Famed atheist Richard Dawkins appeared on "The Daily Show" last night to discuss his new book, "An Appetite for Wonder," and his views on science and religion. From doubling down on his contention that "we are apes" to attempting to explain what happens after human beings die, the evolutionary biologist touted some of his familiar talking points -- but host Jon Stewart didn't just sit there nodding in agreement.
Throughout the interview, the Comedy Central host challenged the biologist's many contentions. At the center of the discussion was a key question posed by Stewart: "Do you believe that the end of our civilization will be through religious strife or scientific advancement?"
Famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (left) and "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart (right) (Photo Credit: Comedy Central)
Dawkins, who is no stranger to lambasting religion, offered up a mixed answer, but did inevitably place the hypothetical blame on religious extremism in determining which phenomenon would be more damaging to the human race.[sharequote align="right"]"Science is the most powerful way to do whatever it is you want."[/sharequote]
"The answer is probably both. Science provides in the form of technology -- weapons which hitherto have been only available to reasonably responsible governments are likely to become available to nutcases who believe that their God requires them to reap havoc and destruction," he responded.
But Stewart challenged this notion, charging that this framing of the issue lets science off the hook when claiming that only the religious could or would do something to cause worldwide catastrophe. He pondered whether science run amok could, on its own, create similar results.
Dawkins conceded that this could be possible, as "science is the most powerful way to do whatever it is you want to do" -- both good and bad.
Watch this portion of the interview, below:
Stewart continued to challenge the famed atheist, noting that many celebrated societal accomplishments -- art, music and poetry -- have enriched society. Considering the role of faith, he asked why religion shouldn't be lumped into the same category as these other elements.
Dawkins, though, noted that faith, in his view, simply shouldn't be viewed so positively.
"I don't think faith is positive, because faith means belief without evidence and you shouldn't believe anything without evidence," he responded. "And it's all too common and people who are brought up to say, 'I believe it because I believe it' ... a minority of those people are going to be seduced into doing terrible things, because you can't argue with them, you can't argue with faith."
But Stewart shot back, highlighting the charitable contributions that faith and religion have spawned.
Watch the second portion of the interview, below:
It was one of life's most frequently asked questions, though, that momentarily stumped Dawkins.
"So where do we go when we die?," asked Stewart.
Following a pause, Dawkins seemed prepared to issue a response, but the "Daily Show" host jumped in to quip, "So, you don't know?" The scientist, never one to retreat on a point like this, responded that people are either buried, cremated or they give their bodies to science.
"But isn't that -- you actually don't know what happens to us," Stewart jabbed.
And later, the host pushed even harder on the faith front, noting that scientists likely also embrace the notion that there is something greater out there -- something that mankind simply doesn't understand yet. T
"Isn't the job of a scientist, in some ways, to have faith that there's something out there that we don't understand yet?," asked Stewart. "The loss of faith -- wouldn't that steal something essentially human from scientific pursuit?"
Overall, the interview was intriguing, as it placed one of the world's most prominent evolutionary minds in the hot seat, offering up a lens into his beliefs on the origin of life, among other pertinent subjects. While Dawkins admits that "there's many things we don't understand," he is more than certain of one thing: "We are evolved creatures. We are apes. We are African apes."
The battle over science and religion continues.