Transcript of Richard Dawkins’ speech from Reason Rally 2012


(I loved this speech!)

The following is the text of Richard Dawkins’ speech at the Reason Rally, held Saturday, March 24, 2012 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The full video of the speech can be found here.

What a magnificent, inspiring sight! I was expecting great things even in fine weather. In the rain — look at this: This is the most incredible sight I can remember ever seeing.

The sharper, critical thinkers among you may have discerned that I don’t come from these parts. I see myself as an emissary from a benighted country that does not have a constitutional separation between church and state. Indeed it doesn’t have a written constitution at all. We have a head of state who’s also the head of the Church of England. The church is deeply entwined in British public life. The American Constitution is a precious treasure, the envy of the world. The First Amendment of the Constitution, which enshrines the separation between church and state, is the model for secular constitutions the world over and deserves to be imitated the world over.

How sad it would be if in the birthplace of secular constitutions the very principle of secular constitutions were to be betrayed in a theocracy. But it’s come close to that.

How could anyone rally against reason? How is it necessary to have a rally for reason?

Reason means basing your life on evidence and on logic, which is how you deduce the consequences of evidence. In a hundred years’ time, it seems to me inconceivable that anybody could want to have a rally for reason. By that time, we will either have blown ourselves up or we’ll have become so civilized that we no longer need it.

When I was in school, we used to sing a hymn. It went, “It is a thing most wonderful, almost too wonderful to be.” After that the hymn rather went off the rails, but those first two lines have inspired me. It is a thing most wonderful that on this once barren rock orbiting a rather mediocre star on the edge of a rather ordinary galaxy, on this rock a remarkable process called evolution by natural selection has given rise to the magnificent diversity of complexity of life. The elegance, the beauty and the illusion of design which we see all around us has given rise in the last million years or so to a species — our species — with a brain big enough to comprehend that process, to comprehend how we came to be here, how we came to be here from extremely simple beginnings where the laws of physics are played out in very simple ways — The laws of physics have never been violated, but the laws of physics are filtered through this incredible process called evolution by natural selection — to give rise to a brain that is capable of understanding the process, a brain which is capable of measuring the age of the universe between 13 and 14 billion years, of measuring the age of the Earth between 4 and 5 billion years, of knowing what matter is made of, knowing what we are made of, made of atoms brought together by this mechanical, automatic, unplanned, unconscious process: evolution by natural selection.

That’s not just true; it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful because it’s true. And it’s almost too good to be true. How is it conceivable that the laws of physics should conspire together without guidance, without direction, without any intelligence to bring us into the world? Now we do have intelligence. Intelligence comes into the world, comes into the universe late. It’s come into the world through our brains and maybe other brains in the universe. Now at last — finally — after 4 billion years of evolution we have the opportunity to bring some intelligent design into the world.

We need intelligent design. We need to intelligently design our morals, our ethics, our politics, our society. We need to intelligently design the way we run our lives, not look back to scrolls — I was going to say ancient scrolls, they’re not even very ancient, about 800 BC the book of Genesis was written. I am often accused of expressing contempt and despising religious people. I don’t despise religious people; I despise what they stand for. I like to quote the British journalist Johann Hari who said, “I have so much respect for you that I cannot respect your ridiculous ideas.”

Electromagnetic spectrum runs all the way from extremely long wave, radio-wave end of the spectrum to gamma waves on the very short-wave end of the spectrum. And visible light, that which we can see, is a tiny little sliver in the middle of that electromagnetic spectrum. Science has broadened out our perspective of that section to long-wave radio waves on the one hand and gamma rays on the other. I take that as being symbolic of what science does generally. It takes our little vision — our little, parochial, small vision — and broadens it out. And that is a magnificent vision for what science can do. Science makes us see what we couldn’t see before. Religion does its best to snuff out even that light which we can see.
We’re here to stand up for reason, to stand up for science, to stand up for logic, to stand up for the beauty of reality and the beauty of the fact that we can understand reality.

I hope that this meeting will be a turning point. I’m sure many people have said that already. I like to think of a physical analogy of a critical mass. There are too many people in this country who have been cowed into fear of coming out as atheists or secularists or agnostics. We are far more numerous than anybody realizes. We are approaching a tipping point, we’re approaching that critical mass, where the number of people who have come out becomes so great that suddenly everybody will realize, “I can come out, too.” That moment is not far away now. And I think that with hindsight this rally in Washington will be seen as a very significant tipping point on the road.

And I will particularly appeal to my scientific colleagues most of whom are atheists if you look at the members of the National Academy of Sciences about 90 percent of them are non-believers an exact mirror image of the official figures of the country at large. If you look at the Royal Society of London, the equivalent for the British Commonwealth, again about 90 percent are atheists. But they mostly keep quiet about it. They’re not ashamed of it. They can’t be bothered to come out and express what they feel. They think religion is just simply boring. They’re not going to bother to even stand up and oppose it. They need to come out.

Religion is an important phenomenon. Forty percent of the American population, according to opinion polls, think the world — the universe, indeed — is less than 10,000 years old. That’s not just an error, that’s a preposterous error. I’ve done the calculation before and it’s the equivalent of believing that the width of North America from Washington to San Francisco is equal to about eight yards. I don’t know if I believe that 40 percent figure. It stands up as being apparently so from about the 1980s. But what I want to suggest you do when you meet somebody who claims to be religious ask them what they really believe. If you meet somebody who says he’s Catholic, for example, say “What do you mean? Do you mean you just want that tie as Catholic? Because I’m not impressed by that.”

We just ran a poll by a foundation in Britain in which we took those people who ticked a Christian box in the census — and by the way, that figure has come down dramatically. we just took the people who ticked the Christian box and we asked them “Why did you tick the Christian box?” And the most popular answer to that question was “Oh, well, I like to think of myself as a good person.” But we all like to think of ourselves as good people. Atheists do, Jews do, Muslims do. So when you meet somebody who claims to be Christian, ask her, ask him “What do you *really* believe?” And I’ll think you’ll find that in many cases, they give you an answer which is no more convincing than that “I like to be a good person.”

By the way, when we went on to ask a specific question of these only 54 percent: “What do you do when you’re faced with a moral dilemma? Where do you turn?” Only 10 percent turned to their religion when trying to solve their moral question. Only 10 percent. The majority of them said, “I turn to my innate sense of goodness” and the next most popular answer was “I turn to advice from relatives and friends”.

So when I meet somebody who claims to be religious, my first impulse is: “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you until you tell me do you really believe — for example, if they say they are Catholic — do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?” Mock them! Ridicule them! In public!
Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits.

Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.

I want to end now on what my colleagues from the Richard Dawkins Foundation said. I am an outsider but we have been well-staffed in America and we’re going to spread the word along with our colleagues in other organizations throughout the length and breadth of this land. This land which is the fountainhead, the birthplace of secularism in the world, as I said before. Don’t let that tradition down. Thank you very much

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15 comments on “Transcript of Richard Dawkins’ speech from Reason Rally 2012

    • Me too. I haven’t heard of him but now that you point him out I’ll have to research about him!

      Just edited my post on Dawkins speech and took out the lines that were repeated by mistake. Not sure how that happened! :(

    • Yes. I’m sure that’s why some call Dawkins militant. But I kinda feel the same way. If you know something is a lie and you see how it damages society and the world and women’s equality and gay’s equalty…not to mention wasting people’s time and the one life they get with false hopes…I too, want to SAY something. I wish my atheist friends had said things more strongly to me. Maybe I would have freed myself of the brainwashing a little sooner!

  1. Darn right it rubs us “religious nuts” the wrong way.

    Look. I am a Christian. I have nothing against gay people. I have nothing against athiests. I may just debate about viewpoints with them, but I won’t ridicule what they believe. And about that gender equality thing; I am a free woman, able to make my own choices and pursue a fulfilling life. I’m not walking around in a burkha or a head covering (does that sound like gender suppression to you?).
    For a man of Dawkin’s position to openly encourage people to ridicule and mock the viewpoints of other people strikes me as very unprofessional and unscientific.

    What you stand for is your choice. Everyone has a banner to rally under. Creationism has been backed by scientific reason, and makes a ton more sense than evolution, no matter what scientists say. If Dawkins wants to shatter religion, he’d better find something better than what he’s come up with.

    So, I’m sorry to have to leave such a radical religion-based untolerant comment (I know how you think) on here. Thank you for posting the transcript of the speech, I appreciate your efforts in finding and posting it. I have no intention of replying to any angry outbursts or returning to this blog any time soon. ;)

    Happy Easter

    • You know how i think? Interesting.

      Actually there is not one iota of scientific backing for the “theory” (sorry, it hasn’t really earned that word), “Creationism.” You want to come here and make this claim, I suggest you now produce the source of this information. Scientific backing? Proof of Creationism? Oh really? Do tell.

      As for evolution, it is now more or less accepted as fact, not a theory, though even as an accepted theory it had to go through an extremely difficult progression of evidences and proofs. I can say I have a theory the sky is actually water–that doesn’t make it a theory. I would have to provide scientific proofs and evidences or results before it would even be accepted as a theory. Creationism cannot even do this. Evolution has. There are mountains upon mountains of evidences and proofs and results for evolution

      It doesn’t make sense? Oh really? Let’s look at Evolution in action, shall we? Let’s look around us at the world today. Species are becoming extinct because they can’t survive the extreme climate changes. Natural selection. Survival of the fittest. Evolution. In my life time I have seen record players come and (pretty much) go, 8 Track Tape players come and go, cassette players come and go, CDs, DVDS, digital… What was once state of the art five years ago is quickly replaced with something leaner, meaner, more efficient, more capable, smarter. This is evolution. We artifically create evolution of technology, with the weaker less capable technology being thrown into land-fills.

      Another modern day example of natural selection causing radical change–look at wolves and how in modern times we have taken that animal and selectively bred it and produced various dog breeds that are radically different from each other. Great Danes. Pomeranians. Both created by the recreated human designed process of natural selection. A process that normally in the wild world, takes place after millions of years, we humans can artifically recreate to make different kinds of cats, dogs, horses, chickens, even fruits and vegetables.

      This, my dear, is Evolution. It is real. It is happening in the world today. A few hundred years ago in the castles in Europe men were much shorter–the doorways were much smaller. Now we humans are taller than we were. There are less whites than there were because people are choosing inter-racial relationships. That too is natural selection at work and Evolution. One day there might not BE different races if this keeps up. There might just be humans, and then maybe some of the bigotry and hatred and intolerance created by religion will finally stop.

      Thanks for your absurd comment about Creationism. But until you can provide proof your this ludicrious claim, I am disregarding it as the joke it is.

      • >>>>>One day there might not BE different races if this keeps up. There might just be humans, and then maybe some of the bigotry and hatred and intolerance created by religion will finally stop.

        Just like in, let us say, pagan Europe during the Roman empire: one “white” race (not exactly, but close enough), in the vast majority of the areas, so no racial tension, and religious tolerance for all wacky cults. Why, it was a heaven on earth with no racial and religious intolerance!

        Oh wait. No, it wasn’t — it was a hell for lots of people and full of wars to the death between tribes and nations, ending with the Romans conquering everybody… the belief that race ‘n’ religion is the reason for war and unhappiness — and that therefore if we only elimiate them things will be hunky dory — is incredibly naive. It makes as much sense as saying that we all should be bald since most wars were fought by hairy people.

    • Other evidences of past evolution– Dolphins born with hair or nubs at the base of their tail of what were once hind legs. Horses (all horses, all horse breeds) born with chestnuts halfway up their cannon bones — the hard reminder of what had once been another hoof/toe. Dogs with their dew claws. Cats with the nub of what had once been a toe. Humans with our appendix (sp?) that once served a purpose back when we used to frequently ingest small stones but don’t anymore. Creationism has no modern day examples of itself still happening. Creationism has no evidence or proofs from the past to support it ever happened. And I think, by the way, it collossal bad form of you to come here and post this absurd comment that Creationism is backed up by science (Lol!) and then more or less say “Oh, but I won’t be back to read any of your rebuttals.” So what? You just go to where atheists post and stir up shit and leave again?

  2. Pingback: Reason Rally: Mock Believers! - Dawkins - Religious Education Forum

  3. Pingback: Richard Dawkins is not my guru - Page 2 - Religious Education Forum

  4. “Mock them! Ridicule them! In public!”

    This is the sort of thing — together with his fight against circumcision, his (frankly, pathetic) campaign to change atheists’ name to “brights” (as opposed to all those other, dull, dark, religious folks), his desire to have religious education be declared “child abuse”, etc., etc. — that shows me that Prof. Dawkins is a wanna-be fascist.

    It is not enough for him that he is allowed to be an atheist (as of course he, like everybody else, is). His real goal is to eliminate religion — to make sure everybody else has his world view. Using the power of the state to make it illegal for a Jew to circumcised his child or for a Catholic to give his daughter a cathecism is one way. The power of ridicule and contempt, believing religious people do not have the right to common decency, is another.

    If Dawkins were made dictator of the world tomorrow, does anybody doubt he would ban religion, criminalize it, and do everything to eradicate it regardless of the rights of others? In this he is no better, indeed worse, than the Popes and Chalifs of the middle ages, who at least allowed other religions to exist in an inferior social status. No pope ever passed a law to ban Jews from raising their children as Jews; Dawkins would if he could.

    And you say religion is the intolerant one? No, no. The only reason people like Dawkins are perceived as more tolerant is because, currently, they have less power. But Dawkins made his intentions perfectly clear.

    • I am absolutely allowed to point out the absurdity of these beliefs that I see as incredibly damaging to the world and to society. If people feel mocked in the process, oh well. freedom of speech applies to all subjects INCLUDING religion. period.

      • Wasn’t the atheist movement always fighting to give atheists the right NOT to be publicly humiliated for their beliefs? Where did those public humiliations come from? Right, from people who are so convinced that atheists are a menace who cause incredible damage and thus do not deserve basic decency, and should be humiliated. It’s amazing that people miss the obvious similarities here.

    • As for it being Dawkin’s goal to eliminate religion–GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t see it as he is “making” everyone else have his world view. I see it as Dawkins promoting the importance of reason and encouraging people to actually use their brain and apply it to what they believe. Is it good to blindly follow on “faith?” No, it is not. Not when these religions teach such hate and intolerance as they do.

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