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Richard Dawkins Renounces Darwinism As Religion

Richard Dawkins Renounces Darwinism As Religion And Embraces Form

By Suzan Mazur

Atheist evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins spoke to a packed auditorium at Manhattan's Ethical Culture Society Saturday night about his best-selling book, The God Delusion , admitting in a Q&A that followed being "guilty" of viewing Darwinism as a kind of religion and vowing to "reform" (no one was allowed to tape Dawkins' confession, however, with organizers of the event threatening to march offenders around the corner to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). I met up with Richard Dawkins the night before at Barnes & Noble in Tribeca where he told me in front of an audience of roughly 200 people (tape recorders were allowed) of the importance of the role of form in making a proper theory of evolution. Dawkins has long been associated with the gene-centered theory of natural selection and is author of the book The Selfish Gene. Our Q&A follows:

Suzan Mazur: Richard
recently picked up my story about a meeting at Altenberg in July called "Toward an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis" Altenberg! The Woodstock of Evolution?, which is believed will move us a bit away from the gene-centered view. Natural selection is under attack and the feeling is that the really interesting evo stuff has to do with form, which we currently have no theory for. I wondered whether you were asked to participate in the Altenberg symposium and what your thoughts are about a remix of the Synthesis?

Richard Dawkins: The question is about a recent symposium at Altenberg in Austria.

Suzan Mazur: No. It's coming up in July. I was wondering if you were invited?

Richard Dawkins: Sorry, it hasn't happened yet are you telling me?

Suzan Mazur: No, it's coming up in July, to remix the theory of evolution essentially.

Richard Dawkins: About development was it as well?

Suzan Mazur: It seems a move away a bit from the gene-centered view.

Richard Dawkins: You've been taken in by the rhetoric.

Suzan Mazur: You posted it on your web site -- my story.

Richard Dawkins: You asked the question: Have I been invited?
I'm sorry to say I get invited to lots of things and I literally can't remember whether I was invited to this particular one or not. [some laughter]

Suzan Mazur: But it's being viewed as a major event.

Richard Dawkins: By whom I wonder. [some laughter]

Suzan Mazur: You might have a look at the story I put up.

Richard Dawkins: No. I'm sorry I've got to answer the question now.

I gather that it's an attack on the gene-centered view of evolution and a substitution of the theory of form.

The theory of form I presume dates back to D'Arcy Thompson , who was a distinguished Scottish zoologist who wrote a book called On Growth and Form and who purported to be anti-Darwinian. In fact, he never really talked about the real problems that Darwinism solves, which is the problem of adaptation.

Now D'Arcy Thompson and other people who stress the word form emphasize the laws of physics. Physical principles alone as on their own adequate to explain the form of organisms. So for example, D'Arcy Thompson would look at the way a rubber tube would get reshaped when crushed and he would find analogies to that in living organisms.

I see a lot of value in that kind of approach. It is something we can't as biologists afford to neglect. However, it absolutely neglects the question where does the illusion of design come from? Where do animals and plants get this powerful impression that they have been brilliantly designed for a purpose? Where does that come from?

That does not come from the laws of physics on their own. That cannot come from anything that has so far been suggested by anybody other than natural selection. So I don't see any conflict at all between the theory of natural selection -- the gene-centered theory of natural selection, I should say -- and the theory of form. We need both. We need both. And it is disingenuous to present the one as antagonistic to the other.


Suzan Mazur says her interest in evolution began with a Cessna single engine flight into Olduvai Gorge, across a closed Kenyan-Tanzanian border, to interview the late paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey. Their meeting followed discovery of the 3.5 million year old hominid footprints by Leakey and her team at Laetoli. Mazur says Leakey was the only reason the Tanzanian authorities agreed to give landing clearance. Her reports have since appeared in the Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Archaeology, Connoisseur, Omni and others, as well as on PBS, CBC and MBC. She has been a guest on McLaughlin, Charlie Rose and various Fox Television News programs. Email:

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