|Born||Clinton Richard Dawkins
26 March 1941
Nairobi, Colony and Protectorate of Kenya
|Thesis||Selective pecking in the domestic chick (1967)|
|Doctoral advisor||Nikolaas Tinbergen|
|Influences||Charles Darwin, George C. Williams, W. D. Hamilton, Nikolaas Tinbergen, John Maynard Smith, Peter Medawar, Robert Trivers|
|Influenced||Andrew F. Read, Helena Cronin, John Krebs, Baron Krebs, David Haig, Alan Grafen, Daniel Dennett, David Deutsch, Steven Pinker, Martin Daly, Margo Wilson, Randolph M. Nesse, Kim Sterelny, Michael Shermer, Richard Harries, Baron Harries of Pentregarth, A. C. Grayling, Marek Kohn, David P. Barash, Matt Ridley, Philip Pullman,|
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 first came to prominence with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, which popularised the gene-centred view of evolution and introduced the term meme. With his book The Extended Phenotype (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. In 2006, he founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.
Dawkins is an atheist, and is well known for his criticism of creationism and intelligent design. In The Blind Watchmaker (1986), 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 in that reproduction, mutation, and selection are unguided by any designer. In The God Delusion (2006), Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that religious faith is a delusion. He opposes the teaching of creationism in schools.
Dawkins has been awarded many prestigious academic and writing awards and he makes regular television, radio and Internet appearances, predominantly discussing his books, his atheism, and his ideas and opinions as a public intellectual.
The Poetry of Science: Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson
Richard Dawkins - The Strangeness of Science (Full Lecture)
Why the universe seems so strange | Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins: Letting Science Inform Morality
Storytelling Of Science: Richard Dawkins
Without further ado, here's Professor Richard Dawkins and Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. Well, Neil, we're here to talk about the poetry of science. I would say that science is the poetry of reality, and one of the things that I feel a bit humble in your presence, biology being a kind of junior science to physics, I suppose we both have something to learn from each other; but I can't help feeling I've got rather more to learn from you than you've got to learn from me. Maybe we're both a bit naïve about each other's subject, but I think I'm a bit more naïve about yours because there's more to be naïve about. I forget who it was that coined the phrase “physics envy,” and I think this shows itself in lots of fields, perhaps less so in biology than others, so what we're going to try to do is to have a conversation between a biologist, an evolutionary biologist and an astrophysicist, a kind of mutual tutorial without a chairman to get in the way. I thought we might begin by noting that what we can see with our sense organs is an extremely narrow band of what there is to see, and this is particularly so with the visual sense. We can see a tiny, narrow band of the electromagnetic spectrum, the rainbow; but the rainbow's width is tiny compared to the vast expanse of the electromagnetic spectrum. I see that as a kind of symbol for how limited our understanding of the universe is, as well, because after all, we are evolved beings who evolved to understand the interactions between medium-sized objects moving at medium speeds. And this ill equipped our brains to understand the very small quantum theory and the very large, which I supposed is covered by relativity. So, I find myself, as a mere biologist, baffled by some of the things that physicists talk about, and jut to throw out one example, in the expanding universe, we are told (and I have to believe it) that everywhere is as it were the same as everywhere else. There's no one place which is the edge of the universe. How can that be? Well, Richard, first of all, you're told it so you have to believe it. I will never require you to believe anything. Good for you. It will only ever be about how compelling is the evidence to you, but you started with our sensory organs and landed in the expanding universe. Can I take us back to the organs and then, perhaps, land in the universe? Yes. The urge to think of our senses as being powerful or good is strong because, first, that's all we have; second, we like having nice thoughts about ourselves, rather than miserable, depressing thoughts, so we're prone to talk around celebrating, for example the power of sight or of taste or of smell, when of course, when you really smell something, you bring a dog, and they smell...their nose smells much better than your nose smells. I was going to say the dog smells better than you, but that would insult you. So, we already know that our sense are feeble, and we reach to other creatures in the animal kingdom, cite them as having better examples of our sight, of our taste, of our smell; but little did people know much before a century and a half ago that our sense of vision is limited only, as Richard said, to the colors of the rainbow, and it's quite extraordinary to realize that, for example, beyond red, there's something called infrared; and beyond infrared, there are microwaves. And beyond microwaves, there are radio waves. Go the other direction, you go beyond violet, ultraviolet. Beyond that, x-rays and gamma rays. Energy goes up as you approach gamma rays, with dramatic consequences if you have gamma-ray exposure, by the way. Of course, we all know you turn big, green, and ugly as The Hulk had experienced. But the point is the visible light part of that spectrum is a tiny slice, and the universe doesn't only communicate with us through that slice, as we had taken for granted for so long. Most of the history of the telescope, which is itself an extension of our eyes, extended the power of our eyes but not the range of our eyes. It wasn't until we first understood that maybe we're missing something in the 19th century, the 20th century came decade by decade, new telescopes in each newly-discovered band of light. Only then did we learn about black holes in the universe or remarkable violent forces operating in the centers of galaxies, discovered by radio telescopes. So, yeah, we're practically blind out there, and it's humbling, by the way, but that's the whole point of the methods and tools of science, to not only extend your senses in the domain in which you understand, but to take them to places they've never been before. On top of that, we have methods and tools that detect things that are not even extensions of your senses. You have no clue what the magnetic field is around your body right now. You have no clue whether or not you're being bathed in ionizing radiation right now. You'll eventually figure that out, as limbs start falling off; but while it's happening, you actually don't know. There are other things that are more subtle like polarization of light. So when I think of the scientist's tool kit, especially the astrophysicist's tool kit, it's all about how many different senses can you bring to bear, technological senses can you bring to bear on decoding the universe. One of the things we have discovered, now getting to your horizon question, we look around the universe, and it looks like we're in the center. What an ego-supporting concept that is! You can either go around continuing to think that, feeling good about yourself, or study the problem and learn that, in an expanding universe, where the speed of light is finite at 186,000 miles per second...forgive me using miles per second... I'd prefer miles. You do. You got that on tape? An Oxford professor, I prefer... No, it's true. Nobody talks about kilometers in Britain. Oh, good. All right. We share not only most of our language, we share miles still. And inchworms. What do they call them? They're not centimeter worms, right? They're inchworms. We don't have that sort of stuff in Britain. That's Europe. Of course, Britain is not Europe, as we are constantly reminded. That's right, here we have the English breakfast and the Continental breakfast. They're very different breakfasts that you can order here. So, this horizon problem is actually quite simple; and rather than explain the full up nature of it, let me just give a simple example that is entirely analogous. When you're a ship at sea, and you look out, your horizon in every direction is the same distance from you. It depends on your height above the sea level. That's why ship decks are high. They see farther beyond the curvature of the earth than you do just standing on the main deck. So, your horizon is a perfect circle centered on you. You can conclude that is the extent of the entire earth, or you can imagine, suppose I'm in another spot. Well, that horizon is still true for whoever happens to be in the middle of it, but now, you've moved to a new place, and you will see a horizon corresponding with that spot. So, everybody has a horizon at sea; yet no one at any time is thinking that that's the full extent of the ocean or the full extent of the earth. We have a horizon in the universe, so does the Andromeda Galaxy, the galaxies with names that look like phone numbers. If you travel to those galaxies, they will see the edge of the universe now in three dimensions in every direction at the same distance from them, just as we see for ourselves. That does it for me, provided that the horizon is that which we are capable of seeing. I could follow that if you said that, for any part of the universe, the horizon is the bit before the expending universe has disappeared over the horizon. Yes. It's just no longer visible, but it's still there, even though we can't detect it. That's true of the ocean when you're at sea. Yeah, but...anybody on my side here? You want it to be a harder problem than it is. I'm just simply saying... So, here you go. Here you go. The radius to our horizon is about 14 billion light years. Got it. Okay? If we sat here or returned to this spot a billion years from now, that horizon will be 15 billion light years away. It's actually an expanding horizon because the light from 15 billion years, light years away, will have had time to reach us. Right now, it's still en route. I have no problem with that, but beyond the 14 billion year... The problem is the universe wasn't born yet. Yes, okay. That's the problem. I know. Okay? So, you can't see the universe before it existed. So why doesn't somebody... ...invent the kind of telescope that can? No, no, no. Okay, I'm getting out of my depth here. Let's get back to... Just to clarify. It takes light time to reach us, and the universe hasn't been here forever. You combine those two facts, you get an edge of the universe. And so, the universe has been here for 14 billion years. The farthest thing that could send us any information is 14 billion light years away. I get that, but what about the guys who are on the edge of what we can see? How can they see beyond the other side? Oh, because...here's an interesting point. They don't know whether or not the entire universe is infinite. The universe could be twice our horizon or infinitely larger than our horizon. Same with the ocean. You don't know how much bigger the ocean is than your horizon is. You can keep sort of wandering around. Maybe you'll hit land as we've done, of course. So, now you go there. If the universe is really, really big, that will be the center of their own horizon. And whatever is the age of the universe is, for them at that time, that will be the radius to their horizon. Yeah, okay. I just want to make a remark. You drew the analogy of the sense of smell, and what a poor sense of smell we have. It's a fascinating fact that, although dogs, for example have a much better sense of smell than we have, as you mentioned... That's why I say sense of smell. That's what I should say, not that dogs smell better, but they have a better sense of smell. Thank you for that. But we have the genes that would have once enabled our ancestors to have as good a sense of smell as dogs, but the genes have mostly been turned off; so we have vestiges. We have historical relics of those genes. It's like your hard disk on your computer that's cluttered up with remains of old chapters you've written here and there and things that have now been cut off. Those genes have been turned off, but they're still there. Isn't that the premise of X-Men? I don't know. They're human, but they have a genetically different...different genes are turned on and off within them, giving them special powers. So, are you suggesting the day might arise, we go inside the human genome and flick the dipswitches on and off, and we come out as superheroes? Put it this way. It's not as unlikely as it might have appeared before we realized that we do have those genes still. You don't have to import the genes from dogs, although the technology of this coming century may enable that to happen. I'd still rather it be the dog that sniffs the bomb than me. But we would probably have robots to do the sniffing. What about this point about the difficulty of...maybe I chose too easy an example. The brain, how is it that the human brain, which evolved to do really rather mundane things... ...to not get eaten by lions. To not get eaten by lions in the Pleistocene of Africa because, as you'll learn this evening, we are all Africans. We all come from Africa, and our brains were shaped by natural selection on the African plains to do things that involve objects like this. Medium-sized objects. Macro-sized objects. Macro-sized objects that don't move anywhere near the speed of light. It's a tremendous tribute to our species that we are capable...at least some of us are capable...of understanding things that don't belong on that ordinary macroscopic, slow-moving scale. Yeah, and so therein is the value to us, not only of the methods and tools of science, but also of the language of the universe that we call mathematics. Remarkable thing, a point first advanced by Eugene Wigner that math has an unreasonable utility in the universe since we just invented it out of our heads. You don't discover math under a rock, as you might find grubs. You invent it out of whole cloth, yet is empowers us to provide accurate the predictive descriptions and understandings of the universe. So, what comes of this is you learn to abandon your senses. That's a like from the Broadway musical Phantom of the Opera...abandon your...never mind, sorry. I want to write Broadway lyrics one day in another life. You train yourself to abandon your senses because you recognize how they can fool you into thinking one thing is true that is not. You abandon them. You use your tools that do the measuring to say, okay, that's the reality. Then you make a mathematical model of that that you can manipulate logically...because math is all about the logical extension of one point to another...and then you can make new discoveries about the world that, frankly, you'll just have to get used to you. No longer do you have the right...right is not the right work, but no longer are you justified saying that idea in science is not true because it doesn't make sense. Nobody cares about your senses. Your senses came out...forget the Serengeti, just growing up. As a kid, something's in your hand, you let go of it, it falls. You tip a glass, water spills. You are assembling a rule book for how nature works in the macroscopic world. The microscope takes you smaller than that; the telescope takes you bigger; and the other laws of physics manifest themselves in those regimes that you have no life experience reckoning. It's math that allows you to take these incremental steps beyond the capacity of your senses and perhaps even the capacity of your mind. Yes, it's the mind that's taking the steps, but your mind was not deducing that by just looking at the world with your senses. It was helped out. It was aided by these tools that, yes, we invented. And at some point when you get so used to doing the mathematics, it becomes kind of intuitive in rather the way that I'm told that pilots get used to flying a plane, and they start to feel the wings of the plane as being almost part of their own bodies. They develop... Before or after the drinks before they took off? Is this a common sensory perception of pilots. Yeah, I think it is. It's a common thing that I think that, when people get skilled at using micromanipulators where they're using their hands, and what actually going on is tiny little miniscule movement going on under a microscope... ...so it becomes their hands. It becomes their hands. The plane becomes the pilot, or the pilot becomes... Just as you said, the telescope is an extension of the eyes. My advisor in graduate school...one of my advisors, I spoke to him one morning. He was doing research on star clusters that have these huge orbits around the center of the galaxy. He said he had a dream the night before where he was one of these clusters, and he was orbiting the center of the galaxy. I thought that was so cool. Yes, yes. If you start becoming in your cosmic dream...I want to have those dreams because then, you think creatively about what remains to be discovered. Absolutely. I sometimes wonder about whether surgeons, maybe even surgeons of the present who are using micromanipulators inside a body, something like when they stick that thing up you, and it goes... They stick a lot of things up you, the last I've heard. Okay, and already you have surgeons driving an endoscope inside and turning left to get round the intestine, turning right. I imagine the time will come when a surgeon will have virtual reality goggles on, and the surgeon will actually feel herself to be inside the body of the patient and will turn left and literally walk across the room, and that will be translated into the micromanipulators, the endoscope, moving. This sounds really cool. I like this idea. And you know what you'd have to do? You would have to alter the dominant laws of physics in that regime because, if you're small enough a la Fantastic Voyage, the 1960's film, when you're that small, capillary action and surface tension and all manners of other forces take over and that then becomes your new reality, your new sensory standards. That's right. You would have to become sensitive to surface tension. D'Arcy Thompson made the point, I think in 1919, that to the world of an insect, gravity is negligible. A completely...it's who cares? What matters is surface tension, and you'd have to be...I never thought of that, but what I'd do... That's because you didn't see the move Bug's Life, okay? Okay. In Bug's Life, they serve up a cocktail to an insect that goes up to a bar, and all the bartender does is pour out water from a spigot and hand him the ball of water, like that, and the surface...this was brilliant of the cartoonist, of the illustrator, and then, he sticks a straw into the sphere and sucks it out. No receptacle needed. You got to get out more. Well, I imagine my surgeon of the future being armed with a virtual saw, one of those...what are those things you cut trees down with...band saws, and what's really going on is a tiny little micro scalpel inside, but the surgeon is wielding an axe, and it's all done by virtual entity. I've got a question back to you. I lose sleep over this, and I've always wanted to be in the company of a leading biologist to get insight into this. As an astrophysicist, we've seen throughout time the hubris that comes with any discovery that gets made, or the hubris that prevents the acceptance of a discovery that might demote your sense of self from whatever you previously imagined it to be. Among them is where is earth? Is it the center of all things? No. It's not even a significant planet in orbit around an ordinary star in the corner of an ordinary galaxy, one of a hundred billion galaxies in the universe. And so, here we are saying let's search life in the universe, intelligent life like us. Well, who are we to say that we're intelligent? I pose that not as a joke questions, but as a very serious question. We define ourselves to be intelligent in ways that no other creature can rival. Okay, now, what do we credit that intelligence to? So, you look at the genome, and let's take the chimp. I guess that's a really close relative of ours, and we have...what is it? High 90's percent identical, indistinguishable DNA, and the chimp does not build the Hubble telescope, and the chimp does not compose symphonies. So, we must then declare that everything we say about us that is intelligent is found in that one-and-a-half percent difference in DNA. First, is that a fair statement to make? Yes. Okay. Let me invert that question. If the genetic difference between humans and chimps is that small, maybe the difference in our intelligence is also that small. Maybe the difference between stacking boxes and reaching a banana, putting up an umbrella when it rains, whatever are these rudimentary things a chimp does that the primatologists roll them forward and boast about, which of course, our toddlers can do, maybe the difference between that and the Hubble telescope is as small as that difference in DNA. I pose the question: suppose there was another life form on earth or elsewhere that, in that same sort of vector, that one-and-a-half percent difference we are to chimps, suppose they were one-and-a-half percent different from us? Then would then roll the smartest of us in front of their hematologists and say, Hawking, there's Hawking. Oh, this one is slightly smarter than the rest of them because he can do astrophysics calculations in his head. Like little Timmy over here. So, I wonder if we're just blithering idiots in the presence of even a trivially smarter species than us. Therefore, who are we to even assert that, number one, we are intelligent, and we're looking for others at least as intelligent as us out there to talk to. By the way, is there any other species on earth that we can talk to? Can we have a conversation with a chimp? That has identical DNA, and I don't think we can actually say, hey, what movie do you want to see tonight? You don't have that conversation with a chimp. Yet somehow, we believe, we want to believe that an alien on another planet that's not even based on DNA and, even if it is, it's not nothing like us, that we could communicate with it. I'm screaming at you. I'm sorry. So there! Are we as stupid as I'm saying? Well, I'm all for deflating hubris; but it's also true, of course, that our brains are anatomically very, very much bigger than chimps, and so that also must be contained in some sense in that tiny little percentage of DNA. I think the way to sort of look at the DNA problem is to say that the sort of DNA that has been sequenced, and the sort of thing on which we base that calculation of the 98 percent...again, look at a computer, and you will find that most of the programs that are written at the machine code level are calling out the same set of subroutines. There's a subroutine for pulling down menu bars and a subroutine for moving windows and so on. That's what we're looking at in this 98 percent. What we're not looking at is the set of sort of high-level instructions that say call this subroutine now, now call this one, now call this one, now call that one. It's not just humans and chimpanzees; all mammals have pretty much the same repertoire of genetic subroutines. The difference between a man and a mouse, like the difference the difference between a man and a chimpanzee is the order in which they're called, the sequence in which they're called during embryology which causes the really quite substantial anatomical differences between a human and a mouse and the quite big differences in brain size. If we assume we're not some measure of things, then as I said earlier, that tells me that the day might come where we could go in, understand which sequences are called in what way, and invent whole new sequences never before dreamt of by biology? Yep, absolutely. Empowering us in ways never before... It's very, very difficult. It's much more difficult than it sounds; but still, it's in principle possible. But the other point about intelligent life in the universe, never mind how we define intelligence. We're only going to encounter them if they are intelligent enough either to come here, which is very difficult indeed, or to send radio transmissions to us, which is a lot easier but still requires...let's just define it as the quality that you need in order send information across the universe. Now, you don't have to call that intelligence, but whatever it is, that's what it needs in order to get here, in order for us to apprehend it. And I wonder, you know, surely you've walked past a worm that had just crawled out of the earth; and when you did so, you weren't saying to yourself, gee, I wonder what that worm is thinking because you just simply didn't care. You're so far beyond the...I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I'm imagining you simply really don't care what the worm is thinking; and conversely, the worm has no clue that you consider yourself intelligent. You're just this thing that went by. So, can you imagine a species that has such high intelligence that the prospect of communicating with us is simply of no interest to them? Yeah, I can. Yeah. And they go by, and their intelligence is on such a level that we can't even recognize it as intelligence. Yes. Moreover, I think it would more or less have to be that much ahead of us if we were ever to meet them because we're never going to get there. Yeah, we sure as hell ain't getting there. See the massive budget lately? If not... So, anything that gets here has got to have a very, very highly-developed technology, far more than we've... That brings us to Stephen Hawking's concern about any civilization sufficiently advanced to visit us, what does that say about the consequence of that encounter? And he's worried, of course, because he's taking his cue from the history of humans. When one has a more advanced technology than the other, and they visit, it almost is always bad for those with the lesser technology. South America, one of the more obvious examples, in their first encounter with the Spaniards...so, I don't know if I want to be the first one to shake hands...shake whatever appendage...whatever they're sticking forward, I don't know... I want to do it, but I still have my concerns. What do you think are the odds that there is life elsewhere in the universe? They must be high, and I'll tell you why. People say, well, have you found life yet? No. Well. That's like going to the ocean...this has been said before...taking a cup of water, scooping it up, and saying there are no whales in the ocean. You know? Here's my data. You know? You need a slightly bigger sample. If you look at, for example, what we call the radio bubble. This is the sphere around earth, centered on earth, which is the farthest our radio signals have reached in the galaxy. They're about 70 light years away. We've been transmitting radio signals, inadvertently leaking into space, for about 70 years. Seventy light year radius sphere. Well, how big is the galaxy? Well, shrink that sphere down to maybe the size of a BB, and then, the galaxy, on that scale, would be the size of this stage. That's how far our radio signals have traveled, and those aren't even the ones we sent on purpose. The ones we sent on purpose have traveled much less. So no, we haven't actually reached as far into the galaxy as we'd like before we would say definitively that there's no one intelligent living today. But here's some very simple facts. I can review them in 90 seconds. You look at the formation of the earth and the earliest sign of fossil life. Subtract a few hundred million years at the beginning of earth when earth was a shooting gallery, earth was still excreting the birth materials of the solar system. It's hostile to complex chemistry over that time; not fair to start the clock then. Wait a couple of hundred million years. Now start the clock, and wait around and see when you have the first signs of single-celled life. At most, 400 million years. At most. Earth has been around for four-and-a-half billion. So earth, without any help from us, with basic ingredients found throughout the universe, managed to create life, simple though it was. And earth, one of eight planets...get over it...sorry. Earth around an ordinary star? To suggest...and what are the ingredients of life? The number one atom in your body is hydrogen. Number two atom is oxygen, together making mostly water that's in you. Next is carbon in this order. Next is nitrogen. Next is other stuff. My favorite element, other. Yeah? You look at the universe, the number one element in the universe is hydrogen. Next is helium, chemically inert, couldn't do anything with it anyway. Next is carbon. I think I left out oxygen there. Next is oxygen. Next is nitrogen. One for one. We're not even made of odd things. The most common things in the universe are found here on earth, and we're made of them. And carbon? The most chemically fertile element on the periodic table? It's not a surprise we're carbon-based. Life is just the extreme expression of complex chemistry. That's what biology is. All these people who want to imagine, because they remembered the chemistry class that silicon sits right below carbon on the periodic table, so it bonds similarly to carbon, so they want to imagine silicon-based life. I'm saying, okay, fine; but you don't have to. There is five times as much carbon in the universe as silicon. There's no need to even have to go there. We've got enough to imagine just simply with the carbon atom at the center of these huge biological molecules. Point is, it happened relatively quickly with the most common ingredients in the universe. To now say life on earth is unique in the universe would be inexcusably egocentric. Yeah, I agree with that; and I would go further and say that, if ever you meet somebody who wishes to claim that he believes or she believes that life is unique in the universe, then it would follow from that belief that the origin of life on this planet would have to be a quite stupefyingly rare and improbable event, and that would have the rather odd consequence that, when chemists try to work out theories, models of the origin of life, what they should be looking for is a stupendously improbable theory, an implausible theory. If there was a plausible theory of the origin of life... ...it wouldn't be it. That's right because then life would have to be everywhere. Now maybe it is everywhere. My hunch is that there's lots and lots of life in the universe; but because the universe is so vast, the islands of life that there are are so spaced that it's unlikely that anyone of them will meet any other, which is rather sad. It's sad. However, let me make you happy a little bit more from that. We've learned now that we can model the formation of the solar system, and this period of time where earth was being bombarded heavily...that's called the period of heavy bombardment in the early universe. We call it like we see it in astrophysics, let the record show. I don't know if I've ever in my life ever understood the title of a biology research paper. I just want to say that. The words just...I'm not feeling them, you know? They're too big, too many syllables. I'm off topic here, so... The period of heavy bombardment and, with computer simulations you can model what happens when an impact hits a planetary surface. It's not much different from if you sprinkle cheerios on a bed, which you would never do on purpose, but your kids would do this; and then, you smack the surface of the bed, there's a sort of recoiling effect, and cheerios pop upwards. It turns out Mars may have been wet...we know at some point, it had water...and fertile for life before earth. At this period of heavy bombardment, if it had started life, surely it would have been simple life. There's no reason to think otherwise. We've learned that bacteria can be quite hardy, as you surely know. So, we imagine a bacterial stowaway in the nooks and crannies of one of these rocks that are cast back into space. In fact, if you do the calculation, there's hundreds of tons of Mars rocks that should have fallen to earth by now over the history of the solar system. Maybe one of those rocks carried life from Mars to earth, seeding life on earth. My great disappointment would be going to Mars and finding Mars life based on DNA. Then it would not have been a separate experiment in life. We would just all simply have to get over the fact that we are Martian descendants. What we need is a second sample of life. We have only one at present. Why have you only given us one? It would be a disappointment, as you say, if we found life on Mars based on DNA; but at least, if we found life on Mars based on the same DNA code, just about imagine DNA evolving twice, but you couldn't imagine the same four-letter code evolving twice. But I wanted to make a point that your calculation that it took only about 400 million years at the most for the first life to arise. For the first life capable of broadcasting radio waves capable of being detected elsewhere in the universe, it took approximately just under four billion years. Well no, about four billion years, which is about half the life that we can expect the solar system to exist. Sure. An important point, by the way, because we were human before we had the technology to broadcast. So if your criterion for whether a planet has intelligent life, and if we are the measure of intelligence, then there could be plenty of planets out there with Roman Empires and whatever else and them not sending radio signals; but any close enough observer would surely declare them to be intelligent. The time interval between Roman Empires and radio signals is negligible compared to the total time we're talking about. It's an interesting question, how long it takes once you get language, once you get civilization, once you get culture, how long does it take to get radio waves? Indeed, how long does it take to get self-destructive weapons that blow the whole lot up? That's the next... And you're even...there's an implicit assumption, that you're making inadvertently possibly, that intelligence is an inevitable consequence of the evolutionary record, and I'm skeptical of that because, if that were the case, what we call our intelligence would have happened multiple times in the fossil record, and it hasn't, whereas other things have shown up plenty of times, like the sense of sight and locomotion. There's some rather inventive ways things can get around the world. My favorite is the snake, of course; no arms, no legs, yet it gets around just fine. I'm imagining an alien visiting earth, stumbling on a snake, the only creature it sees, right? And then, it goes back and tells its home people, you're not going to believe what I saw. There's a creature on that planet, no arms, no legs; it can still get around. It detects its prey with infrared rays and can eat things five times bigger than its head; and they'll think the guy was on drugs. It's an ordinary snake, sitting here on our earth. While I'm on the subject, a big disappointment I have are Hollywood aliens, and I don't know who to blame for this, Hollywood or biologists that advised them. Hollywood aliens are way too anthropomorphic for me. Even ET, he had a head, shoulders, arms. Okay, he had three fingers instead of five; they're still fingers at the end of a hand. He had legs; he had feet. That's human. And look at the diversity of life on earth to draw from? If you want to think about the ways of being alive? I'm just so disappointed. Not even that I know I can help them, but one of my favorite aliens ever was the Blob. Did you see that movie? No, I don't see as many movies as you. Blob is classic. So, that alien was a blob. That's what it was. And it would just kind of move along, and it would grab onto you and suck out your blood, and keep moving. It was non-anthropic in concept, and it came from space. I just thought that was an attempt to try to create some kind of way of being alive. That's a very laudable attempt. It is very interesting to look around the animal kingdom and count up the number of times that some things have evolved. I mean, eyes several dozen times; ears quite a large number of times. Echo location, that's finding a way around by sonar, only four times. A bat and who else? A bat, whales, and two different groups of birds, cave-dwelling birds. And a few rudimentary examples in some shrews and sea lions, but really four different times. Intelligence and language of a human kind, only once, as you pointed out. So, it can't be that important for survival. If natural selection is at work, it should have shown up many more times. You'd think so. It's a genuinely interesting point that I think biologists haven't thought about enough is to go around the animal kingdom, counting up the number of separate arisings of something because that does tell you something about what you might expect elsewhere in the universe. You'd expect eyes. You might expect echo location. Hypodermic syringes, stingers. About a couple of dozen...I'm talking about independent evolutions now. You talk about spiders... Our version of that would be called guns. Yeah. What? Our version of the hypodermic stinger would be called a gun, allowing you to sting someone with... Yes, okay. But I'm talking about it as something that penetrates the body and injects poison. That's an interesting question. Another relevant point is look around the world at different island continents and say how similar are they? Look at Australia. The Australian mammals, for example; and there are very, very power similarities between Australian mammals, which evolved entirely independently of mammals in South America, independently again of mammals in Asia and Africa. Again, that gives you a kind of a clue for how predictable evolution is. Other worlds are going to be very different, but we perhaps shouldn't write off the possibility that the Hollywood aliens might not be that unimaginative. I mean, my colleague Simon Conway Morris has even suggested that it's very likely that there will be, if not humans, at least bipedal, big-brained, language-toting, hand-toting, forward-looking eyes for stereoscopy, pretty much humans. He thinks it's highly likely. He's got a religious agenda, I'm sorry to say, for that; but like him, I appreciate the power of natural selection. By the way, I think if he were a creature other than a primate, he might be giving a different list of things that matter. I think that's probably right. The horse doesn't have two eyes facing forward, but the horse damn near can see directly behind it; and so, the horse would be valuing that fact. Oh, I'm not denigrating horses at all. I'm just saying your first sign that there's bias is you start listing the human features that you would want in an alien. No, no, no. I don't want to say that I'm not picking on humans because they're superior but because they're us. I mean, we have stereoscopic vision. We have three-dimensional vision. Horses don't. They have a different kind of vision. Insects have a different kind of vision. Bats have echo...I mean, it's not vision, but it's using sound to produce what I would guess inside the bat's brain is probably perceived rather the same way we perceive visually because why wouldn't you use the tools of the brain, the mammalian brain to create an image, to create a model of the world. They show that in the, forgive me, movie Daredevil. Do they have bats...? He's blind, and he likes when it rains because the rain hits people, and he hears the different sort of reflections of the sound, and he saw his girlfriend for the first time in the rain. There's the image of her... Okay, but my speculation is that bats hear... This is America. I've got to talk about our movies here, you know. My speculation is that bats hear in color because why wouldn't you use color? Color is just a hue, a perceived hue. It's nothing more than a label the brain uses. Precisely. That's all it is. Color, you attach it to some sequence of changed phenomenon. So, bats would usefully use color as a sign. For example, if you're between a furry moth and a leathery locust, it might be perceived as red versus blue, and that would be a very useful way for natural selection to have tied the labels of hue onto something that would seem very strange to us. We're coming to the end of our time. Did we just begin, like a second ago? Well, that's rather what I felt. If we want to have some time questions... ...which I would very much like that, but I had a couple more bones to pick with you. Okay, well, let's go quickly through those bones. Okay. And if you start formulating questions in your head... Some years ago, 1994 was it? Or 1996, there was this rock in Antarctica, a meteorite discovered ALH84001, which had tantalizing evidence...by the way, that rock was from Mars, one of the tonnage of rocks that we know are out there, and there was evidence in one of the nooks of that rock for possible life, traceable not to earth but from Mars. The evidence was very circumstantial but interesting, nonetheless. There was chemistry there that could only happen in the presence of oxygen, and there was chemistry there occupying a similar spot that could happen only in the absence of oxygen. Well, you might say who cares? Well, life is just such a machine. When you breathe in oxygen, you oxygenate the hemoglobin, that oxygen gets used for your metabolism, and it goes back without the oxygen. In the same body, you have oxygenating and deoxygenating forces operating within you. So, life does it for free. If you don't appeal to life, you have to have the rock hang out over here for a while and then roll down a cliff and go anaerobic for a while. You have to sort of patch it together. So, it was all the news, page one story. They even had an electron microscope photo of what looked like an itty, bitty worm. It had little segments on it. It was intriguing. That was not the lead evidence of the authors, it was just kind of interesting. It was about one-tenth the size of the smallest worms on earth but interesting, nonetheless. I'm invited to comment on this. In fact, it was Charlie Rose. He had four people. I'm the astrophysicist. They had a biologist. They had a philosopher. And a picture of the worm comes up. The biologist, who is piped in by screen said, “That can't possibly be life.” So, I said, wow, what have I missed? “So, tell me, sir, why is that?” “Oh, because the smallest life on earth is 10 times that size,” and I'm still waiting for him to give me the reason why it can't be life. Then I pause and reflected at that book. That is the reason he's giving me that it can't be life...his comparison with life on earth. And then I said, “Last I checked, we're talking about a rock from Mars. Why are you using earth to constrain your capacity to think about what exists out there?” My question to you: are biologists closed-minded or open-minded about what is possible in terms of biology in this universe? Because at the end of the day, you go behind closed doors, and you confess to yourselves that you only have a data sample of one because all life on earth has common DNA. Yeah. Well, he was being closed-minded. Most any other sciences, we would say that's not...how do you make science out of a sample of one? No, that's right. He was being closed-minded, no question about it because he was using his experience of life on this planet to make that generalization. On the other hand, one could make sure a statement by using the laws of physics, and you could say that there are certain things that wouldn't work for physical reasons. I'm not saying that a tiny worm wouldn't work for physical reasons, but I could imagine somebody making an argument that said you cannot have...for example, maybe there's a certain minimum size of eye that could form an image, for purely physical reasons. That would be a good reason why. And I'm there, all the way. It's just that he cited earth as his measure of what is possible. Well, he was just wrong. Okay. You don't align yourself with his closed-mindedness. That was the biggest thing I had to get off my chest here. Okay. Shall we bring up the lights, and see if there are... Are there microphones...? In the aisle apparently, so if you'll just line up in the two center aisles behind those microphones. I guess we can pick left and right for what questions you might have. Professor Dawkins, we're very pleased to hear that you're writing a children's book on the beauty of science. We'd like both of you to write one for adults or a video special on TV because we don't want this wonder and awe that you all have been discussing today to be co-opted by religious people in the world, and it is really wonderful. What can we do to spread the word that science is not something to be afraid of, but something to really be in wonder of? Right. Can I just slip in there? You commented that there's a children book, and we need one for adults. Indeed, we need one of those for adults. Interestingly, we probably don't need it for children because children are born inquisitors of their natural world. They turn over rocks. They jump in puddles. They pour water down your back. They do things that are odd by...you can look at it as wreaking havoc in the house, or you can look at it as a long series of science experiments, some of them gone playfully wrong, but nonetheless, explorations into the natural world. What happens is, over time, that gets beaten out of them because that is not the behavior of...not the sign of obedience. That's the behavior or disarray, plus adults far outnumber children, so I think the real problem in the world is adults, especially since they control the world, not the kids. What I would say about how we convey the wonder, which you and I are both extremely interested in doing that, and following your mentor Carl Sagan, for example. I like to make a distinction between what I call these two schools of why we should pursue the space race, space exploration. The nonstick frying pan way, which is it's useful because you get spinoffs like nonstick frying pans, and it's wonderful. I go for the wonderful part, and I find that one of the problems with people who attempt to convey science to lay people, whether it's children or adults, is that they tend to be obsessed with bringing it down to earth and making it ordinary and mundane and the sort of thing you might meet in your own kitchen. I'm glad somebody's doing that, but for me, I prefer the wide open spaces of space, the wonder of looking down a microscope at the very small and thinking about it from a sort of more poetic point of view rather than from a more utilitarian point of view. Hi. First, I'd like to say thank you. This is very stimulating, and it's wonderful to have this here at Crampton Auditorium, at Howard University. I have a practical application question for technology and its impact on humans, specifically cell phones, cellular cell phones. I'm in healthcare, and I'd like to know where you stand on the effects...and I know we've come a long way since the first cell phones came out, but I get particularly apprehensive when I see young people putting cell phones to the heads of little infants and saying, “Talk to Daddy,” or something like that. That's my first question, the impact of the waves and things like that, which is out...I've look at some studies on human beings. Then, my second question is about the references for the origins of calculus in the Egyptian culture. Thank you. Okay, given how many people are in line, I think we should try to answer as quickly as possible to do this, and I'll take a first stab, and if you want to try that as well. I don't know of any first efforts at calculus in the Egyptian culture. Perhaps Richard does. And with regard to cell phone use, there's a very important fact of science, and that is the active measurement...it's a fascinating thing, measurement. Because you can never measure anything precisely, that is, with unlimited precision. You can only measure it with the uncertainties of your measuring device. And all you can do in the lab is try to constrain how uncertain that measurement is; but at some level, it will always be uncertain. And here's what happens. If you're trying to measure a phenomenon that does not exist, the variations in your measurement will occasionally give you a positive signal, as well as a negative signal. If that positive signal is the idea that maybe A causes B, in this case, cell phones cause cancer, a paper gets written about that result, and then, people get concerned that cell phones might cause cancer or power lines might cause cancer. This goes way back. In fact, if you look at the full spate of these studies, even those that they fought not to publish because there was not a positive effect, there are some cases where, in fact, there is less cancer. And so, these are the phenomenon of a no result. When you actually have A causing B, the signal is huge. It is huge, and it's repeatable in time and in place. With cell phones, that repeatable signal is yet to emerge from the total experiments that are done on it. That being said, if you are worried, almost every cell phone you can have...you know, they have the cell phones on your hip, and you've got an ear piece, so just do that if you're worried. Otherwise, I can either say the jury's still out, or the experimental results are consistent with no effect at all. I have nothing to add to that. About the calculus in Egypt... Can we have this one now? Yes, I was interested when you were speaking about the bubble of radio waves, as far as the limitation of our communication. I read recently that the Large Hadron Collider had some crazy experiments, but there apparently are particles that are seemingly unconnected but they react to each other in symmetrical patterns of some kind. I'm very amateurish on this, but what do you think would be the possibility of instantaneous communication across vast distances using some kind of particle manipulation? That's exactly an example of the kind of thing I meant when I said it's beyond me, so... Yeah, so quantum physics is the physics of the world of the small. In fact, quantum rules apply macroscopically, but they don't reveal themselves as exotically as what happens with single particles. A particle can pop into existence, go out of existence, what we call tunnel from one place to another, instantly, with no time delay between the two. It could exist in all places at once and then show up instantaneously here when you make the measurement. These are quantum rules that don't make any sense to us because we don't live in a quantum world. If we did, these would be phenomena that would be quite natural. So now, can we exploit the quantum world for faster-than-light communication is what you are suggesting here; and there's no known way to do that, given the laws of physics. In other words, you can have what's called a wave form, a wave function of a particle, and it's everywhere. You make a measurement, and the particle instantly shows up here, even though the wave had a probability of existing...the particle had a probability of existing over here. And so, it's just odd, and we don't know how to exploit that fact to our advantage; but as far as we know, no, you cannot have faster-than-light communication, which we would desperately need to get bigger than the bubble to talk to the rest of the galaxy. Again, I'll try to make my answers even shorter than that. Making the distinction between life in the universe, which I think is inevitable, and intelligent life in the universe, which I question or challenge at least the probability of, given our planet being in the right location, the star being the right type of star in the right location, etc., what are the odds that you would...and given the time it took, four-and-a-half billion, 4.6 billion years...for us to get to the point where we can ask the question is there intelligent life in the universe. What do you think those odds are? The universe is huge, in time and in space and in content. So, the good thing about the universe is extraordinarily rare phenomena happen every day someplace in the universe. So however rare we might calculate it would be here for life as we know it, you multiply up the numbers...stars in the galaxies, galaxies in the universe...these are staggeringly huge numbers, 1021 stars, 1,000 times bigger than the number of grains of sand on an average beach, itself 100 times bigger than the number of words ever spoken or uttered by all humans who have ever lived. These are staggeringly large, stupendously large numbers, to use Richard's word, that give us the confidence that, even if intelligent life is only short lived, grows up, and then, grows so smart it kill itself, that there's bound to be one out there that we're hitting it right at the right time that they are happy to have a conversation with us, if we're smart enough to have a conversation with them. This question is primarily for Professor Dawkins. I come from a family where there are two skeptics and three religious fruitcakes. You can guess which side I'm on. Anyhow, I was just wondering, with your experience, if you've ever found a good way to hit the fruitcakes upside the head with some rational thinking and actually get them to pay attention. It would be nice to say that all we need to do is to expose them to scientific evidence, and that's certainly a very important part of it is what Neil and I both are trying to do. Unfortunately, there's a certain amount of evidence that there's a certain kind of mind which is so dyed-in-the-wool wedded to a scriptural version of the world that they more or less admit in advance that, no matter what evidence comes, they will refuse to budge. My favorite example of this is the geologist Kurt Wise, who is a young earth creationist, but who knows very well all the evidence for an old earth from geology. He has actually said, in these very words; I think I quote him approximately right, “If all the evidence in the universe pointed to an old earth, I would be the first to recognize the evidence, but I would still be a young earth creationist because that is what Holy Scripture tells me.” Somebody who's actually prepared to come out and say that, and at least he's honest...somebody who actually comes out and says that is pretty much advertising himself as beyond reason. He's absented himself from the rational discussion which the rest of us are having by announcing in advance that scripture is going to take precedence over evidence. And here's a man who knows the evidence. He has a Ph.D. from Harvard in geology. He knows the evidence, and yet, he's announced in advance, so there are certain people who are unreachable; but my hope is that the vast majority of people are imminently reachable and just simply haven't been exposed to the evidence which is plentiful and wonderful. Next question here. Thanks for the great job on the Poetry of Science. I wonder if you could say just a few words, both of you, on the philosophy of science. I just read Stephen Hawking's book, The Grand Design. The first page, philosophy is dead; and here at Howard, our administration is proposing the abolition of our philosophy programs. Could you say a few words? I have a couple of words to say about that. Up until early 20th century, philosophers had material contributions to make to the physical sciences. Pretty much after quantum mechanics, remember the philosopher is the would-be scientist but without a laboratory, right? So, what happens is the 1920s come in. We learn about the expanding universe in the same decade as we learn about quantum physics, each of which falls so far out of what you can deduce from your armchair that the whole community of philosophers that previously had added materially to the thinking of the physical scientist were rendered essentially obsolete at that point. I have yet to see the contribution...this will get me in trouble with all manner of philosophers, but call me later and correct me if you think I missed somebody here, but philosophy has basically parted ways from the frontier of the physical sciences, when there was a day when they were one and the same. Isaac Newton was a natural philosopher. The work physicist didn't even exist in any important way back then. I'm disappointed because there's a lot of brain power there that might have otherwise contributed mightily, but today simply does not. The philosophy has other...not that there can't be other philosophical subjects. There's religious philosophy and ethical philosophy and political philosophy, plenty of stuff for the philosopher to do, but the frontier of the physical sciences does not appear to be among them. Even in biology, I think, is an interesting point that the idea of evolution by natural selection, which came independently to two traveling naturalists in the 19th century. It's a simple enough idea that any philosopher could have thought of it from the depths of an armchair anywhere back to the Greeks, and none of them did. I don't really understand that. It seems to me to be a strange thing that it had to wait to 19th century scientists, living 200 years after Newton did something that seemed a lot more difficult. Check Anaxagoras, first theory of evolution in pre-Socratic Greece. Oh, well, okay. But natural selection is something that came in the 19th...not just to Darwin and Wallace. I mean, there were a couple of other scientists who thought of it. The philosophers that I really respect in the world today are philosophers of science, are ones who have actually taken the trouble to learn some science, and there are some. And they're very good, clear thinkers, and they do help other people to think clearly; but they're really the same as scientists. There are scientists who are also trained in philosophy. Sir. Thank you both for coming. There's a group of scientists in Europe that have developed a Large Hadron Collider, and they're trying to recreate the conditions of what has been known as the Big Bang, slamming antiprotons and protons to try and find a particle known as the Higgs boson, which has been misnamed the God particle. It's a particle that gives matter mass. Could you guys talk about the conditions of the universe at that time? Will this prove anything? This experiment? The interesting thing about physics is that there is very little physics left to be discovered on a tabletop. The way physics works is, the way discoveries in physics, by and large, work is you need to go someplace you've never been before, either in scale...large, small, energy especially, speed...once you've explored these extremes, you're at the hairy, bleeding edge between what is known and unknown in the universe. So, if you want to discover something you've never done before, build an accelerator that hits an energy level that's never been hit before. And the early universe is our best particle accelerator we know, so now we have the very large tabletop version of the early universe, large and expensive, and it allows us to test our ideas about what was going on. And so, yes. It's regime of the early universe that we have theoretical understanding of but we have yet to have experimental verification for it. I have visited the Large Hadron Collider twice; and on both occasions, I was more or less literally reduced to tears. I was moved so much by this stupendous effort of human ingenuity, human cooperation, multinational; and I attempted to express my poetic fascination and interest in this terrific enterprise in my latest book. There was an unfortunate misprint. It came out as the large Hardon collider. Just the D and the R, right? I spotted the misprint, and of course, I left it in; but alas, the publisher's proofreader also spotted it. She removed it. I begged her on my knees to leave it in. She said it was more than her job was worth. Just a quick social comment. The 1990's cancelled superconducting supercollider that was to be built in Texas had peak energies three times as large as the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Congress voted to not continue its funding. The project was scrapped, and now, the center of mass of particle physics is no longer in the United States. It's in Europe. Now interesting to the scientists, while we'd rather it be here in America, we really celebrate the fact that science continues to advance, and it's just a matter of whose nation's priorities values it; and I saw that as the beginning of the end of America's leadership in this realm. Sure. All right. Thank you so much. I probably have a question which is rather mundane in this setting, but one doesn't get these opportunities very often. I wanted to see what you thought about this. Life that's been discovered at the point of sea floor spreading on earth is, I assume, because I haven't heard otherwise also DNA based, as is everything else we know of. My curiosity is whether there is a hypothesis or an explanation that has been, in fact, devised as to how DNA can have this effect with the distance of 5,000 or 6,000 miles in the ocean itself between that point and the surface. Not miles in the ocean. I mean, the diameter of the earth is only...you mean feet down? I'm sorry. Five or six miles. Yes, thank you. Exclude the thousand. Okay. I can give an astrophysicist's view, but I'd welcome the biologist. I didn't actually hear the question, so you start off by... Sure. So, these extremophiles...these are creatures that thrive under conditions that would kill the rest of us instantly, under high pressure, high temperature. In fact, at the ocean vents, they're thriving at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The pressure of the water is high enough to prevent boiling, but the temperature is high enough that it would cook anything else. One of the great advances in exobiology was the discovery that life on earth is hardier than anyone had ever previously given it credit. We no longer need the room-temperature pond water to have life thrive. The more we've looked in the earth, the more we have found life doing the backstroke under extraordinarily hostile conditions, hostile to humans that is. What that has done for us, astrophysically, is allow us to cast for life with a much wider net than we had previously thought we had available to us. Whereas before we would look in the habitable zone, the Goldilocks zone; not too close to a host star, you water would evaporate; not too far away, water freezes. You're looking for that liquid water zone made liquid by sunlight. We find out all we really need is an energy source. It doesn't have to be the sun. Jupiter keeps Europa warm, one of its moons. It has a liquid ocean. It's been liquid for billions of years. You want to look for life armed with this diversity of life, the hardiness of life, even we find here on earth. It has only broadened our search for life in the cosmos. Among the many theories of the origin of life, recently people have started thinking about life might possibly have started under what we now think of as extreme conditions of high temperature, and it could be that we are now in the cold zone, which was not the way it was when it first started, and that's an interesting possibility. So, they would look at us like we're the extremophiles. Exactly. They look at us as though we're the extremophiles. MS: My department chairman said that he wants you to go and ask your question. I'm not going to tell him no, so please ask your question. Keep it brief, and this is the last one before we go onto the book signing. Thank you, Howard, for making this free. Anyway, I read a book Consolation of Philosophy. The main guy, Boethius, is condemned to death. He has everything taken from him. All he has is his reason and his sense of self, not even that; but he attempts to console himself to this execution by reasoning that the world has order, that there is something that keeps things together. He uses his reason to try and get to the root of why he should be at peace with death. The problem is his source of origin is a belief in God. What would you do? Well, I don't know if I fully understand the question. I do know that, if he's about to be executed... How about you are about to be executed? Oh, I'm about to be executed. You have nothing except your knowledge, your knowledge of science, your experience. I would request that my body in death be buried, not cremated so that the energy content contained within it gets returned to the earth, so that flora and fauna can dine upon it just as I've dined upon flora and fauna throughout my life. What about you, Professor Dawkins? END OF AUDIO FILE STAGE 2 PRODUCTIONS DAWKINS TYSON 1
- 1 Background
- 2 Work
- 3 Awards and recognition
- 4 Personal life
- 5 Media
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Dawkins was born in Nairobi, then in British Kenya, on 26 March 1941. He is the son of Jean Mary Vyvyan (née Ladner) (25 November 1916–) and Clinton John Dawkins (1915–2010), who was an agricultural civil servant in the British Colonial Service in Nyasaland (now Malawi). His father was called up into the King's African Rifles during World War II and returned to England in 1949, when Dawkins was eight. His father had inherited a country estate, Over Norton Park in Oxfordshire, which he farmed commercially. Dawkins considers himself English and lives in Oxford, England. Dawkins has a younger sister.
Both his parents were interested in natural sciences, and they answered Dawkins's questions in scientific terms. Dawkins describes his childhood as "a normal Anglican upbringing". He embraced Christianity until halfway 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."
From 1954 to 1959 Dawkins attended Oundle School in Northamptonshire, an English public school with a distinct Church of England flavour, where he was in Laundimer house. While at Oundle Dawkins read Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian for the first time. 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 MA and DPhil 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 involved in the anti-war demonstrations and activities. He returned to the University of Oxford in 1970 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. He held that professorship from 1995 until 2008.
Since 1970, he has been a fellow of New College, Oxford and he is now an emeritus fellow. He has delivered many lectures, including the Henry Sidgwick Memorial Lecture (1989), the first Erasmus Darwin Memorial Lecture (1990), the Michael Faraday Lecture (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 edited several journals, and has acted as editorial advisor to the Encarta Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Evolution. He is listed as a senior editor and a columnist of the Council for Secular Humanism's Free Inquiry magazine, and 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."
In his scientific work in evolutionary biology, Dawkins is best known for his popularisation of the gene as the principal unit of selection in evolution; this view is most clearly set out in his books:
- 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". He introduces to a wider audience the influential concept he presented in 1977 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. Dawkins regarded the extended phenotype as his single most important contribution to evolutionary biology and he considered niche construction to be a special case of extended phenotype. The concept of extended phenotype helps explain evolution, but it does not actually help predict specific outcomes.
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 understanding altruism. 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 used gene-frequency analysis in his inclusive fitness theory to show how hereditary altruistic traits can evolve if there is sufficient genetic similarity between actors and recipients of such altruism (including close relatives).[a] Hamilton's inclusive fitness has since been successfully applied to a wide range of organisms, including humans. 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. In June 2012 Dawkins was highly critical of fellow biologist E.O. Wilson's 2012 book The Social Conquest of Earth as misunderstanding Hamilton's theory of kin selection. Dawkins has also been strongly critical of the Gaia hypothesis of the independent scientist James Lovelock.
Critics of Dawkins's biological 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 Chaplain posthumously to Gould, who had died the previous year.
When asked if Darwinism informs his everyday apprehension of life, Dawkins says, "in one way it does. My eyes are constantly wide open to the extraordinary fact of existence. Not just human existence but the existence of life and how this breathtakingly powerful process, which is natural selection, has managed to take the very simple facts of physics and chemistry and build them up to redwood trees and humans. That's never far from my thoughts, that sense of amazement. On the other hand I certainly don't allow Darwinism to influence my feelings about human social life," implying that he feels that individual human beings can opt out of the survival machine of Darwinism since they are freed by the consciousness of self.
Fathering the meme
In his book The Selfish Gene, 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. 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 of memetics, 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 set of ideas. He hypothesised that people could view many cultural entities as capable of such replication, generally through communication and contact with 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 term meme, he has not claimed that the idea 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. 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 proselytising against religiosity".
In 2006, Dawkins founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS), a non-profit organisation. RDFRS financed research on the psychology of belief and religion, financed scientific education programs and materials, and publicised and supported charitable organisations that are secular in nature. In January 2016, it was announced that the foundation is merging with the Center for Inquiry with Dawkins becoming a member of the new organization’s board of directors.
Criticism of religion
Dawkins is an outspoken atheist and a supporter of various atheist, secular, and humanistic organisations. He is a patron of the British Humanist Association, and a supporter of the Brights movement. He was confirmed into the Church of England at the age of 13, but began to grow sceptical of the beliefs. After learning about Darwinism and the scientific reason why living things look as though they have been designed, Dawkins lost the remainder of his religious faith. He said that his understanding of science and evolutionary processes led him to question how adults in positions of leadership in a civilized world could still be so uneducated in biology, and is puzzled by how belief in God could remain among individuals who are sophisticated in science. Dawkins notes that some physicists use 'God' as a metaphor for the general awe-inspiring mysteries of the universe, which causes confusion and misunderstanding among people who incorrectly think they are talking about a mystical being which forgives sins, transubstantiates wine, or makes people live after they die. He disagrees with Stephen Jay Gould's principle of nonoverlapping magisteria (NOMA) and suggests that the existence of God should be treated as a scientific hypothesis like any other.
On his spectrum of theistic probability, which has seven levels between 1 (100% belief in a God) and 7 (100% belief that gods do not exist), Dawkins has said he's a 6.9, which represents a "de facto atheist" who thinks "I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there." When asked about his slight uncertainty, Dawkins quips, "I am agnostic to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden." In May 2014, at the Hay Festival in Wales, Dawkins explained that while he does not believe in the supernatural elements of the Christian faith, he still has nostalgia for the ceremonial side of religion.
Dawkins became a prominent critic of religion and has stated his opposition to religion as 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 most popular book The God Delusion in 2006, which became an international best seller. As of 2015, more than three million copies were sold and the book has been translated into over 30 languages. Its success has been seen by many as indicative of a change in the contemporary cultural zeitgeist and has also been identified with the rise of New Atheism. In the book, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that religious faith is a delusion—"a fixed false belief". In his February 2002 TED talk entitled "Militant atheism", Dawkins urged all atheists to openly state their position and to fight the incursion of the church into politics and science. On 30 September 2007, Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett met at Hitchens' residence for a private, unmoderated discussion that lasted two hours. The event was videotaped and titled "The Four Horsemen".
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 a naturalistic 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 endorsed the Out Campaign to encourage atheists worldwide to declare their stance publicly. 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.
While some critics, such as writer Christopher Hitchens, psychologist Steven Pinker and Nobel laureates Sir Harold Kroto, James D. Watson and Steven Weinberg have defended Dawkins's stance towards religion and praised his work, others, including Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, astrophysicist Martin Rees, philosopher of science Michael Ruse, literary critic Terry Eagleton, and theologian Alister McGrath, have criticised Dawkins on various grounds, including the assertion that his work simply serves as an atheist counterpart to religious fundamentalism rather than a productive critique of it, and that he has fundamentally misapprehended the foundations of the theological positions he claims to refute. Rees and Higgs, in particular, have both rejected Dawkins's confrontational stance towards religion as narrow and "embarrassing", with Higgs going as far as to equate Dawkins with the religious fundamentalists he criticises. Atheist philosopher John Gray has denounced Dawkins as an "anti-religious missionary" whose assertions are "in no sense novel or original," suggesting that, "transfixed in wonderment at the workings of his own mind, Dawkins misses much that is of importance in human beings." Gray has also criticised Dawkins's perceived allegiance to Darwin, stating that if "science, for Darwin, was a method of inquiry that enabled him to edge tentatively and humbly toward the truth, for Dawkins, science is an unquestioned view of the world." 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.
Criticism of creationism
Dawkins is a prominent critic of creationism, a 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, unguided by any designer, nonintelligent, blind watchmaker.
In 1986, Dawkins and biologist John Maynard Smith participated in an Oxford Union debate against A. E. Wilder-Smith (a Young Earth creationist) and Edgar Andrews (president of the Biblical 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 of engaging 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 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. (The contrasting sobriquet of "God's Rottweiler" was given to Pope Benedict XVI while he was a cardinal working for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.) He has been a strong critic of the British organisation Truth in Science, which promotes the teaching of creationism in state schools, and whose work Dawkins has described as an "educational scandal". He plans to subsidise schools through the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science with the delivery of books, DVDs, and pamphlets that counteract their work.
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." In his 2007 Channel 4 TV film The Enemies of Reason, Dawkins concluded that Britain is gripped by "an epidemic of superstitious thinking".
Dawkins has expressed concern about the growth of 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 blogs on contemporary political questions and is a frequent contributor to the online science and culture digest 3 Quarks Daily. His opinions include opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the British nuclear deterrent, the actions of then-US President George W. Bush, and the ethics of designer babies. 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 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 1998, Dawkins expressed his appreciation for two books connected with the Sokal affair, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science by Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt and Intellectual Impostures by Sokal and Jean 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). He identifies as a feminist.
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 series was first broadcast in June 2010. The series focuses on major British scientific achievements throughout history.
Awards and recognition
Dawkins was awarded a Doctor of Science degree 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 the University 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 a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) 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), the Kistler Prize (2001), the Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Republic (2001), the 2001 and 2012 Emperor Has No Clothes Award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Bicentennial Kelvin Medal of The Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow (2002), and the Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest (2009). He was awarded the Deschner Award, named after German anti-clerical author Karlheinz Deschner. The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSICOP) has awarded Dawkins their highest award In Praise of Reason (1992).
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 a poll held by Prospect in 2013, Dawkins was voted the world's top thinker based on 65 names chosen by a largely US and UK-based expert panel.
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 was ranked 20th in The Daily Telegraph's 2007 list of 100 greatest living geniuses.
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 February 2010, Dawkins was named to the Freedom From Religion Foundation's Honorary Board of distinguished achievers.
In 2012, ichthyologists 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 that Dawkinsia 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.
Dawkins has been married three times, and has one daughter. On 19 August 1967, Dawkins married fellow ethologist Marian Stamp in the Protestant church in Annestown, County Waterford, Ireland; they divorced in 1984. On 1 June 1984, 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 couple announced an "entirely amicable" separation in July 2016.
- The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1976. ISBN 0-19-286092-5.
- The Extended Phenotype. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1982. ISBN 0-19-288051-9.
- The Blind Watchmaker. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 1986. ISBN 0-393-31570-3.
- River Out of Eden. New York: Basic Books. 1995. ISBN 0-465-06990-8.
- Climbing Mount Improbable. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 1996. ISBN 0-393-31682-3.
- Unweaving the Rainbow. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 1998. ISBN 0-618-05673-4.
- A Devil's Chaplain. Weidenfeld & Nicolson (United Kingdom and Commonwealth), Houghton Mifflin (United States). 2003. ISBN 978-0753817506.
- The Ancestor's Tale. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 2004. ISBN 0-618-00583-8.
- The God Delusion. Bantam Press (United Kingdom), Houghton Mifflin (United States). 2006. ISBN 0-618-68000-4.
- The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Transworld (United Kingdom and Commonwealth), Free Press (United States). 2009. ISBN 0-593-06173-X.
- The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True. Bantam Press (United Kingdom), Free Press (United States). 2011. ISBN 978-1-4391-9281-8. OCLC 709673132.
- An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist. Ecco Press (United Kingdom and United States). 2013. ISBN 978-0-06-228715-1.
- Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science. Ecco Press (United Kingdom and United States). 2015. ISBN 978-0062288431.
- Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist, to be published in June 2017.
- Nice Guys Finish First (1986)
- The Blind Watchmaker (1987)
- Growing Up in the Universe (1991)
- Break the Science Barrier (1996)
- The Atheism Tapes (2004)
- The Big Question (2005) – Part 3 of the TV series, titled "Why Are We Here?"
- The Root of All Evil? (2006)
- The Enemies of Reason (2007)
- The Genius of Charles Darwin (2008)
- The Purpose of Purpose (2009) – Lecture tour among American universities
- Faith School Menace? (2010)
- Beautiful Minds (April 2012) – BBC4 documentary
- Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life (2012)
- The Unbelievers (2013)
Dawkins has made many television appearances on news shows providing his political opinions and especially his views as an atheist. He has been interviewed on the radio, often as part of his book tours. He has debated many religious figures. He has made many university speaking appearances, again often in coordination with his book tours. As of 2016, he has over 60 credits in the Internet Movie Database where he appeared as himself.
- Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) – as himself, presented as a leading scientific opponent of intelligent design in a film that contends that the mainstream science establishment suppresses academics who believe they see evidence of intelligent design in nature and who criticise evidence supporting Darwinian evolution
- Doctor Who: "The Stolen Earth" (2008) – as himself
- The Simpsons: "Black Eyed, Please" (2013) – appears in Ned Flanders' dream of Hell; provided voice as a demon version of himself
- Endless Forms Most Beautiful (2015) – by Nightwish: Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish had Dawkins as a guest star on their 2015 album
- When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow (2015) – a fictional Richard Dawkins is the central character in Dan Rhodes' 2014 parody novel
a. ^ W. D. Hamilton 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 secular memorial service.
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