Richard Dawkins

May 27, 2016

I am Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and author of 13 books. AMA

Hello Reddit. This is Richard Dawkins, ethologist and evolutionary biologist.

Of my thirteen books, 2016 marks the anniversary of four. It's 40 years since The Selfish Gene, 30 since The Blind Watchmaker, 20 since Climbing Mount Improbable, and 10 since The God Delusion.

This years also marks the launch of — an interactive website where you can simulate evolution. The website is a revival of programs I wrote in the 80s and 90s, using an Apple Macintosh Plus and Pascal.

You can see a short clip of me from 1991 demoing the original game in this BBC article.

Here's my proof

I'm here to take your questions, so AMA.


Thank you all very much for such loads of interesting questions. Sorry I could only answer a minority of them. Till next time!

Hello Mr. Dawkins.

In October 2012, you spoke at the Jewish Cultural Center in San Francisco. My wife and I drove out from Sacramento to see you. May I ask what happened that night? Was there some sort of disturbance from another fan in line? Were there just too many people?

We waited in line for between 30 minutes and an hour after the show to get our copies of The Magic of Reality signed. At some point during the wait, we were told that the rest of us in line would have to rush, to have our books open and ready and that you would have no time to speak to anyone else. I got a scowl from you, I hope only from the situation - and not from me having to leave early and walk in front of the stage to go move my car. (Parking was HORRENDOUS there.)

Thank you for your work in education. I became an atheist and was able to “win” my first argument with my religious father on evolution thanks to The God Delusion. He now accepts evolution as well!

I'm sorry I have no memory of the incident. And VERY sorry if I gave you a scowl. I certainly would not have meant to. No idea what the kerfuffle was about.

Why is the Atheist Religion so violent?

There is no atheist religion. And "violent"? Did you say "violent"? Oh yes, I was forgetting. All those atheists beheading people, setting fire to them, cutting off their hands, cutting off their clitorises. If you think atheists are violent you don't know what violence means.

Hello Richard, I hope you are feeling well. I'll ask the one on everyone's minds...

Hillary or Trump?

Hillary or Trump? Need you ask? Do you think I'm insane?

Dear Mr. Dawkins

What is the most misunderstood thing about evolution?

They think it's a theory of random chance

Which one of your own books is your favorite and why?

Of all my 13 books, hard to say, but I am especially proud of Climbing Mount Improbable, which is, strangely, the book that has sold the least.

how do you feel about the fact that Emma Watson looks like you?

How sure are you that that photo pairing has not been photoshopped or put throiugh a Morphing program?



Most celebrity AMAs are done by proxy due to busy schedules. Usually over phone to a typist AFAIK.

I'm typing this myself, in the offices of Penguin books in London, publishers of The Blind Watchmaker and (my personal favourite) Climbing Mount Improbable

I read a few of your books. My favorite has to be The Selfish Gene. The title does not really describe the theory very well, but the book itself was a fantastic bit of insight.

My question: What was the funniest bit of hate mail you've received in all of these years?

Funniest hate mail, which hasn't so far made it to YouTube: "I hope you lose your watch and are late for an important appointment."

Hello Mr. Dawkins, How do you respond to the "Embryology in The Quran" argument that Muslim clerics and apologists always put forward as their most important line of defense against anyone criticizing their book's credibility, How can we answer this question once and for all?

The embryo is like a blob and then like a leech. Oh my, such stunningly advanced science! Pathetic and ignominious. Nearly as bad as "The sun sets in a marsh".

Is there a question that has given you pause from debaters, referring to god?


Which one do you think is the most dangerous religion or belief of them all and why?

Anyone who believes that what is written in a holy book is true even if the evidence is against it is dangerous. Christianity used to be the most dangerous religion. Now Islam is. Of course that doesn't mean more than a small minority of the world's Muslims. But it only takes a few if their beliefs are sufficiently strong, fanatical and unshakeable.

[No question]

This is me doing the Reddit AMA right now:

Richard, since you were programming your own software to model evolution and are probably aware of the process by which programs get written ( hint: they are evolved, with incremental changes from one working version to another)...and since DNA can be thought of as a piece of software, can you comment on what insights writing software has given you on evolution?

That's a very interesting question and the answer is too long for this forum. See, however, the 2nd volume of my autobiography, Brief Candle in the Dark. There is an extensive discussion of exactly the question you raise.

If you had to convert to a religion, which one would it be?

I would only convert to a religion is some evidence turned up to support it. So far there is none, so your question is unanswerable.

Mr Dawkins, have you ever watched Game of Thrones ? What do you think about it? I think season 5 and 6 are very interesting because of the religious conflicts in King's Landing.

No, sorry, I never have

Thanks for taking the time. How does it feel to be owned over and over again because you take #online too seriously? Do your kids ever ask if you could take a break from being red, mad, and nude online?

"Owned". What do you mean "owned"? Slavery has been abolished

Hello Dr. Dawkins,

Do you agree with Trump's proposal to ban Muslims? Is it too harsh?

Thanks for doing this.

Of course I don't agree with it. I doubt if he agrees with it any more. Does anyone know what he really thinks?

Hello Richard,

I recently finished reading The God Delusion. I am 20 years old and I was still trying to figure what I believe when I decided to read it.Your book helped me to realise my own beliefs, as well as giving me some new ideas. I dont think you could class me as a Dawkified convert, but you definitely solified what I was already swaying towards.

My question to you is whether you have any specific book you would recommend to follow on from your own? If not, maybe a list.

Thank you for everything you are doing.

Sam Harris's The End of Faith (although it was published before TGD). Dan Dennett's Breaking the Spell. Lawrence Krauss's A Universe from Nothing. Anything by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

why didnt you try smuggling some honey through airport security by concealing it in your diaper?

Oh very funny. Stupid little twerp

Hello! I am currently reading Frans de Waal's "Primates and Philosphers," in which you are criticized for supporting "Veneer Theory," a theory in which human morality is "a cultural overlay, a thin veneer hiding an otherwise selfish and brutish nature." What type of evidence do you think best supports this theory?

Thank you!

de Waal has never understood The Selfish Gene. Once and for all, the book is not an advocacy of selfishness, nor does it say that animals are selfish. That's why it's called The Selfish GENE not, for instance, The Selfish Chimp. If you want to criticise a book, you really have to read past the title

Professor Dawkins,

recently your arabic version of "The God Delusion" has reportedly been downloaded 10 million times with 30 percent going to Saudi Arabia , can you send a message to all these arabic fans ? any advise for the atheists in arab countries ? (there is alot of them)

second question ,Did you ever think that there is 0.0001% that god is exist ? when such thoughts come to your mind how did you deal with it ?

Obviously I am delighted that there seem to be so many readers of the illicit Arabic translation. Salaams to all of you. Is there's a 0.0001% chance that god exists? WHICH god are you talking about? Baal? Mithras? Zeus? Thor? There's a small but finite chance that gossamer winged fairies exist

Professor Dawkins,

Assuming you have one, who is your favorite philosopher?

Tossup between Daniel Dennett and Jonathan Glover, among living philosophers

Mr. Dawkins, do you think marijuana should be legalized at the Federal level in the United States?

Yes. Read Johann Hari's latest book

What has been the most surprising thing about evolutionary biology that's been turned on it's head, convincingly, in your lifetime? In the last 15 years?

I still think it's the close cousinship of whales to hippos, revealed by molecular sequencing. But there's lots of other fascinating stuff discussed by Yan Wong and me in our joint book The Ancestor's Tale, 2nd edition just published

How are you?

Pretty well, thank you. Still can't sing but that's not a great deprivation. I just regard it as an indicator of my recovery. My voice croaks somewhat when talking too, which is more of a nuisance.

Are clocks or honey more dangerous to people? Which do you think is more likely to lead to an extinction level event?

I suppose you think you're clever. You are not.

Prof. Dawkins, what is your opinion on the phenomenon of the regressive left, and the rising anti-free speech and censorship in that movement? Do yoi think it's a passing phenomenon or here to stay?

I have nothing but contempt for it, and I do think it's a passing phenomenon.

When was the last time you thought about two animals in full 69?

What is the point of asking a silly question like that? You think it's clever?

Hello Prof. Dawkins. It is an honour to speak with you. I have two questions. First: For natural selection to get going, there have to be an entity that can be either more or less numerous. That can only be the gene. So the gene's eye view can only be the right point of view. Is that right? Second: You often say that natural selection is a cruel process. But you also say that nature is neither kind nor unkind. Yould cou explain that? Thank you very much indeed.

Yes, your first point is right. On your second point, its a semantic issue. Judged objectively, natural selection is cruel. But it has no intentions and is therefore, in that sense, neither kind or unkind

How did you like working with Nightwish?

I loved working with Nightwish. They are a wonderful group of people, highly intelligent as well as brilliant musicians.

Are you afraid of eternal non-existence?

"The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for." - Vladimir Nabokov

No matter in what words you describe death, I'm sure that it will always scare me in some way. How do you cope with it?

I love the Nabokov quote, which I hadn't met before. Wish I'd said it myself. One additional thought. What is frightening about the abyss is the idea of eternity, and the best way to avoid it is with a general anaesthetic. Think of death as a general anaesthetic to spare you from eternity

Can you tell us anything interesting (important lessons learned, personality quirks) about your academic advisor, Niko Tinbergen?

Takes too long. There are discussions of him in my autobiography, volume 1, An Appetite for Wonder

Hi Mr. Dawkins. I first have to say thank you for changing my life with your writing. Not particularly the God stuff but the science stuff. Selfish Gene was a transformative experience for me knowing very little of biology. You really did inspire many years of my life in my 20s. My question is will you ever visit Ontario? Another question is what's your opinion of GMO? I tend to see no difference with it to nature's form of selection. Thank you and please know you are very much admired!

GMO is not a substance like arsenic. It is a technique which can be used for good of ill. The important thing is to use it for good. Good to exercise the precautiionary principle too

Do you ever still hear from people who don't realize that "gerin oil" was satirical?

No. It's quite hard not to realise it's satirical, although not everybody spots the anagram

Mr. Dawkins, what has the recovery process been like for you for the past few months?

I was very impressed with the British National Health Service. Physio or other therapists came to my house every day (except weekends) for six weeks after I left hospital.

Many of your articles in Free Inquiry have gone viral or been incorporated into later books, but others have been mostly read in that relatively niche periodical. Are there any you wish had gotten more widespread attention?

I'm now working on a new volume of collected essays, a bit like A Devil's Chaplan but with many of the Free Inquiry essays included

Good evening Doctor,

Could you explain a little bit about Lateral/Horizontal gene transfer, and what its implications are for the current evolutionary paradigm ?

It's common in bacteria. Very rare in eucaryotes and not of great evolutionary significance. In either case its existence is beautifully compatible with the selfish gene view of life

I recently came across a clip where you and another scientist (don't know her name) dissected the laryngeal nerve of a giraffe to show how evolution cannot have foresight as the nerve that links the brain and the voice box loops all the way down the neck around a main artery and back up the neck again.

I thought it was the most magnificent evidence for evolution over intelligent design I had ever seen, and so my question is are there any other examples like this in animals or humans where evolution has "made a mistake" so to speak and created a complicated solution for a simple problem?

Thanks for doing this AMA, I'm a big fan of your work in science education.

Yes, wasn't that fun? The recurrent laryngeal nerve has long been one of my favourite examples is UNintelligent design in nature. My fullest discussion of it, and other "revealing flaws" is in The Greatest Show on Earth.

What is the most compelling argument for religion you've heard?

I have never seen a compelling argument for religion. If I ever saw one I'd convert.

What's the biggest unsolved question in biology/evolution?

How long do you think it will take us until we may be able to replicate/imitate the first replicator on earth?

What is consciousness and why did it evolve?

What is your favourite sci-fi flick?

I haven't seen many. I enjoy Doctor Who in Lalla's era. And Carl Sagan's Cosmos is good, though marred by being soft on religion. 2001 is good too but, surprisingly too optimistic about how far things would get by that date. Jurassic Park has lovely dinosaurs and is marred by the presence of superfluous and irrelevant human drama. Plus the ludicrous nonsense about "chaos theory".

Do you ever go on /r/atheism?

No. Do you recommend it?

What is your favourite type of carnivorous plant?

Venus fly trap

Professor, I'm very curious about this statement of yours: -

"What we need is a truly anti-Darwinian society. Anti-Darwinian in the sense that we don’t wish to live in a society where the weakest go to the wall, where the strongest suppress the weak, and even kill the weak. We — I, at least — do not wish to live in that kind of society. I want to live in the sort of society where we take care of the sick, where we take care of the weak, take care of the oppressed, which is a very anti-Darwinian society.”

Could you elaborate on this? If your brain has evolved over hundreds of millions of years to enhance survival according to Darwinian principles, why do you suppose the brain -- your brain -- is now reflecting on its environment and concluding that an anti-Darwinian society is desirable?

It's a big question, too big to answer here. My most extensive discussion of it is in the title essay of A Devil's Chaplain

What is your favorite food?

Also, what are your thoughts on the 2016 Presidential Race?

Hillary will beat Trump. I'm sorry Bernie Sanders will not have the chance to do so.

Do you have any ideas on what caused the current anti-scientific mindset that is particularly prevalent in the US?

I don't know enough about whatever research might have been done. Is it, perhaps, a manifesation of more general anti-intellectualism?

What would you say is best course of action for those living in uber religious third world countries who are unable to express themselves without fear of isolation or even violence?

It's a terrible situation to be in and I am deeply sympetheti. I think the Internet is a great hope because it penetrates barriers to freedom. My particular hope is that there will be a tipping point when the numbers of people opposed to oppressive religion bursts the dam. I am encouraged to hear that the illicit Arabic translation of The God Delusion has been downloaded 10 million times, 30% of them in Saudi Arabia.

Mr.Dawkins, What are your thoughts on Pantheism?

Harmless but not very interestint

Hey Mr. Dawkins!

What is another physical example similar to the laryngeal nerve that refutes the idea of intelligent design and what does it indicate about our past?

The path of the human vas deferens is a similar example. More famous is the vertebrate retina being installed backwards for historical reasons

Mr. Dawkins,

Do you think religion is something that humans will ever be able to move on from? Is there a future, given our present path, that you believe sees a majority of the world being agnostic or atheist?

Religion is dying from decade to decade. It will take a while but the long arc of history is pointing in the right direction

Hi Dr. Dawkins, Great admirer of your work on evolution and of course your commitment to the spreading of rational thinking and atheism. My question(s) concerns the EU referendum. Where do you stand on Brexit? Is it responsible to entrust a decision on such a complex and high stakes matter to the electorate? As a scientist, what is your view on economists (and their field of study, whose status as a "science" is hotly debated), and what weight should we attribute to forecasts regarding Brexit? Wishing you well. Many thanks.

I am not entitled to an opinion on Brexit since I don't have a degree in economics or history. It is an outrage that ignoramuses like me are being asked to vote on such an important and complicated question which is way above our level of expertise.

Nevertheless I shall vote to stay in Europe, applying the precautionary principle and because the arguments the leaving are mostly emotional, those for staying mostly rational and evidence-based.

But I repeat, it is a disgrace that this important question has been put to plebiscite, apparently as a sop to UKIP-leaning members of the Tory party.. I believe in democracy but in parliamentary, representative democracy, not plebiscite democracy.

[No question]

Thank you all very much for such loads of interesting questions. Sorry I could only answer a minority of them. I hope you'll have a look at the Climbing Mount Improbable website ( I'm spellbound by the fact that the Penguin computer wizards have managed to put a different random biomorph ("Hopeful Monster") on every single jacket of both The Blind Watchmaker and Climbing Mount Improbable.

I didn't spot a question on it, but in this anniversary year I'd like to reassert that I stand by every word of The Selfish Gene (and indeed of all my other books).

Looking forward to seeing you at the various book signing events that are happening in this anniversary year. Please keep in touch via which has, or will have, all the details, and lots of stuff about my charitable foundation for Reason and Science.

See also for the astonishing OneZoom fractal tree of life, which forms the backbone of the new edition of The Ancestor's Tale.

Bye bye and thanks for being here Richard

This interview was transcribed from an "ask me anything" question and answer session with Richard Dawkins conducted on Reddit on 2016-05-27. The Reddit AMA can be found here.