Most (though not all) of the questions I’ve heard asked by interviewers of Richard Dawkins seem to me tedious and uninspired. Generally, the same basic questions are asked about his atheism and about evolution, and he rehearses back the same tired answers. (See here for an example.) But if I ever had a chance to interview Dawkins, here’s some questions I’d ask that I’ve never heard him answer before:
- You’re writing a children’s book. I have two small children myself, a three year old and a five year old, and I’ve started teaching them Greco-Roman and Biblical mythology, and the images in art books associated with them. My five year old, for example, knows the story about Saturn eating his children, and she has seen an image of the Goya painting of this. She also knows stories of Moses and Jesus, and what some people believe about them. Do you think that giving children classical mythical and biblical frameworks for the development of their psyches and imaginations is a good idea—or a bad idea?
- You’ve said that telling a child that they could go to hell for disbelief is a form of child abuse. I agree. But does it then follow that you would make children being raised in “fire and brimstone” households wards of the State? In short, how much latitude and discretion do you think parents should have in the raising of their children? Would you, for example, allow young earth creationists to homeschool their youngsters?
- If a cluster of genes were discovered that increased intelligence by an average of 30 IQ base points, and there was a reliable procedure for getting those genes into embryos, would you support the right of young and wealthy parents to get such genes implanted in their offspring?
- As a lifelong academic at an elite university, can you foresee a time within the next century when our most elite universities are populated by significant numbers of genetically enhanced humans? And would you find such a prospect of genetically elite “super students” in any way problematic for democracy, and who might run the world in the 22nd century? Do you think, in short, that there is any real danger of the human race diverging into the “genetically enhanced” and the “naturals”?
- In The God Delusion, you said that you’d like to see believers who start your book be unbelievers when they finish it. But what about those for whom life is already, in Robert Frost’s phrase, “a diminished thing”? Is atheism really good for all the “Eleanor Rigby” individuals out there who might pick your book up? In other words, what do you say to those people for whom a conversion to atheism might well spell the end of all vital social ties to their communities and families—and for whom those ties are, realistically, the only things between them and real isolation, neurosis, and loneliness? Isn’t an invitation to atheism, for so many people who are already living alone and with tenuous ties to others—and who may be unattractive, uncreative, in ill health, and without high intelligence or good job prospects—an invitation to even greater pain, however unillusioned? Is disillusionment worth the social cost to such individuals? Do you, in short, really want Eleanor Rigby, who ‘lives in a dream’, to lose her illusory sources of solace? To what purpose?
- Is your certainty that God doesn’t exist so high that you see it as a moral obligation to inform others of your views, and to share with them all of the good reasons not to believe in God’s existence, lest they waste their lives away in delusion?
- Are you so certain that God doesn’t exist that you think the world would be a better place if there were no exotic religious plants in the world at all? In other words, do you really want a world that is universally monoatheist (where everybody is an atheist)?
- What makes you think, if atheism were to win the day (say, a century from now), and almost all human beings on Earth were atheists, that they would be sensible humanist atheists like yourself, and not, say, Nietzschean atheists, or Machiavellian atheists, or atheists with absurd pseudoreligious practices (like those found in UFO cults)?
And here are two Planet of the Apes questions I would ask of Dawkins:
- Do you think Charlton Heston’s character Taylor, in Planet of the Apes, can function as a model for what it means to be a good atheist? If so, in what sense?
- At the end of the film, Taylor blithely enters the apes’s religious taboo region—The Forbidden Zone—only to discover that humanity obliterated itself in a nuclear war. Like Oedipus (who learns too much truth about the world and tears out his eyes), Taylor falls to his knees, pounds the sand and cries, “God damn you! God damn you all to hell!” Do you think that if humanity abandons belief in God writ large, and gains full control of its destiny, especially its genetic destiny, it might rue the day that it did so? Is there any danger, going forward, of playing God?