An Interview with Richard Dawkins for al-Jazeera

Last month, Mehdi Hasan, the political director of The Huffington Post UK, interviewed Richard Dawkins at the Oxford Union for al-Jazeera television:

You can see Hasan’s writeup of the event here, but it’s mostly a feeble attempt at rationalizing his religious beliefs. Meanwhile, I saw a good chunk of the video last night (the exchanges beginning at the 8:09 and 14:33 marks are especially interesting) and the questions were exactly the kind you expect religious people to ask Dawkins.

It’s a really good back-and-forth, especially for someone who has only begun to question his/her faith. Otherwise, it’s a lot of material you’ve probably heard before.

If any other portions stand out to you, please leave the timestamp/summary in the comments!

(via John Sargeant)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=700851737 Sam Kay

    I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but: A country banning religion does not make it truly non-religious. And Nazi Germany was NOT non-religious. Hitler was a Catholic, who spoke A LOT about killing the Jews being a mission from God. Stalin professed atheism for a certain period of time, but returned to religion something like 13 years before the end of his reign. I researched this a while ago, don’t remember the exact figures any more.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      I’m highly skeptical of the idea that Stalin returned to religion. It sure didn’t reflect in the party policy. Other than ‘allowing’ religion again, the SU was still an officially atheist state. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin#Religion_2

      • Dan

        The state was the religion.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          Sure, but the statement “returned to religion” implies “believed in God”. I think if he’d actually believed in God, he would have changed the party platform to reflect it. All evidence I’ve seen is that he substituted Lenin for Jesus and himself for the Pope. Or at least the Russian Orthodox equivalent of the Pope. By any measure, the former is a pretty blasphemous thing to do for a true believer.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sandy-Kokch/100000074576649 Sandy Kokch

            Fact Correction: I know Americans are loath generally to travel to Russia, but if you ever do you will note that outside the concrete hells that are the post communist cities there are many many very old churches. St Petersburg, Kazan, and many older cities are dotted with them. SO….this supposed atheist paradise that banned religion apparently forgot to demolish all of those, or wipe out the priests and monks that maintained the buildings and worshiped there throughout Stalin’s reign.

            In communist China the destruction of temples and desecration of holy sites only really peaked during the hellish Red Guard Cultural Revolution period when Mao took back power after being all but ousted. It was, in part, the public’s outrage at these desecration’s and destruction that brought an end to that short burst. Mao himself was reportedly horrified at the Red Guard;s out of control destruction of China’s art and history. Again, seems odd for such an ardent anti-theist eh? And modern China? Anything but an atheist nation.

            Both dictators simply replaced religion with the cult of personality. An accusation I can nail on the back of most mega church pastors and televangelists like Benny HIn who run both as a symbiotic duality.

            Myths and distortions, just like Hitler being an atheist, are simply refuted by fact my pedigree chums.

            • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

              I’ve been to Russia three times, and outside of St. Petersburg and Moscow. I’ve seen the churches. And I’ve seen how religion survived. I’m not sure what fact you’re trying to correct. I didn’t say Stalin wiped out religion. He sure suppressed it, but no, he didn’t try to wipe it out. What I did say was that there is no evidence that I’ve ever seen that Stalin started believing in God again. If he did, he would have given the state an official religion. He didn’t act like someone who truly believed in God.

              • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                “Both dictators simply replaced religion with the cult of personality.”

                Ya, that’s pretty much what I said. But that doesn’t mean Stalin believed in God. It only means he was always ‘religious’ in the extremely broad sense that he deified something for the masses to worship. Which is why there was a picture of ‘Grandfather Lenin’ in every school room.

  • William Roma

    You can tell how smart and logical an atheist is by whether or not they reference Dawkins and mirror his thinking.

    • Patterrssonn

      I can’t decide whether your post is completely inane or completely totally fucking inane.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bart-Mitchell/100000228630859 Bart Mitchell

        When I read it, I just heard sarcasm. Is it possible William Roma believes this is literally true?

        • coyotenose

          It’s probably sarcasm, since it’s a common childish, tribalistic tactic to deride by association with [insert name], even though they aren’t actually familiar with Dawkins (which makes the argument dishonest and thus a sin against God.) Basically they read somewhere that he was strident and saw a quote mine, and they aren’t competent enough to look up discussions of it.

          • http://www.facebook.com/don.gwinn Don Gwinn

            Dawkins is still an embarrassment etc. etc. simply because he is still alive. When he’s dead, like Hitchens and Russell, they’ll pine for the days of refined gentlemen like Dawkins who would never go in for the cheap theatrics they see from whoever is the “militant atheist” bogeyman at that time.

  • Will Roma

    Its easy to tell how intelligent and logical an atheist is by whether or not they cite Dawkins and mirron his treachings.

    • http://www.facebook.com/brian.westley Brian Westley

      It’s easy to detect trolls, too.

  • Librepensadora

    About the 15:00 mark, Prof. Dawkins cites “Martin Luther King.” The host, who has been calling him “Richard” the whole time, indignantly corrects this slight, “REVEREND Martin Luther King.”

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      And then the host refers to him as “MLK”. How I wish Dawkins had interjected “REVEREND MLK!”

      • coyotenose

        I’d pay real money to see that.

        • http://www.facebook.com/brian.westley Brian Westley

          Since MLK also had a Doctor of Philosophy, I think “DOCTOR MLK” would’ve been even funnier.

          • http://www.facebook.com/nicholas.john.5059 Nicholas John

            except that it was a Doctorate in THEOLOGY.

  • Librepensadora

    This is a typical interview with Prof. Dawkins. Mehdi Hasan challenges statements from “The God Delusion” time and again to get him to put his foot in his mouth by denying what he said or agreeing with his critics. Fortunately, after years of attack from the religious, Prof. Dawkins is able to maintain his cool and answer the questions. But it does get tiresome to have Mr. Hasan continually interrupt his guest when he is in the middle of answering a question the host just posed. Also, the questions from the audience at the end are as tiresome as these usually are. People come forward not to ask questions but to give mini-lectures on their special topic (history of Oxford University, sociology of personality, etc.)

  • Stefan

    While I agree with Dawkins for the most part – I think Mehdi does get the better of him many times. He’s right that Dawkins didn’t want to give in and attribute anything good to religion, whereas whatever the underlying motivations – for the most part they do encourage charities and good works despite all the other “poison”.

    There are a lot of areas where Dawkins (and many of us atheists) tend to take extreme positions – and I know I’m guilty. I would never say that Richard puts up straw men, but every now and again I see how it could look like that from Mehdi’s (and other religious folks) view.

    I think Dawkins had to dance around the Stalin/Mao/Albania issue with Communism… While I doubt atheism was a driving factor, I think it impacted Mao’s invasion of Tibet and believers will see it as “without god, anything is permitted” or however that goes. Hard to be persuasive about that whole thing with a believer.

    Something I grapple with – are we trying to bring the “nones” together or reach the liberal, on the fence religious? Well, that’s kind of a straw man since it’s not a yes/no/black/white question. C’est la vie

    • coyotenose

      I think Dawkins had to dance around the Stalin/Mao/Albania issue with
      Communism… While I doubt atheism was a driving factor, I think it
      impacted Mao’s invasion of Tibet and believers will see it as “without
      god, anything is permitted” or however that goes. Hard to be persuasive
      about that whole thing with a believer.

      Unfortunately they’ll never be persuaded unless they learn their own language well enough to get the difference between “doing something in the name of Atheism” and “doing something while being an atheist.”

      Something I grapple with – are we trying to bring the “nones” together or reach the liberal, on the fence religious?

      Multiple approaches to multiple groups are needed. That’s why I don’t mind the FFRF pissing people off with provocative holiday displays. If that was the only game in town, I wouldn’t support it.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Here’s another recent Richard Dawkins discussion. This with Rabbi Jonathan Sack. Generally a little less confrontational http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roFdPHdhgKQ

  • http://www.facebook.com/carol.lynn.710 Carol Lynn

    Dawkins just isn’t as good in-person debater as I’d like him to be. He’s much better with the written word.

  • R Davis

    Galileo Galilei – “The universe cannot be read until we have learned the language & become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language & the letters are triangles, circles & other geometric figures.”
    The Irish Potato Famine, was due to a mold which decimated the potato crop. You see they planted one variety of potato for the most part & there was not gene diversity.

    Was it Bill D Hamilton who advocated that we allow the weak & ill of our species to die so that the gene pool could be strengthened. Therefore are we certain that somehow the weak genes are not also vital in the scheme of things. lest we all perish for the lack of a diversity that we do not yet understand – ?

    The Selfish Gene :- could be in fact & for all we know an unknown species of parasite ;

    Not unlike the toxoplasma gondii ; of which / whom we are the host.

    We have not yet read the universe, I believe that the selfish gene is not what you all say & that we are still at square 1:- Mr. Dawkins.

    Nice try though.