Richard Dawkins


Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins

Dawkins in 2010 at Cooper Union in New York City
Born Clinton Richard Dawkins
26 March 1941 (1941-03-26) (age 70)
Nairobi, Kenya Colony
Nationality British
Education MA, DPhil (Oxon)
Alma mater Balliol College, Oxford
Occupation Ethologist
Years active 1967–present
Employer University of California, Berkeley
University of Oxford
Organization Fellow of the Royal Society
Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
Known for Gene-centered view of evolution, concept of the meme, as well as advocacy of atheism and science.
Notable works The Selfish Gene (1976)
The Extended Phenotype (1982)
The Blind Watchmaker (1986)
The God Delusion (2006)
Influenced by Charles Darwin, Ronald Fisher, George C. Williams, W. D. Hamilton, Daniel Dennett, Bertrand Russell
Spouse Marian Stamp Dawkins (m. 1967–1984)
Eve Barham (m. 1984–?)
Lalla Ward (m. 1992–present)
Children Juliet Emma Dawkins (born 1984)
Parents Clinton John Dawkins
Jean Mary Vyvyan (née Ladner)
Awards Zoological Society of London Silver Medal (1989)
Faraday Award (1990)
Kistler Prize (2001)
Website
The Richard Dawkins Foundation

Clinton Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL (born 26 March 1941), known as Richard Dawkins, is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author. He is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford,[1] and was the University of Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008.[2]

Dawkins came to prominence with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, which popularised the gene-centered view of evolution and introduced the term meme. In 1982 he introduced an influential concept into evolutionary biology, presented in his book The Extended Phenotype, that the phenotypic effects of a gene are not necessarily limited to an organism's body, but can stretch far into the environment, including the bodies of other organisms.[3]

Dawkins is an atheist and humanist, a Vice President of the British Humanist Association and supporter of the Brights movement. He is well known for his criticism of creationism and intelligent design. In his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker, he argued against the watchmaker analogy, an argument for the existence of a supernatural creator based upon the complexity of living organisms. Instead, he described evolutionary processes as analogous to a blind watchmaker. He has since written several popular science books, and makes regular television and radio appearances, predominantly discussing these topics. In his 2006 book The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that religious faith is a delusion—a fixed false belief.[4] As of January 2010 the English-language version has sold more than two million copies and had been translated into 31 languages.[5]

Contents

Biography

Dawkins was born in Nairobi, Kenya.[6] His father, Clinton John Dawkins (1915–2010),[7] was an agricultural civil servant in the British colonial service, in Nyasaland (now Malawi). Dawkins has a younger sister.[8] His father was called up into the King's African Rifles during World War II,[9][10] returning to England in 1949, when Dawkins was eight. His father had inherited a country estate, Over Norton Park, which he turned into a commercial farm.[7] Both his parents were interested in natural sciences; they answered Dawkins' questions in scientific terms.[11]

Dawkins describes his childhood as "a normal Anglican upbringing".[12] Though he began having doubts about the existence of a god when he was about nine years old, he was persuaded by the argument from design, an argument for the existence of a god or a creator based on perceived evidence of order, purpose, or design in nature, and embraced Christianity.[8][not in citation given] In his mid-teens, he concluded that the theory of evolution was a better explanation for life's complexity, and ceased believing in a god.[8][not in citation given]

He attended Oundle, a Church of England school,[8] from 1954 to 1959. He studied zoology at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was tutored by Nobel Prize–winning ethologist Nikolaas Tinbergen, graduating in 1962. He continued as a research student under Tinbergen's supervision, receiving his M.A. and D.Phil. degrees by 1966, and remained a research assistant for another year.[6] Tinbergen was a pioneer in the study of animal behaviour, particularly in the areas of instinct, learning and choice.[13] Dawkins' research in this period concerned models of animal decision-making.[14]

From 1967 to 1969, he was an assistant professor of zoology at the University of California, Berkeley. During this period, the students and faculty at UC Berkeley were largely opposed to the ongoing Vietnam War, and Dawkins became heavily involved in the anti-war demonstrations and activities.[15] He returned to the University of Oxford in 1970 taking a position as a lecturer, and in 1990, as a reader in zoology. In 1995 he was appointed Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, a position that had been endowed by Charles Simonyi with the express intention that the holder "be expected to make important contributions to the public understanding of some scientific field",[16] and that its first holder should be Richard Dawkins.[17]

Since 1970 he has been a fellow of New College.[18] He has delivered a number of inaugural and other lectures, including the Henry Sidgwick Memorial Lecture (1989), first Erasmus Darwin Memorial Lecture (1990), Michael Faraday Lecture (1991), T.H. Huxley Memorial Lecture (1992), Irvine Memorial Lecture (1997), Sheldon Doyle Lecture (1999), Tinbergen Lecture (2004) and Tanner Lectures (2003).[6] In 1991 he gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for Children. He has also served as editor of a number of journals, and has acted as editorial advisor to the Encarta Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Evolution. He is a senior editor of the Council for Secular Humanism's Free Inquiry magazine, for which he also writes a column. He has been a member of the editorial board of Skeptic magazine since its foundation.[19]

He has sat on judging panels for awards as diverse as the Royal Society's Faraday Award and the British Academy Television Awards,[6] and has been president of the Biological Sciences section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2004 Balliol College, Oxford instituted the Dawkins Prize, awarded for "outstanding research into the ecology and behaviour of animals whose welfare and survival may be endangered by human activities".[20] In September 2008, he retired from his professorship, announcing plans to "write a book aimed at youngsters in which he will warn them against believing in 'anti-scientific' fairytales."[21]

Personal life

On 19 August 1967, Dawkins married fellow ethologist Marian Stamp in Annestown, County Waterford, Ireland;[22] they divorced in 1984. Later that same year, on 1 June, he married Eve Barham (19 August 1951[23]–28 February 1999) in Oxford. They had a daughter, Juliet Emma Dawkins (born 1984, Oxford).[23] Dawkins and Barham divorced; she died of cancer.[24][25] In 1992 he married actress Lalla Ward[26] in Kensington and Chelsea, London.[23] Dawkins met her through their mutual friend Douglas Adams,[27] who had worked with her on the BBC's Doctor Who.

Work

Evolutionary biology

Dawkins at the University of Texas at Austin, March 2008

In his scientific works, Dawkins is best known for his popularisation of the gene-centred view of evolution. This view is most clearly set out in his books The Selfish Gene (1976), where he notes that "all life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities", and The Extended Phenotype (1982), in which he describes natural selection as "the process whereby replicators out-propagate each other".[28] In his role as an ethologist, interested in animal behaviour and its relation to natural selection, he advocates the idea that the gene is the principal unit of selection in evolution.

Dawkins has consistently been sceptical about non-adaptive processes in evolution (such as spandrels, described by Gould and Lewontin)[29] and about selection at levels "above" that of the gene.[30] He is particularly sceptical about the practical possibility or importance of group selection as a basis for understanding altruism.[31] This behaviour appears at first to be an evolutionary paradox, since helping others costs precious resources and decreases one's own fitness. Previously, many had interpreted this as an aspect of group selection: individuals were doing what was best for the survival of the population or species as a whole, and not specifically for themselves. British evolutionary biologist W. D. Hamilton had used the gene-centred view to explain altruism in terms of inclusive fitness and kin selection − that individuals behave altruistically toward their close relatives, who share many of their own genes.[32][a] Similarly, Robert Trivers, thinking in terms of the gene-centred model, developed the theory of reciprocal altruism, whereby one organism provides a benefit to another in the expectation of future reciprocation.[33] Dawkins popularised these ideas in The Selfish Gene, and developed them in his own work.[34]

He has also been strongly critical of the Gaia philosophy theory of the independent scientist James Lovelock.[35][36][37]

Critics of Dawkins' approach suggest that taking the gene as the unit of selection − of a single event in which an individual either succeeds or fails to reproduce − is misleading, but that the gene could be better described as a unit of evolution − of the long-term changes in allele frequencies in a population.[38] In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins explains that he is using George C. Williams' definition of the gene as "that which segregates and recombines with appreciable frequency."[39] Another common objection is that genes cannot survive alone, but must cooperate to build an individual, and therefore cannot be an independent "unit".[40] In The Extended Phenotype, Dawkins suggests that because of genetic recombination and sexual reproduction, from an individual gene's viewpoint all other genes are part of the environment to which it is adapted.

Advocates for higher levels of selection such as Richard Lewontin, David Sloan Wilson, and Elliot Sober suggest that there are many phenomena (including altruism) that gene-based selection cannot satisfactorily explain. The philosopher Mary Midgley, with whom Dawkins clashed in print concerning The Selfish Gene,[41][42] has criticised gene selection, memetics and sociobiology as being excessively reductionist[43] and suggests that the popularity of Dawkins' work is due to factors in the Zeitgeist such as the increased individualism of the Thatcher/Reagan decades.[44]

In a set of controversies over the mechanisms and interpretation of evolution (the so-called 'Darwin Wars'),[45][46] one faction was often named after Dawkins and its rival after the American paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, reflecting the pre-eminence of each as a populariser of pertinent ideas.[47][48] In particular, Dawkins and Gould have been prominent commentators in the controversy over sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, with Dawkins generally approving and Gould generally being critical.[49] A typical example of Dawkins' position was his scathing review of Not in Our Genes by Steven Rose, Leon J. Kamin and Richard C. Lewontin.[50] Two other thinkers on the subject often considered to be allied to Dawkins are Steven Pinker and Daniel Dennett; Dennett has promoted a gene-centred view of evolution and defended reductionism in biology.[51] Despite their academic disagreements, Dawkins and Gould did not have a hostile personal relationship, and Dawkins dedicated a large portion of his 2003 book A Devil's Chaplain posthumously to Gould, who had died the previous year.

Dawkins' book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution expounds the evidence for biological evolution.[52] All of his previous works dealing with evolution had assumed its truth, and not explicitly provided the evidence to this effect. Dawkins felt that this represented a gap in his oeuvre, and decided to write the book to coincide with Darwin's bicentennial year.[53]

Meme

Dawkins coined the word meme (the behavioral equivalent of a gene) to describe how Darwinian principles might be extended to explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena.[54] This has spawned the field of memetics. Dawkins' memes refer to any cultural entity that an observer might consider a replicator of a certain idea or a complex of ideas. He hypothesised that people could view many cultural entities as capable of such replication, generally through exposure to humans, who have evolved as efficient (although not perfect) copiers of information and behaviour. Memes are not always copied perfectly, and might indeed become refined, combined or otherwise modified with other ideas, resulting in new memes, which may themselves prove more, or less, efficient replicators than their predecessors, thus providing a framework for a hypothesis of cultural evolution, analogous to the theory of biological evolution based on genes.[55] Since originally outlining the idea in his book The Selfish Gene, Dawkins has largely left the task of expanding upon it to other authors such as Susan Blackmore.[56]

Although Dawkins invented the specific term meme independently, he has not claimed that the idea itself was entirely novel,[57] and there have been other expressions for similar ideas in the past. For instance, John Laurent has suggested that the term may have derived from the work of the little-known German biologist Richard Semon.[58] In 1904 Semon published Die Mneme (which appeared in English in 1924 as The Mneme). This book discussed the cultural transmission of experiences, with insights parallel to those of Dawkins. Laurent also found the term mneme used in Maurice Maeterlinck's The Life of the White Ant (1926), and has highlighted the similarities to Dawkins' concept.[58]

Criticism of creationism

Dawkins is a prominent critic of creationism (the religious belief that humanity, life and the universe were created by a deity,[59] without recourse to evolution[60]). He has described the Young Earth creationist view that the Earth is only a few thousand years old as "a preposterous, mind-shrinking falsehood",[61] and his 1986 book, The Blind Watchmaker, contains a sustained critique of the argument from design, an important creationist argument. In the book, Dawkins argued against the watchmaker analogy made famous by the 18th-century English theologian William Paley in his book Natural Theology. Paley argued that, just as a watch is too complicated and too functional to have sprung into existence merely by accident, so too must all living things, with their far greater complexity, be purposefully designed. Dawkins shares the view generally held by scientists that natural selection is sufficient to explain the apparent functionality and non-random complexity of the biological world, and can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, albeit as an automatic, nonintelligent, blind watchmaker.[62]

Dawkins at the 34th annual conference of American Atheists, 2008

In 1986 Dawkins participated in an Oxford Union debate, in which he and English biologist John Maynard Smith debated Young Earth creationist A. E. Wilder-Smith and Edgar Andrews, president of the Biblical Creation Society.[b] In general, however, Dawkins has followed the advice of his late colleague Stephen Jay Gould and refused to participate in formal debates with creationists because "what they seek is the oxygen of respectability", and doing so would "give them this oxygen by the mere act of engaging with them at all". He suggests that creationists "don't mind being beaten in an argument. What matters is that we give them recognition by bothering to argue with them in public."[63]

In a December 2004 interview with American journalist Bill Moyers, Dawkins said that "among the things that science does know, evolution is about as certain as anything we know." When Moyers questioned him on the use of the word theory, Dawkins stated that "evolution has been observed. It's just that it hasn't been observed while it's happening." He added that "it is rather like a detective coming on a murder after the scene... the detective hasn't actually seen the murder take place, of course. But what you do see is a massive clue... Huge quantities of circumstantial evidence. It might as well be spelled out in words of English."[64]

Dawkins has ardently opposed the inclusion of intelligent design in science education, describing it as "not a scientific argument at all, but a religious one".[65] He has been referred to in the media as "Darwin's Rottweiler",[66] a reference to English biologist T. H. Huxley, who was known as "Darwin's Bulldog" for his advocacy of Charles Darwin's evolutionary ideas. He has been a strong critic of the British organisation Truth in Science, which promotes the teaching of creationism in state schools, and he plans—through the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science—to subsidise the delivery of books, DVDs and pamphlets to schools, in order to counteract what he has described as an "educational scandal".[67]

Advocacy of atheism

Dawkins lecturing on his book The God Delusion, 24 June 2006.

Dawkins is an outspoken atheist and a prominent critic of religion. In an interview with Thomas Bass for a book published in 1994 he described himself as a 'fairly militant atheist'.[68] In 1996, when asked if he'd prefer to be known as a scientist or a militant atheist, he replied "Bertrand Russell called himself the Passionate Sceptic. It's aiming high, but I'll shoot for that."[69] Dawkins is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society,[70] a vice-president of the British Humanist Association (since 1996),[6] a Distinguished Supporter of the Humanist Society of Scotland,[71] a member of the Secular Coalition for America advisory board,[72] a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism,[73] and a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.[74] In 2003 he became a signatory of the humanist manifesto Humanism and Its Aspirations, published by the American Humanist Association.[75] As a result of his advocacy of atheism, Dawkins has sometimes been described as a vocal, militant rationalist,[76][77] and as "the UK's Chief Atheist".[78]

Dawkins believes that his own atheism is the logical extension of his understanding of evolution[79] and that religion is incompatible with science.[80] In his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins wrote:

An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: "I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn't a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one." I can't help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.[81]

In his 1991 essay "Viruses of the Mind" (from which the term faith-sufferer originated), he suggested that memetic theory might analyse and explain the phenomenon of religious belief and some of the common characteristics of religions, such as the belief that punishment awaits non-believers. According to Dawkins, faith − belief that is not based on evidence − is one of the world's great evils. He claims it to be analogous to the smallpox virus, though more difficult to eradicate.[82] Dawkins is well known for his contempt for religious extremism, from Islamist terrorism[83] to Christian fundamentalism; but he has also argued with liberal believers and religious scientists, from biologists Kenneth Miller[84] and Francis Collins[85] to theologians Alister McGrath and Richard Harries.[86] Dawkins has stated that his opposition to religion is twofold, claiming it to be both a source of conflict and a justification for belief without evidence.[87] However, he describes himself as a "cultural Christian",[88] and proposed the slogan "Atheists for Jesus".[89]

Following the 11 September 2001 attacks, when asked how the world might have changed, Dawkins responded:

Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful![90]

Dawkins has especially risen to prominence in contemporary public debates relating science and religion since the publication of his 2006 book The God Delusion, which has achieved greater sales figures worldwide than any of his other works to date. Its success has been seen by many as indicative of a change in the contemporary cultural zeitgeist, central to a recent rise in the popularity of atheistic literature.[91][92] The God Delusion was praised by among others the Nobel laureates Sir Harold Kroto and James D. Watson and by psychologist Steven Pinker.[93] In the book, Dawkins suggested that atheists should be proud, not apologetic, because atheism is evidence of a healthy, independent mind.[94] He sees education and consciousness-raising as the primary tools in opposing what he considers to be religious dogma and indoctrination.[15][95][96] These tools include the fight against certain stereotypes, and he has adopted the term Bright as a way of associating positive public connotations with those who possess a naturalistic worldview.[96] Dawkins notes that feminists have succeeded in arousing widespread embarrassment at the routine use of "he" instead of "she". Similarly, he suggests, a phrase such as "Catholic child" or "Muslim child" should be considered just as socially absurd as, for instance, "Marxist child": children should not be classified based on their parents' ideological beliefs.[96] According to Dawkins, there is no such thing as a Christian child or a Muslim child, as children have about as much capacity to make the decision to become Christians or Muslims as they do to become Marxists.[94]

In January 2006 Dawkins presented a two-part television documentary The Root of All Evil?, addressing what he sees as the malignant influence of religion on society. The title itself is one that Dawkins disliked, noting that religion shouldn't be regarded as the root of all evil.[97] Critics have said that the programme gave too much time to marginal figures and extremists, and that Dawkins' confrontational style did not help his cause and exhibited similarities with the approaches of religious fundamentalists more than with the approaches of the dispassionate, analytic approach of 'hard' science;[98][99] Dawkins rejected these claims, citing the number of moderate religious broadcasts in everyday media as providing a suitable balance to the extremists in the programmes. He further remarked that someone who is deemed an "extremist" in a religiously moderate country may well be considered "mainstream" in a religiously conservative one.[100] The unedited recordings of Dawkins' conversations with Alister McGrath and Richard Harries, including material unused in the broadcast version, have been made available online by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.[101]

Dawkins' work has been controversial, and a number of Christian thinkers have responded to it. For example, Oxford theologian Alister McGrath (author of The Dawkins Delusion and Dawkins' God) maintains that Dawkins is ignorant of Christian theology, and therefore unable to engage religion and faith intelligently.[102] In reply, Dawkins asks "do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?",[103] and − in the paperback edition of The God Delusion − he refers to the American biologist PZ Myers, who has satirised this line of argument as "The Courtier's Reply".[104] Dawkins had an extended debate with McGrath at the 2007 Sunday Times Literary Festival.[105]

Dawkins argues that "the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other".[106] He disagrees with Stephen Jay Gould's principle of nonoverlapping magisteria. In an interview with Time magazine, Dawkins said:

I think that Gould's separate compartments was a purely political ploy to win middle-of-the-road religious people to the science camp. But it's a very empty idea. There are plenty of places where religion does not keep off the scientific turf. Any belief in miracles is flat contradictory not just to the facts of science but to the spirit of science.[107]

Astrophysicist Martin Rees, who has described himself as an unbeliever who identifies with Christianity from a cultural perspective, has suggested that Dawkins' attack on mainstream religion is unhelpful.[108] Regarding Rees' claim in his book Our Cosmic Habitat that "such questions lie beyond science", Dawkins asks "what expertise can theologians bring to deep cosmological questions that scientists cannot?"[109][110] Elsewhere, Dawkins has written that "there's all the difference in the world between a belief that one is prepared to defend by quoting evidence and logic, and a belief that is supported by nothing more than tradition, authority or revelation."[82] As examples of "good scientists who are sincerely religious", Dawkins names Arthur Peacocke, Russell Stannard, John Polkinghorne and Francis Collins, but says "I remain baffled ... by their belief in the details of the Christian religion."[111][112][113][114][115] He has said that the publication of The God Delusion is "probably the culmination" of his campaign against religion.[116]

In 2007 Dawkins founded the Out Campaign to encourage atheists worldwide to declare their stance publicly and proudly.[117] Inspired by the gay rights movement, Dawkins hopes that atheists' identifying of themselves as such, and thereby increasing public awareness of how many people hold these views, will reduce the negative opinion of atheism among the religious majority.[118][119]

In September 2008, following a complaint by Islamic creationist Adnan Oktar, a court in Turkey blocked access to Dawkins' website richarddawkins.net. The court decision was made due to "insult to personality".[120][121][122][123][124][125] As of 8 July 2011, richarddawkins.net is no longer blocked in Turkey.[126]

Dawkins with Ariane Sherine at the Atheist Bus Campaign launch in London

In October 2008, Dawkins officially supported the UK's first atheist advertising initiative, the Atheist Bus Campaign. Created by Guardian journalist Ariane Sherine and administered by the British Humanist Association the campaign aimed to raise funds to place atheist adverts on buses in the London area, and Dawkins pledged to match the amount raised by atheists, up to a maximum of £5,500. However, the campaign was an unprecedented success, raising over £100,000 in its first four days, and generating global press coverage.[127][128] The campaign, started in January 2009, features adverts across the UK with the slogan: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." Dawkins said that "this campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think—and thinking is anathema to religion."[129]

In 2010 Dawkins supported legal efforts to charge Pope Benedict XVI with crimes against humanity. Dawkins and fellow anti-religion campaigner Christopher Hitchens were believed to have explored the option of attempting to have the Pope arrested under the same legal principle that saw Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet arrested during a visit to Britain in 1998.[130]

Dawkins has given support to the idea of a "free thinking" school which he calls "Think for Yourself Academy".[131] The school would not "indoctrinate children in atheism, any more than in religion" but it would teach children to "ask for evidence, to be sceptical, critical, open-minded".[132][133]

On 15 September 2010, Dawkins, along with 54 other public figures, signed an open letter published in The Guardian, stating their opposition to Pope Benedict XVI making a State visit to the United Kingdom.[134]

Richard Dawkins Foundation

In 2006 Dawkins founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS), a non-profit organisation. The foundation is in developmental phase. It has been granted charitable status in the United Kingdom and the United States. RDFRS plans to finance research on the psychology of belief and religion, finance scientific education programs and materials, and publicise and support secular charitable organisations. The foundation also offers humanist, rationalist and scientific materials and information through its website.[135]

Dawkins has said the "trend toward theocratic thinking in the United States is a danger not only for America but for the entire world." Connected to this concern, Dawkins invited Sean Faircloth to serve as opening speaker on Dawkins' 2011 US book tour. Faircloth is author of the book Attack of the Theocrats, How the Religious Right Harms Us All and What We Can Do About It. The Richard Dawkins Foundation (United States branch) later hired Faircloth, who has ten years experience as a state legislator, as Director of Strategy and Policy.[136]

Other fields

Dawkins talking at Kepler's Books, Menlo Park, California, 29 October 2006.

In his role as professor for public understanding of science, Dawkins has been a critic of pseudoscience and alternative medicine. His 1998 book Unweaving the Rainbow takes John Keats' accusation that, by explaining the rainbow, Isaac Newton had diminished its beauty, and argues for the opposite conclusion. He suggests that deep space, the billions of years of life's evolution, and the microscopic workings of biology and heredity contain more beauty and wonder than do "myths" and "pseudoscience".[137] Dawkins wrote a foreword to John Diamond's posthumously published Snake Oil, a book devoted to debunking alternative medicine, in which he asserted that alternative medicine was harmful, if only because it distracted patients from more successful conventional treatments, and gave people false hopes.[138] Dawkins states that "there is no alternative medicine. There is only medicine that works and medicine that doesn't work."[139]

Dawkins has expressed concern about the growth of the planet's human population, and about the matter of overpopulation.[140] In The Selfish Gene, he briefly mentions population growth, giving the example of Latin America, whose population, at the time the book was written, was doubling every 40 years. He is critical of Roman Catholic attitudes to family planning and population control, stating that leaders who forbid contraception and "express a preference for 'natural' methods of population limitation" will get just such a method in the form of starvation.[141]

As a supporter of the Great Ape Project – a movement to extend certain moral and legal rights to all great apes – Dawkins contributed the article "Gaps in the Mind" to the Great Ape Project book edited by Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer. In this essay, he criticises contemporary society's moral attitudes as being based on a "discontinuous, speciesist imperative".[142]

Dawkins also regularly comments in newspapers and weblogs on contemporary political questions; his opinions include opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq,[143] the British nuclear deterrent and the actions of US President George W. Bush.[144] Several such articles were included in A Devil's Chaplain, an anthology of writings about science, religion and politics. He is also a supporter of the Republic campaign to replace the British monarchy with a democratically elected president.[145] Dawkins has described himself as a Labour voter in the 1970s[146] and voter for the Liberal Democrats since the party's creation.[147] In 2009 he spoke at the party's conference in opposition to blasphemy laws, alternative medicine and faith schools. In the UK general election of 2010, Dawkins officially endorsed the Liberal Democrats, in support of their campaign for electoral reform and for their "refusal to pander to 'faith'."[148]

In the 2007 TV documentary The Enemies of Reason,[149] Dawkins discusses what he sees as the dangers of abandoning critical thought and rationale based upon scientific evidence. He specifically cites astrology, spiritualism, dowsing, alternative faiths, alternative medicine and homeopathy. He also discusses how the Internet can be used to spread religious hatred and conspiracy theories with scant attention to evidence-based reasoning.

Continuing a long-standing partnership with Channel 4, Dawkins participated in a five-part television series The Genius of Britain, along with fellow scientists Stephen Hawking, James Dyson, Paul Nurse, and Jim Al-Khalili. The five-episode series was broadcast in June 2010.[150] The series focussed on major British scientific achievements throughout history.

Dawkins presented a More4 documentary entitled Faith School Menace? in which he argued for "us to reconsider the consequences of faith education, which... bamboozles parents and indoctrinates and divides children."[151][152]

In 1998 Dawkins expressed his appreciation for two books, famous for their criticism of postmodernism in US universities, in departments like literary studies, anthropology and other cultural studies; the two books are Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science (by Gross and Levitt) and Intellectual Impostures (by Sokal and Bricmont), both related to the Sokal affair hoax.[153] In the same occasion Dawkins also criticised Cambridge University for awarding philosopher Jacques Derrida an honorary doctorate.[153]

In 2011 Dawkins joined the professoriate of the New College of the Humanities, a new private university in London established by A. C. Grayling, which is scheduled to open in September 2012.[154]

Awards and recognition

Dawkins receiving the Deschner Prize in Frankfurt, 12 October 2007, from Karlheinz Deschner.

Dawkins was awarded a Doctor of Science by the University of Oxford in 1989. He holds honorary doctorates in science from the University of Huddersfield, University of Westminster, Durham University,[155] the University of Hull, the University of Antwerp, and the University of Oslo,[156] and honorary doctorates from the University of Aberdeen,[157] Open University, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel,[6] and the University of Valencia.[158] He also holds honorary doctorates of letters from the University of St Andrews and the Australian National University (HonLittD, 1996), and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1997 and the Royal Society in 2001.[6] He is one of the patrons of the Oxford University Scientific Society.

In 1987 Dawkins received a Royal Society of Literature award and a Los Angeles Times Literary Prize for his book, The Blind Watchmaker. In the same year, he received a Sci. Tech Prize for Best Television Documentary Science Programme of the Year, for the BBC Horizon episode The Blind Watchmaker.[6]

His other awards have included the Zoological Society of London Silver Medal (1989), Finlay innovation award (1990), the Michael Faraday Award (1990), the Nakayama Prize (1994), the American Humanist Association's Humanist of the Year Award (1996), the fifth International Cosmos Prize (1997), the Kistler Prize (2001), the Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Republic (2001), the Bicentennial Kelvin Medal of The Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow (2002)[6] and the Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest (2009).[159]

Dawkins topped Prospect magazine's 2004 list of the top 100 public British intellectuals, as decided by the readers, receiving twice as many votes as the runner-up.[160][161] He has been short-listed as a candidate in their 2008 follow-up poll.[162] In 2005 the Hamburg-based Alfred Toepfer Foundation awarded him its Shakespeare Prize in recognition of his "concise and accessible presentation of scientific knowledge". He won the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science for 2006 and the Galaxy British Book Awards Author of the Year Award for 2007.[163] In the same year, he was listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2007,[164] and he was ranked 20th in The Daily Telegraph's 2007 list of 100 greatest living geniuses.[165] He was awarded the Deschner Award, named after German anti-clerical author Karlheinz Deschner.[166]

Since 2003, the Atheist Alliance International has awarded a prize during its annual conference, honouring an outstanding atheist whose work has done most to raise public awareness of atheism during that year. It is known as the Richard Dawkins Award, in honour of Dawkins' own work.[167]

In February 2010 he was named to the Freedom From Religion Foundation's Honorary Board of distinguished achievers.[168]

Media

Selected publications

Documentary films

Other appearances

Notes

a. ^ W. D. Hamilton hugely influenced Dawkins and the influence can be seen throughout Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene.[15] They became friends at Oxford and following Hamilton's death in 2000, Dawkins wrote his obituary and organised a secular memorial service.[171]

b. ^ The debate ended with the motion "That the doctrine of creation is more valid than the theory of evolution" being defeated by 198 votes to 115.[172][173]

References

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