Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins, Oxford University (born March 26, 1941) is a zoologist, author, and media commentator, famous for his popular science books on evolution and his views on religion, atheism, and memetics, or "cultural evolution".

Developing the ability to think critically requires as a first step overcoming human constructs intended by their designers to inhibitor or preempt critical thinking:

"The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry."

"Like computer viruses, successful mind viruses will tend to be hard for their victims to detect. If you are the victim of one, the chances are that you won't know it, and may even vigorously deny it."

"Out of all of the sects in the world, we notice an uncanny coincidence: the overwhelming majority just happen to choose the one that their parents belong to. Not the sect that has the best evidence in its favour, the best miracles, the best moral code, the best cathedral, the best stained glass, the best music: when it comes to choosing from the smorgasbord of available religions, their potential virtues seem to count for nothing, compared to the matter of heredity. This is an unmistakable fact; nobody could seriously deny it. Yet people with full knowledge of the arbitrary nature of this heredity, somehow manage to go on believing in their religion, often with such fanaticism that they are prepared to murder people who follow a different one."

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." - The God Hypothesis, p. 31

"Natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents and tribal elders tell them. Such trusting obedience is valuable for survival: the analogue of steering by the moon for a moth. But the flip side of trusting obedience is slavish gullibility. The inevitable by-product is vulnerability to infection by mind viruses." - The Roots of Religion, p. 176

"There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else (parents in the case of children, God in the case of adults) has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point. - A Much Needed Gap?", p. 360

"Militant faith is on the march all across the world, with terrifying consequences. Irrational faith is feeding murderous intolerance throughout the world. It's time to question the abuse of childhood innocence with superstitious ideas of hellfire and damnation."

"For many people, part of growing up is killing off the virus of faith, with a good strong dose of rational thinking. But if an individual doesn't succeed in shaking it off, his mind is stuck in a permanent state of infancy, and there is a real danger that he will infect the next generation."

"In the US, Christian obsession with sin has spawned a national craze for "hell houses" -- morality plays cum Halloween freak shows in which the evangelical hobby-horses of abortion, and homosexuality are literally demonized."

"Morality stems not from some fictional deity and his texts, but from altruistic genes that have been naturally selected in our evolutionary past."

"Morality is a lot older than religion. Even chimps live in family groups, the mothers look after the kids, they work in teams, they compete for status through "public service", by being good leaders, by intervening to settle disputes. Altruism produces mutual benfits for those involved."

Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion, 406 pp., Bantam Press. ISBN 0-618-68000-4.

Also see: Reading of The God Delusion in Lynchburg, VA, Richard Dawkins reads excerpts from The God Delusion and anwsers questions at Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Virginia on October 23, 2006. This Q&A features many questions from Jerry Falwell's Liberty "University" students. In Richard's tour journal he says:

"Many of the questioners announced themselves as either students or faculty from Liberty, rather than from Randolph Macon which was my host institution. One by one they tried to trip me up, and one by one their failure to do so was applauded by the audience. Finally, I said that my advice to all Liberty students was to resign immediately and apply to a proper university instead. That received thunderous applause, so that I almost began to feel slightly sorry for the Liberty people. Only almost and only slightly, however."

Memes: The New Replicators

"The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for the new replicator, a noun which conveys the unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. "Mimeme" comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosylable that sounds a bit like "gene." I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to "meme." If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to "memor," or to the French word "mŽme" (which means "same"). It should be pronounced to rhyme with "cream."

Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes, fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as gene types propogate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propogate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via process, which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears or reads about a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propogate itself, spreading from brain to brain. As my colleague N.K. Humphrey neatly summed up an earlier draft of this chapter: "Memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme's propogation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell."

For more than three thousand million years, DNA has been the only replicator worth talking about in the world. But it does not necessarily hold these monopoly rights for all time. Whenever conditions arise in which a new kind of replicator can make copies of itself, the new replicators tend to take over, and start a new kind of evolution of their own. Once this new evolution begins, it will in no necessary sense be subversient to the old. The old gene-selected evolution, by making brains, provided the "soup" in which the first memes arose. Once self-copying memes had arisen, their own, much faster, kind of evolution took off. We biologists have assimilated the idea of genetic evolution so deeply that we tend to forget that it is only one of the many possible kinds of evoluton.

Some memes, like genes, achieve brillinant short term success in spreading rapidly, but do not last in the meme pool. Popular songs and stilletto heels are examples. Others such as the Jewish religious laws, may continue to propogate themselves for thousands of years, usually because of the great potential permanence of written records."