The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Richard Dawkins

Professor Clinton Richard Dawkins, FRS (born March 26, 1941), better known as Richard Dawkins, is a British ethologist and popular science writer. He is best known for popularising the Williams Revolution in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. He is also an outspoken atheist.



Dawkins comes from an upper-middle class family which can be found in the pages of Burke's Landed Gentry as "Dawkins of Over Norton". His father, John Clinton Dawkins, was a descendant of the Clinton family which held the Earldom of Lincoln. His mother was Jean Mary Vyvyan Dawkins (née Ladner). He was born in Nairobi, Kenya, where his father was a soldier.

Dawkins moved to England when he was eight with his father and was educated at Oundle School. He received a second class BA degree in zoology from Balliol College, Oxford in 1962, where he studied under the Dutch ethologist Nikolaas Tinbergen. This was followed by an MA and DPhil in 1966.

He married Marian Stamp on August 19, 1967, but they divorced in 1984. On June 1 the same year, Dawkins married Eve Barham, by whom he had a daughter, Juliet, but they, too, divorced. He married his third wife, actress Lalla Ward, in 1992, after having been introduced to her by Douglas Adams (who was a colleague of hers on the production team of Doctor Who); Dawkins and Adams had quickly become friends after he had written a fan letter to Adams).

Meanwhile, he was an assistant professor of zoology at University of California, Berkeley, between 1967 and 1969. He was lecturer in zoology at Oxford University, and fellow of New College, from 1970 to 1990, and later a reader in zoology, until 1995, when he became the first Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2001.

He is probably best known for his popularisation of the concept of the selfish gene (see "Williams Revolution"), described in his book The Selfish Gene. As an ethologist, interested in animal behaviour and its relation to natural selection, he popularised the idea that the gene is the principal unit of selection in evolution. This gene point of view also provides a basis for understanding kin selection which was originally suggested by J. B. S. Haldane and expanded by his friend Bill Hamilton.

Dawkins has been one of the major proponents of sociobiological theory and coined the term meme, which spawned the theory of memetics. In the controversy over the interpretation of the theory of evolution that is colloquially called the Darwin Wars, one faction is often named for Dawkins and its rival for Stephen Jay Gould. This reflects the pre-eminence of each as popularisers of the contesting viewpoints, rather than because either is the more substantial or extreme champion of these positions. A typical example of Dawkins' position is his scathing review (published in January 1985) of Not in Our Genes! by Rose, Kamin and Lewontin. Two others often considered to be in the same camp as Dawkins are Pinker and Dennett.

He is an ardent and outspoken atheist, an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society and vice-president of the British Humanist Association. He also writes for the Council for Secular Humanism's magazine Free Inquiry and serves as a Senior Editor. In his essay "Viruses of the Mind", he uses memetics theory to explain the phenomenon of religious belief and the various characteristics of organised religions, such as the common belief in punishments awaiting non-believers.

Dawkins is a prominent figure in contemporary public debate on issues related to science and religion. 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.

On the advice of his late colleague Stephen Jay Gould, Dawkins refuses to participate in debates with creationists because doing so would give them the "oxygen of respectability" that they want with the public; Dawkins argued 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." (A Devil's Chaplain, p. 256)


Books by Dawkins

Books about Dawkins

See also Books by and about Richard Dawkins and Richard Dawkins Bibliography, these links are useful but no longer maintained.

Essays by Dawkins

See also Papers and commentary by Richard Dawkins, no longer maintained.

External links

The contents of this article are licensed from under the GNU Free Documentation License. How to see transparent copy