Science’s scourge of believers declares his faith in Darwin

Prof Richard Dawkins, the scourge of those who maintain their belief in a god, has declared that he, too, holds a belief that cannot yet be proved.

In a recent letter to a national newspaper, Prof Dawkins said believers might now be disillusioned with an omnipotent being who had just drowned tens of thousands of innocent people in Asia. “My naive guess was that believers might be feeling more inclined to curse their god than pray to him.”

Now the Oxford University evolutionary biologist is among the 117 scientists, futurists and other creative thinkers who have responded to the question: “What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?” posed by John Brockman, a New York-based literary agent and publisher of The Edge, a website devoted to science.

“I believe, but I cannot prove, that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection,” said Prof Dawkins in the responses published yesterday on

That, of course, means that there is no need for a god to design the universe: “It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution. Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.”

Other respondents to the Edge survey include:

Sir Martin Rees, of Cambridge University, Astronomer Royal: “I believe that intelligent life may presently be unique to our Earth but that, even so, it has the potential to spread through the galaxy and beyond.

“Advanced intelligences billions of years hence might even create new universes. Perhaps they’ll be able to choose what physical laws prevail in their creations.

“My belief may remain unprovable for billions of years. It could be falsified sooner – for instance, we (or our immediate post-human descendents) may develop theories that reveal inherent limits to complexity. But it’s a substitute for religious belief, and I hope it’s true.”

Dr Stephen Schneider, Stanford University climatologist: “I believe that global warming is both a real phenomenon and at least partially a result of human activities such as dumping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

Prof Dan Dennett, philosopher, Tufts University: “I believe, but cannot yet prove, that acquiring a human language (an oral or sign language) is a necessary precondition for consciousness – in the strong sense of there being a subject, an I, a `something it is like something to be’.

“It would follow that non-human animals and pre-linguistic children, although they can be sensitive, alert, responsive to pain and suffering, and cognitively competent in many remarkable ways are not really conscious (in this strong sense). This assertion is shocking to many people, who fear that it would demote animals and pre-linguistic children from moral protection, but this would not follow.”

Tom Standage, Technology Editor of The Economist: “I believe that the radiation emitted by mobile phones is harmless. My argument is not based so much on the scientific evidence because there isn’t very much of it, and what little there is has either found no effect or is statistically dubious. Instead, it is based on a historical analogy with previous scares about overhead power lines and cathode-ray computer monitors (VDUs). Both were also thought to be dangerous, yet years of research failed to find conclusive evidence of harm.

“Mobile phones seem to be the latest example of what has become a familiar pattern: anecdotal evidence suggests that a technology might be harmful, and however many studies fail to find evidence of harm, there are always calls for more research. The underlying problem, of course, is the impossibility of proving a negative.”

Prof Joseph LeDoux, New York University neuroscientist: “I believe that animals have feelings and other states of consciousness, but neither I nor anyone else has been able to prove it.

“We can’t even prove that other people are conscious, much less other animals. In the case of other people, though, we at least can have a little confidence since all people have brains with the same basic configurations.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Telegraph, USA
Jan. 5, 2005
Roger Highfield, Science Editor

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday January 5, 2005.
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