Their two dogs, small fluffy creatures called Cuba a havanese , and Tycho a coton de Tulear named after a 16th-century Danish astronomer , have the air of pets who run the joint.
Richard Dawkins: 'immoral' not to abort if foetus has Down's syndrome
As a child, he preferred to read books while his nature-loving parents John and Jean were out spotting birds and plants. Jean, aged 98, lives on the family farm in Chipping Norton, outside Oxford, where Dawkins visits her weekly. Even then, surrounded by nature at its most vivid, Dawkins remained uninspired. He remembers, as a young child, being taken in a safari car to watch a pride of lions gnawing at a carcass.
While the rest of the group stared in fascination, he stayed on the floor playing with his toy cars. He does, however, know every class and order of the animal kingdom, a product of the classical zoological education he received as an undergraduate at Oxford. If he has trouble sleeping, he mentally scrolls through the alphabet and assigns mammals to letters.
As a postgraduate, Dawkins excelled at the early stages of the research process, mulling theoretical questions and coming up with hypotheses. But he lacked patience with the laborious hours of data collection or methodical lab work.
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His interest in zoology was philosophical, not naturalistic: On a recent spring afternoon, sitting in his back garden, he explained the evolution of social insects by imitating an ant whose sole function was to guard the entrance hole to a giant bamboo stick in which the ant colony lived. The ant had an elongated head that it used like a door to block the hole and prevent the entrance of intruders. Dawkins hunched in his chair and stuck his head forward, then jerked it back, blocking and unblocking the hole.
The performance was strangely captivating, but the ant was simply a means to explain the social behaviour of insects. He would regularly stay up all night writing code on the sole computer in the zoology department, an Elliot — at the time a relatively compact machine, now the kind of elaborate object kept for historical interest by the Science Museum. The language of technology was ubiquitous in The Selfish Gene. To its critics, the book was an assault on human values: To Dawkins, this was a basic misreading of his argument. In his next book, The Extended Phenotype , which he regards as his most significant contribution to science, Dawkins explained that he wrote The Selfish Gene while on sabbatical, after returning, high on ideas, from a conference on artificial intelligence.
Dawkins has never lost his affection for technology. He is an Apple devotee, and an early adopter; he owns the 47th Tesla electric car to be sold in Britain. In his spare time, he plays the EWI , an electronic musical instrument similar to a clarinet. It had originally been written in Pascal, an obsolete programming language.
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A few years ago, Dawkins put a plea on his website for help updating it. Canon was brought up in a fundamentalist Christian household, shed his faith, and later became a dedicated Dawkins fan. Sitting at the computer in his study, Dawkins gave a demonstration of Blind Watchmaker. First, he clicked on the monochrome image of a tree in the centre of his screen and a handful of slightly different trees appeared — its offspring.
He then clicked on one of these surrounding trees and the screen refreshed so that the chosen tree was now central and in turn encircled by a new generation. The first time Dawkins tested his creation back in the s he saw, after numerous selections, images of entirely new creatures emerge, apparently distant from the original tree and yet its logical descendants: He was the breeder; the process, by artificial selection, was evolution.
Even now, playing a game he invented 30 years ago, Dawkins became excitable as he unleashed generation after generation, click after click.
Richard Dawkins criticised for Twitter comment about Muslims
On a walk round Oxford one afternoon in March, Dawkins showed off some old haunts: Dawkins remembered little in the way of university antics: Most days he cycles in for lunch at New College, where he has been a fellow since He has no duties in college, and stopped teaching in when he became the first Charles Simonyi professor for the public understanding of science, but he likes to maintain the connection.
In conversation, Dawkins is most comfortable in the mode of an Oxbridge tutorial — as a professor conducting an in-depth discussion with a student. His own students still remember the experience very clearly. In all his books, logic has been both subject and mode of thought. It was not enough to say that he did not approve of religion or its role in society; he needed to prove its impossibility.
Sitting in the Enthoven room in New College, Dawkins characterised his own mode of argument — and the controversies that invariably ensue — as guided by the techniques of moral philosophy: Trying to suppress the gut reaction as much as possible.
For a point to be of any worth to Dawkins, he demands both logic and evidence — a standard he applies to even the most personal of experiences. As a child, he experienced sexual abuse: Dawkins has never made much of his experiences at school, he said, because he is certain it had no lasting effect; he has argued — to much outrage, naturally — that being raised in a fundamentalist religious household might be worse than suffering sexual abuse.
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To make a fuss about his own case, he believes, would be belittling to children whose lives had been more obviously tainted by similar treatment and it would also be irrational, unsupported by empirical evidence: The scientific method, for Dawkins, is not merely essential to understanding the physical world; it can be deployed to help answer moral questions as well. In recent years, the following sequence of events has become something of an online soap, regular and predictable: Dawkins tweets, is criticised for being deeply offensive, and then writes a long article to explain what he actually meant, which usually is not too far from what he said in the first place, but expressed with slightly more nuance.
Since Dawkins joined Twitter seven years ago, he has amassed more than a million followers. His efforts are not always appreciated.
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On occasion, his online utterances descend into farce, as when he took to Twitter in to rage over having an item confiscated by airport security, declaring: I had a little jar of honey, now thrown away by rule-bound dundridges. Principle, not honey, principle. Even on more serious topics, Dawkins cannot quite fathom how often he finds himself at the centre of online firestorms. Bin Laden has won, in airports of the world every day. What do you think about X? Yet most can whistle tunes sans training. Is Sweden such a fatuously ridiculous country, bending over backwards to accommodate religious idiocy?
Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. In the presence of his logic, there is no room for an alternative view. Date rape is bad. If you think that's an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.
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Try real warm embrace of a real warm friend. Gradually, he distanced himself from Christianity, but still believed in a divine creator, helped by his deep love of Elvis. The campaign had begun: For his part, Dawkins has always maintained that he is not in the business of conversion. Dawkins has taken shots at all major religions, but Islam has become the particular focus of his recent ire. But his public praise for the work of professional anti-Islam controversialists, such as the far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, have not helped his case.
Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read Qur'an. You don't have to read Mein Kampf to have an opinion about nazism. The Muslim writer and thinker Ziauddin Sardar , who has debated Dawkins in the past, argued that Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists had dangerously stoked anti-Islamic sentiment in the west. It is not just the religious who voice concern: His particular interests are gravitation and cosmology. He has published more than seven books together with Prof.
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