Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


New heresy: In conversation with Richard Dawkins

  • 03 March 2023
In the world of science and rational inquiry, few names loom as large. The often-controversial evolutionary biologist has spent decades exploring the mysteries of the natural world and using his formidable intellect to ruffle feathers in religious and secular movements alike. With acerbic wit and keen insight, Dawkins has become a leading voice in the movement to promote science education, secularism, and evidence-based reasoning. Now in an exclusive interview with Eureka Street’s David Halliday and Juliette Hughes, the man behind The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker discusses difficulties in public discourse, cancel culture, and what constitutes modern heresy.  

DH: Great to speak with you. At Eureka Street, we want to promote constructive conversations with human dignity at the forefront. I’m interested in what you perceive to be the greatest threats to civil discourse and the tendency of humans to adhere to religious dogmatism, whether they see themselves as religious or not. Over the last five years, while we’ve seen religious observance plummet in Western countries, we’ve also seen critical social justice theory or ‘wokeness’ correspondingly embraced across academia and media, with an emphasis on promoting social justice and empathy for marginalised communities. Regardless of one’s stance on the inherent value of the ideology, its manifestation now can often come across as religious. So what do you think when people like John McWhorter argue that, with critical social justice theory, we’re presented with a public form of compulsory religious observance from which we might find ourselves an outcast or heretic for questioning its central tenets?

RD: I do think that. I think John McWhorter has hit the nail on the head really. Even down to things like original sin, it’s a very close parallel. It’s not a supernatural religion, but in other respects, like the belief in original sin, like the hunting down of heretics, it does have a very strong religious flavor to it.

DH: More than most people, you’ve received your share of vitriol. I’ve seen videos where you read out some pretty horrendous emails and tweets you’ve received, which was both funny and tragic. And you recently had your Humanist of the Year title rescinded after writing a controversial piece in Aero magazine about biological sex being binary. How did you respond to that particular episode and what does that tell us about problems of open discourse?

RD: Well, as you said, I’ve read out my some of my hate