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Richard Dawkins

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Dr. Clinton Richard Dawkins FRS, FRSL (born 26 March 1941) is an evolutionary biologist and former Professor for Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, as well as a fellow of New College, Oxford. He is also an outspoken atheist. He originally studied ethology under Nobel prize winner Nikolaas Tinbergen.



Dawkins was born in Nairobi in Kenya in 1941. He moved to England with his parents in 1949 when he was eight years old. He was raised as an Anglican but began to have doubts about the existence of God at an early age.

He studied zoology at Oxford University (where he was tutored by Tinbergen) graduating in 1962. He then worked as a research student for Tinbergen receiving his M.A. (Oxford) and D.Phil. degrees in 1966. He was an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley from 1967 to 1969, returning to Oxford University in 1970 as a lecturer. Since 1970 he has been a fellow of New College.

In 1990 he became a reader in zoology and in 1995 was appointed Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science.

Writing Career

Dawkins's first book was The Selfish Gene. It was written in 1976 and immediately became a bestseller. It is now an international bestseller in 13 languages. The book sets out to explain how and why genes which may have deleterious effect on an organism are conserved and spread within populations. Although controversial on first publication his gene-centred view of evolution went on to become the mainstream view.

His next book was The Extended Phenotype a more technical work which examines some aspects of the gene-centred view of the world. In particular the book examines whether genes exert a phenotypic effect beyond the body—to the environment and even to other creatures—in which they exist.

In 1986 he wrote The Blind Watchmaker which was a criticism of the argument popularised by William Paley. Paley's argument was that just as a watch is too complicated and too functional to have sprung into existence by accident, so too must all living things, with their far greater complexity, be purposefully designed. Dawkins argues that this view is false and that it is natural selection acting as an unconscious and blind, yet essentially non-random process, that plays the role of watchmaker in nature. The book won the Royal Society of Literature Award and the Los Angeles Times Prize.

He has written several other books on evolution aimed at the general public. He has also written a critique of religion called The God Delusion. P.Z. Meyers provides praise on his blog Pharyngula about the new release, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.[1]


From a Frog to a Prince

For more information, see From a Frog to a Prince.

The 1998 documentary From a Frog to a Prince, created a controversy as it appeared to show Richard Dawkins being caught unable to provide an example of natural processes generating an increase in genetic information. In an interview for the documentary, Dawkins was asked "Can you give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome?". Struggling to provide an answer, Dawkins asked for the camera to be turned off. When he gave an answer, it did not address the question.

Misquotation of Bill Muehlenberg

In a talk in April 2009 Dawkins criticised John Lennox by accusing him of being "put up" to his argument by British blogger Melanie Phillips (which she denies), and supported this accusation by quoting something that he claimed Phillips had written. It was not actually written by Phillips, but by Australian blogger Bill Muehlenberg. Further, Dawkins had stitched together into the one-paragraph quote two separate sections of Muehlenberg's blog post without any indication of an omission, making it read as though the entire quote was about Dawkins, when the second part was really about Antony Flew.[2] This was in a part of his talk where he was criticising others for quote mining. Richard Dawkins promptly apologized for the misattribution of the quote (although not for taking part of it out of context) writing on the statement here:

In my Atlanta talk, I briefly quoted the journalist Melanie Phillips, as a possible source of John Lennox's "stunning revelation". Unfortunately, I also attributed another, similar quotation to her, which was actually from another blogger who had referred to her. This was inexplicably slipshod on my part. I apologise, and have asked Josh to remove the brief section of my talk where I spoke about Melanie Phillips.[3]

Although most atheists are law-abiding and honest, atheism provides no absolute basis for morality, as Dawkins recognises, and Muehlenberg uses the case of Dawkins getting the quote wrong to question Dawkins' credibility.

Indeed, we are left with only two possible explanations for all this. He is either incompetent as a writer and researcher, or he has deliberately set out to misinform and deceive his audience. Either option is not very pretty.[4]

Books by Dawkins



  2. Phillips, 2009; Muehlenberg, 2009
  3. Dawkins, Richard, Richard Dawkins at American Atheists 09, 19 April 2009
  4. Muehlenberg, 2009

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