Richard Dawkins Interviewed by Al Jazeera July 1, 2012

Richard Dawkins Interviewed by Al Jazeera

Richard Dawkins did an interview on Al Jazeera (English) yesterday night:

He does a really nice job of coolly handling a lot of basic, biased questions.

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

***Edit***: Here’s a discussion question for you: At the beginning of the interview, Dawkins calls himself an Agnostic (saying he can’t definitively prove God doesn’t exist) and then adds that he’s an atheist in the same way he’s an a-fairy-ist. Is Dawkins getting away with something we didn’t let Neil deGrasse Tyson get away with?

(via Why Evolution is True)

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  • dearestlouise

    You can really hear the disdain the host on the left seems to have. It’s really unfortunate that she can’t put aside her personal beliefs and conduct a professional interview. On the other hand, I’m very impressed with how the other host seems to be able to proceed in a professional manner; you really cannot tell what she personally believes regarding the subject matter.

  • workmx

    Thank you for posting this video. By chance do you know if Dr Dawkins answer that last question (via Twitter or another format)?

  • Emptyjay

    atheism by definition, is the absence of religion!!! anyone that calls atheism a religion is grossly misinformed!!!!

  • Paul Little

    I said it on the previous discussion about NDT. Agnosticism is a philosophical position. Atheism is a belief position. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, any honest atheist has to admit that he or she truly doesn’t know. An atheist who claims to “know” there is no God is no better than a theist who claims to know there is one.

  • bort138

    Actually atheism is lack of belief in god or gods. Atheism does not address any specific hostility in itself towards religion although many atheists are critical of religion. Atheism is as much a religion as not golfing is a hobby.

  • Emptyjay

    if you need to fear a god to be a good person, you are not a good person!!

  • Jonathan Ray

    ***Edit***: Here’s a discussion question for you: At
    the beginning of the interview, Dawkins calls himself an Agnostic
    (saying he can’t definitively prove God doesn’t exist) and then adds
    that he’s an atheist in the same way he’s an a-fairy-ist. Is Dawkins
    getting away with something we didn’t let Neil deGrasse Tyson get away

    He explains it in The God Delusion and it has been well known about him since perhaps even before 2007.   Dawkins is technically agnostic in the same sense that he is technically agnostic about the flying spaghetti monster or Russell’s Teapot.   In other words, he thinks that god is EXTREMELY unlikely, but not a certain falsehood.

    Dawkins also explains in The God Delusion the way religious people and certain agnostics commonly use the word atheism as a strawman for absolute certainty that there is no god.

    Everybody knows Dawkins is an atheist.  He is simply saying that he is technically agnostic as a means to clarifying what atheism means, as he did in The God Delusion.

  • Shabushabu

    Great post. Thanks. Is it just me or does like look like Richard Dawkins has a bad sunburn.

  • Brian Pansky

    @hemant:disqus :  uh…the atheist/agnostic bit that you quoted about Dawkins seems totally correct.  How would you say it’s wrong?

    NDT was hating on the word ‘atheist’, meanwhile Dawkins here is basically pointing out the specific uses of each word.

    Also, a lot of people draw a grid (like a mathematical x y graph) with the axis labelled “theist” at -x, “atheist” at +x, “agnostic” at +y, and “gnostic” at -y.  This is because certainty/knowledge can be a different measurement than strength of belief.

    But, I’m not exactly sure what specifically you thought Dawkins should say to differentiate from Tyson, other than what he said.

  • Unlike Tyson, he calls himself an atheist. But Dawkins ought to be educated enough to know that agnostic doesn’t mean unable to prove there’s a god. By that definition, everybody is agnostic, and the word loses all meaning. An agnostic believes the question is one that cannot be answered. Not being able to prove the existence or nonexistence of a deity, or remaining open to the question, is not an agnostic position, but simply one of skepticism and intellectual honesty.

  • AxeGrrl

    He’s an agnostic atheist.  Like the overwhelming majority of us are.

    I’m not really seeing the ‘problem’ here.

  • gwen

     I was thinking the same thing, He needs to stay out of the sun, or be a little more diligent about applying the SPF protection!

  • Marco Conti

    One of the things I took out from the video is that people keep asking the same inane questions. Some keep defining Atheism as a religion, others bring up Staling and Mao as if they were the first ones to dream up this tired ‘gotcha!”.  And then, there is always one idiots that asks: “If we evolved from monkeys, why haven;t we evolved into something else? Why has evolution stopped?”

    And each time I die a little bit inside…

  • Hibernia86

    Yeah, I really think the word “agnostic” needs to be reserved for people who are around 50/50 when it comes to God’s existence. If you think that there is no evidence for God and that he probably does not exist, then you should accept the term “Atheist”. There are some like Sam Harris that don’t like the term Atheist but at least he accepts that there needs to be a term to separate it from agnostic. 

  • Bubba Tarandfeathered

    One might be able to say, due to the vast numbers of atheists coming out, that social evolution is beginning to favor reasoning (science) over religion. Technology, a product of science and not superstition, is binding us closer together more so than religion ever could. 

    Of course at least until someone points out to me the blueprints hidden in the bible for building a computer.

  • Coyotenose

     That’s the technical definition. Culturally and philosophically, it implies more.

  • Jon

    There are multiple referents of “agnostic”. I suggest those who say it’s unknowable be called “strong agnostic” and those who say it’s just unknown be called plain “agnostic.”

    The former position is pretty unteneble. All it would take to convince me of the affirmative would be for jesus christ to come and perform some miracles in front of me and make some blood wine for his klingon/vampire s&m orgies.

  • Greisha

     So you can accept a good Hollywood visual effect specialist as Jesus.

  • Greisha

     I do not understand why everybody ganged up on Neil DeGrasse Tyson?

  • he doesn’t shy away from calling himself an atheist and that is all.
    if he wants to call himself an agnostic, Bright (ugh), non-believer, scientist, humanist, … too that is irrelevant

  • Sindigo

    The Atheist community at large needs to stop having this discussion and admit that most of us choose a label because it describes how we want people to think of us. There are *much* more important issues that need our attention.

  • dearestlouise

    He posted over at “Why Evolution is True” saying that it was their lighting and that his skin was not red.

  • LutherW

    I can’t believe all the web comments that they read, but do not give Dawkins an opportunity to respond to. Most are completely wrong but he is given to opportunity to respond to them.

  • IggysPal

    The atheists should be Up Front about their ATHEISM…and the fact that they think all believers are stupid, deludional, and immoral if not evil.

    That is what we have learned from the Midwest Skeptics in Kansas City.

    Have some guts, spill it!

  • IggysPal

    ‘Cause hes a BLACK MAN, moron.  Its obvious what is happening.

  • davidamusick

    Calling oneself an agnostic atheist is a lot more clear than simply calling oneself an atheist.  The most popular misconception about atheists is that they are asserting that there definitely are no gods.  I get that all the time if I say I am an atheist, and people always say things like “How can you prove that?” , “You are just having faith in that, like a religion”, etc…

    Honestly, I am an atheist because I don’t believe there are any gods, but that position is based on the fact that there is no good, persuasive evidence that there are any gods.  If there were, I am open to changing my mind, because that’s the kind of person I am – one who bases his views of the world on evidence.  So, that makes me an agnostic atheist.

    I don’t know with 100% certainty, but I still don’t believe because there isn’t enough good evidence to convince me.

  • There is no 50/50 when it comes to belief. Also, agnosticism has nothing at all to do with belief whatsoever.

    You either (a) believe in a god, or (b) you do not have such a belief. If you are an agnostic atheist or a gnostic atheist, you are still in the same category, which is (b). Even if you say you are not sure, you are still an atheist, as you don’t currently have a belief in a deity.

  • It doesn’t imply anything of the sort. There are atheists who aren’t sure if there’s a god or not. There are atheists who are absolutely sure there are none. There are atheists who leave open the possibility, but don’t currently believe in one. Some atheists are raging misogynists, while others are feminists. Some atheists don’t believe in marriage equality, but many others do. Some atheists believe that aliens are among us, that 9/11 was a conspiracy, that the moon landing was a hoax, that Bigfoot is real, etc. Others don’t.

    Atheism doesn’t imply anything more than not believing in any god or gods.

  • IggysPal’s idiotic, inane ramblings aside, the reason why people “gang us” on Tyson is because he is an atheist by definition, but refuses to use that label because of the negative connotations that society has put upon the label. Some feel it is a cowardly move; others feel slighted because Tyson refuses to admit to being an atheist.

  • Hibernia86

     No, you are making belief sound like it is like a light switch which is either on or off. That’s not how it works. There is a real difference between people who are completely unsure whether God exists and treat each possibility as equally likely (agnostic) and those who say that there is no evidence for God and therefore we should assume he does not exist until evidence is shown otherwise (atheist). And these people are very different from the Christians who occasionally doubt the existence of God but who believe in him most of the time. If we ignore those differences, we are just over inflating our numbers and giving a false picture of what the population truly believes.

  • I think you need to re-read what I wrote. Theism refers to belief, gnosticism refers to knowledge. You can be an agnostic atheist, a gnostic atheist, an agnostic theist, or a gnostic theist. If your answer to “Is there a god or gods?” is “yes”, then you are a theist. Anything else means you’re an atheist, whether it’s “I don’t know”, “Absolutely not,” or anything other than “yes”.

    Agnosticism isn’t some moderate position between theism and atheism. It describes something else entirely.

  • I thought that Hemant’s initial criticism of Neil is that Neil doesn’t just sidestep the word “atheist”, he also reinforces negative stereotypes of atheists and atheist organizations.

  • Hibernia86

     I’ve heard that distinction before, but that isn’t how the majority of people use the term “agnostic”. So if someone uses the term “agnostic atheist” that will make the general population think that that person holds a higher likelihood for the existence of God than they actually do.

    I think there needs to be a term for someone who is middle of the road when it comes to the probability of God’s existence. We can use whatever term we want for that, but we should make sure that we aren’t confusing the general population.

  • I really think the word “agnostic” needs to be reserved for people who are around 50/50 when it comes to God’s existence.

    Definitely not! That totally destroys the utility of the word. Agnosticism is not related to either theism or atheism, and certainly can’t be placed on some sort of scale between them. It represents a philosophical viewpoint on the knowability of some question (most often, the existence of a god). Basically, an agnostic takes the position that the question cannot be answered. That does not mean an agnostic does not have an opinion on the matter, objectively or subjectively derived. An agnostic may lie anywhere on the scale from highly theist to highly atheist.

  • Hibernia86

    For most people, the word agnostic means someone who A) does not believe the question of whether God exists can be answered OR B) is completely undecided on whether or not God exists.

    Besides, for A to mean anything at all, there would need to be substantial uncertainty which means that it would be pointless for that person to declare themselves theist or atheist since they admitted themselves that that question has a high level of uncertainty.

  • CultOfReason


  • Patterrssonn

    Bit of a lop sided comparison as the element of faith needed to deny the possibility of existence of a god, especially the Christian/Muslim one is a lot less than he faith needed to believe in the existence of that god.

  • Lee

    How is that Al-Jazeera can have a female commentator who appears on screen without a head covering?  WTF? 

  • The comment was seemingly deleted, but CultOfReason corrected me, and his correction stands: The question should read “Do you believe that a god or gods exist?” Thank you for the correction.

    Still, any answer other than “yes” means that you are an atheist, even if that answer is “I’m not sure, but it’s possible”. I personally am not sure, and leave open the possibility for the existence of a god or gods, and I am still an atheist, because I lack an active belief in one or more deities.

  • Scientists are agnostic on very few questions. An agnostic believes a question can’t be answered, not that there isn’t enough information to answer with 100% certainty. The distinction is subtle, but not insignificant. Scientists believe that most questions can be answered, that most things are knowable.

    Dawkins is an atheist- he says so himself, and any knowledgeable person would easily infer that from his books and speech. He is also rational, so he does not make the assertion that there are definitely no gods. His position is clear: as an atheist, he does not believe in any gods (which is just the definition of “atheist”); as a person who has studied the objective evidence, he believes it is highly probably that there are, in fact, no gods. Nothing in any of that tells us whether he’s agnostic or not.

  • Most people are happy to use words incorrectly, or at least ambiguously. A scholar like Dawkins should not be.

    That said, this was an extemporaneous comment during a live interview, so I’m willing to cut quite a bit of slack. The comment he made would be untenable in a book or other written form, because it’s wrong (or needs a good deal of further clarification). Fortunately, it was a minor point in an interview that clearly emphasized his atheism.

    The situation with Tyson was very different- his response demonstrated either intellectual dishonesty or ignorance, both quite unacceptable in that particular forum.

  • SwitchbladeK

    To the question ”
    Is Dawkins getting away with something we didn’t let Neil deGrasse Tyson get away with?” I have to say no and a resounding no.  NGT threw the entire atheist community under a bus and treated it like something vile.  I used to have a lot of respect for NGT but now I find I can’t stand to even look at him.

  •  I like to refer to my self as a “philosophical agnostic but practical atheist.”

  • GEE

    There’s a lot of definitions of Agnosticism. The original one is pretty much don’t pretend conclusions are certain when they are not demonstrated or demonstrable. The two common current ones are I believe the existence of gods to be unknowable and I believe the existence of gods to be unknown. Dawkins fits at least 2 out of 3.

  • CultOfReason

     Hermant: Why do my posts keep getting flagged for review then deleted?

  • Not sure… they shouldn’t be. I’ll see what I can do.

  • Could you please expound on this? I’ve been an atheist for many years now, and would like to know about this “culture” which I’ve apparently been missing.

  • N.


    Not every Arab satellite channel is run by conservative Muslims. Me thinks you’re confusing Al Jazeera with Al Manar TV.

  • N.

    I agree, but a minor nitpick- I’m neither a feminist nor a raging misogynist. I dislike both types with a passion.

  • That makes about as much sense as saying, “I dislike both gay activists and homophobes with a passion.”

  • AxeGrrl

    Perfect explanation 🙂

  • Jonathan Ray

    You mean a magician?  No not the kind of stuff that can be faked easily in person in real time.   I mean real miracles like healing an amputee and turning an arbitrary object of my choosing into solid gold with a snap of his fingers.

  • N.

    Only if feminists are actually working towards equality for all genders and don’t treat women like victims who need constant protection from teh evil menz.

    inb4 I get accused of being an MRA

  • Nice straw-man there, N. The definition of feminism is equality for both sexes, while recognizing the inherent patriarchy in our society that makes this difficult. There is no definition of feminism that includes special protections or allowances for women.

  • I agree with your comment Peterson but in this clip he does say quote: “strictly speaking I’m an agnostic” and that is what my comment was addressing.

  • Paul Little

     Not at all. It doesn’t matter how much “faith” you claim to have or not have. It doesn’t matter if you claim zero evidence, or don’t understand the meaning of the word. The fact is, any atheist who claims to KNOW, beyond doubt, that a god or gods do not exist is being intellectually dishonest with himself or herself. And yet, that in no way impedes that person from stating they don’t BELIEVE a god or gods exist.

  • Paul Little

     But that’s not what the word ‘agnostic’ actually means. Let’s be precise and accurate with our use of language. I think there is no evidence for God, and that he probably does not exist. In fact, I believe, very strongly, that he does not exist. And yet, I do not “KNOW” it, because that “knowledge” is impossible to attain. In fact, I am agnostic about all alleged “knowledge”. I believe that the word “knowledge” should always be written in scare quotes. And yet, that doesn’t change the fact of my strong atheism, nor should it.

  • Paul Little

     I disagree. The degree of uncertainty need not be high at all. I am as certain as it is possible to be that a god or gods do not exist. Yet I would never claim to “know” such a thing. I am very strongly atheistic, yet I am an avowed agnostic, on the question of god and all other questions that exist. Knowledge is an abstract concept suitable for discussion in University philosophy classrooms, but has no place in the contemplation of a reality based universe.

  • Paul Little

     Yes, but the majority of people regularly use the phrase, “for all intensive purposes,” too. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard.

  • Hibernia86

     I’m sure there there are a few atheists that are “raging misogynists” but it is a very small percentage, not the huge numbers that you often hear claimed by some commenters on the far left (and I say this as a moderate progressive)

    I consider myself a feminist in that I believe in gender equality, believe women have historically faced the most sexism, and believe it is important to reduce gender roles. Does that mean that I agree with every post on every feminist blog? No. You can find posts that are not supported by the facts and accuse others of discrimination without providing evidence to support their claims. Not only is this unfair to those being accused, it also drives away people like N above who probably would gladly support the feminists on the blogs if they made sure every claim was well documented (national groups such as NOW are generally better than what you find on the blogs because NOW knows that they are going to be fact checked.)

     I think it is important to combat sexism but we need to make sure that we are able to provide evidence to back up our accusations. I find that too commonly on Atheists blogs those on the far left often take any claim of discrimination against a minority group on faith without asking for proof. We need to learn that skepticism applies to all parts of life, not just religion.

  • Hibernia86

    I think they are saying “for all intents and purposes” NOT “intensive purposes”

  • Hibernia86

    We can use whatever word works best for people, but there NEEDS to be a word to separate those who are completely unsure one way or the other about whether God exists and are 50/50 on the matter  and those who don’t believe there is evidence for God and therefore assume he doesn’t exist until there is evidence otherwise. There is a large difference in thinking between those two mindsets. Gnostic Atheists are almost nonexistent so really the only people who are gnostic about God are the Fundamentalists meaning that the term agnostic, as you use it, isn’t of much use because it describes nearly everyone and doesn’t help us make distinctions.

  • Patterrssonn

    So what you’re saying is that there are no degrees of intellectual dishonesty. That all statements that require faith are equal even if one statement is 99% faith based and another 1% faith based and 99% evidence based.

  • emulen

     What about “agnostic atheism”, if you need to be spccific? No, I don’t think that we need to coin new terms for every possible meanings of a term.

    These to meanings of agnosticism are allready established, and known by a lot of people. If it ‘s important to point out that you are either theist or atheist (if you are either of those), just add it.

  • Morgan

    Reading tweets on the stream and slowly losing faith in humanity…

  • Hibernia86

     No, because “agnostic atheist” means someone who says that you can’t be sure whether there is a God or not, but since there isn’t evidence, you should assume that there isn’t until there is evidence, the same thing you would do for Bigfoot or the Lock Ness Monster. This definition fits almost all atheists. What it DOESN’T fit is the people who feel that there is no evidence for God, therefore we should treat the possibility of God’s existence or non-existence to be 50/50. That is a very different mindset and it describes a significant group of people in the world. The terms “agnostic theist” or ‘agnostic atheist” don’t fit these people and that is why I believe that the term “agnostic” should describe only them while the term “atheist” should describe the agnostic atheists.

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