Due Respect

Zoologist and evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins has become a household name lately — not because of his decades of creative academic work, and his outstandingly informative and accessible books on biology and the Darwinian paradigm, but because of his in-your-face denial of God — which has probably, on balance, earned him more enemies than supporters here in the ultra-religious United States. And I’d be the first to admit, fan that I am, that his “people skills” are perhaps not everything they could be, and that he might actually advance his cause — one with which I am in general agreement — more effectively if he were able to make his perfectly reasonable point a tad less condescendingly.

But however you feel about the man, he is a disciplined professional, and he does his homework. My old PubSub pal Eugene Jen has just sent me an excellent example, both of Dawkins’s thoroughness and some outstanding blogospheric geekery. Have a look here.

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  1. “decades of creative academic work”.

    Sorry, Malcolm, but that needs a little amplification, I feel. So far as I know, Dr. Dawkins has done little in the way of original work, if you except the faintly risible notion of, er, “memes”. In fact, as far as I can tell, he has made his reputation, and a considerable amount of money (good luck to him!) acting as a populariser and propogandist for other men’s ideas. On the other hand, if by “creative” you mean inventing fairy tales to the effect that we are all walking, talking robots controlled by lumps of protein, well, of course you would be right, that was very, er, creative of him!

    Posted December 3, 2007 at 4:11 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi David,

    No, I have to disagree. The notion of memes — which I think is far from risible — was just an aside, really, in a highly creative piece of work, namely The Selfish Gene, which was a radical departure from the organism-level model of selection that was hegemonic at the time. Just to choose a more recent example, the amount of academic labour that went into his recent book The Ancestor’s Tale is impressive indeed.

    The notion that we are walking and talking is certainly no fairy tale; from my standpoint the fairy stories begin when we need to imagine that the exquisitely complex lumps of protein in our heads are inadequate for the job, and need to be controlled by some invisible, ghostly puppeteer.

    Posted December 3, 2007 at 4:39 pm | Permalink