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Clinton Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL (born 26 March 1941) is a Britishmarker biological theorist with a background in ethology. He is a popular science author focusing on evolution.

Dawkins is one of Britain's best-known academics. He came to prominence with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, which popularised the gene-centred view of evolution and introduced the term meme. In 1982, he further developed the gene-centred view with his book The Extended Phenotype:The Gene as the Unit of Selection, emphasizing that the phenotypic effects of genes are not necessarily limited to an organism's body but can stretch via biochemistry and behaviour into other organisms and the environment. He is well-known as a presenter of the case for rationalism and scientific thinking. His later works continued to expand upon these ideas and their implications.

Dawkins is one of the world's most widely publicised atheists. He is a prominent critic of religion, creationism and pseudoscience. In his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design, 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 a dysteleological perspective on the process of evolution by natural selection as "blind", without a design or a goal. In his 2006 million-selling book The God Delusion, he contended that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist, writing that such beliefs, based on faith rather than on evidence, qualify as a delusion. He was a co-founder of the Out Campaign, as a means of advancing atheism and freethought.

Dawkins retired from Oxford University in 2008 and remains a writer and public figure.

Early life and education

Dawkins was born in Nairobimarker, Colony of Kenya, British Empire. His father, Clinton John Dawkins, was an agricultural civil servant in the British colonial service, in Nyasaland (now Malawimarker). His father was called up into the King's African Rifles during the second world war and was based in Kenyamarker, returning to England in 1949, when Richard was eight. Both of his parents were interested in natural sciences, and they answered his questions in scientific terms. He describes his childhood as "a normal Anglican upbringing". Though he began having doubts about the existence of God when he was about nine years old, he was persuaded by the argument from design, an argument for the existence of God or a creator based on perceived evidence of order, purpose, or design in nature. He attended Oundle Schoolmarker from 1954 to 1959. By his mid-teens, he had instead concluded that the theory of evolution was a better explanation for life's complexity, and became nonreligious.

Dawkins studied zoology at Balliol College, Oxfordmarker, where he was tutored by Nobel Prize-winning ethologist Nikolaas Tinbergen, graduating in 1962. He continued as a research student under Tinbergen's supervision at the University of Oxfordmarker, receiving his M.A. and D.Phil. degrees in 1966, while staying as a research assistant for another year. Tinbergen was a pioneer in the study of animal behaviour, particularly the questions of instinct, learning and choice. His research in this period concerned models of animal decision making.

Career in academia

From 1967 to 1969, Dawkins was an assistant professor of zoology at the University of California, Berkeleymarker. During this period, the students and faculty at UC Berkeley were largely opposed to the ongoing Vietnam War, and he became heavily involved in the anti-war demonstrations and activities. He returned to the University of Oxford in 1970 as a lecturer in zoology, and in 1990 was appointed a Reader.

In 1995, Dawkins was appointed Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science in the University of 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". Since 1970, he has been a fellow of New College, Oxfordmarker. In September 2008, he retired from Oxford.

Dawkins has been referred to in the media as "Darwin's Rottweiler", by analogy with English biologist T. H. Huxley, who was known as "Darwin's Bulldog" for his advocacy of Charles Darwin's evolutionary ideas. During a mid-2008 BBC video on the science advice he might give to a U.S. President, Dawkins suggested

Career as a popular science writer

Dawkins' latest book, entitled The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, expounds the evidence for biological evolution. All of his previous works dealing with evolution had assumed its truth, and not explicitly provided the evidence to this effect. This book was written to fill that gap. He has announced plans to "write a book aimed at youngsters in which he will warn them against believing in 'anti-scientific' fairytales". It will be published by Transworld, and is set to be released in autumn 2011.

Selfish gene

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". 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 popularised these ideas in The Selfish Gene, and developed them in his own work. He is particularly sceptical about the practical possibility or importance of group selection as a basis for understanding altruism.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.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.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".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. To those who opposed the "selfish gene" idea, Dawkins could be merciless; 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.

The concept of the selfish gene has cause some controversy because of its apparent philosophical implications, based on one's theory of mind and whether one views the validity of the concept of selfish gene as definitely the primary or perhaps only means of selection. Some, such as Steven Pinker and Daniel Dennett, accept the latter. Dennett has promoted a gene-centred view of evolution and defended reductionism in biology.A pair of new disciplines that emerged from this school of thought were sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. While many biologists think of selfish gene as one of several possible mechanisms by which selection occurs and may or may not use its terminology to describe their work, some non-biologists have expressed concern that an overemphasis on the concept leads one to make oversimplifications and to infer erroneous implications. This difference in emphasis led to the so-called 'Darwin Wars' (which is closely related to the ongoing evolutionary psychology controversy), leading to several exchanges between Dawkins and the Americanmarker paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould over the matter. He has consistently been sceptical about non-adaptive processes in evolution (such as spandrels, described by Gould and Lewontin) and about selection at levels "above" that of the gene. 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.The philosopher Mary Midgley, whom Dawkins clashed with in print concerning The Selfish Gene, has criticised gene selection, memetics and sociobiology as being excessively reductionist.

Meme

Dawkins coined the word meme (the cultural equivalent of a gene) to describe how Darwinian principles might be extended to explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. This has spawned the field of memetics. Dawkins' memes refer to any cultural entity which an observer might consider a replicator. 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. 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.

Atheism and rationalism



Dawkins is an outspoken atheist, secular humanist, sceptic, scientific rationalist, and supporter of the Brights movement. He has involved himself with the corresponding organizations. As early as a 1996 Oxford debate including Shmuley Boteach, he was introduced as "The World's most famous atheist".He is a prominent critic of religion, and has been described as a militant atheist.He is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society, a vice-president of the British Humanist Association (since 1996), a Distinguished Supporter of the Humanist Society of Scotland, a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism, and a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.In 2003, he was a signatory of the humanist manifesto Humanism and Its Aspirations, published by the American Humanist Association.

Dawkins uses his scientific naturalistic world view as the basis for his atheism. In his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker, he wrote that even in the time of Hume, God was not considered a complete explanation for complex biological structures, but that Man had to wait for Darwin before it was possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.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.He believes that his own atheism is the logical extension of his understanding of evolution and that religion is incompatible with science.Dawkins suggests that religion does not provide new information to answer cosmological questions.Dawkins stresses that beliefs should be supported by evidence and logic. As examples of good scientists who are sincerely religious, Dawkins names Arthur Peacocke, Russell Stannard, John Polkinghorne and Francis Collins, but he does not support their beliefs in the details of the Christian religion. He disagrees with Stephen Jay Gould's principle of nonoverlapping magisteria (NOMA), suspecting it of being a purely political ploy to provide a bridge between science and religion.

Dawkins has a large set of reasons for his anti-religious stance. Dawkins is well-known for his contempt for religious extremism, from Islamist terrorism to Christian fundamentalism; but he has argued with liberal believers and religious scientists, from biologists Kenneth Miller and Francis Collins to theologians Alister McGrath and Richard Harries.Dawkins has described himself as a "cultural Christian", even proposing the slogan "Atheists for Jesus", but that his opposition to religion is twofold, claiming it to be both a source of conflict and a justification for belief without evidence.Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, he pointed to the incident as evidence of religion as dangerous nonsense that was undeserving of respect.He argued that atheists should be proud, not apologetic, because atheism is evidence of a healthy, independent mind.He argues that the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis. In January 2006, he presented a two-part television documentary entitled The Root of All Evil?, addressing what he sees as the malignant influence of religion on society. The title itself is one with which he has repeatedly expressed his dissatisfaction.Critics have said that the programme gave too much time to marginal figures and extremists, and that his confrontational style did not help his cause; 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. Dawkins has said that the publication of The God Delusion is "probably the culmination" of his campaign against religion.

Dawkins sees education and consciousness-raising as the primary tools in opposing what he considers to be religious dogma and indoctrination. 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.He targets how children how indoctrinated into religion and how this results into their polarization within age-old religious and sectarian conflicts. 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. 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. He feels that religion should receive no special exceptions to rules in the classroom.He notes that feminists have succeeded in arousing widespread embarrassment at the routine use of "he" instead of "she". In 2007, Dawkins founded the Out Campaign to encourage atheists worldwide to declare their stance publicly and proudly. 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.

Dawkins anti-religious stance has prompted a wide variety of response. The unedited recordings for The Root of All Evil? of Dawkins' conversations with Oxford theologian Alister McGrath and Richard Harries, including material unused in the broadcast version, have been made available online. McGrath (author of The Dawkins Delusion) maintains that Dawkins is "ignorant" of Christian theology, and therefore unable to engage religion and faith intelligently.In reply, Dawkins asks "do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?"Dawkins had an extended debate with McGrath at the 2007 Sunday Times Literary Festival.Dawkins has attracted some criticism from Christian intellectuals, not because of his conclusions, but because they asserted that many of his arguments were fallacious.Christian philosopher Keith Ward explores similar themes in his 2006 book Is Religion Dangerous?, arguing against the view of Dawkins and others that religion is socially dangerous.Criticism of The God Delusion has come from philosophers such as Professor John Cottingham of the University of Reading. Other commentators, including ethicist Margaret Somerville, have suggested that Dawkins overstates the case against religion, particularly its role in human conflict. Many of Dawkins' defenders claim that critics generally misunderstand his real point. During a debate on Radio 3 Hong Kong, David Nicholls, writer and president of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, reiterated Dawkins' sentiments that religion is an unnecessary aspect of global problems.Dawkins' web site receives a wide range of emails and other messages, many dozens of which are indexed via a page entitled the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.In September 2008, following a complaint by Islamic creationist Adnan Oktar, a court in Turkeymarker blocked access to Dawkins' website richarddawkins.net. The court decision was based on the claim of "insult to personality".

Dawkins has risen to greater prominence in public debates about science and religion since the publication of his 2006 book The God Delusion, which is by far his best-selling book. 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.He is characterized as a part of the new atheism and often mentioned with Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett.With the former two, they are referred to as the Unholy Trinity and all four made a two-hour video entitled "The Four Horsemen". The God Delusion was praised by many intellectuals including the Nobel laureate chemist Sir Harold Kroto, psychologist Steven Pinker and the Nobel laureate biologist James D. Watson.

Dawkins with Ariane Sherine at the Atheist Bus Campaign launch
In October 2008, Dawkins officially supported the UK's first atheist advertising initiative, the Atheist Bus Campaign. Created by Guardian journalist Ariane Sherine, 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. 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." A Church of England spokesman said "Christian belief is not about worrying or not enjoying life. Quite the opposite: our faith liberates us to put this life into a proper perspective."

Criticism of creationism

Dawkins is a prominent critic of creationism (the religious belief that humanity, life and the universe were created by a deity, without recourse to evolution). He has described the Young Earth creationist view that the Earth is only a few thousand years old as "a preposterous, mind-shrinking falsehood," 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 Englishmarker 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. According to Dawkins, however, 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. In 1986, Dawkins participated in a Oxford Unionmarker 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. 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 doing so would give them the "oxygen of respectability" they crave. 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."

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."

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". 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 delivering of books, DVDs and pamphlets to schools, in order to counteract what he has described as an "educational scandal".

Other fields



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".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.Dawkins later wrote that "there is no alternative medicine. There is only medicine that works and medicine that doesn't work."In the 2007 TV documentary The Enemies of Reason, 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 has noted that libel laws in Britain and particularly how they are enforced in London stifles criticism of pseudoscience.

Dawkins has taken stances as an environmentalist and with selected aspects of animal rights. As a supporter of the Great Ape Project – a movement to extend certain moral and legal rights to all great apes – Dawkins contributed an article entitled "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".Dawkins has expressed concern about the growth of the planet's human population, and about the matter of overpopulation. 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 Malthusian catastrophe such as starvation.

Dawkins has been involved in many media productions about this political agenda. He regularly comments on contemporary political questions via Internet and traditional media; his opinions include opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the British nuclear deterrent and many of the actions of U.S. President George W. Bush. Several such articles were included in A Devil's Chaplain, an anthology of writings about science, religion and politics. He is a supporter of the Republic campaign to replace the British monarchy with a democratically-elected president.In The Enemies of Reason documentary he discusses how the Internet can be used to spread religious hatred and conspiracy theories with scant attention to evidence-based reasoning. Dawkins is set to present an episode of the upcoming five-part television series The Genius of Britain, along with fellow scientists Stephen Hawking, James Dyson, Paul Nurse, and Jim Al-Khalili. This is part of a long-standing partnership with Channel 4. The programme will focus on major British scientific achievements throughout history.

Foundation

In 2006, Dawkins founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS), a non-profit organisation. The foundation is in developmental phase. The Foundation was granted charitable status in the United Kingdommarker and the United Statesmarker. RDFRS plans to finance research on the psychology of belief and religion, finance scientific education programs and materials, and publicise and support secular charitable organisation. The foundation offers humanist, rationalist and scientific materials and information through its website. Unedited interviews of some of Dawkins' video productions are made available by the RDFRS.

Awards and recognition

Dawkins has been recognized many times as a science writer. He was awarded a Doctor of Science by the University of Oxford in 1989. He holds honorary doctorates in science from the University of Huddersfieldmarker, University of Westminstermarker, Durham Universitymarker, the University of Hull, and the University of Antwerpmarker, and honorary doctorates from the Open Universitymarker, the Vrije Universiteit Brusselmarker, and the University of Valencia.He holds honorary doctorates of letters from the University of St Andrewsmarker and the Australian National Universitymarker, and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1997 and the Royal Society in 2001. 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 entitled The Blind Watchmaker. Asteroid 8331 Dawkins is named after Dawkins. 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) and the Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest (2009). In 2005, the Hamburgmarker-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.In the same year, he was listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2007, and was awarded the Deschner Award, named after German anti-clerical author Karlheinz Deschner.

Dawkins has been recognized as an intellectual. He 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 and placing high on the worldwide 2005 and 2008 listings of Top 100 Public Intellectuals Poll. He has been short-listed as a candidate in their 2008 follow-up poll.Dawkins has been honored for his promotion of atheism. The Richard Dawkins Award has, since 2003, been awarded by the Atheist Alliance International during its annual conference, honouring an outstanding atheist whose work has done most to raise public awareness of atheism during that year.

Personal life

Dawkins is in his third marriage. On August 19, 1967, Dawkins married fellow ethologist Marian Stamp; they divorced in 1984. Later that same year, on June 1, Dawkins married Eve Barham − with whom he had a daughter, Juliet Emma Dawkins − but they too divorced, and Barham died of cancer on 28 February 1999. In 1992, he married actress Lalla Ward. Dawkins had met her through their mutual friend Douglas Adams, who had previously worked with Ward on the BBC science-fiction television programme Doctor Who. Ward has illustrated over half of Dawkins' books and co-narrated the audio versions of several of his books; The Ancestor's Tale, The God Delusion and The Greatest Show on Earth.

Media

Books



See also:

Documentary films



Books about Dawkins

See also: Responses to The God Delusion

Notes

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

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.


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