HH: Professor Dawkins, you talk about the Cambrian period quite a lot in the evidence for evolution in The Greatest Show On Earth. What do you think happened there?
RD: In the Cambrian?
HH: Yeah, that allowed for the explosion of the fossil record.
RD: Yes, this is about half a billion years ago, a little bit more, and it is the time when most of the phyla that we now recognize first appear. They seem to have appeared rather suddenly, because there doesn’t seem to be much history behind them. Nobody knows exactly what happened then. Most people think the reason that they do appear suddenly is that animals have to have hard skeletons in order to fossilize, and maybe either they didn’t have hard skeletons, or they were too small. I make the point in the book that there are modern phyla, for example, the flatworms, which are, the flatworm is a very large group of animals, very important group of animals, and yet there are no fossils at all, which means that it’s possible for a phylum to simply appear as if from nowhere, without a fossil record.
HH: Sure, but what, given that you talk about how many new species appear in the Cambrian period, what do you think actually happened about the evolutionary chain there, or about the conditions on the Earth that allowed for all the skeletal systems or the growth in size?
RD: That’s a very interesting question. I don’t know. It’s possible that it was an evolutionary arms race between predators and prey, that predators suddenly got, became, well, not suddenly, because this whole process took about twenty or thirty million years, which is not a short time. It seems like overnight compared to more recent times, but nevertheless, it was a long time. There were some very big predators that appeared, which may have stimulated the evolution of hard-shelled creatures among their prey, who needed the protection from them. And the arms race then escalated, so that the predators became hard as well. And that’s one possibility.
HH: And is that what you, Richard Dawkins, put your faith in?
RD: I don’t put my faith in anything. I think that something interesting happened. Maybe they just got bigger at that time. Maybe there was a major shift, and one theory is that it was the invention of eyes that was important.
HH: I’m running low on time, with this segment and the next one only, so I want to jump ahead.
HH: On the person of Jesus Christ, did He exist?
RD: I suspect He probably did. I suspect there are lots of itinerant preachers, and one of them was probably called Yehoshua, or various other versions of Jesus’ name, but I don’t think that a miracle worker existed.
HH: How do you rate the evidence for Christ’s existence, manuscript evidence, eyewitness evidence, things like that?
RD: As I said, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if a man called Jesus or Yehoshua existed. I would say the evidence that He worked miracles, He rose from the dead, He was born of a virgin, is zero.
HH: Well, you repeatedly use the analogy of a detective at a crime scene throughout The Greatest Show On Earth. But detectives simply can’t dismiss evidence they don’t want to see. There’s a lot of evidence for the miracles, in terms of eyewitness…
RD: No, there isn’t. What there is, is written stories which were written decades after the alleged events were supposed to happen. No historian would take that seriously.
HH: Well, that’s why I’m conflicted, because in your book, you talk about the Latin teacher who is stymied at every turn, and yet Latin teachers routinely rely on things like Tacitus and Pliny, and histories that were written centuries after the events in which they are recording occur.
RD: There’s massive archaeological evidence, there’s massive evidence of all kinds. It’s just not comparable. No…if you talk to any ancient historian of the period, they will agree that it is not good historical evidence.
HH: Oh, that’s simply not true. Dr. Mark Roberts, double PhD in undergraduate at Harvard has written a very persuasive book upon this. I mean, that’s an astounding statement. Are you unfamiliar with him?
RD: All right, then there may be some, but a very large number of ancient historians would say…
HH: Well, you just said there were none. So there are some that you are choosing not to confront.
RD: You sound like a lawyer.
HH: I am a lawyer.
RD: Oh, for God’s sake. Are you? Okay. I didn’t know that. All right. I will accept that there are some ancient historians who take the Gospels seriously. But they were written decades after the events that happened, and they were written by people with an axe to grind, written by disciples. There are no eyewitness written accounts. The earliest New Testament…
HH: I understand you believe that, Professor. I do. But what I don’t understand is how you can use the analogy of the Latin teacher or the detective, when it breaks down given your dismissal of evidence you don’t see fit to deal with squarely?
RD: I think that’s a very, very specious comparison, because the Latin teacher is dealing with enormous numbers of documents. Remember, my Latin teacher is supposed to be confronted with skeptics who don’t even think the Latin language was ever spoken. And there’s huge amounts of documentary evidence of the Roman Empire. We’re talking about the entire Roman Empire here. There’s enormous amounts of eyewitness accounts written down at the time. It just is no comparison.
HH: Actually, it is. It’s actually a very persuasive…in fact, the arguments for the manuscript evidence of Christ and His doings is much stronger than anything, for example, Tacitus or Pliny wrote. It’s just much stronger. Now you might counter with Cesar’s Gallic war commentaries, and you do mention those, and those are contemporary accounts by an eyewitness, but so are the Gospel evidences, say, of Luke accompanying Paul about. And yet you’re dismissive of the miracles that occurred in there. So I’m just wondering…
RD: They may be. The accounts of Luke accompanying Paul may be real, but Luke never met Jesus.
HH: But again, I’m not arguing that point with you. It’s just that you dismiss that all without dealing with it serially, which would not be, I think, consistent with your detective argument, or your Latin teacher argument, because…
RD: I cannot believe that you’re doing more than just trying to score points. You cannot seriously be saying that the case for the existence of the Roman Empire is as weak as for Jesus.
HH: That’s not what I’m saying at all. I didn’t say that. I said that your argument, by analogy, to a Latin teacher being harried by people who deny certain things, but especially your idea of a detective using evidence at a crime scene, that it doesn’t comport with your dismissal of the evidence for Christianity and the historical Jesus.
A great debate and a great point by Hewitt. I can see why this was so interesting and exciting for Mr. pete.
Please browse my eBay items!
Visit my new Amazon Store!