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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index D > Richard Dawkins Quotes

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Richard Dawkins
(26 Mar 1941 - )

English evolutionary biologist and science writer known for his outspoken opinions as an atheist on creationism. He wrote the best-selling The Selfish Gene, his reformulation of the theory of natural selection.


Science Quotes by Richard Dawkins (28 quotes)

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins (source)
'[R]eductionism' is one of those things, like sin, that is only mentioned by people who are against it. To call oneself a reductionist will sound, in some circles, a bit like admitting to eating babies. But, just as nobody actually eats babies, so nobody is really a reductionist in any sense worth being against.
— Richard Dawkins
The Blind Watchmaker (1996), 13.
Science quotes on:  |  Reductionism (2)

All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind's eye. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind's eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.
— Richard Dawkins
The Blind Watchmaker (1986), 5.
Science quotes on:  |  Charles Darwin (211)  |  Evolution (332)  |  Natural Selection (55)  |  Purpose (62)

But, however many ways there may be of being alive, it is certain that there are vastly more ways of being dead, or rather not alive.
— Richard Dawkins
The Blind Watchmaker (1996), 9.
Science quotes on:  |  Death (175)  |  Life (439)

DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.
— Richard Dawkins
River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life(1995), 133.
Science quotes on:  |  DNA (48)

Evolution has no long-term goal. There is no long-distance target, no final perfection to serve as a criterion for selection, although human vanity cherishes the absurd notion that our species is the final goal of evolution.
— Richard Dawkins
The Blind Watchmaker (1996), 50.
Science quotes on:  |  Evolution (332)  |  Human (155)

Five per cent vision is better than no vision at all. Five per cent hearing is better than no hearing at all. Five per cent flight efficiency is better than no flight at all. It is thoroughly believable that every organ or apparatus that we actually see is the product of a smooth trajectory through animal space, a trajectory in which every intermediate stage assisted survival and reproduction.
[Rebutting the Creationist assertion that fully developed organs could not have arisen 'by chance.']
— Richard Dawkins
The Blind Watchmaker (1986, 1996) 90-91.
Science quotes on:  |  Creationist (10)  |  Evolution (332)  |  Flight (28)  |  Hearing (18)  |  Organ (39)  |  Reproduction (33)  |  Survival (30)  |  Vision (20)

If you don't know anything about computers, just remember that they are machines that do exactly what you tell them but often surprise you in the result.
— Richard Dawkins
The Blind Watchmaker (1996), 51.
Science quotes on:  |  Computer (51)

In true natural selection, if a body has what it takes to survive, its genes automatically survive because they are inside it. So the genes that survive tend to be, automatically, those genes that confer on bodies the qualities that assist them to survive.
— Richard Dawkins
The Blind Watchmaker (1996), 57
Science quotes on:  |  Gene (48)  |  Natural Selection (55)  |  Survival Of The Fittest (29)

Intelligent life on a planet comes of age when it first works out the reason its own existence.
— Richard Dawkins
The Selfish Gene (1976), 1.
Science quotes on:  |  Life (439)

It is grindingly, creakingly, crashingly obvious that, if Darwinism were really a theory of chance, it couldn't work. You don't need to be a mathematician or physicist to calculate that an eye or a haemoglobin molecule would take from here to infinity to self-assemble by sheer higgledy-piggledy luck. Far from being a difficulty peculiar to Darwinism, the astronomic improbability of eyes and knees, enzymes and elbow joints and all the other living wonders is precisely the problem that any theory of life must solve, and that Darwinism uniquely does solve. It solves it by breaking the improbability up into small, manageable parts, smearing out the luck needed, going round the back of Mount Improbable and crawling up the gentle slopes, inch by million-year inch. Only God would essay the mad task of leaping up the precipice in a single bound.
— Richard Dawkins
Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), 67-8.
Science quotes on:  |  Evolution (332)

It is raining DNA outside. On the bank of the Oxford canal at the bottom of my garden is a large willow tree, and it is pumping downy seeds into the air. ... [spreading] DNA whose coded characters spell out specific instructions for building willow trees that will shed a new generation of downy seeds. … It is raining instructions out there; it's raining programs; it's raining tree-growing, fluff-spreading, algorithms. That is not a metaphor, it is the plain truth. It couldn't be any plainer if it were raining floppy discs.
— Richard Dawkins
The Blind Watchmaker (1986), 111.
Science quotes on:  |  DNA (48)  |  Reproduction (33)

Mutation is random; natural selection is the very opposite of random
— Richard Dawkins
The Blind Watchmaker (1996), 41
Science quotes on:  |  Mutation (12)  |  Natural Selection (55)  |  Random (11)

Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous—indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.
— Richard Dawkins
River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995), 112.
Science quotes on:  |  Nature (524)  |  Survival Of The Fittest (29)

Reductionism is a dirty word, and a kind of 'holistier than thou' self-righteousness has become fashionable.
— Richard Dawkins
The Extended Phenotype: The Gene as the Selection (1982), 113.
Science quotes on:  |  Reductionism (2)

Religion shows a pattern of heredity which I think is similar to genetic heredity. ... There are hundreds of different religious sects, and every religious person is loyal to just one of these. ... The overwhelming majority just happen to choose the one their parents belonged to. Not the sect that has the best evidence in its favour, the best miracles, the best moral code, the best cathedral, the best stained-glass, the best music when it comes to choosing from the smorgasbord of available religions, their potential virtues seem to count for nothing compared to the matter of heredity.
— Richard Dawkins
From edited version of a speech, at the Edinburgh International Science Festival (15 Apr 1992), as reprinted from the Independent newspaper in Alec Fisher, The Logic of Real Arguments (2004), 82-83.
Science quotes on:  |  Best (40)  |  Cathedral (8)  |  Choose (6)  |  Code (8)  |  Evidence (80)  |  Favour (6)  |  Heredity (44)  |  Loyal (2)  |  Majority (15)  |  Miracle (24)  |  Moral (38)  |  Music (25)  |  Overwhelming (9)  |  Parent (23)  |  Person (32)  |  Potential (13)  |  Religion (116)  |  Similar (4)  |  Virtue (27)

The essence of life is statistical improbability on a colossal scale.
— Richard Dawkins
In The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design (1986), 317.
Science quotes on:  |  Colossal (6)  |  Essence (18)  |  Improbability (6)  |  Life (439)  |  Scale (20)  |  Statistics (74)

The messages that DNA molecules contain are all but eternal when seen against the time scale of individual lifetimes. The lifetimes of DNA messages (give or take a few mutations) are measured in units ranging from millions of years to hundreds of millions of years; or, in other words, ranging from 10,000 individual lifetimes to a trillion individual lifetimes. Each individual organism should be seen as a temporary vehicle, in which DNA messages spend a tiny fraction of their geological lifetimes.
— Richard Dawkins
The Blind Watchmaker (1996), 126.
Science quotes on:  |  DNA (48)

The more you understand the significance of evolution, the more you are pushed away from the agnostic position and towards atheism. Complex, statistically improbable things are by their nature more difficult to explain than simple, statistically probable things.
— Richard Dawkins
From edited version of a speech, at the Edinburgh International Science Festival (15 Apr 1992), as reprinted from the Independent newspaper in Alec Fisher, The Logic of Real Arguments (2004), 84.
Science quotes on:  |  Agnostic (3)  |  Atheism (5)  |  Complex (20)  |  Difficult (9)  |  Evolution (332)  |  Explain (10)  |  Improbable (3)  |  Probable (6)  |  Science And Religion (153)  |  Significance (30)  |  Simple (24)  |  Understand (11)

The physicist's problem is the problem of ultimate origins and ultimate natural laws. The biologist's problem is the problem of complexity.
— Richard Dawkins
The Blind Watchmaker (1996), 15.
Science quotes on:  |  Biologist (15)  |  Physicist (70)

There is a popular clichι ... which says that you cannot get out of computers any more than you have put in..., that computers can only do exactly what you tell them to, and that therefore computers are never creative. This clichι is true only in a crashingly trivial sense, the same sense in which Shakespeare never wrote anything except what his first schoolteacher taught him to write—words.
— Richard Dawkins
In The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design (1966, 1986), 64. Excerpted in Richard Dawkins, ‘Creation and Natural Selection’. New Scientist (25 Sep 1986), 111, 38.
Science quotes on:  |  Cliche (3)  |  Computer (51)  |  Creativity (43)  |  Do (19)  |  Exactly (3)  |  Exception (16)  |  First (39)  |  Never (19)  |  Output (5)  |  Popular (10)  |  Sense (100)  |  William Shakespeare (62)  |  Teacher (52)  |  Trivial (13)  |  Truth (440)  |  Word (96)  |  Writing (45)

We animals are the most complicated things in the known universe.
— Richard Dawkins
The Blind Watchmaker (1986), 1.
Science quotes on:  |  Animal (138)

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
— Richard Dawkins
Unweaving the Rainbow (1998), 1.
Science quotes on:  |  DNA (48)  |  Human (155)

We are machines built by DNA whose purpose is to make more copies of the same DNA. ... This is exactly what we are for. We are machines for propagating DNA, and the propagation of DNA is a self-sustaining process. It is every living object's sole reason for living.
— Richard Dawkins
Royal Institution Christmas Lecture, 'The Ultraviolet Garden', (No. 4, 1991). Quoted in Vinoth Ramachandra, Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping our World (2008), 187.
Science quotes on:  |  Copy (6)  |  DNA (48)  |  Life (439)  |  Machine (55)  |  Process (97)  |  Propagation (7)  |  Purpose (62)  |  Reason (172)  |  Reproduction (33)  |  Self-Sustaining (2)

We are survival machines, robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still with astonishment.
— Richard Dawkins
The Selfish Gene (1976), Preface.
Science quotes on:  |  Gene (48)  |  Survival (30)

We are survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment.
— Richard Dawkins
The Selfish Gene (1976, 2006), xxi.
Science quotes on:  |  Astonishment (14)  |  Gene (48)  |  Genetics (78)  |  Molecule (80)  |  Robot (4)  |  Survival (30)  |  Truth (440)

We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. 'Mimeme' comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like 'gene'. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to 'memory', or to the French word mκme. It should be pronounced to rhyme with 'cream'.
— Richard Dawkins
In The Selfish Gene (1976).
Science quotes on:  |  Classicist (2)  |  Consolation (3)  |  Convey (2)  |  Cultural (5)  |  Forgive (4)  |  Gene (48)  |  Hope (50)  |  Idea (220)  |  Imitation (7)  |  Memory (41)  |  Name (58)  |  New (99)  |  Nomenclature (99)  |  Sound (20)  |  Transmission (16)  |  Unit (15)

[O]ur own existence once presented the greatest of all mysteries, but … it is a mystery no longer because it is solved. Darwin and Wallace solved it … I was surprised that so many people seemed not only unaware of the elegant and beautiful solution to this deepest of problems but, incredibly, in many cases actually unaware that there was a problem in the first place!
— Richard Dawkins
The Blind Watchmaker (1996), front matter.
Science quotes on:  |  Charles Darwin (211)  |  Evolution (332)  |  Alfred Russel Wallace (11)

[Richard Leakey is] a robust hero of a man, who actually lives up to the clichι, “a big man in every sense of the word.” Like other big men he is loved by many, feared by some, and not over-preoccupied with the judgments of any.
— Richard Dawkins
The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing (2008), 190.
Science quotes on:  |  Richard E. Leakey (5)


See also:
  • todayinsci icon 26 Mar - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Dawkins's birth.
  • book icon The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition, by Richard Dawkins. - book suggestion.
  • booklist icon Booklist for Richard Dawkins.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 70 -
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