Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think : Reflections by Scientists, Writers, and Philosophers

By Alan Grafen; Mark Ridley | Go to book overview

PREFACE

In 1976, a young Oxford biologist published a book called The Selfish Gene. To Richard Dawkins' own surprise and sometimes alarm, it became widely discussed, often misunderstood, and highly influential. The Selfish Gene is now well established as a classic exposition of evolutionary ideas for academic and lay readers alike. Its author, propelled to fame, went on to display the range and depth of his analytical skills and literary abilities in a string of best-sellers: The Extended Phenotype (intended primarily for fellow biologists), The Blind Watchmaker, River Out of Eden, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, and The Ancestor's Tale. A collection of his essays was published as A Devil's Chaplain. Increasingly involved in public debate on science and rationalism, Dawkins has become a familiar figure in the media, and a leading champion of atheism. To find professional scientists with a similar public profile on non-scientific issues, one has to return to the days of J. B. S. Haldane and before him T. H. Huxley in the UK, and perhaps Einstein in the USA. In 1995, Dr Charles Simonyi endowed a chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University that enabled Dawkins, as the first holder, to concentrate on his writing.

This collection of essays considers the range of Dawkins' influence as scientist, writer, and public figure. Inevitably, though, his seminal work, The Selfish Gene, takes pride of place among his achievements and thus forms the primary focus of this volume. The Selfish Gene reached so many audiences that one person is unlikely to know of them all. The essays of the first few sections illustrate the range of the book's influence, with distinguished authors from many fields explaining how its ideas have affected them personally and professionally.

We begin with accounts by four biologists, whose work in parasitology, gender differences, communication, and animal artefacts has been inspired by Dawkins. The second section focuses on the

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