4 Nov '15     home | previous

Dawkins, Evolution and Republican Candidates

In case you missed it, the British scientist Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, was interviewed by Fareed Zakaria on CNN on Sunday, November 1.

Zakaria:

Republican frontrunners, especially those who should know better, don't seem to understand science....According to the Pew Research Center, 98 percent of the professional scientists who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, believe that humans and other living things have evolved over time. But when the American public was polled just 65 percent said they believe that. And of the GOP candidates, well, as you find out in a moment, almost none of them seem to believe it.

Currently the Republican presidential candidates as far as I know, every single one of the declared candidates with the exception of Trump about whom one doesn't know which way he would add, when asked about evolution, essentially say they don't believe it and Jeb Bush was asked. He said well, I sort of believe it, but I don't think it should be taught in school.

Asked by Zakaria what evidence he had for evolution, Dawkins replied,

I think the most powerful evidence is probably not fossils. Although fossils are the main evidence for the actual history of life. The most powerful evidence that evolution has happened is probably molecular genetics. Because whereas in Darwin's time, the comparative data, you look to human hand and you compare it with a bat's wing, a whale's flipper, a lion's paw. You see the same bones. You can identify them bone for bone, the human - the radius, the alnae, the falangies and so on. That was in Darwin's time. Now we can do that same kind of thing, but with molecules, with actual coded letters of DNA and equivalent in protein. You can actually look at long reams of code. And you can actually compare the letter by letter exactly as you might compare two versions of the Book of Jeremiah or something. I mean it's letter for letter comparison. And you can actually count the number of differences in millions between humans and chimpanzees, humans plus chimpanzees and monkeys. Trus, hippopotamuses, you can take any two animals you like and look at their molecules and literally count the number of letters that are different. And that is just so overwhelmingly strong evidence. Darwin would have loved it.

Zakaria mentioned Dr Ben Carson, a retired brain surgeon, saying that he, Carson, could not accept that the complexity of the human brain came out of a soup full of chemicals and such. Dawkins replied that,

It took a very, very long time. And by gradual stages. That's what these people don't understand. They think it all happened suddenly. If you think that, of course you don't believe it, obviously. It couldn't happen suddenly, but if it happens gradually. Each stage just - of the next stage and the next stage, and the next stage, and each stage is only a tiny bit different from the one before, then you could start understanding it.

Dawkins described evolution as "the bedrock of biology" and biology as the "bedrock for medicine." He said we should stop calling it a theory "because the word theory is misunderstood." He said that evolution is confirmed by "Thousands and thousands of pieces of independent mutually confirming pieces of data." He called evolution "fact." Speaking of creationism, he added,

But it is a form of arrogance to say we know what God does. I mean, the only way to know anything is by looking at the evidence, and in this particular case the evidence is overwhelming. There are plenty of scientific ideas where the evidence isn't overwhelming. And there scientists disagree, and doubt... But in the case of evolution, there is no doubt. It is a fact.

Someone comments that she remembers that "science shouldn't claim to know everything, as no new discoveries can be found without an open mind." From this she goes to Eastern philosophy and spirituality.

A little off subject: Earlier this year, when Senator Cruz announced his candidacy for president with the words "God isn't done with America yet," the American Society of Atheists received an upsurge of phone calls from people who had a new interest in Atheism. Dawkins commented that "Ted Cruz has created more atheists in two weeks than I have in decades."

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.