Thursday, October 6, 2011

Richard Dawkins visits Randolph College, speaks about 'magic' of science

Richard Dawkins spent the day Wednesday at Randolph College, about five years after his last visit. In between media interviews about his new book, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What is Really True, he took time between media interviews to visit with students and faculty members.

In a reception Wednesday afternoon, students had a chance to visit one-on-one with the acclaimed evolutionary biologist. They asked him questions and had him sign copies of his books.

In a speech before an audience of about 800 Wednesday night, Dawkins walked through some chapters of his book. He also demonstrated some features in an iPad app that was made for the book.

Here are some of the topics he touched on:

Does evolution depend on luck?

Dawkins said evolution has created many biological advantages as species advanced. If evolution were driven by random luck, such advances would seldom emerge.

“All those things would not come by shear random luck,” he said. “Anyone who tells you that living things come about as a result of random luck is talking pure nonsense.”

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution involves non-random natural selection, he said. Because the development of species is spread out over millions of generations, “in each generation the amount of luck required is not particularly large.”

Are we alone in the universe?

Dawkins said no one knows whether there is life on other worlds, but he believes there is.

“I think that life is in fact common in the universe,” he said. However, “it is possible that the islands of life in the universe are so spread out, so few and far between, that they may actually never come together.”

He challenged the audience to think about the implications of believing that only earth has life: that would mean that the evolution of life would have to be “quite stupefying unlikely” and would make our existence seem more like the result of random chance.

Can science explain everything?

“What I don’t want to do is give the impression that science thinks it knows everything and can be confident that all things are laid out before us,” he said. “There are things that even the best science cannot explain.”

But that is cause to continue study and research, he said. “We shouldn’t rest until we’ve improved our science, until it can provide an explanation.”

Q&A

After the speech, Dawkins answered questions from numerous audience members. The topics of questions included the fate of dinosaurs, artificial intelligence, the development of human consciousness, politics, religion, and extraterrestrial life.