Richard Dawkins: Controversy’s Favorite Child

Courtesy: Los Angeles Times

Richard Dawkins, born Clinton Richard Dawkins, is a British author, ethologist, and evolutionary biologist. He has penned down many popular books around the gene-centered theory of evolution and coined the term “meme”. 

Richard believed that genes are the driving force of evolution. He fearlessly spoke about his atheist views and drew ire for this advocacy of atheism. 

Where It All Started

Richard was born on 26 March 1941 in Nairobi, Kenya to Jean Mary Vyvyan and Clinton John Dawkins. He later changed his name from Clinton Richard Dawkins to Richard Dawkins via deed poll. 

With both parents sharing an inclination towards natural sciences, Dawkins had a regular Anglican upbringing. 

His father was an agricultural civil servant in Nyasaland under the British Colonial Service. During the Second World War, his father was called into the multi-battalion British colonial regiment, King’s African Rifles (KAR). Richard grew up in Kenya until 1949. Then his family returned to England. 

In 1959, Dawkins joined Balliol College, University of Oxford, and graduated in 1962. 

He earned his master’s degree and a doctorate in 1962. He continued working in Oxford under Nikolaas Tinbergen, a renowned ethologist. From 1967 to 1969, he served as an assistant professor at the University of California. In 1970, he returned to Oxford to teach zoology. 

His Stint with God and His Creations 

A well-known atheist, Richard Dawkins embraced Christianity during his teens. He was 13 years old when he was confirmed into the Church of England, but he began doubting his beliefs. 

He credits his short stint with religious beliefs to the complexity of life but later generated the belief that the theory of evolution (Darwinism) is the best answer to the complexities of life, not God. He shunned his belief in God and became an advocate of atheism. He openly criticized creationism and questioned intelligent design. 

His Books

He rose to prominence with his first book “The Selfish Gene” in 1976. His book glorified the gene-centered theory of evolution. With this book, he tried to make people understand the true meaning of Darwinism, which according to him is a very misunderstood concept globally. Through this book, he clarified that natural selection happens at a genetic level, not at an individual or species level. 

He introduced the term “meme”, which is a cultural equivalent of genes. He stated that concepts and ideas move themselves within society. They propagate and mutate from mind to mind and influence the progression of human evolution. This concept gave rise to an entirely new field of studies known as “memetics”. 

Later in 1982, he published another book namely “The Extended Phenotype” that talked about evolutionary biology and asserted that the phenotypic effects of genes are not only limited to the body of the organism but affect the environment as well. 

In his 1986 book “The Blind Watchmaker”, he questioned the watchmaker analogy. He argued against the presence of a supernatural creator. He stated that the evolutionary process depends on reproduction, mutation, and selection without the guidance of any designer. This famous book won the Royal Society of Literature Award in the year 1987. 

In 1995 came “River Out Of Eden” and in 1996 came “Climbing Mount Improbable”. In 2006, he launched another book, “The God Delusion” in which he again spoke against the supernatural creator and stated that religious faith is a delusion. This publication garnered rave reviews. In this book, Dawkins pointed out the errors in religious beliefs and how science explains the world and not religion.  

He founded the “Richard Dawkins Foundation” for Reason and Science in the year 2006. His organization aims at reinforcing the acceptance of atheism. 

Along with known atheist figures, like Christopher Hitches, Daniel C. Dennett, and Sam Harris, Dawkins gives lectures and participates in public debates, and gives scientific reasons and answers to existential questions. 

His Television Appearances & Awards

Apart from being a prolific author, Dawkins also made several appearances on television, radio, and the internet. “Break the Science”, a documentary, wherein he talked with several leading scientists about their inventions and discoveries. In his documentary “Root of All Evil?” (2006) and “The Enemies of Reason” (2007), he highlighted the problems created by superstition and religion. In “The Genius of Charles Darwin”, he glorified the achievements of Darwin. 

In his documentary “Sex, Death, and the Meaning of Life” (2012), he showed what life would be without religion. “An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist” (2012) and “Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science” (2015) are his memoirs that trace his career.

Although his atheist stance made him controversy’s favorite child, he received several awards and recognition for his academics and writing. 

In 2007, he launched the Out Campaign, where he requested the atheists to come out and declare their belief. 

His beliefs established him as a public intellectual. He was the first professor for Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. 

His Personal Life

Richard Dawkins has been married three times. He has a daughter. 

Dawkins married Marian Stamp, an ethologist, on the 19th of August 1967 in Annestown, County Waterford, Ireland. The couple separated after 17 years of marriage. Later, on 1 June 1984, he tied the knot with Ever Barham in Oxford. This marriage also ended with a divorce. The couple had a daughter, Juliet Emma Dawkins. 

In 1992, Dawkins married Lalla Ward, an actress. They separated in 2016. In the same year on the 6th of February, he suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. However, he recovered the same year.

The Bottom Line

Richard Dawkins is a prolific ethologist and author. His concepts about religious beliefs, creation, and God may have made a few people unhappy, but we love the courage with which he speaks his mind. He is an inspiration for many.

Richard Dawkins T-shirt

To celebrate his courage, we have created “Privileged To Be Alive” commemorative Richard Dawkins T-shirts. Buy these t-shirts online and honor his contribution to science and mankind.

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