Richard Dawkins

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Richard Dawkins (September 2010)
Signature of Richard Dawkins

Clinton Richard Dawkins , FRS , FRSL (born March 26, 1941 in Nairobi , Kenya ) is a British zoologist , theoretical biologist , evolutionary biologist and author of popular science literature. From 1995 to 2008 he was a professor at the University of Oxford .

It was in 1976 with his book The Selfish Gene ( The Selfish Gene ) known in which he evolution at the level of genes analyzed. He introduced the term meme as a hypothetical cultural analogue of the gene in biological evolution. In the years that followed, he wrote several bestsellers , including The Extended Phenotype (1982), The Blind Watchmaker (1986), And A River Raised In Eden (1995), The Summit Of The Improbable (1996), The God Delusion (2006), and The Creation Lie (2009) and other critical contributions to religion and creationism .

Dawkins is considered to be one of the best-known representatives of the “ New Atheism ” and the Brights movement, for which he advertised in articles in major newspapers.

In a survey by Prospect magazine , a selection of British and American jurors voted Dawkins the world's most important thinker in 2013.


Richard Dawkins was born in 1941 in Nairobi, where his father, Clinton John Dawkins, had been transferred as a member of the Allied Forces. He returned to England with his family in 1949. He studied with the Dutch ethologist Nikolaas Tinbergen at Balliol College of Oxford University biology. In 1966 he received his PhD in Zoology ( D.Phil. ). In 1967 he married the biologist Marian Stamp , from whom he separated in 1984.

From 1967 to 1969 Dawkins was assistant professor of zoology at the University of California, Berkeley , from 1970 to 1995 lecturer in zoology at New College, Oxford University. In 1984 he married Eve Barham, with whom he had a daughter that same year. This marriage also ended in divorce. From 1992 until the mutual separation in 2016, he was married to actress Lalla Ward .

Since 1997 he has been an elected member of the Royal Society of Literature and since 2001 also elected member of the Royal Society . In 1991 he gave the prestigious Christmas lecture of the Royal Institution (Growing Up in the Universe).

From 1995 he was Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University . Charles Simonyi has repeatedly expressed himself as a supporter of the scientific work of Dawkins. Billionaire Simonyi donated £ 1.5 million to Oxford University for the facility. In 2008 it was announced that the professorship would be re-advertised and that Dawkins is stepping down from this position for reasons of age.

Der Spiegel describes Dawkins as "the most influential biologist of his time".


Biology and biological evolution

Richard Dawkins (March 2008)

Dawkins became famous in 1976 for his catchphrase, the selfish gene . In his related book, he describes the gene as a fundamental unit of natural selection that uses the body only as a “survival machine”. This book was voted the most important book of all time in a 2017 Royal Society poll .

Within evolutionary biology, he advocates the thesis that competitive situations ( fitness differences ) on the genetic level are decisive in evolutionary processes , whereas group selection plays no or only a marginal role. In his first book, The Selfish Gene , he deals with this topic and then elaborates on it in The Extended Phenotype (1982) by expanding the narrow definition of the phenotype and increasingly focusing on the individual gene. This attitude was largely accepted in the last quarter of the 20th century. Recently, however, this statement has been relativized by theoretical models and concrete examples. The work of the biologist David Sloan Wilson and the philosopher of science Elliott Sober should be mentioned in particular .

Mediated through sociobiology , whose leading representative is Dawkins - alongside Edward O. Wilson - the idea of ​​the egoistic gene is also received in part in the social sciences, but is very controversial there.


In his book The Selfish Gene , Dawkins introduced the term meme as a replication unit of cultural evolution as a hypothetical analogy to the gene as the replication unit of biological evolution . Examples of memes are, according to Dawkins: "Ideas, melodies, thoughts, catchphrases, clothing fashions, the art of making pots or building arches". According to this , memes multiply in the meme pool “by jumping from brain to brain through a process that can be described in the broadest sense as imitation” and, like genes, are subject to mutation and selection.

With the meme concept, Dawkins wanted above all to clarify the universal character of Darwin's theory of evolution and to show that genes are not the “only members of that important class of replicators ,” but emphasized the speculative character of the idea. There are now some scientists who are studying this type of replicator in the new research direction of memetics and who accept memes as actual replication units of cultural evolution. A well-known representative of meme theory is, for example, Daniel Dennett .


In an interview published in 1994, Dawkins described himself as "quite a militant atheist". In 1996, when asked whether he would rather be known as a scientist or a militant atheist, he replied: “ Bertrand Russell described himself as a passionate skeptic . It's a big goal, but I strive for it. ”Since Dawkins does not rule out the existence of a god 100 percent, he also describes himself as an agnostic . He rates the probability that God exists as very low. He rejects agnostic forms, according to which the existence and non-existence of God are equally probable, or no statement can be made about these probabilities.

Ariane Sherine and Richard Dawkins at the start of the Atheist Bus Campaign (October 2008)

Dawkins is a member of the British Skeptics Society , an organization of the skeptics movement, as well as other British organizations promoting humanistic and atheistic worldviews and a stronger secularization of the British state. He's one of the Brights opinion leaders . Already in earlier works he defended the theory of evolution vehemently against teleological concepts that wanted to recognize a purposefulness in the origin of species. In particular, he fights against all forms of creationism and intelligent design .

In his books, such as The Blind Watchmaker (dt .: The Blind Watchmaker ) or Climbing Mount Improbable ( evolutionary summit of the improbable. Miracle ) explains it, the theory of evolution emerged as the diversity and complexity of life in accordance with processes of natural selection and only one Convey the illusion of "design".

In the past few years he has broadened his argument to include religion in general. In his essay Viruses of the Mind Religion, for example, he portrays them as a “thought virus” based on his meme theory. By this he means that religions are a cultural construct that, due to certain properties, spreads particularly quickly and in the mind of the people.

Together with other scientists and authors such as Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens , he turns not only against belief in a god, but also against "belief in belief". By this he means the tendency of non-religious people to ascribe a positive effect on morality and ethics to religion. In 2006 he published a book The God Delusion (dt .: The God Delusion ), theistic religions in which Dawkins and particularly the three monotheistic religions of the world as irrational and harmful describes.

The Atheist Alliance International (International Atheist Association) has been awarding the Richard Dawkins Prize since 2003 for an outstanding atheist who has presented the non-theistic worldview to the public, has increased scientific knowledge or exemplarily teaches non-theistic philosophy and whose public appearance is Dawkins' "uncompromising" non-theistic worldview. In 2005, Dawkins personally awarded the prize to the illusionist Penn & Teller .

In 2006 he founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS or RDF), a non-profit foundation that aims to get involved in the fields of humanistic research and education.

Richard Dawkins and the British Humanist Association supported the activist Ariane Sherine's Atheist Bus Campaign in 2008 and 2009, and the lines “ There's probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life. ”(German:“ There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life! ”). Dawkins justified his support with: "This campaign will make people think - and thinking is anathema to any religion."

In 2014, Dawkins stated that he believed carrying a child with Down syndrome to term was immoral and instead advised abortion to avoid suffering.

With regard to politics in Great Britain, Dawkins supports the Liberal Democrats , for whom he also made public election recommendations several times.



Dawkins (right) and Karlheinz Deschner (left) at the 2007 Deschner Prize award ceremony in Frankfurt

Dawkins has received honorary doctorates from the University of Westminster , the University of Durham , the University of Hull , the Open University and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel .

His popular science books have won many literary prizes. He received the Royal Society of Literature Award in 1987, and the Los Angeles Times Literature Prize in the same year . In 1990 he received the Michael Faraday Award of the Royal Society and in 1994 the Nakayama Prize, as well as the International Cosmos Prize for Achievement in Human Science in 1997 and the Kistler Prize in 2001.

He is the Vice President of the British Humanist Association . In 1996 he was named "Humanist of the Year" by the American Humanist Association . In 2001 he was awarded the Emperor Has No Clothes Award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation . In honor of Dawkins, the prize awarded by the Atheist Alliance International since 2003 is called the "Richard Dawkins Award".

In 2005 he was named the third most important living intellectual in the world after Noam Chomsky and Umberto Eco by Prospect magazine, and in 2007 by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

In 2005 he was awarded the Shakespeare Prize by the German Alfred Toepfer Foundation . In October 2007, Dawkins was the first to receive the Deschner Prize of the Giordano Bruno Foundation, endowed with 10,000 euros and named after Karlheinz Deschner .

In July 2012, Sri Lankan scientists named a genus of South Asian carp fish ( Dawkinsia ) after Dawkins in recognition of his achievements in spreading the theory of evolution to the public.

Opposing positions

Scientific criticism of his biological theses was u. a. put forward by scholars David Sloan Wilson , Stephen Jay Gould and Scott Atran , also atheist . The latter primarily criticizes the concept of the meme against the background of modern cognitive theories. In empirical cognitive psychological studies, Atran tries to show that in communication processes the replication of ideas through imitation is the exception and not the rule; therefore the diffusion and development of ideas cannot be compared with the diffusion and evolution of genes.

In addition, some theologians and philosophers (especially the Oxford theologian Keith Ward , the London theologian and natural scientist Alister McGrath and the philosopher John N. Gray ) accuse him of ignoring serious theology and of abusing his authority as a renowned scientist for his criticism of religion , or that he applies the worldview of religious fundamentalists to all believers and thus ignores the wide range of worldviews of religious people. The geneticist Francis Collins , head of the human genome project and advocate of theistic evolution , also accuses Dawkins of arguing not against religion, but against a caricature of religion.

In addition to the theologian Alister McGrath , the philosopher Charles Taylor and the Nobel laureate in physics, Peter Higgs Dawkins, also explicitly accuse “ fundamentalism ”. His argumentation is embarrassing, science and belief are of course compatible.

The philosopher and theologian Richard Schröder accuses Dawkins of abusing natural science because, with his evolutionary theses on religion, he breaks with the scientific methodology that demands empirical evidence for these theses. Dawkins owes this empirical evidence. Another accusation is that Dawkins' criticism of religion lacks any knowledge of religious studies. Schröder also draws parallels between the aggressive language and impetus of the new atheists and the old atheism of the GDR , which basically described religion as "obsolete" and "scientifically refuted".

Dawkins is also criticized by some atheistic or agnostic philosophers, pointing to the repetition of the dispute over materialism , the arguments of which have been known since the 19th century.

In December 2007, the Istanbul Public Prosecutor's Office opened an investigation into the Turkish publisher von Dawkins on suspicion of “insulting religious values” in Der Gotteswahn . However, he was acquitted with reference to freedom of expression. In September 2008, access to the Dawkins website was blocked for Turkish internet users by an order of an Istanbul court. The Islamic creationist Adnan Oktar had filed a lawsuit because he saw himself and his book Atlas of Creation defamed by a review on the website.

Dawkins calls for an international organization of atheists to strengthen their political influence. He expects more humane political results from this. In this connection he also referred to an alleged “Jewish lobby” that “monopolizes” US foreign policy. This remark has been criticized by commentators Shalom Lappin and Daniel Finkelstein .


  • Richard Dawkins was a special role model for the author Douglas Adams . Adams described himself several times as a "Dawkinsist". The term "Dawkinist" is sometimes used by Dawkins followers. Both allude to the term “ Darwinist ”. Based on Thomas Huxley's role as "Darwin's Bulldog ", Dawkins is also referred to as "Darwin's Rottweiler ".
  • Dawkins plays himself in the fourth season finale of the science fiction series Doctor Who .
  • In the animated series South Park (season 10 Go God Go and Go God Go XII ) Dawkins had an appearance as a representative of the theory of evolution. However, the role was not spoken of by him.
  • In The Simpsons (season 24 episode 15 Black-Eyed, Please ), Dawkins has a cameo as a demon in the nightmare of Ned Flanders.
  • Richard Dawkins was a guest on the 2015 album Endless Forms Most Beautiful by the Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish , where he reads from his own works on the songs Shudder Before the Beautiful and The Greatest Show on Earth .

Works (selection)



scientific publications

  • 1969: Bees Are Easily Distracted . Science 165 (3895): 751.
  • 1976: Growing points in ethology. In PPG Bateson, RA Hinde: Hierarchical organization: A candidate principle for ethology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • 1979: Evolutionarily stable nesting strategy in a digger wasp. R. Dawkins, HJ Brockmann, A. Grafen: Journal of Theoretical Biology 77. (4): pp. 473-496.
  • 1980: Do digger wasps commit the concorde fallacy? R. Dawkins, HJ Brockmann: Animal Behavior 28 (3): pp. 892-896.
  • 1981: In defense of selfish genes. Philosophy 56 (218): pp. 556-573.
  • 1991: Evolution of the Mind. Nature 351 (6329): p. 686.
  • 1995: The Evolved Imagination. Natural History 104 (9): p. 8.
  • 1998: Arresting evidence. Sciences (New York) 38 (6): pp. 20-25.
  • 2003: The evolution of evolvability. On Growth, Form and Computers. London: Academic Press.
  • 2004: Extended phenotype - But not too extended. A reply to Laland, Turner and Jablonka. Biology & Physiology 19 (3): pp. 377-396.


The Root of All Evil? is an atheist miniseries . It shows Dawkins visiting religious sites and events in various countries. The entire series is commented on by Dawkins' voice-over . There are meetings and arguments with representatives of world religions. The series The Enemies of Reason appeared as a sequel in 2007 , in which Dawkins criticized so-called esotericism , alternative medicine and “ postmodern relativism ”.

In a well-known debate in October 2007 at the Christian University of Birmingham , Alabama, Richard Dawkins and John Lennox , a professor of mathematics and philosophy at the University of Oxford , met on the question of the existence of God.

Also on Channel 4, the three-part series The Genius of Charles Darwin was released in 2008 . Richard Dawkins also appears in the documentaries The Atheism Tapes (2004) by Jonathan Miller and Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) by Ben Stein . The Atheism Tapes contains interviews with six important personalities from the fields of philosophy and science. Dawkins speaks about religion and atheism in a half-hour interview. His interview in Expelled is much shorter. Dawkins is asked about religion in a short interview and later another interlocutor calls him a "reptile". The film Expelled received scathing reviews and was labeled propaganda.


  • Katharina Peetz: The Dawkins Discourse in Theology, Philosophy and Natural Sciences , Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2013, ISBN 978-3-525-57026-5
  • Alan Grafen, Mark Ridley (Eds.): Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2006, ISBN 0-19-929116-0 .
  • Ed Sexton: Dawkins and the Selfish Gene. Icon Books, Duxford 2001, ISBN 1-84046-238-8 .
  • Kim Sterelny: Dawkins vs. Gould: Survival of the Fittest. Icon Books, Cambridge 2001, ISBN 978-1-84046-249-4 .

Web links

Commons : Richard Dawkins  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Current RSL Fellows. Archived from the original on August 21, 2014 ; accessed on May 2, 2015 .
  2. ^ A b Professor Richard Dawkins - The Simonyi Professorship. (No longer available online.) In: Archived from the original on May 14, 2011 ; accessed on May 2, 2015 .
  3. ^ The future looks bright. In: June 23, 2003, accessed May 2, 2015 .
  4. ^ Religion Be Damned. In: October 2003, accessed May 2, 2015 .
  5. ^ John Dugdale: Richard Dawkins named world's top thinker in poll. In: May 21, 2014, accessed May 2, 2015 .
  6. Jörg Blech: Happier Without God . In: Der Spiegel . No. 43 , 2006, p. 188-190 ( online ).
  7. Dawkins: "Why do you give Islam a charter?" In: July 26, 2017, accessed January 6, 2018 .
  8. ^ Gebhard Kirchgässner: Homo oeconomicus. 2008, pp. 293, 295 ff.
  9. ^ Thomas A. Bass: Reinventing the Future. Addison-Wesley Pub., 1994, ISBN 0-201-62642-X , p. 118 ( limited preview in Google book search).
  10. ^ Daniel Douglas: Richard Dawkins: You Ask The Questions Special. In: December 4, 2006, accessed May 2, 2015 .
  11. Alan Posener: "I am particularly skeptical of Catholics". In: . September 16, 2007, accessed May 2, 2015 .
  12. Richard Dawkins: The God Delusion. Ullstein Verlag, 2008, p. 67 ff.
  13. ^ The original wording : “ The Richard Dawkins Award will be given every year to honor an outstanding atheist whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance; who through writings, media, the arts, film, and / or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge; who through work or by example teaches acceptance of the nontheist philosophy; and whose public posture mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins. " James Randi to be Honored with the Richard Dawkins Award ( Memento February 15, 2006 on the Internet Archive ) Website of the Atheist Alliance Group
  14. The dark side of religion. ( Memento of April 27, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Report and interview with Richard Dawkins from Gordy Slack , translated from English by Dietmar Michalke (PDF; 176 kB)
  15. ^ Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science Internet presence of the Richard Dawkins Foundation
  16. ^ J. Schloemann: Atheist campaign in London - Godless is cool. In: . May 17, 2010, accessed May 2, 2015 .
  17. ^ Richard Dawkins: Abortion & Down Syndrome: An Apology for Letting Slip the Dogs of Twitterwar. In: August 22, 2014, accessed May 2, 2015 .
  18. LibDems are the Party of Progress The Guardian , April 28, 2010
  19. Who you're voting with if you're voting Lib Dem iNews, June 7, 2017
  20. ^ Humanists of the Year. (No longer available online.) In: Archived from the original ; accessed on May 2, 2015 .
  21. Laus Taschwer: Crusade against God. In: . January 19, 2007, accessed May 2, 2015 .
  22. Michael Behe: The 2007 TIME 100. In: May 3, 2007, accessed May 2, 2015 .
  23. ^ Deschner Prize to Richard Dawkins. In: May 28, 2007, accessed May 2, 2015 .
  24. Rohan Pethiyagoda, Madhava Meegaskumbura & Kalana Maduwage: A synopsis of the South Asian fishes referred to Puntius (Pisces: Cyprinidae). In: Ichthyol. Explor. Freshwaters. Volume 23, Number 1, June 2012, pp. 69-95. ISSN  0936-9902
  25. ^ Scott Atran: The Trouble with Memes. In: Human Nature. Volume 12, number 4, 2001, p. 351 ff.
  26. Scott Atran: The Reality Club: BEYOND BELIEF. In: March 12, 2006, accessed May 2, 2015 .
  27. Can “scientific theology” be used as “intellectual nonsense” ... July 24, 2012, accessed on May 17, 2020 .
  28. K. Ward: God, Chance and Necessity. Oxford 1996, p. 11 f.
  29. Fanatical unbelief. In: November 21, 2004, accessed May 2, 2015 .
  30. Francis Collins: God and the Genes
  31. Alister E. McGrath: The Atheism Mania . Gerth Medien, 2008, ISBN 978-3-86591-289-3 ( limited preview in Google Book Search).
  32. Yoga is serious business. In: May 29, 2009. Retrieved April 25, 2011 .
  33. Physics News: Battle of the professors: Richard Dawkins branded a fundamentalist by expert behind the 'God particle'. In: Archived from the original on February 23, 2014 ; accessed on May 2, 2015 .
  34. Peter Higgs: 'No soy creyente, pero la ciencia y la religón pueden ser compatibles' In: El Mundo. from January 3, 2013.
  35. Richard Schröder: Abolition of Religion? Scientific fanaticism and the consequences. Freiburg im Breisgau 2008.
  36. Precise thinking against clumsy atheism. In: February 18, 2009, accessed May 2, 2015 .
  37. ^ Herbert Schnädelbach : Religion in the modern world. Frankfurt am Main 2009, p. 53.
  38. Herbert Schnädelbach: Interview with ideaSpektrum from March 25, 2009.
  39. Investigations against Turkish publisher: book by Richard Dawkins supposed to violate religious values. In: Spiegel Online . December 1, 2007, accessed May 2, 2015 .
  40. 'Tanrı Yanılgısı' kitabı beraat etti (Turkish) from April 2, 2008
  41. Riazat Butt: Missing link: creationist campaigner has Richard Dawkins' official website banned in Turkey. In: September 19, 2008, accessed May 2, 2015 .
  42. Shalom Lappin: This Green and Pleasant Land: Britain and the Jews . In: The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism Working Paper Series . tape 2 , 2008, p. 6th f . ( [PDF; accessed July 15, 2012]).
  43. ^ Daniel Finkelstein : Dawkins and the Jews: a reply. In: Times Online of August 15, 2007 ( copy ( December 10, 2012 memento in the Internet Archive )).
  44. Rafaela von Bredow, Johann Grolle: A god of fear . In: Der Spiegel . No. 37 , 2007, p. 160-164 ( online ).
  45. South Park 10x12: Go God Go (1) - God is dead. Retrieved March 28, 2015 .
  46. ^ Richard Dawkins Appears in Ned Flanders' Nightmare on The Simpsons. Retrieved March 30, 2015 .
  47. Burned albums: Nightwish about the blatant reactions to ENDLESS FORMS MOST BEAUTIFUL. Retrieved April 2, 2015 .
  48. Growing Up in the Universe (Youtube)
  49. ^ Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life. Channel 4, accessed October 16, 2012 .
  50. The Enemies of Reason related website of Channel 4
  51. ^ Dawkins Lennox Debate The Dawkins - Lennox Debate ( Memento June 25, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
  52. The Genius of Charles Darwin (Channel 4)
  53. This is propaganda, a political rant disguised as a serious commentary on stifled freedom of inquiry. Claudia Puig: Also opening: 'Bin Laden,' 'Intelligence,' 'Forbidden Kingdom'. USA Today , April 17, 2008; accessed May 3, 2008 .
  54. Michael Shermer: Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed - Ben Stein Launches a Science-free Attack on Darwin. Scientific American, April 9, 2008, accessed April 19, 2008 .