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Richard Dawkins On God, Sex, Race

Richard Dawkins On God, Sex, Race

A lovely chat with the famous atheist and evolutionary biologist.

Richard is a scientist, author, and public speaker. From 1995 to 2008 he was the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, and he's currently a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Royal Society of Literature. Among his many bestselling books are the The Selfish Gene, The God Delusion, and his two-part autobiography, An Appetite for Wonder and A Brief Candle in the Dark. He also has substack called The Poetry of Reality — check it out and subscribe!

A pioneering New Atheist, Dawkins is a passionate defender of science and denigrator of religion. Who better to talk to about God? You can listen right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — on whether faith is necessary for meaning, and which religion is the worst — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: Richard growing up in England and colonial Africa; his father serving as an agricultural officer; the paternalistic racism of that period; Orwell’s “Such, Such Were the Joys”; genetic variation and natural selection; how evolution is “stunningly simple” but yields “prodigious complexity”; the emergence of consciousness; the crucial role of language for humans; how our intelligence will destroy us; life on other planets; birds-of-paradise and seducing the opposite sex; how faith and the scientific method aren’t mutually exclusive; Einstein’s faith; Pascal; Oakeshott; religious practice over doctrine; the divinity of nature; Richard’s love of cathedrals and church music; Buddhism; virgin births and transubstantiation; Jesus as a moral teacher; his shifting of human consciousness; the Jefferson bible; Hitchens; GK Chesterton; Larkin; Richard as a “cultural Anglican”; gender as “fictive sex”; gamete size; respecting pronouns; science and race; tribalism and “the other”; the complex blend of genetics and culture; the heritability of intelligence; the evolutionary role of religion; the heretical violence of Islam; gays in the Catholic Church; falling rates of religious faith; Judith Butler’s new book; and my awful experience on Jon Stewart’s now-terminated show.

Browse the Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy (the first 102 are free in their entirety — subscribe to get everything else). Next up: Daniel Finkelstein on his memoir Hitler, Stalin, Mum and Dad, and Neil J. Young on his history of the gay right. After that: Johann Hari on weight-loss drugs, Adam Moss on the artistic process, and George Will on Trump and conservatism. Please send any guest recs, dissents, and other pod comments to

Here’s one of many emailers who enjoyed last week’s episode with Abigail Shrier on kids and therapy:

I’ve been a subscriber for a while and eagerly await your email and podcast every Friday. This last week’s with Abigail Shrier was both informative and absolutely frightening. No wonder todays’ young people are so messed up!

Another fan of the episode:

I suspect you will get a lot of mail this week. Something I have noticed in my own family is the people who put traumas in their past became successful and happy. The people who ruminate, who make the bad stuff part of their identities, never become happy. Rather than say, “This awful thing happened to you. You will never be the same. You will be ruined for life,” I would rather people say, “This awful thing happened to you. I am so sorry. You didn’t deserve that. I am your friend. I am here for you, whatever you need. You can still have a happy life, even if it is not quite the one you imagined.”

I’ve seen people I love wait for a time machine that will never come, that will never erase the big bad thing. Joy is self-generated. It doesn’t come in a pill, no matter how clever the pharmacologists may be. You choose joy. Living in 21st century America with its technological magic and civil freedoms, there’s lots of reasons to be joyful. I guess finding the joy within doesn’t make money for anybody?

A mixed response from this listener:

Many times throughout the Shrier episode, she was creating a strawman/caricature of therapy and arguing against it. In essence, she was describing bad therapy. She also used a lot of absolute statements (she seemed to say “always” and “never” about 25 times), which was a red flag. That being said, she had many valuable points. Thanks to her for coming on the pod.

P.S. Talk to more people you disagree with! I know that’s probably easier said than done. 

True, though Richard Dawkins was a gracious adversary. Another listener:

I practice as a psychotherapist in Ontario, where there is socialized medicine, so the landscape may be completely different here than where Shrier is. From this location, however, it appears that what she is saying is so general as to be meaningless. Her assertion that we “rush to medicate ADHD without trying to change conditions in a child’s situation” is simply not true. It may well be the case that ADHD is incorrectly and over-diagnosed, but that does not prove that other solutions haven’t been attempted.

Statements about the young generation being the worst or least effective in history can’t be proven, nor can statements about previous eras of parenting. Aside from everything else, each generation of children grow up in different conditions, in which parenting is only one influence. Psychotherapy is part of the social landscape, but not the cure for it.

Shrier’s discussion of iatrogenesis, which she described as side effects, is simplistic. It’s not exactly “when the healer introduces harm,” but when the treatment causes unexpected harm that requires another cure. It’s an important issue, but much more complex than she presents it.

One more on the Shrier pod:

My daughter experienced a serious mental health episode at 14 — depression and anxiety so extreme she was disassociated and unable to function at all. Therapy and medication was lifesaving, and now she is a thriving college student, a member of a sorority, and on the deans list. The difference was the type of therapy she received: CBT — Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It doesn’t aim to go over past traumas, but to change the way a person thinks about things. In other words, “What happened is over — what’s next?” It discourages rumination. It tries to change negative thinking into positive thinking in order to break out of negative behavioral patterns. 

This type of therapy is replacing the old type of therapy. I also struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life and wish I had CBT available to me when I was young. I never reached what I believe was my full potential because of mental health issues. (Genetics are a bitch.) I was never able to talk to my parents about my struggles because of the atmosphere surrounding those things in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Is it possible that the rise in anxiety and depression diagnoses are rising in young people due to under-diagnosis in the past? I know my father is living with undiagnosed general anxiety, as I did well into my 40s. 

CBT is arguably the most effective anti-depressant therapy we have, barring new breakthroughs from psychedelic-based drugs. Another recent episode:

The Christian Wiman interview is so good, I had to subscribe to the Dish. The only reason I didn’t before was that I get waaaay too much content to read and I always have trouble prioritizing it. A hard-stop “rule” against paying just makes it easier to prioritize, but now I’m all in.

Word got around: “A friend of mine recommended the Wiman episode and I loved it, so here I am now, subscribing to hear more!” And another:

Add me to the list of Dishheads who loved the conversation with Christian Wiman. I wasn’t familiar with his work, but I was especially intrigued to listen when I saw in the description that he’s from West Texas, where my late mother grew up. Indeed, when talking to my aunt about the podcast, she was familiar with Wiman and recalls that his uncle (at least she thinks it was his uncle) was a principal at the elementary school where she taught years ago. 

Small-world note aside, I truly appreciated his exploration of Christian faith and the willingness to admit, at times, that people of faith will still sometimes question it — whether it’s a way to cope with this often cruel world. As a 34-year recovering alcoholic, I can say without question I am alive today because God works in my life. He loves and cares for me in ways beyond my ability to comprehend. Yet, I still have moments of doubt. They are few and far between, yet they are there. So thank you, again, for an honest discussion about faith. 

I plan on sharing Wiman’s book with my 22-year-old son, who has struggled with mental health issues most of his life but who is a gifted writer. I’m hoping he’ll find inspiration. 

Here’s a dissent over last week’s column on the transqueer movement:

Your takedown of Chu’s ridiculous arguments in New York Magazine was excellent. I would also point you to Freddie de Boer’s response to her piece; it attacks it from a different perspective but is also great.

I write to dissent on three points that have been somewhat frequent in your writings on this subject and that I disagree with. The first regards pronouns and Dylan Mulvaney.

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