You could call him lots of things - an evolutionary biologist, the world's most militant atheist, a pot-stirring, ignorant bigot, or favourite, "Darwin's Rottweiler". Professor Richard Dawkins has written any number of books fanning heated debate between believers of any faith and non-believers like himself. His best-seller 'The God Delusion' caused a real stir and he's at again in his latest effort, 'The Greatest Show on Earth', his boots-and-all scientific argument for evolution and against creationism. In Australia for an atheist conference, George Negus caught up with Richard Dawkins in, of all places, hisquite God-fearing home town of Brisbane.
GEORGE NEGUS: One of the most interesting descriptions I've heard of you, from an Australian actually, that might even bring a smile to the faces of your critics - of which there are only several million I suspect, right - this guy said that, "Richard Dawkins is the most popular God-basher since they stopped feeding Christians to the lions." It got a smirk from me, but is that true? I mean, is that what you're doing? Is it God-bashing?
RICHARD DAWKINS, EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST: I have nothing to do with lions. I am gentle and
GEORGE NEGUS: But God you give a few swipes to.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Well, verbal swipes. I mean, when you when you think about what the other side does, um, you know, nobody like me ever goes around flying planes into buildings or making suicide bombs or something.
GEORGE NEGUS: In the name of God.
RICHARD DAWKINS: In the name of God. We just use our language, use our voices, use our pens.
GEORGE NEGUS: Is there a danger that you could become an extremist yourself?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Do I sound extreme?
GEORGE NEGUS: Not on the face of it, but you are questioning, in the case of many Christians, many Jews, many Muslims, many Hindus, members of the Brotherhood of Left-Handed Electricians - whatever faith it is - you're questioning the very basis of their existence by questioning the existence of God as their creator.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Well, then, that may be, but to use a current phrase, they should get a life. I mean, we have this one life, let's enjoy it, let's live it to the full and don't get so worked up about don't identify yourself so passionately with this business called religion.
GEORGE NEGUS: Have you ever, ever had any doubts that your position, as an evolutionary biologist, or whatever way we decide to describe you, or a God-basher, have you ever had any doubt that they might be right and you might be wrong?
RICHARD DAWKINS: I have no doubt at all that I will be proved wrong in certain respects, and the scientific world view that I hold will be enhanced and embellished and elaborated in all sorts of very exciting ways in the next few hundred years. So, I'm going to be wrong about that, certainly in detail. As for being wrong about some particular religion, like Christianity or Islam, no, I have no doubts about that at all. There may be something, and I think there will be something, much grander than anybody's existing world view, but I'm damn sure it's not going to be Christianity or Judaism or Islam or anything else that has its roots in
GEORGE NEGUS: They won't be pleased to hear that. Very interested to hear what you think - and I know you touch on it publicly - in the fact that, over last few years, when there has been a natural disaster or a geological disaster or a human disaster, there are certain types of believers, faith believers, particularly Christians, who will immediately suggest that these disasters are God's way of punishing people for various sins. If we can take the latest couple of disasters, for instance, Haiti and Chile, your friend Pat Robertson, the American evangelist, straight away said that the Haitians almost deserved that earthquake because they were devil-worshippers some centuries ago.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Well, I mean, I think it's a disgusting thing to say and I think most decent Christians would agree with me about that. It is true that Christianity is obsessed with sin and is obsessed with reparation for sin. Jesus himself was supposed to have come to Earth in order to atone for people's sins, so there is an unhealthy preoccupation with sin in Christianity, and you could say that Pat Robertson has just taken it to an extreme.
GEORGE NEGUS: What might he come up with where Chile is concerned? They have not been good enough Catholics or...?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Well, somebody of Pat Robertson's type wouldn't like Catholics anyway, so, maybe
GEORGE NEGUS: True. The latest thing I thought I would throw at you, because we are a program that deals with contemporary issues, is this whole Mossad situation where you have, people who are, I imagine, of the Jewish religious faith, who are secretly killing people in the name of God.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Why would you think I would think I mean, you should be asking a religious person whether they find that strange. I find it not at all strange because I find that religion really does motivate people to do horrible things because they have this passionate faith in whatever their religion happens to be, and it teaches them that the other religion is the wrong one.
GEORGE NEGUS: You have your own secular humanitarian foundation, right? Non-believers giving aid.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Well, that's a small enterprise that we set up in the wake of the Haiti disaster in order to try and raise money. We actually raised $500,000 for
GEORGE NEGUS: So, atheists can do good work?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Well, yes. That shouldn't surprise anybody.
GEORGE NEGUS: But it does. I mean, an atheist NGO is what we're talking about, isn't it?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes, and, once again, people who are surprised by that have believed their own propaganda.
GEORGE NEGUS: We've always said that politics and religion shouldn't mix. At the moment, if you ask me, as a political journalist, throughout the Western world at least, they are inseparable. I mean, politicians run around wearing their religion on their sleeve.
RICHARD DAWKINS: They do in America. Do they really in Australia as well?
GEORGE NEGUS: Interestingly enough, we have a practising Protestant Prime Minister. We have a practising Catholic Leader of the Opposition. I sometimes wonder when they both sit down to pray to God for election victory, where does that leave God?
RICHARD DAWKINS: They may be religious, but that doesn't mean they wear it on their sleeve. I mean, Tony Blair is religious, but he didn't wear it on his sleeve while he was Prime Minister. He does now.
GEORGE NEGUS: What do you think would happen, though, if a candidate in the next upcoming British election, or in America, was to say, "I'm an atheist and I am running for prime minister or president." What do you think the reaction would be?
RICHARD DAWKINS: In America, he wouldn't get elected. In Britain, I don't think it would make that much difference, one way or the other.
GEORGE NEGUS: Did you get any hope, as an atheist, or as a non-believer, by what Barack Obama said, when he said that country was a mix of people, of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and non-believers.
RICHARD DAWKINS: And non-believers. That was a very, very satisfying moment. It was a big moment in the history of modern American politics.
GEORGE NEGUS: Going back to something I said earlier - it wasn't meant to be a totally facetious question - I wonder whether religious politicians ask themselves whose side God is on. After September 11, when George Bush gave the State of the Union address, at the end of that he concluded it, like all American presidents do, with the words "May God continue to protect America". At the same time he was doing that, there were millions of Muslims all over the world asking God to protect them from him.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes. Horrible. I mean, you know, you keep putting to me things that are playing into my hands that I don't need to say anything because these are all points you should be putting to religious people, and they should hang their heads in shame.
GEORGE NEGUS: Do you feel outnumbered though? Do you think that you're a voice in the wilderness still, or are people saying, "This guy is onto something?"
RICHARD DAWKINS: If you take Even in the United States, which is the most religious country in the Western world, if you list the various religious denominations - if you take Christians altogether then, of course, they outnumber everybody else, but if you take them separately - Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, and so on, then secular, non-religious people I think come second in that list. They are not a insignificant minority.
GEORGE NEGUS: There a couple of quotes I found about you I'd like to get your reaction to. "He's giving atheists a bad name. Atheists are becoming as annoying as the believers used to be." Does that mean they you are actually creating your own demon here?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Well, no, that's a very common thing that's said by atheists who think that we should shut up, that we should be quiet. It often goes with the statement that people like me ought to have a degree in theology before being allowed to criticise religion, that kind of thing, which, of course
GEORGE NEGUS: You have studied the faiths that you criticise.
RICHARD DAWKINS: I have not studied theology in great detail, nor should I, because the premise of theology is that there is a God who exists, and if I am rejecting that for very good reasons then there is no point in becoming learned in theology. You might as well say you have got to be learned in 'leprechaun-ology' before you dismiss leprechauns!
GEORGE NEGUS: Can you go on doing this? You have such a strong antagonism towards other people who have faith and religion, that you're going to keep battering away until your head gets sore.
RICHARD DAWKINS: I am passionate about truth and passionate about clarity, and I don't regard myself as particularly militant or aggressive. I simply wish to discuss what is true and to listen to evidence and put evidence forward to other people and have a sensible, sane, moderated argument.
GEORGE NEGUS: Good talking to you. We could go on for a long time.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Thank you very much.
GEORGE NEGUS: Richard Dawkins. And if that doesn't spark some pretty fiery dinner party carry-on, I don't know what will!