Richard Dawkins On Terrorism And Religion

16 hours ago
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit


Richard Dawkins is on tour. The scientist, humanist and skeptic of religion is making a series of appearances to benefit the Center for Inquiry, including in Los Angeles, Boulder, Colo., Washington, D.C. and Miami. Of course, he's a pioneering biologist who's now an Emeritus fellow at New College in Oxford and is, of course, perhaps, the best known public atheist in the world. Dr. Richard Dawkins joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

RICHARD DAWKINS: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: I want to begin this way. Terrible crime this week - a suicide bomber in Manchester blew himself up during a concert, more than 20 people, many of them youngsters, were killed. The British government have identified the bomber. ISIS has claimed responsibility. There is, of course, an ongoing investigation. You've been outspoken and unbowed in your beliefs that religion plays a role in terrorism.

DAWKINS: Well, I think it obviously does. I mean, every time one of these things happened - and we know what the person says. It's usually, Allahu Akbar. This is in the name of religion. That - of course, it's very important to say this doesn't mean all Muslims agree with it. But nevertheless, it is true...

SIMON: Or for that matter, all terrorism is - has been inspired by religion.

DAWKINS: That's right. But a huge amount of it is. And religious faith really does motivate people to do terrible things. If you really, really believe that your god wants you to be a martyr and to blow people up, then you will do it. And you will think you're doing it for righteous reasons. You will think you are a good person.

SIMON: What about equally religious people who would say, well, that's - forgive me to use the current expression, but they're not balls. They are not genuinely religious...

DAWKINS: Of course, they are.

SIMON: ...They're people who twist religion.

DAWKINS: And the vast majority of religious people wouldn't dream of doing such a thing. Nevertheless, religious faith is a motivating factor. It's one of the few things that's really strong enough to motivate people to do these terrible things.

SIMON: I want to - look, I respect atheists and atheism. But I want to pick up a nice argument we used to have every couple of years with Christopher Hitchens, your friend. And that's - you can respect atheism. I've covered a lot of wars, famines and tragedies. And it seems to me, truly, every theater of suffering I've ever been to, there is a dauntless nun, priest, clergy or religious person who was working very selflessly and bravely there for the good of human beings. And I don't run into organized groups of atheists who do this.

DAWKINS: Well, there aren't enough of them perhaps. I mean, of course, I don't deny that there are a lot of religious people who do good things, including in the ashes of war. There are a lot of good people in the world. Some of them are religious. Some of them are not.

The Center for Inquiry, which I'm now associated with - my foundation is now associated with, does an enormous amount where it can. For example, we have a program called Secular Rescue, where we go in there and, literally, rescue people in danger of their lives because they are threatened because they're apostates or blasphemous and are threatened.

You know, there are many countries in the world where apostasy and blasphemy are punishable by death. I think it would be very unfair to suggest that there's any imbalance between the number - the amount of good that's done by religious people and the amount of good that is done by non-religious people.

SIMON: I wouldn't want to suggest that. But I do wonder, am I just not seeing the world correctly to see large numbers of well-motivated atheist lending their lives to trying to better the world? Or they're - if I might put it this way, are they more concerned about just being right intellectually?

DAWKINS: Oh, I don't think so at all. Now, I think maybe, if I may say so, you haven't looked hard enough.

SIMON: Yeah. It's just - as I say, I'm struck by how many religious people I've seen around the world who are trying to do something to relieve suffering.

DAWKINS: Religious organizations, religious churches have a large infrastructure. They have enormous amounts of money. They have the power and the resources to send people out to the - to these places. That's one of the things we need. And the CFI and the Richard Dawkins Foundation are trying to raise money in order to have the resources to do that kind of thing.

SIMON: Do you find more sympathy for what you represent in the world today than you did 10 or 20 years ago?

DAWKINS: It's hard for me to judge that. I think that, certainly, we're moving in the right direction in terms of numbers of people who are secular - numbers of people who are non-religious. I mean, the Pew and other polls are showing that, certainly, in Western Europe and also in America, we're moving in the right direction.

The number of nonbelievers in America now is more than 20 percent. The number of people who don't subscribe to any religion is more than 20 percent now, which is as large as any particular religious group. So things are moving in the right direction. That's the statistical answer.

SIMON: Dr. Richard Dawkins, he appears this weekend Saturday night at the Olympia Theater in Miami. Dr. Dawkins, thanks so much for being with us.

DAWKINS: Thank you very much indeed. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.