Richard Dawkins, a CSICOP Fellow, was the winner of the CSICOP “In Praise Of Reason” Award in 1992. He is Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, and a strong supporter of the skeptical conjurer James Randi.
Dawkins is a talented writer with a great gift for metaphor, and is best known for his books on evolutionary theory and in particular for his theory of the selfish gene. Some have compared him to T.H. Huxley, who was known as “Darwin’s bulldog” for his active defence of Darwinism; others call him “Darwin’s pitbull” for his aggressive and uncompromising propagation of materialistic view of evolution. He has also been described as a scientific fundamentalist and a born-again Darwinian.
Dawkins is one of the most zealous opponents of religion in Britain and strives for its eradication. In his acceptance speech for his 1996 “Humanist of the Year” award he said, “I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.”
Dawkins is uncompromising in his attitude towards those with whom he disagrees. At a literary festival in Oxford, he was the only featured author not to sign the promotional poster because it also bore the name of Uri Geller. “I’m not joking”, said Dawkins sharply, “I will not sign on the same piece of paper.” (The Guardian, December 8, 1998).
He refuses to take part in debates with advocates of “intelligent design” in evolution. “The question of who would ‘win’ such a debate is not at issue. Winning is not what these people realistically aspire to. The coup they seek is simply the recognition of being able to share a platform with a real scientist in the first place. This will suggest to innocent bystanders that there is something that is genuinely worth debating, on something like equal terms.” (A Devil’s Chaplain, 2003, section 5.5)
More seriously, Dawkins sometimes succeeds in censoring publication of views with which he disagrees. In March 1995, The Times Higher Educational Supplement commissioned a critique of Neo-Darwinism by the writer Richard Milton.
Dawkins contacted the editor and lobbied against the publication of the article, which he had not seen. “She caved in to this unscientific bullying and suppressed the piece.” (Fortean Times, April 2002).
Dawkins habitually dismisses psychic phenomena as illusory, for example: “The paranormal is bunk. Those who try to sell it are fakes and charlatans” (Sunday Mirror, February 8, 1998). Nevertheless, Dawkins concedes that an interest in the subject could have a positive side: “The popularity of the paranormal, oddly enough, might even be grounds for encouragement. I think that the appetite for mystery, the enthusiasm for that which we don’t understand, are healthy and to be fostered. It’s the same appetite which drives the best of true science, and it’s an appetite which true science is best qualified to satisfy.” (1996 BBC Dimbleby Lecture.)
Dawkins’ bestselling book The God Delusion was published in 2006, and he has now become the world’s most prominent atheist. Together with the materialist philosopher Daniel Dennett, he is a leader of the “bright” movement, trying to rebrand atheists as brights. But this campaign has met with little success, perhaps because it seems arrogant to imply that people who are not atheists are dim.
In 2006 Dawkins presented a highly polemical series on Channel 4 television in Britain against religion, called “The Root of All Evil?”
In a sequel broadcast by the same TV channel in 2007, he launched an all-out attack on psychic phenomena and alternative medicine called “The Enemies of Reason”.
Dawkins is often criticized for his dogmatism by fellow scientists; Dr. Robert Winston, Professor of Science and Society and Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College, London, has said that he “brings science into disrepute”.
“The scientist and bestselling writer has become the face of a new crusading atheism. But even his closest allies worry that his online provocations do more harm than good.”
Sophie Elmhirst, The Guardian, 9 June 2015
“No one knows more about ants than E. O. Wilson. Which is why his U-turn on long-held beliefs about their biological altruism has met with outrage from academia. The unrepentant Pulitzer prizewinner and naturalist talks to Steve Connor.”
Steve Connor, The Independent, 10 November 2014
An Ungodly Row: Richard Dawkins Sues His Disciple
Tom Rowley and Alistair Walker, The Independent, October 25, 2010
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