Oxford professor Richard Dawkins has helped steer evolutionary science into the 21st century, and his concept of the "meme" contextualized the spread of ideas in the information age. In recent years, his devastating critique of religion has made him a leading figure in the New Atheism.
As an evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins has broadened our understanding of the genetic origin of our species; as a popular author, he has helped lay readers understand complex scientific concepts. He's best-known for the ideas laid out in his landmark book The Selfish Gene and 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.
Of perhaps equal importance is Dawkins' concept of the meme, which he defines 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. Introduced in The Selfish Gene in 1976, the concept of memes has itself proven highly contagious, inspiring countless accounts and explanations of idea propagation in the information age.
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. His controversial, confrontational 2002 TED talk was a seminal moment for the New Atheism, as was the publication of his 2006 book, The God Delusion, a bestselling critique of religion that championed atheism and promoted scientific principles over creationism and intelligent design.
"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
“Science, as opposed to technology, does violence to common sense.”— paraphrasing biologist Lewis Wolpert
“The history of science has been one long series of violent brainstorms, as successive generations have come to terms with increasing levels of queerness in the universe.”
“Our brains have evolved to help us survive within the orders of magnitude of size and speed which our bodies operate at. We never evolved to navigate in the world of atoms.”
“Could we, by training and practice, emancipate ourselves from Middle World and achieve some sort of intuitive, as well as mathematical, understanding of the very small and the very large? I genuinely don’t know the answer.”
“An atheist is just somebody who feels about Yahweh the way any decent Christian feels about Thor or Baal or the golden calf. We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”