I remember sitting up and taking notice of something Richard Dawkins once said, which was to this effect: “When aliens arrive here, the first thing they will ask is: ‘Have they discovered the theory of evolution yet?’”

The only problem with this quotation is that I can find no reference to Professor Dawkins actually saying it, or the occasion and context of him saying it. He may not have said it at all. If anyone can give me a reference (the link above, which is hardly satisfactory, is all I can find) then I would be grateful. It would be interesting to unpack the meaning of the words.

Hunting down the quotation, I did of course come across others, collected, for example, here. Again the lack of context makes them rather strange, and one wonders what so many of them mean. Words like “religion” are not of themselves univocal. It all depends what you mean by religion.

Here is a saying that I find particularly problematic: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

First of all, notice the use of the words “precisely” and “observe”. It is surely impossible to observe the universe in its entirety. We observe parts, though we may intuit wholes. But these observations are not going to be precise – not if they are observations of “the universe”. So the use of the words “observe” and “precisely” here strikes me as giving the statement a scientific veracity that it cannot possibly claim, for this statement seems neither falsifiable or verifiable.

What the statement seems to be conveying, rather than a scientific observable truth, is an existential statement of belief about the nature of the universe. While Christians believe that at the heart of the universe there is Love, Professor Dawkins makes an opposing and opposite statement. But if the first statement is unscientific, so surely is the second one as well.