Slashdot: In a recent Gallup poll, it's been shown that the American population has shown no change over the past thirty years in their acceptance of evolution as truth. Why do you think that is?
Dr. Richard Dawkins: Well, I'm aware of that. It's a disturbing fact. This is Gallup poll results. It's slightly unfortunate in a way, that the way that they phrased the question in that particular Gallup poll is to say, on the one hand, mankind was created more or less in its present form some time during the last 10,000 years. Or.. the right answer.. evolution. Or, God had nothing to do with it. And, that "God had nothing to do with it" kind of puts people off. Nevertheless, that's the way Gallup phrased it. And, you're right that the poll hasn't changed. It's somewhere between 40%, 45% consistently.
I think religion is to blame. I mean, I can think of no other reason why, of all the scientific facts that people might disagree with or disbelieve, this is the one they pick on. Physics gets through OK. Chemistry gets through OK. But, not biology/geology and I think it's got to be because of religion.
Slashdot: Is that something you think can be easily remedied through education?
Dawkins: It should be. Education is the answer to the problem. I think that scientists are somewhat to blame for not getting out more and bringing their subject to people. So, I think we're not entirely blameless of that. The evidence is absolutely clear, isn't it? No doubt about it. It's not the sort of thing that one can be at all doubtful about, once you've seen the evidence. And, clearly, most people haven't seen the evidence. You've only got to talk to people who call themselves creationists to realize they haven't the faintest idea what the evidence is, or indeed, what evolution is.
Slashdot: Do you think there's a better way that people could be shown what the evidence is?
Dawkins: Well, there are books. There are plenty of television documentaries. There are plenty of websites that you can go look up Q & A and things. There's quite a lot of stuff out there. I'm not quite sure what that better way would look like, but I'd be grateful for any suggestions.
Slashdot: Earlier this year, the Tennessee State Legislature passed a law [allowing] public schools to teach the controversy with regard to evolution, global warming and a few other scientific theories. Much more recently, Representative Paul Broun, a Republican in Georgia, said that evolution, embryology, the big bang theory--are "lies straight from the pit of Hell." How does that tie in with the educational aspect? It seems to me, you're working at two problems. You have students who are not educated, with respect to evolution, the big bang theory, and similar things. And, those students grow up to be voters and legislators, who are now contributing the the problem.
Dawkins: It's very evident that Representative Paul Broun is uneducated, ignorant, probably stupid, too, which is very sad. It's very sad that somebody as ill-qualified to hold high office as that has been elected. There was a rather amusing tweet I saw on Twitter, which went something like this. "Doctor, you say that brushing teeth is a good way to keep them healthy. I say smearing them with chocolate is. Let's teach the controversy!" And the fact is, there is no controversy about evolution. It's a fact, demonstrated beyond all possible doubt by scientific evidence. Every qualified person who looked at the evidence agrees that it's an absolutely secure fact. There is no controversy to teach.
Slashdot: What is the effect, do you think, of this unwillingness to commit to science, on the production of scientists and engineers. In other words, if you suddenly could wave a magic wand and solve all these issues, do you think we would see more engineers and scientists come out of this country?
Dawkins: Yes. I mean, it's an odd fact that the United States is, beyond any doubt, the preeminent scientific power in the world. No doubt about it. Measure it with Nobel Prizes, with numbers of scientific papers published, and so on. It is the world leader. Yet, at the same time, it's being dragged backwards by nearly 50% of the population, who are anti- intellectual, anti-education, despise people who have education, and it's a big problem. Fortunately, the 50% who are doing the right thing are so good that they are still pulling the country in the right direction.
Slashdot: Is it important to focus on the United States and similar countries in this matter? Or, for example, South Korea recently had a win, actually, in which they kept the teaching of creationism out of their school textbooks. Is it more important to focus on the larger, more established educational systems, or to get into the smaller ones before that?
Dawkins: Yeah. I wouldn't say more important, but it sort of hits one in the gut, rather, that a country like the United States, which is so ahead of the field in half the country should be so way backward in the other half. It does rather stand out like a sore thumb in world statistics, but it's still important to teach in other parts of the world. Particularly, the Islamic part of the world, which is shrouded in darkness, really, educationally speaking, in this field.
Slashdot: Speaking of which: the recent controversy over the "Innocence of Muslims" video. Could you talk a little about that, and what you think the repercussions it's had throughout the world?
Dawkins: I've only seen the trailer for that video. It's quite astonishingly badly done, as everybody agrees. So, the fact that the Islamic propagandists decided to pick on that one is extremely unfortunate. They should simply have ignored it. Everybody else would have ignored if they had. So, that's a deplorable incident. On the other hand, freedom of speech is very important. Freedom of speech is something that Islamic theocracies simply do not understand. They don't get it. They're so used to living in a theocracy, that they presume that if a film is released in the United States, the United States Government must be behind it! How could it be otherwise? So, they need to be educated that, actually, some countries do have freedom of speech and government is not responsible for what any idiot may do in the way of making a video.
Slashdot: I want to read a quote from an article you wrote earlier this year. You said, "My point is not that religion itself is the motivation for wars, murders and terrorist attacks, but that religion is the principal label, and the most dangerous one, by which a "they" as opposed to a "we" can be identified at all." Now, nations can be conquered and nationalities can be merged. Racism is slowly getting eroded by education. Do you feel that religion can be educated in a similar way?
Dawkins: The context of the quote which you just read out was probably Northern Ireland, where I had been upbraided for suggesting that the Northern Ireland Conflict is about religion. People said, "no, no, it's about politics. It's about economics. It's about centuries of oppression." Which it is. But, when one group is said to be oppressing another, there has to be some label by which the groups can identify themselves. Now, in countries where there are racial differences, like South Africa, it's easy to see which group you belong to. In countries like Belgium, where there's a linguistic friction between those who speak French and those who speak Dutch, once again, language is the barrier, is the label by which people can identify the "them" or "us." But, in Northern Ireland — and I think probably in the Indian subcontinent — the predominant label, by far, is religion. So, that's how people identify the "them" and "us."
If you think about it, it's not surprising, because psychologists have shown that if you take, for example, children, and give them arbitrary labels — you arbitrarily divide the children into two halve — and give these ones orange t-shirts and those ones green t-shirts, and give them various other labels, they will develop loyalties to those of their own labeled group. And that happens very quickly. Now, if you imagine that you set up a rule, such that oranges only marry oranges, and greens only marry greens, and children of orange couples only ever go to orange schools, and children of green couples only go to green schools, and you carry that on for 300 years, what have you got? I mean, you've got a deep, deep division in society. And if it's possible for one of those two groups to oppress the other economically, they will. And then you'll get all sorts of vendettas and feuds developing.
Part 2 of this video will be coming soon.