Richard Dawkins on Real Time with Bill Maher April 12, 2008

Richard Dawkins on Real Time with Bill Maher

In case you missed the show tonight, Richard Dawkins was interviewed on Real Time with Bill Maher. Norm at onegoodmove has the clip.

***UPDATE***: And now, so does the Youtube:

Definitely fun to watch.

Does anyone know if there is any truth to the Francis-Collins-believes-in-the-Talking-Snake statement?

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • I have read the first chapter in his book “The Language of God” where he starts to argue that belief in God can be justified from a belief in absolute right and wrong. Personally, I think one can have a belief in absolute right and wrong without having a belief in God. He has complete chapters dedicated to debunking the extreme positions for both religion and atheism so I would be surprised if he actually believed in a “talking snake”.

    As someone schooled in the biological sciences, he would probably be more comfortable in just considering a talking member of the Squamata order limited perhaps to either the Serpentes or Amphisbaenia sub-orders 😉

  • I was disappointed in the interview.

  • I don’t think Collins believes in the talking snake. I read his Language of God and he embraces evolution as well as Christianity but, from what I understand, he doesn’t believe in a literal Adam & Eve & Talking Snake.

  • I love Dawkins, but I think it was wrong of him to say that Francis Collins is not such a bright guy, but even worse to downplay the important role that Francis had on the completing the human genome project. It’s one thing to say that he’s not so bright b/c he believes in talking snakes, but another thing to makes jabs at Francis’ skills and importance as a scientist. Come on D. Don’t start letting me down, b/c I do look up to you because he mostly comes off as a rational, compassionate fellow.

    And Dawkins really feels he’s a 6.9 when 7 is “I am absolutely convinced/sure that there is no god” ?

    I cannot wait for Maher’s documentary. I hope it’s awesome and intelligent and not crass fratboy humor.

  • sabrina

    I was disappointed about what Dawkins said about Collins as well. I hate when atheists try to make evolution an us vs them issue. As atheists, we have to be careful about not making a belief in evolution synonymous with atheism, and creationism synonymous with Christianity. Ken Miller is a Christian, and a brilliant biologist; the textbooks he writes are used in classrooms around the country. I don’t want moderate/liberal Christians to distrust evolution, and join the dark side (ie Intelligent Design).

  • Dawkins is just calling a theistard a theistard. Good for him.

  • Fyurien

    Fellow Atheists… read on!


    Btw… Dawkins is an shmuck.. his elitist attitude have done a great deal of harm to atheists and science as a whole.

  • Ron in Houston

    I’m with Fyurien – Dawkins can be a bit pretentious for my tastes. However, he has greatly increased the discourse about the pernicious effects of religion.

    If we’re ever going to convince society that atheists aren’t baby killing, then we need to stop the name calling and the ad hominem attacks.

  • Kathryn

    Well he’s not downplaying Francis Collins at all, it’s obvious to scientists that one person does not single-handedly “discover the human genome”, as Dawkins was clarifying. And he wasn’t attacking Collins’ skill as a scientist, I mean c’mon, the guy discovered the gene for CF.

    It is a little bit telling if Collins literally believes in parts of the Bible like the talking snake, and I think it’s absolutely justified that Dawkins thinks anyone who believes in things like that are… not the brightest people.

  • sabrina

    I don’t think Dawkins is elitist or pretentious. Usually, I find him to be soft spoken and a consummate gentlemen. I guess it was Dawkins having a hard time saying Collins was a bright guy until Maher compared him to Tony Blair (who RD doesn’t like at all). Also, down playing Collins role to just an administrator seemed a little unfair. I’m assuming he only said the last part about Collins not being bright as a sort of joke since Maher mentioned the talking snake. I’m actually going to have to find that clip with Collins saying that.

    I am a huge fan of Dawkins, and consider him an asset to the atheist and scientific community. I was just a little disturbed by the dismissive attitude about Christians; I don’t think they’re stupid, although I think their beliefs are irrational. I just don’t want to turn off moderate/liberal Christians to evolution because of attacks on Christian intelligence. If we’re going to beat the fundamentalists, we’ll need their help as well.

  • Almond

    As one of his converts, I love Richard Dawkins. On the other hand, I wish he hadn’t downplayed Collins’ intelligence, and I think it’s a mistake to cast aspersions on the intelligence of believers in general.

    I heard an interview with Francis Collins on Fresh Air about a month ago, and I didn’t get the impression he was a “talking snake” kind of a guy.

  • Watched the show last night. Dawkins says right out that Collins doesn’t believe in the talking snake, and referenced Collins’s book to make the point. So why is this even a question?

  • writerdd: “Watched the show last night. Dawkins says right out that Collins doesn’t believe in the talking snake”

    I finished watching the show a few minutes ago (and after Maher’s comments about girls’ bullying it may be the last time I watch his show), and Dawkins appeared to change his mind about whether Collins believes in the “talking snake” after Maher told him that Collins did believe it. I rewatched the interview from the clip, and not only did I not hear him refer to Collins’ book, but Dawkins seemed to not even know that Collins was a Christian.

  • but Dawkins seemed to not even know that Collins was a Christian.

    That’s not true… Dawkins knows full well that Collins is an Evangelical Christian. Their names graced the cover of Time magazine because they debated on the existence of God. Several times, Collins’ Christianity was brought up.

    I think Dawkins thought his Christianity was limited to saying God created us via evolution… Dawkins didn’t think Collins believed in Genesis literally. And when Maher mentioned it, Dawkins was taken aback.

  • Hemant Mehta: “Dawkins knows full well that Collins is an Evangelical Christian.”

    Yet a little after four minutes and fourteen seconds into the interview, Dawkins said of Collins, “Maybe he believes in some kind of God. Maybe he even believes in Jesus Christ.” There’s be no reason for those maybes if Dawkins had recalled that Collins was an Evangelical Christian. Perhaps Dawkins’ memory of his debate with Collins was fuzzy, but in any case, he did not show in the interview that he knew that Collins was a Christian.

  • Julie

    It was really Maher who said that Collins believed in the talking snake, and all Dawkins said was, “IF that is true, then he goes right down in my estimation. He is not a bright guy.”

    The if clause there is important.

  • CJ

    We believe in talking birds (African Grey Parrot). Why is a talking snake such a stretch? We have evidence of an animal that speaks today, yet no one can prove that snakes have never spoken. It all seems so silly. If atheist want to label faith as fantasy, perhaps they should pick better examples.

  • I saw the interview. Thanks for posting the clip.

    And I love the Dawkins analogy on “imaginary friends.” Isn’t that so poignant? That is my new anti-religion slogan, “I don’t expect you to play with my imaginary friends, why must you insist I play with yours?” I’m always looking for a quick way to sum up the lunacy of insisting someone ELSE adopt your supernatural belief system.

  • Steve Jeffers

    ‘I don’t think Dawkins is elitist’

    He’s an Oxford professor, you’d hope he would be.

    This is the thing … Dawkins is a heavyweight academic, schooled in the English education system. When he’s arguing with someone, he’s going to have the courtesy to bring facts and logic and reasoning and authority to the table – if someone debating him doesn’t have the courtesy to even define terms, it’s going to look like steamrolling.

    He’s not *arrogant*, he’s *right*. If you disagree with that, explain how he’s wrong, and explain how using words that mean what words normally mean and worked counterexamples. If you can’t, don’t be surprised if you look and are treated like an idiot.

  • Struby

    To CJ…

    Snake species do not have vocal chords. Please explain how they could possibly ‘talk’ as you refer to the specific way in which parrots mimic speech without having any biological systems with which to properly intercourse.

  • Dorin

    I agree with Struby


    I know that this post is from over two years ago but the debate about religion is an on-going one,so I`d like to throw my hat into the ring.
    First let me just say that I like Bill Maher,Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins(and just for the record,I think that they`re all smarter than Tony Blair).

    I grew up in a christian conservative family and I didn`t leave behind religion until I was in my late teens.I just didn`t feel that I was getting the answers I sought out to the questions that wouldn`t leave me.Where was God during slavery?Where was God during the Holocaust?Where was God when late -disposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein gassed his own people in the early 1980`s?Where was God during the genocide of Rwanda in 1994?During ethnic cleansing in Bosnia?Where was God on the morning of September 11th/2001?
    Where,ultimately, was the hand of justice amdist such atrocities?
    There have been so many epochal horrific events in human history that can make it that much more difficult to believe in the existence of a God of love and fairness.


    On my last post,I said that I left behind organized religion in my late teens but following up on that,I never became a full-blown Atheist.I don`t demonize atheists or think they`re immoral and depraved,because that`s insulting not only to atheists,it`s insulting to non-religious people.That`s saying that atheists and non-religous people can`t do the right thing because they don`t believe in God or practice any one faith or disicipline and that they`d be out thieving,raping and pillaging.You don`t have to be religious or even believe in God to be a good person,to be a law-abiding person and to live a moral life and like Todd McFarlane said,I think we forget that sometimes.President Obama got some flack from Christians and the right-wing when he acknowledged atheists at his inauguration in January of 2009.

    I don`t think The President was exactly ”high-fiving”atheists,I just think he made a coldly realisitc assessment that whether people like it or not,America has become a melting pot of racial,ethinc and religous-and non-religious and sexual orientation-diversity.Athesists have rights too.Atheists can be good,open-minded and rational people just as atheists can be bad,close minded,condescending,bigoted,violent and irrational people(and the same can also be said for people of religious and agnostic backgrounds)and they`re not going anywhere and to try to deny their existence or to demonize them or to go so far as Former President George H.W. Bush supposedly did in supposedly saying that atheists shouldn`t be allowed to vote-is folly.Like Dr.Dawkins,I tend to be mostly weary of just about any kind of absolutism.But I do think that people can be aboslutely right in some things-the declaration of independence,the writng of the constitution by the founding fathers of the American Revolution,the abolition of slavery,the civil rights movement,women being allowed to vote,the civil rights voting act, the concept of the rule of law,separation between church and state,the separation of powers,the concept of just wars,the concept of nuclear deterrence and the concept of capital punishment-(statistical evidence has proven to me that the death penalty does not deter future crimes but some murders are so savage,so heinous and beyond the pale that they merit a swift,strong and final punsihment).

    I`m non-religious but I`m not a atheist because I can`t honestly say that I think there is absolutely no God(which some atheists will claim)-I don`t know that for certain.And I don`t think it would be very wise for anyone to say that God absolutely doesn`t exist.I can`t say for certain that God doesn`t exist anymore than I could say for certain that Bigfoot,The Abominable Snowman,The Loch Ness Monster and extraterrestrials and UFO`s don`t exist.I can`t prove that they do exist and I can`t prove that they don`t exist-I just don`t know.It would be safe to say I`m an agnostic.
    I don`t have all the answers and I don`t presume to have all the answers and I am distrustful of people who claim to.

  • I`m non-religious but I`m not a atheist because I can`t honestly say that I think there is absolutely no God(which some atheists will claim)-I don`t know that for certain.

    I’m an atheist, and I don’t say that. Honestly, the burden of proof is not on us. Theists are the ones positing a supernatural realm, and it’s up to them to provide evidence of it. So, I’m an atheist because I lack belief in all the gods and goddesses that I’ve ever heard about, along with all forms of the supernatural. I can’t prove deities don’t exist, but I see no reason to think of them any differently than I think of other mythological creations like fairies and mermaids and unicorns.

    It’s only culture and childhood imprinting that makes someone think of God (they almost always mean the singular male biblical deity) differently than they think of the Great Green Gnarf. If you’d never heard of God, and someone came up to you as an adult and tried to convince you he was real, you’d look at them like they were crazy, just like everyone else would look at someone proclaiming the existence of the Great Green Gnarf. It’s our cultural background that makes the two different.


    I just read the last post and I want to say that I didn`t say that I thought all atheists claim that there is absolutely no God.I said some atheists will claim that there is absolutely no God.But as for Bill Maher vs.The Talking Snake-Bill Maher has had this long-standing fascination with the
    Talking Snake from The Bible.
    The- ”do you believe in a talking snake?”- question is a legitimate
    question but it`s also a loaded”gotcha” question and Bill Maher knows it.

    If you say yes to the ”do you believe in a talking snake?”-question it can make you look crazy or unintelligent-or both.

    It`s like when the late journalist Tim Russert asked congressional representative and Former Presidential Canidate Dennis Kucinich in the Democratic Presidential Debates if Kucinich has ever seen a UFO as he had claimed that he did in Shirley
    MacLaine`s memoirs.You could hear people laugh out loud when Congressman Kucinich said that he did,in fact,see a UFO
    (and ”UFO”doesn`t necessarily have to mean an alien spacecraft piloted by
    little green men from Mars it could just mean an unidentified flying aircraft-an experiemental military one or something else-but once Kucinich gave the answer he gave,it was too late).

    The quirky congressman with the british wife over thirty years younger than him,a wife who would tower over the dimunitive Kucinich and a wife with a tongue-ring(that Kucinich would turn into this wink-wink nudge-nudge thing)never stood a chance at making it through the primaries let alone all the way to the general election but in paraphrasing a line from Jerry Maguire,”Dennis Kucinich lost us at UFO.”
    The then-Senator Barack Obama gave a much better answer in my opinion when the then-Senator Obama answered to Russert`s follow-up question on the possible existence of UFO`S and extraterrestrials that he didn`t know and didn`t presume to know if there are alien lifeforms on other planets.
    So if Dr.Collins ever answers yes to The Talking Snake-qustion,it could damage his repuation(but contrary to what Bill Maher says,I haven`t heard Dr.Collins do it yet).

    Dr.Francis Collins is a brilliant man and so is Dr.Richard Dawkins and I like them both but I think that Dr.Dawkins was sort of playing down the breadth of Collin`s accomplishments and even Collins`s brilliance,it felt like Dawkins was reluctantly conceeding after some prodding from Maher that ”yeah,okay,Collins is a bright guy,” and that was wrong.Give Collins his credit where it`s due.

    Bill Maher claims that Dr.Collins believes in The Talking Snake.But how does Maher know this?Has Maher ever heard Dr.Collins say this or profess to to believing in a Talking Snake in any televised or written
    interview or in any written formal statement?


    If you ask most rational Christians or scientists who are doctor,lawyers,scientists or A-plus students who are Christians if they believe in a Talking Snake,they`ll say no.Or you might not get a straight answer out of them.I still can`t get an straight answer out of any of my relatives who are devout Christians if they believe in a Talking Snake.Even some religious scholars can find the Book Of Revelation difficult to understand so I certainly don`t pretend to be an expert on The Bible but I have read most of The Bible and I think it`s important to keep in mind that The Bible speaks in code a lot and that it`s filled with parables that are meant to have spiritual meanining.It`s the idealogues and the religious fanatics that often take it literally or take certain scriptures and twist them and build their own following around one part of The Bible(The founder of Mormonism did it,the founder of Scientology did it and the Rhastafarians did it-with the assistance of ghanja,you can see all kinds of wild s***).

    In The Book Of Revelation on Judgement Day,balls of fire are supposed to be hurtling through the sky-assuming The Bible is right(because a lot of people believe that the Book Of Revelation-which was suposedly written by John-was written either by someone experiencing prophetic visions or a raving madman),those balls of fire could be nuclear missiles.The Final Book of The Bible also talks about a seven-headed beast rising out of the ocean (some Christians believe that God sent John through time all the way up to Armageddon so John could see it all for himself),it doesn`t have to be a scaley Hydra-like reptillian monster,it could be an organization with seven branches it could be seven empires with seven different leaders or it could just be some kind of seacraft that we haven`t seen before or that hasn`t been built yet-or the ”ocean” doesn`t even have to mean water-it could mean society.The Seven Seals can represent seven different time periods. The Four Horseman of The Apocalypse and the women riding a beast could all be symbols.”The Beast” that the Book Of Revelation talks about so much could be a new world superpower or a false prophet(the AntiChrist-or maybe even both and I`m fairly certain that the nutjobs who think President Obama is really the AntiChrist are wrong)

    Again,that`s all if we`re to assume The Bible is right.I`ve found myself confused by The Bible many times in my life.

    In The Book Of Genesis,Lucifer is described as a serpent in The Garden Of Eden,who tempts Eve into eating the Forbidden Fruit from the Tree Of Knowledge(some might even say the serpent goads Eve into eating from the fruit).

    If all this really happened-and I want to emphasize the ”if all this really happened”-part because I don`t know if it did or didn`t really happen.

    Like I said before,The Bible speaks in code a lot and I still don`t know if The Bible was refering to The Devil as a snake in the way that someone would say ”Oh,that Bernard Madoff is such a snake!” Was it metaphorical or allegorical?The only other scenario and the one that Bill Maher loves to jump all over-and never gets tired of jumping all over-is that there was a literal Talking snake in the Garden Of Eden.

    Even if The Devil had taken on the form of a snake and was speaking through the form of a snake-it`s still a Talking Snake.
    Or the snake would`ve had to use some kind of telepathic means of communicating with Eve(a telepathic snake sounds absurd but once we start talking about a Talking Sanke,I think we don`t have to worry about crossing the line of the absurd).


    This Talking Snake also would`ve had to have been a highly intelligent snake too,if it got Adam and Eve to betray God.
    It was written that God banished the serpent from the Garden of Eden and cursed the serpent to eat dust and crawl and slink on it`s belly for the rest of it`s days.But what was the serpent doing before that?Walking?Flying?Swinging from trees?

    Moreover,if this all-poweful being that sees all and knows all really exists he would`ve had to have known that Adam and Eve would`ve disobeyed him and eaten the fruit from the tree,long before they ever did it,right?It`s human nature for some people to want what they can`t have and it`s also human nature for some people to do what they`ve been told not to do.The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that God wanted to see what Adam and Eve would do after he had told them not to eat from the Tree Of Knowledge.

    Whether you do or don`t believe in the existence of Gods-or a God-what is indisputable is that all human beings have free will-the extraordinary power of freedom to choose their own destiny.If God exists and is the creator of humankind that means that he endowed human beings with the power to choose to worship him and to believe in him or to choose not to worship him and not to believe in him!That`s just amazing!

    If the events of The Bible are real and somtimes I just don`t know-Eve may have been tempted and manipulated-maybe even goaded by Satan-but she wasn`t forced into doing anything by Satan.And neither was Adam,who in turn had been tempted-and maybe even goaded by Eve.That means that both Adam and Eve made a choice.Just like how in The Devil`s Advocate
    (great movie),Keanu Reeves`s character,hotshot attorney-at law,Kevin Lomax,is tempted by Al Pacino`s Devil.Reeves`s character may have been tempted and manipulated by The Devil but in the movie the Devil doesn`t technically make Reeve`s Lomax do anything.Everything was still Lomax`s own choice.As Pacino`s Devil said, ”
    I only set the stage.You pull your own strings.” And ”Free will,like butterfly wings,once touched they never get off the ground.”

    I still dont` know how true the story of Adam and Eve is but either way I choose to interpret the story of Adam and Eve as a parable for temptation,the fall from grace and free will.


    I also still don`t know if all animals in the Garden Of Eden could speak or if the Garden Of Eden was some kind of enchanted oasis-garden or if it was just the Devil posing as a snake conning Eve who then conned the hapless Adam.

    Snakes don`t have the mental capacity for language and they don`t have vocal cords-but if a person believes that God can do anything than there might be some people who are religious who believe in the talking snake as a literal talking snake but I would think it would be mostly-religious idealogues and religious bigots like the late Jerry Faldwell,Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin,Franklin Graham,John Hagee and Pat Robertson-them I can picture believing in a Talking Snake.More rational and grounded Christians like Dr.Francis Collins,Colin Powell,Newark Mayor Cory Booker and President Obama and many others who don`t let religion affect the way they think-them,I would have a harder time picturing believing in a literal Talking Snake from the Book Of Genesis.I`m not a Christian and I`m not a religious person and I`m certainly not going to say that I believe in a literal Talking Snake in The Bible,because I don`t.But what I won`t do is go so far as to say that it`s absolutely impossible for this to have happened either,because I don`t know.It still goes back to the argument of if you believe that God exists,that he is who he said he was and that everything in The Bible is real and that God can do anything.

    Logic and reason don`t have to apply to faith and religion.Faith doesn`t always have to make sense or be easy to understand.Because it`s absurd that`s why it`s faith if you had the evidence you wouldn`t need the faith.

    The interesting part is that the Talking Snake”that Bill Maher loves to hammer away at,(-if the snake in The Garden Of Eden was talking to Eve and was a literal snake)isn`t even the only talking animal in The Bible.
    In the Book Of Numbers:22-30,the Prophet Balaam is riding a donkey and the donkey-which seems to be a pretty clusmy and awkward donkey-keeps falling over-with Balaam still riding it.His patience spent,a fed up Balaam smites the donkey(whips it)three times.God ”opens the mouth of the donkey”(God either speaks through the donkey or gives the donkey the mental capacity for language,vocal cords and the ability to understand what is being said back to it).After which,Balaam and the donkey start having a conversation and the donkey even argues wih Balaam!I read over the passages many times because I still couldn`t believe what I was reading.It was like something out of the Shrek movies(maybe that`s where Dreamworks got the inspiration for Shrek`s talking donkey from,JRR Tolkien`s and George Lucas`s works and The Matrix trilogy were certainly inspired by The Bible)but there it was in The Bible-a talking donkey,some might even say- an annoying and difficult Talking Donkey(but it`s justifiably so,I suppose,if you had someone literally on your back all day long and whipping you,you`d probably be miffed about it too)

    I can see why people like Bill Maher,Dr.Richard Dawkins,Christopher Hitchens,Sam Harris and many other atheists and even,I suspect,a lot more Christians than would be willing to admit it,have a hard time believing in a Talking Snake and a Talking Donkey because the only other frame of reference for this kind of fantastical stuff is fairy tales,folklore,mythology,comic books,the science fiction genre,the fantasy genre,animation,movies and video games(all of which I love but the difference is
    people around the world believe the events in The Bible are real,that they happened,and in the case of the Book Of Revelation-will happen).

    If people believe that an omnipotent,all poweful being could come to Earth in human form-as his own son-while still being God,that God could split the ocean in two using Moses and his staff as a conduit,that Jesus could walk on water,that Jesus could turn water into wine,that someone could be transformerd into a pillar of salt,that someone could be elevated to Heaven bodily,that someone could live inside the belly of a whale,that Jesus could raise the dead and give sight to the blind and exorcise demons,that Jesus could die and rise from the dead,
    that Abraham could be in his nineties and still get a woman pregnant the old-fashioned way,that Mary was a virgin who became pregnant and gave birth(in a time that long predates in-vitro fertilization),scepters being turned into snakes,
    men suriving being trapped inside a blast furnace,people living to be hundreds of years old and some of them living to be almost 1,000 years old and ect.
    (there are a lot more fantastical things in the Bible than a Talking Snake and a Talking Donkey )so
    I`ll leave it to those in the religious community to say if they believe that a Talking Snake and a Talking Donkey could exist in the same universe where a supreme being could exist and where all of the events of The Bible could happen.On whether or not Dr.Francis Collins believes in The Talking Snake,I`ll say that while I don`t know for certain,I don`t really believe that Dr.Collins believes in The Talking Snake,But I don`t have an answer for Bill Maher`s Talking Snake-question in general.I have so many questions of my own about faith and religion and I don`t get any answers and that`s in large part,why I left organized religion and stopped going to church years ago.

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