By Becca Bayham

Have you ever wondered what people in the Middle Ages would have thought about airplanes? Or automatic doors? What would we have thought about iPhones 10 years ago?

Advanced technology can seem like magic, scientist Richard Dawkins said at a public lecture on March 29. But as cool as these technologies are, we know there’s nothing mystical about them.

Dawkins made the case that science, too, can seem magical or divinely-inspired. Take human evolution; some people believe that God, instead of natural selection, is responsible for the incredible complexity of life on Earth.

In response to that idea, Dawkins described a card game where a straight flush in any suit gives you a perfect hand. The odds of all four players getting a perfect hand are infinitesimally small, almost impossible. (If that happened to you, you might consider divine influence.)

“Evolution is not like that, but a lot of people think it is,” Dawkins said.

“Changes come about through the process of natural selection, which is often thought to be random chance, even though it is the opposite of random chance. It works because every one of those steps is only slightly improbable. But after 1,000 steps, you can end up with something beautiful, looking improbably like it was designed,” he explained.

Given a sufficiently large number of generations, very significant changes can occur. But evolution doesn’t guarantee change, Dawkins said. Chimpanzees, for example, have had as much time to evolve as we have. And yet they resemble our African ape ancestor more closely than we do.

When Christian academic John Lennox spoke at Duke earlier this year, he argued that science and religion are not mutually exclusive. Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, falls on the other end of the faith vs. science spectrum. He said he doesn’t believe in religion, instead advocating an evidence-based approach to life.

“There are lots of people who actually do believe that a first century prophet turned water into wine, walked on water and fed the 5,000. There’s no more reason to believe that than to believe Cinderella’s fairy godmother turned a pumpkin into a carriage,” Dawkins said.

If something happens that science can’t explain, he argued that we should keep improving our science until we can explain it.

“Don’t ever be lazy enough to say ‘I can’t explain it, so it must be a miracle,'” Dawkins said. “The proper and brave response to any such challenge it to tackle it head on.”