Richard Dawkins is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and popular science writer who has broadened our understanding of the genetic origin of our species and has helped lay readers understand complex scientific concepts. He holds the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University.
Dawkins is an atheist and humanist, a Vice President of the British Humanist Association and supporter of the Brights movement. He is well known for his criticism of creationism and intelligent design.
He first came to prominence with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, which popularised the gene-centered view of evolution and introduced the term meme into the lexicon, helping found memetics. He defines the concept of meme as a self-replicating unit of culture – an idea, a chain letter, a catchy tune, an urban legend — which is passed person-to-person, its longevity based on its ability to lodge in the brain and inspire transmission to others. The concept of memes has itself proven highly contagious, inspiring countless accounts and explanations of idea propagation in the information age.
In his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker, he argued against the watchmaker analogy, an argument for the existence of a supernatural creator based upon the complexity of living organisms. Instead, he described evolutionary processes as analogous to a blind watchmaker. His ideas laid out in The Selfish Gene were further fleshed out in The Extended Phenotype: the rather radical notion that Darwinian selection happens not at the level of the individual, but at the level of our DNA. The implication: We evolved for only one purpose — to serve our genes.
In his 2006 book The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that religious faith is a delusion—a fixed false belief. As of January 2010 the English-language version has sold more than two million copies and had been translated into 31 languages, making it his most popular book to date.
In recent years, Dawkins has become outspoken in his atheism, coining the word “bright” (as an alternate to atheist), and encouraging fellow non-believers to stand up and be identified.
He makes regular television and radio appearances and 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.
“Dawkins … is a master of scientific exposition and synthesis. When it comes to his own specialty, evolutionary biology, there is none better.”
Jim Holt, The New York Times