How Richard Dawkins will win you over to his side

Author, speaker, and public intellectual Richard Dawkins is a first-class debater on subjects as grand and reaching as the very existence (or lack thereof) of a master creator. But he's got a simple yet highly effective technique to win people over to see his point of view. Find out what it is right here.

Richard Dawkins: Sometimes you’re not trying to persuade the person that people think you’re trying to persuade. What you’re actually doing is trying to persuade lots of other people at the same time. 

I’ve spent my whole life as an educator, as a scientific educator at Oxford and at Oxford we have a rather unique system: a tutorial system where every student gets a one hour one-on-one tutorial each week with a tutor. 

And I had this as an undergraduate, which I absolutely loved, and then throughout my career I was a tutor. So I would have student after student after student coming into my room, spending an hour with me; they would produce an essay, we will talk about it, and I would be trying to, we would have a conversation. 

So I got very practiced in the art of persuading people of scientific things. And I think this may show itself in my writing the discipline of putting yourself in the shoes of the reader, of the other person, asking yourself all the time: “What could be misunderstood here? In what way might my words be misconstrued? How could I... this person is not really getting it, I can see it from their face that they’re puzzled, maybe an analogy would help, maybe a metaphor would help.” 

So I suppose the only general thing I can think is put yourself in the position of your audience, try to see where they’re coming from sympathetically and, um, argue your case in a way that should resonate with them. 

There is a difference between persuading a single individual, which is what I was talking about in the case of an Oxford tutorial, and persuading a whole audience who are, say, reading a book or listening to perhaps a radio program where sometimes—I’ve done quite frequently in America—I’ve done shows where there’s a phone in and people phone in and ask me questions or have an argument with me.

And there I have sometimes given up, I have to confess this I have sometimes given up on the quest to persuade the person who is arguing with me I might regard them as a lost cause, but I’m conscious of the fact that thousands of other people are listening in, and the way I handle my argument with the one person who—maybe say a Young Earth creationist—who is beyond redemption and clearly they aren’t going to believe anything I say. 

Nevertheless the method that I argue with them maybe a total failure as far as persuading them is concerned, but nevertheless may persuade thousands of other people who are listening in.

Many people would like to have a one-on-one argument with renowned professor, author, and all-around big thinker Richard Dawkins. He's most one of the world's most prominent public intellectuals and has written over a dozen books on matters as wide-ranging as atheism and science. Because he attacks such deeply held beliefs, many people disagree with him. But how is he so effective at what he does? Simple. He imagines his argument from the other side's perspective. That way, Richard Dawkins posits, there's a much higher chance that he can land his point. Richard Dawkins' new book is Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist.


Are lab–grown embryos and human hybrids ethical?

This spring, a U.S. and Chinese team announced that it had successfully grown, for the first time, embryos that included both human and monkey cells.

Getty Images
Surprising Science
In Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel “Brave New World," people aren't born from a mother's womb. Instead, embryos are grown in artificial wombs until they are brought into the world, a process called ectogenesis.
Keep reading Show less

A big lesson from the ‘Oumuamua alienware controversy

Scientists should be cautious when expressing an opinion based on little more than speculation.

Credit: European Southern Observatory/M. Kornmesser
13-8
  • In October 2017, a strange celestial object was detected, soon to be declared our first recognized interstellar visitor.
  • The press exploded when a leading Harvard astronomer suggested the object to have been engineered by an alien civilization.
  • This is an extraordinary conclusion that was based on a faulty line of scientific reasoning. Ruling out competing hypotheses doesn't make your hypothesis right.
Keep reading Show less

From 1.8 million years ago, earliest evidence of human activity found

Scientists discover what our human ancestors were making inside the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa 1.8 million years ago.

Credit: Michael Chazan / Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Surprising Science
  • Researchers find evidence of early tool-making and fire use inside the Wonderwerk Cave in Africa.
  • The scientists date the human activity in the cave to 1.8 million years ago.
  • The evidence is the earliest found yet and advances our understanding of human evolution.
Keep reading Show less

Asteroid impact: NASA simulation shows we are sitting ducks

Even with six months' notice, we can't stop an incoming asteroid.

Credit: NASA/JPL
Surprising Science
  • At an international space conference, attendees took part in an exercise that imagined an asteroid crashing into Earth.
  • With the object first spotted six months before impact, attendees concluded that there was insufficient time for a meaningful response.
  • There are an estimated 25,000 near-Earth objects potentially threatening our planet.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast