Richard Dawkins
Former Professor for Public Understanding of Science, Oxford University

The Fact of Evolution

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Richard Dawkins corrects what he sees as the specious use of the term "theory" and argues that evolution is indeed as close to a ‘fact’ as anything we’ll ever know.

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and the former Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He is the author of several of modern science's essential texts, including The Selfish Gene (1976) and The God Delusion (2006). Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Dawkins eventually graduated with a degree in zoology from Balliol College, Oxford, and then earned a masters degree and the doctorate from Oxford University. He has recently left his teaching duties to write and manage his foundation, The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, full-time. 


QuestionHow would you correct the understanding that evolution is a theory?

Richard Dawkins: The word “theory” can be used to mean something speculative and tentative. In everyday speech it probably usually is used in that sense. Scientists very often use it in a much more positive sense. I think the easiest way is to use the ordinary language word “fact”. In the ordinary language sense of the word fact, evolution is a fact.

QuestionWhat is the evidence that evolution is a fact?

Richard Dawkins: The evidence that makes it a fact is partly fossil evidence, partly comparative evidence, looking at modern species and comparing their bones, their organs, their structures generally, and especially their molecules, their genes, at a molecular level. This is extremely persuasive and powerful evidence. You compare the genes of animals and plants. You find that the pattern of resemblance is a tree, a branching tree. And that branching tree could only be a family tree. Other very persuasive evidence is the geographical distribution of animals and plants on islands and continents: they're exactly where we should expect them to be if evolution were a fact.

Recorded on: October 21, 2009