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.

Why you should listen

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.

What others say

“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

Richard Dawkins’ TED talks

More news and ideas from Richard Dawkins


Experience the magic of Richard Dawkins’ reality

October 4, 2011

If living in Richard Dawkins’ world is to live without an omnipotent creator, to explain life’s most wondrous mysteries with scientific fact, is it also to live in a world devoid of beauty and magic? No, says Dawkins, in his newest book, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True, which makes its […]

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Atheist summer camp, funded by Richard Dawkins' foundation

July 1, 2009

Via Boing Boing via The First Post, we learn that Richard Dawkins‘ foundation is funding a summer camp to teach children reason, skepticism and science. From the article: Alongside the more traditional activities of tug-of-war, swimming and canoeing, children at the five-day camp in Somerset will learn about rational scepticism, moral philosophy, ethics and evolution. […]

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