Science in the Soul cover

“Science in the Soul” cover.

Richard Dawkins is a passionate rationalist, and so am I. His 2017 book “Science in the Soul” is a great compilation of selected writings, from which I have made my own compilation of selected quotes. It’s a bit long, but I think you will not regret dedicating it a few minutes of your time. Enjoy!

  • Science is both wonderful and necessary. Wonderful for the soul – in contemplation, say of deep space and deep time from the rim of the Grand Canyon. But also necessary: for society, for our well-being, for our short-term and long-term future.
  • Science really matters for life – and by “science” I mean not just scientific facts, but the scientific way of thinking.
  • Political decisions, decisions of state, policies for the future, should flow from clear-thinking, rational considerations of all the options, the evidence bearing upon them, and their likely consequences.
  • A scientist is much more likely to lie to a spouse or a tax inspector than to a scientific journal.
  • The product of natural selection, life in all its forms, is beautiful and rich. But the process is vicious, brutal and short-sighted.
  • Rewards are states of the world which, when encountered, cause an animal to repeat whatever it recently did. Punishments are states of the world which, when encountered, cause an animal to avoid repeating whatever it recently did.
  • In the absence of artificial breeding, our own values are presumably influenced by natural selection under conditions that prevailed in the Pleistocene epoch in Africa.
  • The genes that survive are the ones that wired up ancestral brains with appropriate rules of thumb, actions that had consequence, in ancestral environments, of assisting survival and reproduction. Our modern urban environment is very different, but the genes cannot be expected to have adjusted – there hasn’t been time for the slow process of natural selection to catch up.
  • Brains, if they are big enough, can run all sorts of hypothetical scenarios through their imaginations and calculate the consequences of alternative courses of action.
  • Brains as big as ours, as I’ve already argued, can actively rebel against the dictates of the naturally selected genes that built them.
  • Much of what we read of Jehovah makes it hard to see him as a good role model, whether we think of him as factual or fictitious character. The texts show him to be jealous, vindictive, spiteful, capricious, humourless and cruel. He was also, in modern terms, sexist, and an inciter to racial violence.
  • The future is a new invention in evolution. It is precious. And fragile. We must use all our scientific artifice to protect it.
  • No longer a baffling mystery demanding supernatural explanation, life, with the complexity and elegance that define it, grows and gradually emerges, by easily understood rules, from simple beginnings. Darwin’s legacy to the twentieth century was to demystify the greatest mystery of all.
  • The habit of questioning authority is one of the most valuable gifts that a book, or a teacher, can give a young would-be scientist. Don’t just accept what everybody tells you – think for yourself.
  • It is in the nature of scientific truths that they are waiting to be discovered, by whoever has the ability to do so. If two different people independently discover something in science, it will be the same truth.
  • If Shakespeare had never lived, nobody else would have written Macbeth. If Darwin had never lived, somebody else would have discovered natural selection.
  • Natural selection not only explains everything we know about life. It does so with power, elegance and economy.
  • If you find something, anywhere in the universe, whose structure is complex and gives the strong appearance of having been designed for a purpose, then that something either is alive, or was once alive, or is an artefact created by something alive.
  • The great virtue of the idea of evolution is that it explains, in terms of blind physical forces, the existence of undisputed adaptations whose functionally directed statistical improbability is enormous, without recourse to the supernatural or mystical.
  • Wherever in the universe adaptive complexity shall be found, it will have come into being gradually through a series of small alterations, never through large and sudden increments in adaptive complexity.
  • If a life form displays adaptive complexity, it must possess an evolutionary mechanism capable of generating adaptive complexity.
  • Every species is a unique entity, a unique set of coadapted genes, cooperating with each other in the enterprise of building individual organisms of that species.
  • Genes don’t work in isolation, they work in concert. The genome as a whole works with its environment to produce the body as a whole.
  • Natural selection itself, properly understood, is powerful enough to generate complexity and the illusion of design to an almost limitless extent.
  • When a creationist says that an eye or a bacterial flagellum or a blood-clotting mechanism is so complex that it must be designed, it makes all the difference in the world whether the “designer” is thought to be an alien produced by gradual evolution on a distant planet or a supernatural god who didn’t evolve. Gradual evolution is a genuine explanation, which really can theoretically yield an intelligence of sufficient complexity to design machines and other things too complex to have come about by any process other than design. Hypothetical “designers” jumped up from nothing cannot explain anything, because they can’t explain themselves.
  • There is overwhelming evidence that the human brain evolved through a graded series of almost imperceptibly improving intermediates, whose relics may be seen in the fossil record and whose analogues survive all around the animal kingdom.
  • And intelligent design cannot be the ultimate explanation for anything, for it begs the question of its own origin.
  • Darwinian natural selection is the non-random survival of randomly varying coded instructions for building bodies.
  • Just as Darwin in the mid-nineteenth century destroyed the mystical “design” argument, and just as Watson and Crick in the mid-twentieth century destroyed all mystical nonsense about genes, their successors of the mid-twenty-first century will destroy the mystical absurdity of souls being detached from bodies.
  • Evolutionary arms races, such as the race run in evolutionary time between predators and their prey, or parasites and their hosts, have led to escalating perfection and complexity.
  • Religion teaches the dangerous nonsense that death is not the end.
  • To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used.
  • Let’s get up off our knees, stop cringing before bogeymen and virtual fathers, face reality, and help science to do something constructive about human suffering.
  • The very idea that we might get our morals from the Bible or the Quran will horrify any decent person today who takes the trouble to read those books – rather than cherry-pick the verses that happen to conform to our modern secular consensus.
  • Modern society requires and deserves a truly secular state, by which I mean not state atheism, but state neutrality in all matters pertaining to religion: the recognition that faith is personal and no business of the state. Individuals must always be free to “do God” if they wish; but a government for the people certainly should not.
  • As a Darwinian, the aspect of religion that catches my attention is its profligate wastefulness, its extravagant display of baroque uselessness.
  • Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion.
  • Science is based upon verifiable evidence. Religious faith not only lacks evidence, its independence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops.
  • Most religions offer a cosmology and a biology, a theory of life, a theory of origins and reasons for existence. In doing so, they demonstrate that religion is, in a sense, science; it’s just bad science.
  • Religion drives otherwise sensible people into celibate monasteries or crashing into New York skyscrapers. Religion motivates people to whip their own backs, to set fire to themselves or their daughters, to denounce their own grandmothers as witches, or, in less extreme cases, simply to stand or kneel week after week, through ceremonies of stupefying boredom.
  • Practices such as branding cattle, castration without anaesthetic, and bullfighting should be treated as morally equivalent to doing the same thing to human beings.
  • To base your life on reason means to base it on evidence and logic. Evidence is the only way we know to discover what’s true about the real world. Logic is how we deduce the consequences that follow from evidence.
  • Thanks to evidence-based reason we are blessedly liberated from ancient fears of ghosts and devils, evil spirits and djinns, magic spells and witches’ curses.
  • The fury with which untenable beliefs are defended is inversely proportional to their defensibility.
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One comment

  1. William Kirousis

    Sounds like an amazing book, thanks for taking the time to tell “us” about it. I’m going to seek it out.
    Be well

    September 13, 2018