Freeman Dyson: “Dawkins is doing a lot of damage…global warming is grossly exaggerated”


Below are a few quotes from this interview with theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson, whose new book, A Many-colored Glass, is about to be published.

On science, religion and Richard Dawkins:

I think it’s only a small fraction of people who think that [science and religion are at odds]. Perhaps they have louder voices than the others.

I think Richard Dawkins is doing a lot of damage. I disagree very strongly with the way he’s going about it. I don’t deny his right to be an atheist, but I think he does a great deal of harm when he publicly says that in order to be a scientist, you have to be an atheist. That simply turns young people away from science. He’s convinced a lot of young people not to be scientists because they don’t want to be atheists. I’m strongly against him on that question. It’s simply not true what he’s saying, and it’s not only not true but also harmful. The fact is that many of my friends are much more religious than I am and are first-rate scientists. There’s absolutely nothing that stops you from being both.

On climate change:

I believe global warming is grossly exaggerated as a problem. It’s a real problem, but it’s nothing like as serious as people are led to believe. The idea that global warming is the most important problem facing the world is total nonsense and is doing a lot of harm. It distracts people’s attention from much more serious problems. That’s an example. It’s not so much to do about science. It’s really a political question.

15 thoughts on “Freeman Dyson: “Dawkins is doing a lot of damage…global warming is grossly exaggerated”

  1. I highly doubt there are hoards of young people that are reading Dawkins and thinking to themselves “Well damn, Dawkins says I must be an atheist to be a scientist. I guess I’ll go be a carpenter”.
    The only thing happening is what always happens with religion: people who agree read his work while others who are religious and disagree don’t read his work. Simple.

  2. In my opinion Richard Dawkins wrote a solid book about his belief that religion and the motives that drive people to it are an illusion.
    But I don’t recollect reading anything plainly saying that you can’t be a scientist if you are religious. Nor openly attacking a given scientist because of his beliefs.

  3. At least in my case, I disagree with the venerable Dyson on the subject of Dawkins. After reading Dawkins, my love for science and thirst for knowledge has grown exponentially. As a sophomore in college, I feel that Dawkins has expanded my horizons. I was set on being a computer science major since junior high. After reading Dawkins (along with some other influences perhaps) I have switched to physics. I am taking as much biology and chemistry as humanly possible along with my core classes. I’m not doing this because I think I’ll be well-paid with this major, I’m doing it because I can’t help but quench my thirst for knowledge.
    Before reading his work, I was a mediocre student. I did what I had to do. Now I excitedly study marveling at the natural world as I learn new things
    I think Dawkins deserves a good bit of credit for who I am today. His books have changed my life, and for the better, in my opinion. Perhaps Dyson is correct, perhaps he is not. But I certainly hope that Dawkins’ book does for others what it has done for me.

  4. Ethical Atheist –
    Have you read Sagan? If not, I highly recommend doing so. Seeing him speak and subsequently getting the opportunity to have an icecream with him, when I was eleven, was a life changing experience for me. Totally on a par with what you are describing. While meeting him is, unfortunately, no longer possible, his science popularizing is, IMHO, even better than Dawkins. I say that as one who is very fond of Dawkins in that regard.
    I also have to seriously disagree with Dyson. While I have some disagreement with some of the statements that Dawkins has made, I cannot imagine that it is really going to turn off all that many people to science.
    Zachary –
    The only thing happening is what always happens with religion: people who agree read his work while others who are religious and disagree don’t read his work. Simple.
    I actually think you’re wrong about that. I am not particularly a theist, but I do attend a Christian church. While I am not aware of more than one person reading Dawkins (at my suggestion), there are several who have read Harris and Dennett. Likewise, I have many friends who have read Dobson, Robertson, Falwell et al, who are atheists. Indeed, I would hope to see more of my theist friends reading Dawkins and Sagan, in particular, Dennett as well. While I daresay that it wouldn’t get them to run into the streets, denouncing their faith, it would make them think. As one who spends an inordinate amount of my “spare” time fighting the worse that religion pushes onto society, I would love to see more of that.

  5. Whether or not Dawkins means to say that you need to be an atheist to be a scientist, this is often the quick message that people first encounter.
    Dawkins has done nothing to dispel this, so you can say that he is responsible for such a message.
    Before people discount this opinion, do a little research. Freeman Dyson is not a voice to be ignored.

  6. For every mole of methane burned, one mole of carbon dioxide is produced, but TWO moles of water vapor are released. Don’t reduce the carbon footprint without reducing the water vapor footprint, too!

  7. It would be nice if people actually responded to what Dawkins said rather than imaginary arguments

    But Dawkins is responsible for those imaginary arguments, because he hasn’t done enough to dispel them.
    He’s also responsible for the Iraqi invasion, world hunger, and AIDS.

  8. I would like to see someone–anyone–present some real, hard evidence that Dawkins’ book has resulted in a statistically significant number of people rejecting science.
    So far I’ve seen about bunch of unsubstantiated allegations, but no evidence. I find it very hard to believe that someone could be pro-science or neutral towards science to start out, but turn against science after reading Dawkins’ book. I could see them perhaps being turned off by Dawkins himself as a person–but being turned off to science?
    As for global warming, it sounds like Dyson has decided to join the lofty ranks of Bjorn Lomborg and Richard Lindzen in the “Yeah, global warming is real, but who cares?” camp. Which card in the Hoofnagel Bros. deck is that? And, much like with Dawkins, Dyson alleges that people who portray GW as a big problem are “doing a lot of harm” by “distracting” from other problems, but what evidence is there of that?
    The juxtaposition of the Dawkins smear and the global warming denial remind me of the Alan Sokal quote that Blake Stacey is fond of bringing up, something about how credulity in one matter contributes to credulity in other matters as well.

  9. I share the opinion that one can be a scientist and a believer at the same time. This is true for any religion.
    On the other hand, I can see how scientists, and particularly atheist scientists have to frequently defend their scientific or atheist point of vue. The arguments of atheists are strong and I believe they certainly have merit, even though I might have a different interpretation of these.
    In the Netherlands, I experienced a relaxed attitude towards believing or not.

  10. The idea that Dawkins’ book has led anyone to leave science is pretty far-fetched. Moderate religionists are not going to abandon science because one famous scientist has argued that there’s some kind of tension or contradiction between science and religion. It was already well known that a lot of people see such a tension.
    Naive moderate religionists will think it doesn’t matter much what Dawkins thinks. Challenging in theory, they’ll conclude, but essentially ignorable. Sophisticated moderate religionists will have convoluted arguments as to why he’s wrong, e.g. they’ll subscribe to NOMA or some such idea, or even think that God is active in shaping evolution or some such nonsense.
    Now, it’s possible that some anti-science Christian conservatives will harden in their attitudes and perhaps become more keen to pressure their kids away from science.
    But it’s just as possible that some wishy-washy non-believers will harden into atheists, that some atheists will become more activist and vocal, that some troubled believers will lose their faith or at least become less dogmatic, and that some fence-sitters will become less inclined to think that religious leaders deserve deference. Those would all be good outcomes.
    All Dawkins can do is write as persuasively as he’s able. He can’t be expected to go around worrying that a backlash will mske his message counterproductive. That’s always a risk whenever anyone with controversial views makes them known, of course, but it’s unreasonable to expect people to shut up, rather than arguing for their views with intellectual honesty.
    And of course, as Dawkins well knows, the significant incompatibility between the religious and scientific images of the world really has played a large part in the decline in religious numbers in the West over the past 150 years. The natural assumption should be that underlining this incompatibility will have further weakening effects on religion.
    That would be an even more natural assumption if other secular intellectuals (if Dyson counts as such) could stop criticising Dawkins’ overall project unfairly (as opposed to pointing out any genuine, specific faults). Dawkins deserves support for what he is trying to do.

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