Profile: Richard Dawkins

Professor Richard Dawkins Professor Richard Dawkins

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Professor Richard Dawkins is a British evolutionary biologist, ethologist and writer. He is often referred to as "the most famous atheist in the world".

He was born in 1941 and holds a degree in zoology, as well as an MA and PhD, all from the University of Oxford, where he was tutored and supervised by Nobel Prize-winning ethologist Nikolaas Tinbergen.

In 1967 he moved to the US for two years, where he became an assistant professor of zoology at the University of California, Berkeley.

When he returned to the UK in 1970, he became lecturer at the University of Oxford and, in 1990, became a reader in zoology there.

From 1995 to 2008 he was the first Simonyi Professorship for the Public Understanding of Science, a chair whose purpose is to make science more accessible to a wider audience, without oversimplifying it.

In his scientific work, Dawkins is mostly known for his gene-centred reformulation of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. In his book, The Selfish Gene (1976), he argues that it is not groups or organisms that adapt and evolve, but individual genes.

Dawkins argued that, at gene level, adaptation does not serve any "altruistic" purpose; each living organism's body is just a survival machine for its genes.

In that same book, he developed the concept of a meme - the cultural and behavioural counterpart of a gene.

Whilst the selfish gene theory is one of the most significant concepts of his scientific work, Dawkins is also very well-known for his openly anti-religious views and his anti-creationist stance.

Start Quote

One of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.”

End Quote Richard Dawkins The God Delusion

Dawkins believes that the theory of evolution and natural selection can explain the universe much better than the idea of an intelligent design carried out by a God.

Inspired by the gay community, he has also encouraged atheists all over the world to "come out" and be proud of their beliefs - or lack thereof. This culminated in 2007, when the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science created the Out Campaign.

In his debate with the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in February 2012, Prof Dawkins defined himself as an agnostic, rather than an atheist. He argued that, as a human, he cannot be 100% sure that God does not exist.

Many interpreted this statement as Dawkins abandoning the atheist cause to embrace a softer agnostic stance.

In the debate, however, he added that he rates himself a 6.9 on a scale of 1 to 7, where 7 is the absolute certainty that God does not exist.

In 2010 Professor Dawkins backed the campaign of the atheist journalist and the writer,the late Christopher Hitchens, to have Pope Benedict XVI arrested on his visit to the UK for "crimes against humanity".

The aim of the campaign was to raise awareness of child abuse scandals involving the Catholic church in many countries. According to Hitchens and Dawkins, the Pope was responsible for attempting to cover up these scandals.

Richard Dawkins is a prolific writer and has received many awards for his works.

Among his most popular books are the aforementioned The Selfish Gene , which was translated into over 20 languages; The Blind Watchmaker, winner of the Royal Society of Literature Award and the Los Angeles Times Prize in 1987; and The God Delusion, which sold over two million copies in its English language version alone.

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