The Purpose of Purpose (Lecture by Richard Dawkins)

March 13, 2012

In “The Purpose of Purpose” lecture Richard Dawkins tells an anecdote of Peter Atkins being asked by a member of the Royal Family, “But what about the ‘why question?'” and Atkins replying, “That is a silly question”. Dawkins notes that asking why for inanimate objects like air or rocks is almost always considered inappropriate. But asking why for living organisms was often done in the past. He mentions a number of amusing examples, such as claims that domestic animals provide a means to keep their meat fresh until we have need to eat them, lice were a strong incentive to personal cleanliness, large predators allowed hunters to test their courage, and horseflies encouraged industry and the use of wits in combating them.

This mindset persists to this day, says Dawkins, using the Ray Comfort banana video, which got an especially large laugh with Comfort’s assertion that the banana has just the right shape to fit in the human mouth.

Dawkins points out that, remarkably, the video was not simply a joke. Comfort has apparently offered to give Dawkins $10,000 to debate him. Dawkins responded saying that he would take Comfort up on that only if he donated $100K to Dawkins’ new foundation.

Then Dawkins compares the modern, domesticated version of the banana to the fruit of the wild banana, showing that many of the properties that Comfort ascribes to God’s design were actually choices made in artificial selection by humans.

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