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Original Article
Related Story:Gonzalez, Iowa State’s "Wizard of ID," on defensive
Iowa State astronomy assistant and Intelligent Design supporter Guillermo Gonzalez says his critics have got him wrong.

In 1995, a solar eclipse he saw in India made him think about Earth’s unique place in the universe — a place designed to be able to study such phenomenon. Though there was no “Eureka!” moment, Gonzalez felt strongly that chance couldn’t explain Earth’s privileged position. And last year, Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards, another fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, published The Privileged Planet.

Currently, Gonzalez has been busy fighting intellectual battles on campus (See sidebar.) and continuing his own research on the Galactic Habitable Zone — the part of the galaxy that seems to have the right conditions to support life: conditions that all together, he says, are very rare.

Taking time out of his astrobiology studies and stepping out of the debate for a moment, Gonzalez talks about why he is an intelligent design astronomer and how that lets him travel in an unbounded universe.

What is your definition of intelligent design?

Intelligent design is the study and search for objective evidence of design in nature. It holds that certain features of nature are best explained by an intelligent cause.

When did you start thinking about intelligent design?

It’s hard to pin a precise year on it. I gradually became interested in the idea of possible evidence of design in nature, in astronomy in particular. I was interested in reading about fine-tuning.

The fine-tuning argument basically is that the concept of physics requires being set within certain narrow ranges for the possibility of life in the universe. And so fine-tuning makes this a very low-probability universe.

And with the anthropic principle, you have to come to terms with that observation.

Basically there are two camps: One camp says that it’s just an observer selection effect. And we’ve just selected this universe out of a vast ensemble of habitable universes. The other camp says that intelligent design is the best explanation, since we have no evidence for any such vast ensemble of universes.

How do use intelligent design in your research?

My argument that I wrote up with Jay Richards we presented in our book, The Privileged Planet; it’s a completely original argument. We present the discovery that I made around the late ’90s, where I noticed that those places in the universe that are most habitable for life also offer the best opportunities for scientific discovery. That seems completely unexplainable in terms of the usual naturalistic causes. So, intelligent design is the only alternative.

We actually drew that out a bit and further implied that the universe is designed for scientific discovery. So science is built into the fabric of the universe from the very beginning.

What is the most compelling example of design in the universe?

The first example I thought of was the solar eclipse. The conditions you need to produce a solar eclipse also make Earth a habitable planet.

The other one that really intrigues me is being able to detect microwave background radiation. Microwave background radiation is the leftover radiation from that early epoch when the universe was much hotter and denser. It was the deciding observation between the steady-state theory and the big-bang theory. Our ability to discover it and then measure it subsequently is very sensitive to our location in the galaxy, and also the time and history of the universe that we live in.

What does using ID allow you to do that current scientific inquiry doesn’t allow for?

I asked and continue to ask kinds of questions that a naturalist wouldn’t ask. For example, if we were living on a different planet, or around a different star, or in a different place in the galaxy, how would things look different, and what kind of scientific progress would we have?

It’s a perfectly reasonable set of questions — it’s just a set of questions that hasn’t occurred to anybody else to ask. I think it’s because they haven’t been open to the possibility of design, or getting an affirmative answer, which would point to design.

How would you construct a research program around this?

I could imagine having a student do a Ph.D. thesis asking the question: What is the best time in the history of the universe to be a cosmologist? They can modify that using the standard cosmological models. They can find out if we are, in fact, living at the best time, or if it’s a distant time from now. It’ll be interesting to find out the answer to that.

How does your faith affect your

I am a Christian. I’ve had a strong intuition from a very early age that there had to be something behind all this.

It makes me open to discovering the possibility of design, but I don’t impose my faith on the data. I’m constantly reminding myself of my own personal biases so I don’t inject them into research. But at the same time, I have a very open mind to seeing evidence that may not fit into the nice, neat categories provided by naturalism.

Why does science need the concept of intelligent design?

It’s not something that a priori needs the concept of intelligent design. Here’s something I stumbled upon and I discovered this pattern in the universe. It just screams out for another kind of explanation. It’s not that I’m saying that the universe must display evidence of design, or I must be able to find something to fit that. I stumbled upon this and I can’t explain it in the usual terms.

How does this alternate explanation of design in the universe lend itself to theology?

I’d like to try to keep my work in intelligent design separate from discussions of the implications of intelligent design. As an ID researcher, I know my limitations. You can say, “Okay, I think I’ve identified design in the universe, and here is the evidence.” And that’s it. I can’t identify the designer uniquely.

If you want to partake into the theological discussion, let’s bring theological elements into it. Then it becomes broader than intelligent design.

I can imagine expanding this discussion, writing a second book just discussing the implications — bringing in aesthetics, philosophy and theology, which are less objective. But in our book, we wanted to keep the theology separate from the science.

Why do you need an intelligent >design paradigm to explain the natural world?

As a scientist looking out at nature, I want to be open to possible evidence that a designer exists. If I say ahead of time, “Well, I’m not going to allow the universe to present objective evidence,” then you’re never going to be open to it. It’s like the SETI [Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence] researchers who say, “The probability of life in the universe may be small, but if we don’t look we’ll never know.”

At the beginning of the 20th century, virtually all scientists believed the universe was eternal. Then came the shock of the big-bang theory with the evidence of the expansion of the universe. They had to actually consider the possibility the universe had a beginning. So, the universe can surprise us. I would rather be more open to the possibility of being surprised.

Is this the suggestion you would give the scientific community about intelligent design?

Scientists, who may not even be design-friendly, may stumble upon design evidence, and I’m just hopeful that they’re open-minded enough to just present it and admit that they stumbled upon it.

Julia C. Keller is the science editor of Science and Theology News.

(RICHARD DAWKINS & JERRY COYNE:) It sounds so reasonable, doesn't it? Such a modest proposal. Why not teach "both sides" and let the children decide for themselves? As President Bush said, "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes." At first hearing, everything about the phrase "both sides" warms the hearts of educators like ourselves.

One of us spent years as an Oxford tutor and it was his habit to choose controversial topics for the students' weekly essays. They were required to go to the library, read about both sides of an argument, give a fair account of both, and then come to a balanced judgment in their essay. The call for balance, by the way, was always tempered by the maxim, "When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong."

As teachers, both of us have found that asking our students to analyse controversies is of enormous value to their education. What is wrong, then, with teaching both sides of the alleged controversy between evolution and creationism or "intelligent design" (ID)? And, by the way, don't be fooled by the disingenuous euphemism. There is nothing new about ID. It is simply creationism camouflaged with a new name to slip (with some success, thanks to loads of tax-free money and slick public-relations professionals) under the radar of the US Constitution's mandate for separation between church and state.
Why, then, would two lifelong educators and passionate advocates of the "both sides" style of teaching join with essentially all biologists in making an exception of the alleged controversy between creation and evolution? What is wrong with the apparently sweet reasonableness of "it is only fair to teach both sides"? The answer is simple. This is not a scientific controversy at all. And it is a time-wasting distraction because evolutionary science, perhaps more than any other major science, is bountifully endowed with genuine controversy.

Among the controversies that students of evolution commonly face, these are genuinely challenging and of great educational value: neutralism versus selectionism in molecular evolution; adaptationism; group selection; punctuated equilibrium; cladism; "evo-devo"; the "Cambrian Explosion"; mass extinctions; interspecies competition; sympatric speciation; sexual selection; the evolution of sex itself; evolutionary psychology; Darwinian medicine and so on. The point is that all these controversies, and many more, provide fodder for fascinating and lively argument, not just in essays but for student discussions late at night.
Intelligent design is not an argument of the same character as these controversies. It is not a scientific argument at all, but a religious one. It might be worth discussing in a class on the history of ideas, in a philosophy class on popular logical fallacies, or in a comparative religion class on origin myths from around the world. But it no more belongs in a biology class than alchemy belongs in a chemistry class, phlogiston in a physics class or the stork theory in a sex education class. In those cases, the demand for equal time for "both theories" would be ludicrous. Similarly, in a class on 20th-century European history, who would demand equal time for the theory that the Holocaust never happened?

So, why are we so sure that intelligent design is not a real scientific theory, worthy of "both sides" treatment? Isn't that just our personal opinion? It is an opinion shared by the vast majority of professional biologists, but of course science does not proceed by majority vote among scientists. Why isn't creationism (or its incarnation as intelligent design) just another scientific controversy, as worthy of scientific debate as the dozen essay topics we listed above? Here's why.

If ID really were a scientific theory, positive evidence for it, gathered through research, would fill peer-reviewed scientific journals. This doesn't happen. It isn't that editors refuse to publish ID research. There simply isn't any ID research to publish. Its advocates bypass normal scientific due process by appealing directly to the non-scientific public and - with great shrewdness - to the government officials they elect.

The argument the ID advocates put, such as it is, is always of the same character. Never do they offer positive evidence in favour of intelligent design. All we ever get is a list of alleged deficiencies in evolution. We are told of "gaps" in the fossil record. Or organs are stated, by fiat and without supporting evidence, to be "irreducibly complex": too complex to have evolved by natural selection.

In all cases there is a hidden (actually they scarcely even bother to hide it) "default" assumption that if Theory A has some difficulty in explaining Phenomenon X, we must automatically prefer Theory B without even asking whether Theory B (creationism in this case) is any better at explaining it. Note how unbalanced this is, and how it gives the lie to the apparent reasonableness of "let's teach both sides". One side is required to produce evidence, every step of the way. The other side is never required to produce one iota of evidence, but is deemed to have won automatically, the moment the first side encounters a difficulty - the sort of difficulty that all sciences encounter every day, and go to work to solve, with relish.

What, after all, is a gap in the fossil record? It is simply the absence of a fossil which would otherwise have documented a particular evolutionary transition. The gap means that we lack a complete cinematic record of every step in the evolutionary process. But how incredibly presumptuous to demand a complete record, given that only a minuscule proportion of deaths result in a fossil anyway.

The equivalent evidential demand of creationism would be a complete cinematic record of God's behaviour on the day that he went to work on, say, the mammalian ear bones or the bacterial flagellum - the small, hair-like organ that propels mobile bacteria. Not even the most ardent advocate of intelligent design claims that any such divine videotape will ever become available.

Biologists, on the other hand, can confidently claim the equivalent "cinematic" sequence of fossils for a very large number of evolutionary transitions. Not all, but very many, including our own descent from the bipedal ape Australopithecus. And - far more telling - not a single authentic fossil has ever been found in the "wrong" place in the evolutionary sequence. Such an anachronistic fossil, if one were ever unearthed, would blow evolution out of the water.

As the great biologist J B S Haldane growled, when asked what might disprove evolution: "Fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian." Evolution, like all good theories, makes itself vulnerable to disproof. Needless to say, it has always come through with flying colours.

Similarly, the claim that something - say the bacterial flagellum - is too complex to have evolved by natural selection is alleged, by a lamentably common but false syllogism, to support the "rival" intelligent design theory by default. This kind of default reasoning leaves completely open the possibility that, if the bacterial flagellum is too complex to have evolved, it might also be too complex to have been created. And indeed, a moment's thought shows that any God capable of creating a bacterial flagellum (to say nothing of a universe) would have to be a far more complex, and therefore statistically improbable, entity than the bacterial flagellum (or universe) itself - even more in need of an explanation than the object he is alleged to have created.

If complex organisms demand an explanation, so does a complex designer. And it's no solution to raise the theologian's plea that God (or the Intelligent Designer) is simply immune to the normal demands of scientific explanation. To do so would be to shoot yourself in the foot. You cannot have it both ways. Either ID belongs in the science classroom, in which case it must submit to the discipline required of a scientific hypothesis. Or it does not, in which case get it out of the science classroom and send it back into the church, where it belongs.

In fact, the bacterial flagellum is certainly not too complex to have evolved, nor is any other living structure that has ever been carefully studied. Biologists have located plausible series of intermediates, using ingredients to be found elsewhere in living systems. But even if some particular case were found for which biologists could offer no ready explanation, the important point is that the "default" logic of the creationists remains thoroughly rotten.

There is no evidence in favour of intelligent design: only alleged gaps in the completeness of the evolutionary account, coupled with the "default" fallacy we have identified. And, while it is inevitably true that there are incompletenesses in evolutionary science, the positive evidence for the fact of evolution is truly massive, made up of hundreds of thousands of mutually corroborating observations. These come from areas such as geology, paleontology, comparative anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, ethology, biogeography, embryology and - increasingly nowadays - molecular genetics.

The weight of the evidence has become so heavy that opposition to the fact of evolution is laughable to all who are acquainted with even a fraction of the published data. Evolution is a fact: as much a fact as plate tectonics or the heliocentric solar system.

Why, finally, does it matter whether these issues are discussed in science classes? There is a case for saying that it doesn't - that biologists shouldn't get so hot under the collar. Perhaps we should just accept the popular demand that we teach ID as well as evolution in science classes. It would, after all, take only about 10 minutes to exhaust the case for ID, then we could get back to teaching real science and genuine controversy.

Tempting as this is, a serious worry remains. The seductive "let's teach the controversy" language still conveys the false, and highly pernicious, idea that there really are two sides. This would distract students from the genuinely important and interesting controversies that enliven evolutionary discourse. Worse, it would hand creationism the only victory it realistically aspires to. Without needing to make a single good point in any argument, it would have won the right for a form of supernaturalism to be recognised as an authentic part of science. And that would be the end of science education in America.

Arguments worth having ...
The "Cambrian Explosion"
Although the fossil record shows that the first multi-cellular animals lived about 640m years ago, the diversity of species was low until about 530m years ago. At that time there was a sudden explosion of many diverse marine species, including the first appearance of molluscs, arthropods, echinoderms and vertebrates. "Sudden" here is used in the geological sense; the "explosion" occurred over a period of 10m to 30m years, which is, after all, comparable to the time taken to evolve most of the great radiations of mammals. This rapid diversification raises fascinating questions; explanations include the evolution of organisms with hard parts (which aid fossilisation), the evolutionary "discovery" of eyes, and the development of new genes that allowed parts of organisms to evolve independently.

The evolutionary basis of human behaviour
The field of evolutionary psychology (once called "sociobiology") maintains that many universal traits of human behaviour (especially sexual behaviour), as well as differences between individuals and between ethnic groups, have a genetic basis. These traits and differences are said to have evolved in our ancestors via natural selection. There is much controversy about these claims, largely because it is hard to reconstruct the evolutionary forces that acted on our ancestors, and it is unethical to do genetic experiments on modern humans.

Sexual versus natural selection
Although evolutionists agree that adaptations invariably result from natural selection, there are many traits, such as the elaborate plumage of male birds and size differences between the sexes in many species, that are better explained by "sexual selection": selection based on members of one sex (usually females) preferring to mate with members of the other sex that show certain desirable traits. Evolutionists debate how many features of animals have resulted from sexual as opposed to natural selection; some, like Darwin himself, feel that many physical features differentiating human "races" resulted from sexual selection.

The target of natural selection
Evolutionists agree that natural selection usually acts on genes in organisms - individuals carrying genes that give them a reproductive or survival advantage over others will leave more descendants, gradually changing the genetic composition of a species. This is called "individual selection". But some evolutionists have proposed that selection can act at higher levels as well: on populations (group selection), or even on species themselves (species selection). The relative importance of individual versus these higher order forms of selection is a topic of lively debate.

Natural selection versus genetic drift
Natural selection is a process that leads to the replacement of one gene by another in a predictable way. But there is also a "random" evolutionary process called genetic drift, which is the genetic equivalent of coin-tossing. Genetic drift leads to unpredictable changes in the frequencies of genes that don't make much difference to the adaptation of their carriers, and can cause evolution by changing the genetic composition of populations. Many features of DNA are said to have evolved by genetic drift. Evolutionary geneticists disagree about the importance of selection versus drift in explaining features of organisms and their DNA. All evolutionists agree that genetic drift can't explain adaptive evolution. But not all evolution is adaptive.

November 15, 2005

Philosophers Notwithstanding, Kansas School Board Redefines Science

Once it was the left who wanted to redefine science.
In the early 1990's, writers like the Czech playwright and former president Vaclav Havel and the French philosopher Bruno Latour proclaimed "the end of objectivity." The laws of science were constructed rather than discovered, some academics said; science was just another way of looking at the world, a servant of corporate and military interests. Everybody had a claim on truth.
The right defended the traditional notion of science back then. Now it is the right that is trying to change it.
On Tuesday, fueled by the popular opposition to the Darwinian theory of evolution, the Kansas State Board of Education stepped into this fraught philosophical territory. In the course of revising the state's science standards to include criticism of evolution, the board promulgated a new definition of science itself.

The changes in the official state definition are subtle and lawyerly, and involve mainly the removal of two words: "natural explanations." But they are a red flag to scientists, who say the changes obliterate the distinction between the natural and the supernatural that goes back to Galileo and the foundations of science.
The old definition reads in part, "Science is the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us." The new one calls science "a systematic method of continuing investigation that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena."

Adrian Melott, a physics professor at the University of Kansas who has long been fighting Darwin's opponents, said, "The only reason to take out 'natural explanations' is if you want to open the door to supernatural explanations."
Gerald Holton, a professor of the history of science at Harvard, said removing those two words and the framework they set means "anything goes."
The authors of these changes say that presuming the laws of science can explain all natural phenomena promotes materialism, secular humanism, atheism and leads to the idea that life is accidental. Indeed, they say in material online at, it may even be unconstitutional to promulgate that attitude in a classroom because it is not ideologically "neutral."

But many scientists say that characterization is an overstatement of the claims of science. The scientist's job description, said Steven Weinberg, a physicist and Nobel laureate at the University of Texas, is to search for natural explanations, just as a mechanic looks for mechanical reasons why a car won't run.
"This doesn't mean that they commit themselves to the view that this is all there is," Dr. Weinberg wrote in an e-mail message. "Many scientists (including me) think that this is the case, but other scientists are religious, and believe that what is observed in nature is at least in part a result of God's will."
The opposition to evolution, of course, is as old as the theory itself. "This is a very long story," said Dr. Holton, who attributed its recent prominence to politics and the drive by many religious conservatives to tar science with the brush of materialism.
How long the Kansas changes will last is anyone's guess. The state board tried to abolish the teaching of evolution and the Big Bang in schools six years ago, only to reverse course in 2001.

As it happened, the Kansas vote last week came on the same day that voters in Dover, Pa., ousted the local school board that had been sued for introducing the teaching of intelligent design.

As Dr. Weinberg noted, scientists and philosophers have been trying to define science, mostly unsuccessfully, for centuries.
When pressed for a definition of what they do, many scientists eventually fall back on the notion of falsifiability propounded by the philosopher Karl Popper. A scientific statement, he said, is one that can be proved wrong, like "the sun always rises in the east" or "light in a vacuum travels 186,000 miles a second." By Popper's rules, a law of science can never be proved; it can only be used to make a prediction that can be tested, with the possibility of being proved wrong.
But the rules get fuzzy in practice. For example, what is the role of intuition in analyzing a foggy set of data points? James Robert Brown, a philosopher of science at the University of Toronto, said in an e-mail message: "It's the widespread belief that so-called scientific method is a clear, well-understood thing. Not so." It is learned by doing, he added, and for that good examples and teachers are needed.

One thing scientists agree on, though, is that the requirement of testability excludes supernatural explanations. The supernatural, by definition, does not have to follow any rules or regularities, so it cannot be tested. "The only claim regularly made by the pro-science side is that supernatural explanations are empty," Dr. Brown said.

The redefinition by the Kansas board will have nothing to do with how science is performed, in Kansas or anywhere else. But Dr. Holton said that if more states changed their standards, it could complicate the lives of science teachers and students around the nation.
He added that Galileo - who started it all, and paid the price - had "a wonderful way" of separating the supernatural from the natural. There are two equally worthy ways to understand the divine, Galileo said. "One was reverent contemplation of the Bible, God's word," Dr. Holton said. "The other was through scientific contemplation of the world, which is his creation.

"That is the view that I hope the Kansas school board would have adopted."
November 14, 2005

Evolution and Its Discontents

The Kansas Board of Education adopted new science standards last week that include required criticism of evolution. Some of the additions are below, paired with the mainstream understanding of evolutionary biology. (Words bolded for emphasis)
Biological evolution postulates an unguided natural process that has no discernible direction or goal.
"Unguided" is "a very slippery word," said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education. Scientific explanations of all natural processes, from hurricanes to supernovas, are all "unguided."
The view that living things in all the major kingdoms are modified descendants of a common ancestor (described in the pattern of a branching tree) has been challenged in recently by such things as: Discrepancies in the molecular evidence (e.g., differences in relatedness inferred from sequence studies of different proteins) previously thought to support that view.
The family tree relationships of some of the early life forms remain unclear. But fossil and biological evidence argues that all life today descends from the earliest organisms. Not surprisingly, new methods like comparison of proteins or genes have generated family trees that differ somewhat from those deduced from fossils. But those differences have not fundamentally changed scientists' view of evolution or common descent.
Whether micro-evolution (change within a species) can be extrapolated to explain macro-evolutionary changes (such as new complex organs or body plans and new biochemical systems which appear irreducibly complex) is controversial.
Most biologists do not make the distinction between micro-evolution and macro-evolution; the larger changes are simply the accumulation of small changes. Most also say that the issue is not controversial and that there is much experimental evidence to indicate that such changes have occurred.
The term "irreducibly complex" is used by Michael Behe, a professor of biology at Lehigh University who is one of the main proponents of intelligent design, but is not used by other biologists.
Some of the scientific criticisms include:
a. A lack of empirical evidence for a "primordial soup" or a chemically hospitable pre-biotic atmosphere;
b. The lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code, the sequences of genetic information necessary to specify life, the biochemical machinery needed to translate genetic information into functional bio-systems, and the formation of proto-cells; and
c. The sudden rather than gradual emergence of organisms near the time that the Earth first became habitable.
The issue of how life originated is different from that of evolution. Current ideas on the origin of life are incomplete and no consensus has yet emerged. Most scientists find that this means more research is needed, not that it is impossible for a theory to emerge.
November 15, 2005
A Conversation With Carel van Schaik

ID Opens Astronomer’s Mind to Universe’s Surprises

By: Julia C. Keller
Science & Theology News

November 10, 2005

Discovery Institute News 1511 3rd Ave Suite 808 - Seattle, WA 98101  

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Transcript for:

Talking about Evolution with Richard Dawkins

Think Tank Transcript: Evolution/Richard Dawkins

ANNOUNCER: 'Think Tank' is made possible by Amgen, recipient of the Presidential National Medal of Technology. Amgen, helping cancer patients through cellular and molecular biology, improving lives today and bringing hope for tomorrow.

Additional funding is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

MR. WATTENBERG: Hello, I’m Ben Wattenberg. Most Americans believe that Charles Darwin basically had it right, that human beings evolved from the so-called primordial soup. But most Americans are also religious and likely believe that God created the soup.

We will explore these ideas and others with an outstanding scientist and one of the world’s leading scientific popularisers. The topic before this house: Richard Dawkins on evolution and religion. This week on 'Think Tank.'

MR. WATTENBERG: Richard Dawkins is a professor at Oxford University, where he holds the Charles Symine chair of public understanding of science. Dawkins has written many books on the topic of evolution, including 'The Selfish Gene,' 'River Out of Eden,' 'The Blind Watchmaker,' and most recently, 'Climbing Mount Improbable.'

Dawkins’ writings champion one man -- Charles Darwin. In 1831,Darwin set out on a five-year journey around the world on the H.M.S. Beagle. His travels took him to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, where he catalogued a startling variety of plant and animal life. Darwin saw in such diversity the key to the origins of all life on earth.

Today naturalists estimate that there are 30 million species of plants and animals. According to Darwin’s theory, all creatures large and small are the end result of millions of years of natural selection.

 The reaction to Darwin’s theory was explosive. Critics declared that Darwin had replaced Adam with an ape. Atheists applauded. Benjamin Disraeli, the prime minister of England, summed up the debate at the time. He said, 'The question is, is man an ape or an angel? Many laugh. Now I am on the side of the angels.'

 Today the controversy persists. Evolution is generally accepted, religion endures, begging the question, is there a conflict?

 Professor Dawkins, welcome. Perhaps we could begin with that fascinating title, 'Climbing Mount Improbable.' What are you talking about?

 MR. DAWKINS: Living organisms are supremely improbable. They look as if they have been designed. They are very, very complicated. They are very good at doing whatever it is they do, whether it’s flying or digging or swimming. This is not the kind of thing that matter just spontaneously does. It doesn’t fall into position where it’s good at doing anything. So the fact that living things are demands an explanation, the fact that it’s improbable demands an explanation.

 Mount Improbable is a metaphorical mountain. The height of that mountain stands for that very improbability. So on the top of the mountain, you can imagine perched the most complicated organ you can think of. It might be the human eye. And one side of the mountain has a steep cliff, a steep vertical precipice. And you stand at the foot of the mountain and you gaze up at this complicated thing at the heights, and you say, that couldn’t have come about by chance, that’s too improbable. And that’s what is the meaning of the vertical slope. You could no more get that by sheer chance than you could leap from the bottom of the cliff to the top of the cliff in one fell swoop.

 But if you go around the other side of the mountain, you find that there’s not a steep cliff at all. There’s a slow, gentle gradient, a slow, gentle slope, and getting from the bottom of the mountain to the top is an easy walk. You just saunter up it putting one step in front of the other, one foot in front of the other.

 MR. WATTENBERG: Provided you have a billion years to do it.

 MR. DAWKINS: You’ve got to have a long time. That, of course, corresponds to Darwinian natural selection. There is an element of chance in it, but it’s not mostly chance. There’s a whole series of small chance steps. Each eye along the slope is a little bit better than the one before, but it’s not so much that it’s unbelievable that it could have come about by chance. But at the end of a long period of non-random natural selection, you’ve accumulated lots and lots of these steps, and the end product is far too improbable to have come about in a single step of chance.

 MR. WATTENBERG: One of your earlier books, a very well known book, is 'The Selfish Gene.' What does that mean? You call human beings 'selfish gene machines.' Is that --

 MR. DAWKINS: Yes. It’s a way of trying to explain why individual organisms like human beings are actually not selfish. So I’m saying that selfishness resides at the level of the gene. Genes that work for their own short-term survival, genes that have effects upon the world which lead to their own short-term survival are the genes that survive, the genes that come through the generations. The world is full of genes that look after their own selfish interest.

 MR. WATTENBERG: And the prime aspect of that is reproduction?


 MR. WATTENBERG: And so that’s what drives all organisms, including human beings, is the drive to reproduce their own genetic makeup?

 MR. DAWKINS: That’s pretty standard Darwinism.


 MR. DAWKINS: We are -- in any era, the organisms that live contain the genes of an unbroken line of successful ancestors. It has to be true. Plenty of the ancestors’ competitors were not successful. They all died. But not a single one of your ancestors died young, or not a single one of your ancestors failed to copulate, not a single one of your ancestors failed to rear at least one child.

 MR. WATTENBERG: By definition.

 MR. DAWKINS: By definition. And so -- but what’s not by definition, which is genuinely interesting, is that you have therefore inherited the genes which are a non-random sample of the genes in every generation, non-random in the direction of being good at surviving.

MR. WATTENBERG: What is motivating great musicians, great writers, great political leaders, great scientists? I mean, what are you doing now? You’re obviously passionate about what you write and what you think and what you’re doing. That is absorbing your life. That does not involve, I don’t think, the replication of your genetic makeup.

 MR. DAWKINS: That’s certainly right, and because we are humans, we tend to be rather obsessed with humans. There are 30million other species of animal where that question wouldn’t have occurred to you.

 MR. WATTENBERG: Yeah, but most of our viewers are humans. Now, how does that work out for -- are humans different?

 MR. DAWKINS: Humans, like any other species of animal, have been programmed -- have evolved by genetic selection. And we have the bodies and the brains that are good for passing on our genes. That’s step one. So that’s where we get our brains from. That’s why they’re big.

 But once you get a big brain, then the big brain can be used for other things, in the same sort of way as computers were originally designed as calculating machines, and then without any change, without any alteration of that general structure, it turns out that they’re good -- they can be used as word processors as well. So there’s something about human brains which makes them more versatile than they were originally intended for.

 Now, you talked about the fact that I’m passionate about what I do and that I work hard at writing my books and so on. Now, the way I would interpret that as a Darwinian is to say certainly writing books doesn’t increase your Darwinian fitness. Writing books --there are no genes for writing books, and certainly I don’t pass on any of my genes as a consequence of writing a book.

 But there are mechanisms, such as persistence, perseverance, setting up goals which you then work hard to achieve, driving yourself to achieve those goals by whatever means are available.

MR. WATTENBERG: And you believe that is in our genetic makeup?

 MR. DAWKINS: That’s what I believe is indicated.

 MR. WATTENBERG: Some people have more of it, some people have less of it.

 MR. DAWKINS: That’s right. Now, in the modern world, which is now so different from the world in which our ancestors lived, what we actually strive for, the goals we set up, are very different. The goal-seeking mechanisms in our brains were originally put there to try to achieve goals such as finding a herd of bison to hunt. And we would have set out to find a herd of bison, and we’d have used allsorts of flexible goal-seeking mechanisms and we’d have persisted and we’d have gone on and on and on for days and days and days trying to achieve that goal.

 Natural selection favoured persistence in seeking goals. Nowadays we no longer hunt bison. Nowadays we hunt money or a nice new house or we try to finish a novel or whatever it is that we do.

 MR. WATTENBERG: In this town, political victory.

MR. DAWKINS: Yes, right.

 MR. WATTENBERG: Why is this so important? I mean, you obviously feel that this idea of evolution of primary importance. I mean, this is what makes the world goes round. Is it, in your view at least, the mother science?

 MR. DAWKINS: Well, what could be more important than an understanding of why you’re here, why you’re the shape you are, why you have the brain that you do, why your body is the way it is. Not just you, but all the other 30 million species of living thing, each of which carries with it this superb illusion of having been designed to do something supremely well. A swift flies supremely well. A mole digs supremely well. A shark or a dolphin swims supremely well. And a human thinks supremely well.

What could be a more fascinating, tantalizing question than why all that has come about? And we have the answer. Since the middle of the 19th century, we have known in principle the answer to that question, and we’re still working out the details.

 MR. WATTENBERG: Well, I read that, and a long time ago I read some of Darwin. Darwin doesn’t really answer the question why we are here. He answers the question of how we are here. I mean, why in a-- when you normally say, well, why are we here, you expect a theological answer or a religious answer. Does Darwin really talk about why we are here in that sense?

 MR. DAWKINS: Darwin, if I may say so, had better things to do than talk about why we are here in that sense. It’s not a sensible sense in which to ask the question. There is no reason why, just because it’s possible to ask the question, it’s necessarily a sensible question to ask.

MR. WATTENBERG: But you had mentioned, you said that Darwin after all these years has told us why we’re here.

 MR. DAWKINS: I was using 'why' in another sense. I was using 'why' in the sense of the explanation, and that’s the only sense which I think is actually a legitimate one. I don’t think the question of ultimate purpose, the question of what is the fundamental purpose for which the universe came into existence -- I believe there isn’t one. If you asked me what --

 MR. WATTENBERG: You believe there is not one?

 MR. DAWKINS: Yes. On the other hand, if you ask me, what is the purpose of a bird’s wing, then I’m quite happy to say, well, in the special Darwinian sense, the purpose of a bird’s wing is to help it fly, therefore to survive and therefore to reproduce the genes that gave it those wings that make it fly.

 Now, I’m happy with that meaning of the word 'why'.


MR. DAWKINS: But the ultimate meaning of the word 'why' I do not regard as a legitimate question. And the mere fact that it’s possible to ask the question doesn’t make it legitimate. There are plenty of questions I could imagine somebody asking me and I wouldn’t attempt to answer it. I would just say, That’s a silly question, don’t ask it.

 MR. WATTENBERG: So you are not only saying that religious people are coming to a wrong conclusion. You are saying they’re asking a silly question.


MR. WATTENBERG: There is a scientist in the United States named Michael Behe -- I’m sure you’re involved in this argument --who is making the case -- he is not a creationist, he is not a creation scientist, or at least he says he’s --

 MR. DAWKINS: Well, I’m sorry, he is a creationist.

 MR. WATTENBERG: Well, he says he’s not.

 MR. DAWKINS: He says he’s not, but he is.

 MR. WATTENBERG: He says he’s not. But his theory is that of a hidden designer, that there is something driving this process. And could you explain how you and he differ on this?

 MR. DAWKINS: Yes. Like I said, he’s a creationist. 'A hidden designer,' that’s a creator.

MR. WATTENBERG: You say he’s a hidden creationist.

 MR. DAWKINS: Well, he’s not even hidden. He’s a straightforward creationist. What he has done is to take a standard argument which dates back to the 19th century, the argument of irreducible complexity, the argument that there are certain organs, certain systems in which all the bits have to be there together or the whole system won’t work.

 MR. WATTENBERG: Like the eye.

 MR. DAWKINS: Like the eye, right. The whole thing collapses if they’re not all there.

 Now, Darwin considered that argument for the eye and he dismissed it, correctly, by showing that actually the eye could have evolved by gradual stages. Bits of an eye -- half an eye is better than no eye, a quarter of an eye is better than no eye, half an eye is better than a quarter of an eye.

 MR. WATTENBERG: I mean if it has some sight, but if you just created the windshield wiper, it doesn’t --

 MR. DAWKINS: Exactly. So I mean, there are things which you could imagine which are irreducibly complex, but the eye is not one of them.


Now, Behe is saying, well, maybe the eye isn’t one of them, but at the molecular level, there are certain things which he says are. Now, he takes certain molecular examples. For example, bacteria have a flagellum, which is a little kind of whip-like tail by which they swim. And the flagellum is a remarkable thing because, uniquely in all the living kingdoms, it’s a true wheel. It actually rotates freely in a bearing; it has an axle which freely rotates. That’s a remarkable thing and is well understood and well known about.

 And Behe asserts: this is irreducibly complex, therefore God made it. Now --

 MR. WATTENBERG: Therefore there was a design to it. I don’t think --

 MR. DAWKINS: What’s the difference? Okay.


 MR. DAWKINS: Therefore there was a design to it.


 MR. DAWKINS: Now -- (audio gap) -- too complex. The eye is reducibly complex, therefore God made it. Darwin answered them point by point, piece by piece. But maybe he shouldn’t have bothered. Maybe what he should have said is, well, maybe you can’t think of --maybe you’re too thick to think of a reason why the eye could have come about by gradual steps, but perhaps you should go away and think a bit harder.

 Now, I’ve done it for the eye; I’ve done it for various other things. I haven’t yet done it for the bacterial flagellum. I’ve only just read Behe’s book. It’s an interesting point. I’d like to think about it.

But I’m not the best person equipped to think about it because I’m not a biochemist. You’ve got to have the equivalent biochemical knowledge to the knowledge that Darwin had about lenses and bits of eyes. Now, I don’t have that biochemical knowledge. Behe has.

 Behe should stop being lazy and should get up and think for himself about how the flagellum evolved instead of this cowardly, lazy copping out by simply saying, oh, I can’t think of how it came about, therefore it must have been designed.

 MR. WATTENBERG: You have written that being an atheist allows you to become intellectually fulfilled.

 MR. DAWKINS: No, I haven’t quite written that. What I have written is that before Darwin, it was difficult to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist and that Darwin made it easy to become an intellectually -- and it’s more. It’s more. If you wanted to be an atheist, it would have been hard to be an atheist before Darwin came along. But once Darwin came along, the argument from design, which has always been to me the only powerful argument --even that isn’t a very powerful argument, but I used to think it was the only powerful argument for the existence of a creator.
Darwin destroyed the argument from design, at least as far as biology is concerned, which has always been the happiest hunting ground for argument from design. Thereafter -- whereas before Darwin came along, you could have been an atheist, but you’d have been a bit worried, after Darwin you can be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. You can feel, really, now I understand how living things have acquired the illusion of design, I understand why they look as though they’ve been designed, whereas before Darwin came along, you’d have said, well, I can see that the theory of a divine creator isn’t a good theory, but I’m damned if I can think of a better one. After Darwin, you can think of a better one.

 MR. WATTENBERG: I mean, isn’t the standard rebuttal to that, that God created Darwin and He could have created this whole evolutionary illusion that you are talking about? And I mean, getting back to first causes that you sort of --

 MR. DAWKINS: Yes. Yeah. Not that God created Darwin, but you mean God created the conditions in which evolution happened.

 MR. WATTENBERG: And Darwin.

 MR. DAWKINS: Well, ultimately Darwin, too.

 MR. WATTENBERG: I mean ultimately.

 MR. DAWKINS: Yes, it’s not a very satisfying explanation. It’s a very unparsimonious, very uneconomical explanation. The beauty of the Darwinian explanation itself is that it’s exceedingly powerful. It’s a very simple principle, and using this one simple principle, you can bootstrap your way up from essentially nothing to the world of complexity and diversity we have today. Now, that’s a powerful explanation.

 MR. WATTENBERG: It’s not any simpler. In fact, it’s more complex than the -- than Genesis. I mean, 'And God created the heavens and the earth.' That --

 MR. DAWKINS: You have to be joking.

 MR. WATTENBERG: Well, I mean, 'God created the heavens and the earth' -- I can say that pretty quickly. I mean --

 MR. DAWKINS: You can say it, but think what lies behind it. What lies behind it is a complicated, intelligent being -- God, who must have come from somewhere. You have simply smuggled in at the beginning of your book the very thing that we’re trying to explain. What we’re trying to explain is where organized complexity and intelligence came from. We have now got an explanation. You start from nothing and you work up gradually in easily explainable steps.

 MR. WATTENBERG: But then I can ask you the same question: where does the nothing come from? I mean, this is a -- I mean, I don’t want this to degenerate into a sophomore beer brawl, but I mean, you know, that is -- isn’t that the ultimate --

 MR. DAWKINS: You can ask that. That’s the ultimate question.


 MR. DAWKINS: That’s the important question. But all I would say to that is that it’s a helluva lot easier to say where nothing came from than it is to say where 30 million species of highly complicated organisms plus a super intelligent God came from, and that’s the alternative.

 MR. WATTENBERG: Well, now, you wrote in 'The Selfish Gene’ this. 'Living organisms had existed on earth without ever knowing why for 3,000 million years before the truth finally dawned on one of them. His name was Charles Darwin.'

 That sounds to me like a religious statement. That is a --that is near messianic language. And you are making the case that these other people have this virus of the mind. That tonality says, I found my God.

 MR. DAWKINS: You can call it that if you like. It’s not religious in any sense in which I would recognize the term. Certainly I look up to Charles Darwin. I would look up to anybody who had the insight that he did. But I wasn’t really meaning to make a particularly messianic statement about Darwin.

I was rather saying that not just Darwin, but this species, homo sapiens -- or for the -- the time that has elapsed between the origin of humanity and Darwin is negligible compared to the time that elapsed from the origin of life and the origin of humanity. And so let’s modify that statement and make it a bit more universal and say, life has been going on this planet for 3,000 million years without any animals knowing why they were there until the truth finally dawned upon homo sapiens. It’s just happened to be Charles Darwin, it could have been somebody else.

 Our species is unique. We are all members of a unique species which is privileged to understand for the first time in that 3,000-million-year history why we are here.

 MR. WATTENBERG: I see. There was a study recently reported, I believe, in that great scientific journal 'USA Today,' but it’s one that had a certain resonance with me and I think other people. It said that people who are religious live longer and healthier lives. And it seems to me on its face, perhaps to you as well, that that makes some sense. I mean, people who do have a firm belief system and don’t worry about a whole lot of things are healthier. We’ve seen this in all the mind-body sorts of explorations that have been going on.

 But does that perhaps put a Darwinian bonus on believing in religion?

 MR. DAWKINS: It could well do, yes. It’s perfectly plausible to me. I’ve read the same study and I think it might well be true. It could be analogous to the placebo effect, you know, that many diseases -- obviously they’re cured by real medicines even better, but nevertheless if you give people a pill which doesn’t contain anything medicinal at all, but the patient believes it does, then the patient gets better, for some diseases.

 Well, I suppose that religious belief can be one big placebo and it could indeed have highly beneficial effects upon health, particularly where stress-related diseases are concerned.

 MR. WATTENBERG: So if I want to advise my viewers, I could say, for example, what Professor Dawkins says is true, but harmful; I would like you to believe something that’s false, and healthy.

 MR. DAWKINS: Yeah, you could say that. I mean, it depends whether you value health or truth better, more.

 MR. WATTENBERG: Which would you value?

MR. DAWKINS: For myself, I would rather live a little bit less long and know the truth about why I live rather than live a few -- it probably isn’t very much longer, actually, which is -- let’s be very--

MR. WATTENBERG: Suppose it was substantially longer and we were talking about your children rather than you.

 MR. DAWKINS: Yeah, okay. I mean, these are fascinating hypothetical questions and I suppose there would come a trade-off point. I mean, there’d probably come a point when -- but I do think it’s important, since this is a very academic discussion we’re having, I think it would be positively irresponsible to let listeners to this program go away with the idea that this is a major effect. If it’s an effect at all, it’s an elusive statistical effect.

 MR. WATTENBERG: Okay, thank you very much, Professor Richard Dawkins.

A note of interest to our viewers. Pope John Paul II recently made headlines on the subject of evolution. On October 24, 1996, the Pontiff declared that evolutionary theory and faith in God are not at odds. He decreed that even if humans are the product of evolution, their spiritual soul is created by God.

We enjoy hearing from our viewers very much. Please send us comments and questions. Tell us what kind of programs and guests you want to see. You can reach us at: New River Media, 1150 17thStreet, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036; or via e-mail directly at: Or check us out on the Web at

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