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|Born||Clinton Richard Dawkins
26 March 1941
Nairobi, Kenya Colony
|Education||MA, DPhil (Oxon)|
|Alma mater||Balliol College, Oxford|
|Thesis||Selective pecking in the domestic chick (1967)|
|Doctoral advisor||Nikolaas Tinbergen|
|Doctoral students||Alan Grafen, Mark Ridley|
|Known for||Gene-centred view of evolution, concept of the meme, advocacy of atheism and science|
|Influences||Charles Darwin, Ronald Fisher, George C. Williams, W. D. Hamilton, Daniel Dennett, Bertrand Russell, Nikolaas Tinbergen, John Maynard Smith, Robert Trivers|
|Notable awards||ZSL Silver Medal (1989)
Faraday Award (1990)
Kistler Prize (2001)
|Spouse||Marian Stamp Dawkins
Eve Barham (m. 1984–?)
Lalla Ward (m. 1992–present)
|Children||Juliet Emma Dawkins (born 1984)|
Clinton Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL (born 26 March 1941) is an English ethologist,evolutionary biologist and author. He is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, and was the University of Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008.
Dawkins 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 introduced into evolutionary biology the influential concept 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; this concept is presented in his book The Extended Phenotype.
Dawkins is an atheist, a vice president of the British Humanist Association, and a 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 argues against the watchmaker analogy, an argument for the existence of a supernatural creator based upon the complexity of living organisms. Instead, he describes 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 bookThe God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that religious faith is a delusion—"a fixed false belief". As of January 2010, the English-language version had sold more than two million copies and had been translated into 31 languages.
Dawkins was born in Nairobi, Kenya. His father, Clinton John Dawkins (1915–2010), was an agricultural civil servant in the British colonial service in Nyasaland (now Malawi). Dawkins has a younger sister. His father was called up into the King's African Rifles during World War II; he returned 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. Both his parents were interested in natural sciences; they answered Dawkins's questions in scientific terms.
Dawkins describes his childhood as "a normal Anglican upbringing". He was a Christian until half way through his teenage years, at which point he concluded that the theory of evolution was a better explanation for life's complexity, and ceased believing in a god. Dawkins states: "the main residual reason why I was religious was from being so impressed with the complexity of life and feeling that it had to have a designer, and I think it was when I realised that Darwinism was a far superior explanation that pulled the rug out from under the argument of design. And that left me with nothing."
He attended Oundle School, an English public school with a distinct Church of England flavour, from 1954 to 1959, where he was inLaundimer house. He studied zoology at Balliol College, Oxford, graduating in 1962; while there, he was tutored by Nobel Prize-winning ethologist Nikolaas Tinbergen. 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. Tinbergen was a pioneer in the study of animal behaviour, particularly in the areas of instinct, learning and choice; Dawkins's research in this period concerned models of animal decision-making.
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. He returned to the University of Oxford in 1970, taking a position as a lecturer. In 1990, he became 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", and that its first holder should be Richard Dawkins.
Since 1970, he has been a fellow of New College, Oxford. He has delivered a number of inaugural and other lectures, including the Henry Sidgwick Memorial Lecture (1989), the first Erasmus Darwin Memorial Lecture (1990), the Michael FaradayLecture (1991), the T. H. Huxley Memorial Lecture (1992), the Irvine Memorial Lecture (1997), the Sheldon Doyle Lecture (1999), the Tinbergen Lecture (2004) and the Tanner Lectures (2003). In 1991, he gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for Children on Growing Up in the Universe. 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.
He has sat on judging panels for awards as diverse as the Royal Society's Faraday Award and the British Academy Television Awards, 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". 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."
On 19 August 1967, Dawkins married fellow ethologist Marian Stamp in Annestown, County Waterford, Ireland; they divorced in 1984. Later that same year, on 1 June, he married Eve Barham (19 August 1951–28 February 1999) in Oxford. They had a daughter, Juliet Emma Dawkins (born 1984, Oxford). Dawkins and Barham also divorced. In 1992, he married actress Lalla Ward in Kensington and Chelsea, London. Dawkins met her through their mutual friend Douglas Adams, who had worked with her on the BBC's Doctor Who.
- The Selfish Gene (1976), in which he notes that "all life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities".
- The Extended Phenotype (1982), in which he describes natural selection as "the process whereby replicators out-propagate each other".
Dawkins 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. He is particularly sceptical about the practical possibility or importance of group selection as a basis for understandingaltruism. 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 are doing what is best for the survival of the population or species as a whole. 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.[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. Dawkins popularised these ideas in The Selfish Gene, and developed them in his own work.
Critics of Dawkins's approach suggest that taking the gene as the unit of selection (a single event in which an individual either succeeds or fails to reproduce) is misleading; the gene could be better described, they say, as a unit of evolution (the long-term changes in allele frequencies in a population). In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins explains that he is using George C. Williams's definition of the gene as "that which segregates and recombines with appreciable frequency." Another common objection is that a gene cannot survive alone, but must cooperate with other genes to build an individual, and therefore a gene cannot be an independent "unit". In The Extended Phenotype, Dawkins suggests that 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 Elliott 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, has criticised gene selection, memetics, and sociobiology as being excessively reductionist; she has suggested that the popularity of Dawkins's work is due to factors in the Zeitgeist such as the increased individualism of the Thatcher/Reagan decades.
In a set of controversies over the mechanisms and interpretation of evolution (what has been called 'The Darwin Wars'), one faction is often named after Dawkins, while the other faction is named after the American palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould, reflecting the pre-eminence of each as a populariser of the pertinent ideas. 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. A typical example of Dawkins's position is his scathing review of Not in Our Genes by Steven Rose, Leon J. Kamin, and Richard C. Lewontin. Two other thinkers who are often considered to be allied with Dawkins on the subject are Steven Pinker and Daniel Dennett; Dennett has promoted a gene-centred view of evolution and defended reductionism in biology. 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 Chaplainposthumously to Gould, who had died the previous year.
Dawkins coined the word meme (the behavioural equivalent of a gene) as a way to encourage readers to think about how Darwinian principles might be extended beyond the realm of genes. Indeed, it was intended as an extension of his "replicators" argument, but it took on a life of its own in the hands of other authors such as Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmore. These popularisations then led to the emergence ofmemetics, a field from which Dawkins has distanced himself.
Dawkins's meme refers to any cultural entity that an observer might consider a replicator of a certain idea or 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. Because memes are not always copied perfectly, they might become refined, combined, or otherwise modified with other ideas; this results 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 based on memes, a notion that is analogous to the theory of biological evolution based on genes.
Although Dawkins invented the specific term meme independently, he has not claimed that the idea itself was entirely novel, 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. In 1904, Semon published Die Mneme (which appeared in English in 1924 as The Mneme). This book discusses 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's concept. Author James Gleick describes Dawkins's concept of the meme as "his most famous memorable invention, far more influential than his selfish genes or his later proselytizing against religiosity".
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 argues against the watchmaker analogy made famous by the 18th-century English theologian William Paley via his book Natural Theology, in which Paley argues 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.
In 1986, Dawkins and biologist John Maynard Smithparticipated in an Oxford Union debate against A. E. Wilder-Smith (a Young Earth creationist) and Edgar Andrews (president of theBiblical 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 ofengaging 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."
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 referred to in the media as "Darwin's Rottweiler", 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 schools with the delivery of books, DVDs, and pamphlets that counteract their (Truth in Science's) work, which Dawkins has described as an "educational scandal".
Advocacy of atheism
Dawkins is an outspoken atheist and a supporter of various atheist, secular, and humanistic organisations. Although he was confirmed into the Church of England at the age of thirteen, he started to lose his religious faith when he discovered Darwin. He revealed that his understanding of evolution led him to atheism and is puzzled by belief in God among individuals who are sophisticated in science. He disagrees with Stephen Jay Gould's principle of nonoverlapping magisteria and considers the existence of God to be just another scientific hypothesis like any other.
Dawkins became a prominent critic of religion and has stated his opposition to religion is twofold: Religion is both a source of conflict and a justification for belief without evidence. He considers faith—belief that is not based on evidence—as one of the world's great evils. He rose to prominence in public debates relating science and religion since the publication of his book The God Delusion in 2006, which became an international best seller. Its success has been seen by many as indicative of a change in the contemporary cultural zeitgeistand has also been identified with the rise of New Atheism.
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 anaturalistic worldview. He has given support to the idea of a free thinking school, which would not indoctrinate children in atheism or in any religion but would instead teach children to be critical and open-minded. Inspired by the consciousness-raising successes of feminists in arousing widespread embarrassment at the routine use of "he" instead of "she", Dawkins similarly suggests that phrases such as "Catholic child" and "Muslim child" should be considered as socially absurd as, for instance, "Marxist child", as he believes that children should not be classified based on their parents' ideological or religious beliefs.
Dawkins suggests that atheists should be proud, not apologetic, stressing that atheism is evidence of a healthy, independent mind. He hopes that the more atheists identify themselves, the more the public will become aware of just how many people actually hold these views, thereby reducing the negative opinion of atheism among the religious majority. Inspired by the gay rights movement, he founded the Out Campaign to encourage atheists worldwide to declare their stance publicly and proudly. He supported the UK's first atheist advertising initiative, the Atheist Bus Campaign in 2008, which aimed to raise funds to place atheist advertisements on buses in the London area.
Dawkin's advocacy of atheism has been controversial. Writer Christopher Hitchens has defended the perceived stridency of Dawkin's stance towards religion while Nobel laureates Sir Harold Kroto and James D. Watson and psychologist Steven Pinker have lavished praise on his book, The God Delusion. In contrast, literary critic Terry Eagleton, theologian Alister McGrath, and science philosopher Michael Rusehave accused Dawkins of being ignorant of theology and therefore unable to engage religion and faith intelligently while scientists Martin Rees and Peter Higgs have criticised Dawkin's confrontational stance towards religion as unhelpful, with Higgs going as far as to label him a fundamentalist. In response to his critics, Dawkins maintains that theologians are no better than scientists in addressing deep cosmological questions and that he himself is not a fundamentalist as he is willing to change his mind in the face of new evidence.
In 2006, Dawkins founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS), a non-profit organisation. The foundation is in a 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 charitable organisations that are secularin nature. The foundation also offers humanist, rationalist, and scientific materials through its website.
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's 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.
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 considers John Keats's accusation that by explaining the rainbow, Isaac Newton diminished its beauty; Dawkins 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". For John Diamond's posthumously published Snake Oil, a book devoted to debunking alternative medicine, Dawkins wrote a foreword in which he asserts that alternative medicine is harmful, if only because it distracts patients from more successful conventional treatments and gives people false hopes. Dawkins states that "there is no alternative medicine. There is only medicine that works and medicine that doesn't work."
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 starvation.
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".
Dawkins also regularly comments in newspapers and weblogs on contemporary political questions; his opinions include opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the British nuclear deterrent, and the actions of US 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 also a supporter of the Republic's campaign to replace the British monarchy with a democratically elected president. Dawkins has described himself as a Labour voter in the 1970s and voter for the Liberal Democrats since the party's creation. 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'."
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, andhomoeopathy. 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 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. The series focuses on major British scientific achievements throughout history.
In a More4 documentary entitled Faith School Menace? and presented by Dawkins, he argues "for us to reconsider the consequences of faith education, which... bamboozles parents, and indoctrinates and divides children."
In 1998, Dawkins expressed his appreciation for two books connected with the Sokal affair:
- Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science by Gross and Levitt.
- Intellectual Impostures by Sokal and Bricmont.
These books are famous for their criticism of postmodernism in US universities (namely in the departments of literary studies, anthropology, and other cultural studies). In the same occasion, Dawkins also criticised Cambridge University for awarding philosopher Jacques Derrida anhonorary doctorate.
Awards and recognition
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, the University of Hull, the University of Antwerp, and the University of Oslo, and honorary doctorates from the University of Aberdeen, Open University, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and theUniversity of Valencia. 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. 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 his work on the BBC's Horizon episode, The Blind Watchmaker.
His other awards include the Zoological Society of London's Silver Medal (1989), the 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), theKistler Prize (2001), the Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Republic (2001), the Bicentennial Kelvin Medal ofThe Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow (2002), and the Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest (2009).
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. He was short-listed as a candidate in their 2008 follow-up poll. 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, as well as the Galaxy British Book Awards's 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 he was ranked 20th in The Daily Telegraph's 2007 list of 100 greatest living geniuses. He was awarded the Deschner Award, named after German anti-clerical author Karlheinz Deschner.
Since 2003, the Atheist Alliance International has awarded a prize during its annual conference, honouring an outstanding atheist whose work has done the most to raise public awareness of atheism during that year; it is known as the Richard Dawkins Award, in honour of Dawkins's own efforts.
In 2012, scientists studying fish in Sri Lanka honored Dawkins by creating Dawkinsia as a new genus name (members of this genus were formerly members of the genus Puntius). Explaining the reasoning behind the genus name, lead researcher Rohan Pethiyagoda was quoted as stating that "Richard Dawkins has, through his writings, helped us understand that the universe is far more beautiful and awe-inspiring than any religion has imagined [...] We hope thatDawkinsia will serve as a reminder of the elegance and simplicity of evolution, the only rational explanation there is for the unimaginable diversity of life on Earth."
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a. ^ W. D. Hamilton hugely influenced Dawkins and the influence can be seen throughout Dawkins's book The Selfish Gene. They became friends at Oxford and following Hamilton's death in 2000, Dawkins wrote his obituary and organised a secularmemorial service.
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