste. You started the blog, after all, so you get what you get, unless you want to censor it. If you prefer more homogeneity in your discussions, maybe you ought to sit around in a circle with others who are too afraid to say something bluntly because they are too afraid to hear something blunt. You made the show, so just withdraw back to your alliance with that religious nut (Robert) and leave the criticism to us (it's so easy).

In any event, I have experienced a couple of these ridiculous Robert Krulwich fundamentalist fantasies, so I am done with Radiolab. It is now for the non-eastern rank and file. I'll stay up here, thank you very much.

Jul. 18 2009 12:22 PM
Chris Cyrek

But what about inference? Okay, granted. Generally, though, you infer observed systems. My point is, the total system we exist in presents unique problems in being observed.

How shall I explain the purpose of flowers, then? They are components of an irreducible and astonishing system (they are by no means empty 'devices'), with a particular function and a particular place. The reasons for their function and place are too many to imagine, but science helps us understand some of it. Flowers do not grow on the moon, or in space, or in the imagination - they are a real thing, with a multitude of variations, carefully tuned to their current existence through millions of years of chance, happenstance and mystery. We can never know all the secrets of a flower - this is what gives us poetry, and art, and beauty and sentiment. We can describe them, however, thanks to our reason and intuition. But description and explanation are differing things. Some will say flowers have no purpose, that they can be described in rational, deterministic terms. Maybe to our perspective, this could be true, but the purpose of a flower is not defined by what we might happen to think of it.

Jul. 18 2009 02:55 AM
Chris Cyrek

To put it a bit a different way: flowers exist as part of a massively complex, irreducible and astonishing system (the global biosphere). This complex system exists as part of an even larger complex system (the solar system), which is part of an even larger complex system, etc. You cannot extricate flowers from their place in the totality of the system. Evolutionary science offers a very particular mode of knowledge in understanding a very particular set of circumstances regarding flowers, but this mode is by no means totalistic or complete. Roberts is guilty of overreach in the way he argues his position, but Dawkins is chronically guilty of similar overreach in assuming biological science is equipped to offer a totalistic explanation. He admits as much when he suggests Darwinian science cannot account for human society. His science is strong, his reasons sound, but his assumptions are a bit flawed. Total information cannot be observed from within a total system, and since no one suggests any rational means for observing our totalistic system from an objective vantage, science by definition will crash upon significant boundaries.

Jul. 18 2009 02:44 AM
Chris Cyrek

Typo on the name! How embarrassing. Chris will do quite fine, thank you.

Jul. 18 2009 02:33 AM
Chrisy Cyrek

Replacing mythic purpose with evolutionary purpose does not strike me as all that different. Arguments seem to rise more out of an incoherence of terminology than anything else.

Something I would like to see Mr. Dawkins address is the role of conscious perception on quantum phenomenon. I guess it's not really his field, but considering wave-form collapse is thought to be dependent on the wave-form's observation (and considering that we can trace the quantum wave-form all the way back to an absolute endpoint in the big bang, theoretically) offers a somewhat different interpertation on 'purpose.'

For all the close-minded complaints in these comments, I think it is important to recognize the crucial nature of these sorts of debates, and the benefit granted into approaching these debates divorced from doctrine and ideology. I don't think Roberts OR Dawkins managed to do that entirely in this debate, but they did give it a fascinating attempt, which is what really counts.

Jul. 18 2009 02:32 AM
Fernando Rosales

The discourse here harkens back to a question which Radiolab put forth not long ago: "Whether Radiolab is to be considered a 'science' show or not."

I find it to be a science show albeit geared towards the general public. Quite an admirable endeavor in itself the show is highly informative and enlightening in many respects.

I urge most of the commentators not to be so eager to vent their distaste and rather consider one of the most important lessons that Radiolab shares: that of reasonable discussion with dignity and respect for one another.

I agree with the majority of points affronting Robert's treatment of the both this episode and the previous; the show should be as objective as possible.

But just as Kyle said, you're making atheists look bad.

Jul. 18 2009 02:23 AM
Jad from Radio Lab

Hey everyone, it's great to disagree, but please be civil!

Jul. 17 2009 10:42 PM
Shoveldude

^^^ Amen to the above two comments.

Jul. 17 2009 09:24 PM
Mike

"Honestly, guys. You’re making atheists (me included) sound awful and elitist. This doesn’t help persuade anyone."

Quoted For Truth.

Come on people! Before you say something, ask yourself what your goals are, and whether your statement brings those goals closer to fruition or not. The way some of you guys act, you'd think your only goals are winning an ego-fight and making your opponent cry.

Put some thought into what you say and stop making the rest of us look bad.

Jul. 17 2009 06:37 PM
Kyle

Honestly, guys. You're making atheists (me included) sound awful and elitist. This doesn't help persuade anyone.

Can someone tell me who wrote the song at the end during the reading? I realize that it was a bit generic, but I'm a sucker for that sort of stuff.

Jul. 17 2009 06:11 PM
Wau Wee

To Mark,

re [Comment from Mark / Date: July 15, 2009, 1:57 pm]

You are such an idiot, I just had to take your entire post and do it, piece-by-piece:

After reading many of the posts I feel like someone has to stand up for Robert. He is NPR’s Science correspondant and what seems to be lost here is that a belief in purpose, is not antithetical to science.

WHILE NOT ANTITHETICAL TO SCIENCE, IT IS ALSO NOT RELATED TO SCIENCE. THEREFORE, IT OUGHT NOT BE CONNECTED WITH ROBERT'S STATUS AS NPR'S SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT, IF THAT IS, IN FACT, HIS STATUS.

Many of the founders of science insisted on purpose and reason being there.

WHICH ONES? HOW MANY? WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY "MANY"; MORE THAN ONE, MORE THAN HALF, ANY? WHAT IS A "FOUNDER OF SCIENCE"? DO YOU JUST LIKE TO SAY SHIT?

Many stated quite simply that if the universe had no purpose there would be no science.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY "QUITE SIMPLY"? DID YOU JUST MAKE THAT UP? AGAIN, HOW MANY? WHO?

When you leave the world of biology you find that many cosmologists, physicists, chemists and mathematicians all believe in a purpose and a higher power.

THERE'S THAT UNSUBSTANTIATED OPINION-STATED-AS-FACT AGAIN. I NOTE THAT YOU ENHANCED "MANY" WITH "ALL" IN THAT LAST SENTENCE. YOU'VE MADE ME "SEE THE LIGHT". THANKS MARK.

Many point to the big bang as evidence for a creator.

MANY MANY MANY. STOP ALREADY. YOU SOUND STUPID, NOT SMART.

True atheists reject the Big Bang because of it’s theological implications.

WHAT THE F ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, AND WHO THE F DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? HOW EMBARRASSING. YOU MAY AS WELL PEE YOUR PANTS IN PUBLIC.

I am a former atheist, and I have a degree in physics and chemistry.

YOU SHOULD HAVE STAYED AN ATHEIST. NOW YOU HAVE TO LIVE IN FEAR OF GOING TO HELL FOR YOUR LIES. I DON'T BELIEVE YOU HAVE DEGREES IN PHYSICS AND CHEMISTRY, UNLESS YOU GOT THEM FROM A "CHRISTIAN SCIENCE" UNIVERSITY.

It was science that showed me the necessity of God.

WAY TO GO, EIN-FRIKKIN-STEIN. I GUESS RATIONAL THOUGHT WAS TOO DIFFICULT FOR YOU, SO YOU QUIT AND WENT TO THE PIE-IN-THE-SKY SOLUTION FOR EVERYTHING.

Jul. 17 2009 06:08 PM
Aesop

Hi Aaron,

You wrote this:

"All of you hardcore atheists, please lighten up. It’s as likely that you are wrong as the other side. Plus, we don’t want Radiolab turning into a sort of atheistic propaganda."

Just so you know, Aaron, you are not smart enough to calculate (or even estimate) the likelihood of the existence of god. Since there isn't one (no evidence whatsoever), the likelihood is that you cling to the concept because you are a loser. All talk of god is propaganda, unless you can show any basis in reality. I didn't think so.

Jul. 17 2009 05:40 PM
Aesop

Holy MOLY. Asking questions and presuming an answer with no evidence does not even make the questions valid. I'm sorry, Robert, if not having a fairy tale answer for a child is somehow unacceptable to you, just because you yourself are afraid to die or feel guilty about some of the things you've done in your life and you fear damnation. Hopefully evolution will weed out gullible children who are fed lies by their egotistical parents.

No longer listening to you.

Jul. 17 2009 05:28 PM
Meph

Robert,

Try to be civil and not use logical fallacies. And please, just wait for Jad to come back before you put out another podcast. I fear you'll drive more listeners away other than myself if you do so.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poisoning_the_well

Your Ex-fan,

Meph

Jul. 17 2009 01:19 PM
Dan

Anyone know the song title or artist who does the song that plays at 16:58? LOVE that kind of music!

Jul. 17 2009 11:13 AM
Austin Warren

Thank you Jimmy, you gave me a more clear idea of why I am so frustrated by this. There are literally millions of amazing scientific concepts and discovers waiting to be discussed, and instead we continually revisit this unanswerable topic, which is grounded in mythology and philosophy, not science.

I'm not saying the question of whether there is some sort of sentient designer being isn't interesting, but it is very much at odd with the theme of the rest of the show, as I've seen it.

Dawkins has had this very problem, where many in the scientific community, myself included, wish he would drop this whole rationality crusade and get back with talking about science.

Jul. 17 2009 07:27 AM
Jimmy

Jad not Jay

Jul. 17 2009 06:59 AM
Jimmy

Robert's behavior in this interview and in the last mini podcast almost make me not want to listen to the show anymore. I really like Radiolab and usually put up with the fact that Robert thinks there is a supernatural being. If he just left it at that maybe it would be okay.

It is strange that Robert put forth these viewpoints in a stronger way on the two episodes without Jay.

Dawkins is right. The real story about nature is far more facinating than superstitious fairy tales.

No theologian knows anything about the existence or non-existence of a supernatural being or force. That fact alone should stop us from wasting time on religious discussions. Open scientific inquiry is the only way for us to expand our knowledge. As Dawkins said, "The answer will not come from religion."

Listen to your own show Robert or lose listeners.

Jul. 17 2009 06:58 AM
Cory McAn

FERD:

Nice.

Jul. 17 2009 05:01 AM
Mike

I think people, including Robert have completely muddled what Dawkins was saying about purpose. He was clearly never saying, "there's no purpose" meaning that life is not worth living. If you've read anything he's ever written, he clearly thinks that life is incredibly precious and worthwhile. He merely tries to get people to think outside the box of thinking what is the purpose of everything from a human needs perspective. Instead of asking, "what is the sun for?" meaning "how is it here for us?". We should ask, where it comes from, how it functions, etc. On top of that, its perfectly fine to remark that the sun is beautiful and awe-inspiring. Being scientific and realistic doesn't mean you can't be inspired, it simply means don't presume that everything has been put here for us. Robert rather snobbishly went out of his way to frame Dawkins scientific outlook as being gloomy and reductionist. This is shameful since I've read a lot of works by a lot of scientists and I can't think of any well-known scientist who's less gloomy and more excited about life than Dawkins himself. What's noteworthy is that even if the scientific understanding of the world were gloomy and sad it wouldn't make it any less true. The thing with the universe and what science reveals is that the universe and the processes going on within it, are what they are, regardless of how we feel about them. When people like Robert essentially look at the universe and life and say in so many words, "there must be more to it than this?" I suspect that they must have not looked very closely at how incredibly amazing and awe-inspiring and how incredibly precious and important life is.

Jul. 17 2009 02:57 AM
Austin Warren

You can have alternative, interesting, intelligent viewpoints. If Radiolab is about having "different" views why not have a white supremacist come on and debate with Robert the genetic superiority of his race?

Good debate isn't simply about having two opposing views, it is about having two informed, rational debaters with positions grounded in empirically verifiable and testable reality.

If you don't have that, you're just philosophizing. That isn't a scientific debate. No one here is asking for people to affirm their personal worldview; only to have a show about science, not about fantasy.

I'm not sure how that is so difficult for some to understand, or how it is "vitriolic" to suggest Robert ease up on his constantly evangelizing. You can have an interesting show about deep scientific concepts without shouting "Look, God!" constantly.

Jul. 16 2009 05:45 PM
vealham scorchroad

My body regulates itself without consulting me, i.e., the conscious 'me' who is supposedly the boss of me, the one I think is smarter than my many billions of cells. How can my cells know more than me? Why do they bother? Wouldn't it be easier to disperse? And how can a gene be selfish? It's just a dumb molecule! How do all these dumb molecules know where to go, what to do?

Jul. 16 2009 02:25 PM
ben

I like Chris Hitchens take on Agnosticism, Militant agnosticism:
"I don't know, and neither do you."

Jul. 16 2009 10:37 AM
David

The only thing I like more than listening to one person affirm my world view is to hear two people who are in agreement do it! It also makes for a great interview style! Why couldn't Robert just suppress his own views and acquiesce to Dawkins? That would be so interesting!

(Thanks for being a voice of reason, Aaron, on these always vitriolic comments pages. I though everyone would have figured out the way this show works by now)

Jul. 16 2009 06:38 AM
Fernando Rosales

As for the question of why order exists I believe Emergence is to be credited. Although it is not completely understood, it does seem a natural occurrence for islands of order to crop up in a sea of chaos.

The "islands of order" may refer to a number of patterns which are observed in random sequences (such as the coin toss in the Stochasticity episode) or waves in an ocean or perhaps, the human soul.

I don't mean the supernatural "soul" but rather the emergent property of our celebrated brains; from all the random information you assimilate during the course of your life a "self" coalesces.

Proof of such herein lies in a rather plain quandary: If a homo-sapien is deprived of external stimuli from the point of conception to maturity (in a pitch black compartment) the being inside would be empty without a soul; not a human "person" at all.

The soul is not innate, it is not intrinsically implanted at birth, it is an order of emergence.

Just look at the mandelbrot set fractal; perhaps a glimpse into the nature of the universe?

Jul. 16 2009 04:49 AM
Fernando Rosales

As far as foresight is concerned it is in essence data assimilation followed by prediction. A great deal of organisms with brains have this capability.

The difference is they don't have access to the wealth of data that we humans do. The size of their brains, lack of language and technology; these factors limit most other life in the amount of information they have access to. We humans assimilate much more information than any other life form (this is arguable of course) and so our predictions will also be unique both in scale and accuracy.

We are not unique for the act itself but rather for the degree of foresight which we can accomplish.

Jul. 16 2009 04:31 AM
radishes

on foresight, don't many animals and insects prepare or winter?

Jul. 16 2009 02:19 AM
Aaron

I'm going to reiterate my earlier post: Radiolab is great because of the multiple views it offers. If its listeners are as set-against religious people as religious people are against homosexuals, etc., then its listeners are as theologically unfaltering as, in their view, priests.

All of you hardcore atheists, please lighten up. It's as likely that you are wrong as the other side. Plus, we don't want Radiolab turning into a sort of atheistic propaganda.

As with many things in this world, balance is key. Let's just let Radiolab do its job of offering some perspective of both sides, instead of steadfastly forcing it, through the use of comments on this website, to say that it can only be one way.

Jul. 15 2009 10:22 PM
Ryan Brown

Radiolab has changed the way I see the world. It's illumination of science has opened my eyes. That said, I think that both atheism and religion take the easy way out. The simple fact is that we don't know how order emerged. For example look at the scales on a fish. They are geometric and follow a precise pattern. One side says it was the man in the sky the other shrugs it's shoulders and says that's the way it is. This is as strange to me as going out into the woods and finding sticks in the ground in a concentric pattern and attributing it to an ancient story or to nothing at all. I know that order exists but why?

Jul. 15 2009 09:50 PM
radishes

"Atheists" are as much about faith as any "believer". The fact is we don't know what the origin of the universe is and just like the religous types who invented a creator so too have the "atheists" . seriously big bang or one and creator god of the other, they are both attempts by man to explain that which he/she does not know.

multiverse my eye

Jul. 15 2009 08:52 PM
Austin Warren

@Mark

"True atheists reject the Big Bang because of it’s theological implications."

What on Earth are you even talking about? Atheism doesn't have anything to do with believe or disbelieve in the Big Bang, therefore your claim is factually incorrect. Further, I have never in my entire life heard of a single atheist rejecting the Big Bang theory for non-existent theological implications. That doesn't even make sense.

I guess I could go around saying I am a former Christian (I am) and making up all sorts of nonsense, claiming it is what "true Christians" believe, but that seems rather silly. How about you present and defend your own beliefs, and stop spreading misinformation and misrepresenting the views of others?

Jul. 15 2009 08:41 PM
Austin Warren

I find it continually bizarre that Robert is always on the side of wishy-washy feelgoodism rejecting intelligent inquiry and rationality.

It's more important to make up a silly story about an objects "meaning" than to know its purpose? I don't get it.

How is it supposed to make me feel good that some powerful sky-being created flowers to look pretty? Not only is it the epitome of arrogance, but it raises the question of why so many terrible things in the world exist.

Cancer, AIDS, genetic deformities, fangs, venom, catastrophic meteors, hurricanes, malaria? You then justify all these horrors with a handful of humans being able to achieve a level of navel-gazing to believe all existence was created for their personal joy?

Revolting, to say the least.

Jul. 15 2009 08:35 PM
Mike

I also have to say, as someone who participates in various atheist communities, that your description of a "true atheist" is wrong.

Jul. 15 2009 06:06 PM
Mike

Mark: I don't see the irony. Evolution is descriptive, not prescriptive. It describes how things came to be, but it doesn't tell us what we ought to do - any more than the theory of gravity tells us that we ought to push people off cliffs. When dealing with moral matters it only makes sense to consult the fields we've constructed to deal with them: philosophy of ethics, law, etc.

As for purpose and meaning, we're talking about objective and preexisting purposes and meanings. We can create and value our own purpose and meaning without thinking this universal type exists.

Jul. 15 2009 05:47 PM
Mark

After reading many of the posts I feel like someone has to stand up for Robert. He is NPR's Science correspondant and what seems to be lost here is that a belief in purpose, is not antithetical to science. Many of the founders of science insisted on purpose and reason being there. Many stated quite simply that if the universe had no purpose there would be no science. When you leave the world of biology you find that many cosmologists, physicists, chemists and mathematicians all believe in a purpose and a higher power. Many point to the big bang as evidence for a creator. True atheists reject the Big Bang because of it's theological implications. I am a former atheist, and I have a degree in physics and chemistry. It was science that showed me the necessity of God.

Jul. 15 2009 01:57 PM
Mark

I agree with some of the posts above about the unfairness of prejudicing the audience by bringing up the Dawkins' Family history.
My real reason for posting though is to point out how ironic it is that Dawkins feels there is a moral right and wrong and that Darwinian principles should not be applied to society. I would like to know where he believes this purpose and meaning comes from.

Jul. 15 2009 01:07 PM
LKM

I have to agree with the people who felt positively about Dawkin's view of the world. I think it's awe-inspiring to know how the world we know came to be; the mere fact that we tiny humans with our simple brains are capable of understanding even a small part of the universe is incredibly empowering and gives me hope for the future.

By comparison, possibly partly due to having been raised as a catholic, religion always felt gloomy, dangerous, confusing and scary to me. I don't want priests who don't have to explain their reasoning telling me what's acceptable and what's not. I don't want people who intentionally ignore reality making any decision for me. That should also serve as an answer to Damndirtyape: A lot of non-religious people "attack" religion because religious people are scary and potentially dangerous. They think it's okay to destroy our universe because its' the end of times anyway, and god wants it so. They think it's okay to impose their religious views and their morals on others, to go after gay people or to forbid kids from having a good, scientifically sound, reality-based education. They think it's okay to kill people and oppress the truth because their religion tells them so. They think it's okay to enact laws which enforce their superstitions for everyone.

With everything going wrong right now, we need scientific progress and reality-based education to survive. That's why we can't just "give it a rest."

Jul. 15 2009 01:06 PM
Chris

I have to agree with Dan on the hubris and egocentric nature of Dawkin's views of how special humans are. There was a bioneers radio show (Seaweed Rebellion, I believe) that had a segment on how the acoustic communication of dolphins, whales and seals may contain very detailed acoustic images and information. So there is the potential for highly intelligent life even on our own planet, it could boil down to something as basic as a communication barrier.

Even if we are the only species capable of thinking far ahead (and backwards) in time, we rarely use that ability wisely. So far it has only given us the capability to become one of the most destructive species this planet has ever seen. Maybe we can change, but the same patterns have been repeating themselves over the last 10,000 years or so. To me it seems that it is just our tools that have been changing, not our behavior.

Jul. 15 2009 12:30 PM
MLS

So sad. I was thrilled to see Dawkins doing a Radiolab interview, but I was so let down. Robert comes off sounding almost as bad as the other religious nutjobs who've interviewed Dawkins before. Like others have said, I would like to hear the whole thing, if only because Robert is making points without response from Dawkins.

Jul. 15 2009 03:05 AM
RConnor

I don't see anything gloomy about learning what flowers actually do. Sugar-coating reality for kids seems a bit patronizing to me. Have you learned nothing from your own show Mr. Krulwich? Science always leads to new amazing stories and knowledge. Otherwise you would be hosting the Flowers Are Pretty hour.

Jul. 15 2009 01:38 AM
Aaron

I think one of the great things about Radiolab is that we get multiple points of view. It doesn't force you one way or the other. I, for one, don't agree with Robert's views 100%, but I accept that he has different ideals.

Jul. 14 2009 11:20 PM
Tim Wayne

I would really like to listen to the *whole* show with Dawkins. Is it going to be posted to this website?

Jul. 14 2009 05:01 PM
Dan

Just a note - what Dawkins says about humans being the only species to show foresight is incorrect. Recent work in jays has shown that they can plan ahead when they know that their access to different foraging areas will be restricted, and alter their caching behavior so that they will be able to access food under those conditions. That's foresight by any reasonable definition.

If the past fifty years of behavioral research have taught us anything, it is that, in general, any statement that begins with "only humans can..." should be regarded with extreme suspicion.

Jul. 14 2009 01:26 PM
Becca

Is there any way to listen to the whole interview? just this scrap was fascinating and tantalizing.

Jul. 14 2009 01:09 PM
Greg Pecknold

I too love this show. Jad's sound design is like audio illustration and helps make the stories more indelible. Robert however always confuses me with his religious tendencies as happens here with Dawkins. His need to embrace human superstitions of what we don't yet understand seems so at odds with the scientific foundations of the series.

Jul. 14 2009 12:52 PM
Franklin

I love the show1 I always find myself disagreeing with Robert's view of the world through the religious lens. I rejected religion in my early 20s and the world has become more and more beautiful since then. Dawkins is a ray of light in the darkness of the superstitious world.

Jul. 14 2009 09:54 AM
Paul S

There is a lot of truth in what Dawkins says about the mechanism for how flowers got here. The co-evolution of flowers and their pollinators is a fascinating scientific story. So I guess I have to disagree with the notion that helping his daughter understand an actual biological truth about how the world works is "gloomy."

I have a 7-year-old son who fascinated by such things.

Jul. 14 2009 09:32 AM
Ryan Terry

How can I find out when/where future seminars like these take place?

Jul. 14 2009 01:36 AM
Zeek

Who cares what Dawkin's relatives were. How would you like it if somebody imposed your fathers sins on you?

Jul. 14 2009 01:27 AM
Damndirtyape

Ironic that Dawkins spends his life attacking religion with such religious fervor.

Be nice if he'd lighten up and give it a rest every once in a while.

Jul. 13 2009 11:49 PM

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