Richard Dawkins – Red in Tooth and Claw – Think Again – a Big Think Podcast #112

Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.

Today’s guest is internationally best-selling author, speaker, and passionate advocate for reason and science as against superstition Richard Dawkins. From 1995 to 2008 Richard Dawkins was the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University.  Among his many books are The Selfish Gene, the God Delusion, and his two-part autobiography: An Appetite for Wonder and A Brief Candle in the Dark. His latest is a collection of essays, stories, and speeches called Science in the Soul, spanning many decades and the major themes of Richard’s work.

In this episode, which Dawkins described as “one of the best interviews I have ever had,” Richard and Jason talk about whether pescatarianism makes any sense, where morality should come from (since, as Hume says, “you can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’), the greatness of Christopher Hitchens, and the evils of nationalism.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. An excellent podcast! So many issues cogently brought to life by some gentle questioning and extremely thoughtful answers. I really warmed to this approach.

    One of the aspects with which I particularly related was the talk on an organism’s perception of pain and whether this varied should the organism be stupid. Sarah Palin’s name was mentioned by RD at this point. Brought a laugh despite being unlikely as well as mildly insulting. What can I say? I’m not perfect. Reducing suffering is of prime importance in the quest to live an ethical life. Sometimes the human can’t help but come out.

    At this point the talk managed to wend its way to the sci fi genre as a theme in literature. I agreed with RD in enjoying the genre when done well and how the manipulation of just one element can produce a satisfying, literary result. A recent topic on The Conversation yielded similar thoughts . Apparently a sub-genre of Alternative History can run along these lines.

    Talk of the evils of nationalism and references to Shermer’s The Moral arc and Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature were wisely mentioned. I’ve read both books and could vouch for each if one is interested in the actual influencers in the development of moral behaviour as opposed to the mythical and highly suspect influence of one’s holy book of choice.

    Probably enough from me. I resolve to install this podcast on my list of favourites. If all talks are of this calibre, I’ll be hooked in no time.

  2. Great podcast; extreme tribalism, whether through belief or social grouping always ends up badly.
    Liked the ‘bible; a goat herders guide to the galaxy” quote, though felt it was maybe too demeaning to actual goat herders. With today’s believers deliberate ignorance, it might be better as ‘bible: the deniers guide to the galaxy’.
    THHGTTG is also in a totally different (advanced) league!

  3. The Bible ‘a goat herder’s guide to the universe’ what’s funny about that? When the Bible was written, the vast majority of Earth’s population were exactly that; goat herders, farmers, hunters, etc. What could they have possibly made out of today’s scientific explanations? The Bible gave a very suitable explanation of the universe for its time and even ancient science was satisfied with its explanation until a few short centuries ago. The genius of the Bible is compounded when you consider the writer of the book of Genesis who was an Egyptian scholar. Moses has never been depicted as such but a scholar he was. He could read Egyptian hyrogliphics like the New York Times, if that’s proof enough. The trouble is the Egyptians had theories diametrically different from those of Moses but they did not withstand the tooth of time as those of Moses did. What Moses wrote down was epic, simply avant-garde. His opening words in Genesis were “In the beginning”! Does that ring a bell?

  4. In reply to Richard #3

    Typos forgiven, (though they do read rather strangely).

    The thing is, in order to respect one’s holy book, we’d like it to contain elements above and beyond the understandings of the times. Simply giving an account of mythology as it was, presents nothing out of the ordinary as there was no shortage of such stories….or gods and goddesses for that matter.

    As for the writings…well, Moses may have been accredited with the four books after Genesis but it’s all a mystery in point of fact. These are probably just the written form of an oral tradition the like of which have been found throughout history and still exist in some cultures.

    I’m not sure how you’ve come by some of your understandings; eg he could read Egyptian Hieroglyphics like the New York Times as his actual existence is moot. I think you should read those early books again as I see no great insights myself; only a melange of primitive superstition and foolish proscriptions.

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