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Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching

Terry Eagleton: Richard Dawkins

19 October 2006
The God Delusion 
by Richard Dawkins.
Bantam, 406 pp., £20, October 2006, 0 593 05548 9
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... Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read RichardDawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand ...
21 January 1988
The Blind Watchmaker 
by Richard Dawkins.
Longman, 332 pp., £12.95, September 1986, 0 582 44694 5
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... against the general trend, one or two active scientists continue to speak about their work to audiences far beyond the circle of their professional colleagues. One such is the evolutionary biologist RichardDawkins. Significantly, Dawkins’s books defy classification in terms of our specialist categories: professional monograph, student text, popular book, etc. The Selfish Gene (1976) was at once a key ...

Short Cuts

Daniel Soar: The Hitchens Principle

21 March 2019
... book-lined apartment in Washington DC and had a two-hour discussion around a marble table. The subject, it seemed, was the misguidedness, stupidity and sometimes dangerousness of religious belief. RichardDawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens: over the previous few years each had published a bestselling book condemning religion, and they were all rather pleased with themselves ...

Why so cross?

Thomas Nagel: Natural selection

1 April 1999
Unweaving the Rainbow 
by Richard Dawkins.
Penguin, 350 pp., £20, October 1998, 9780713992144
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The Pattern of Evolution 
by Niles Eldredge.
Freeman, 225 pp., £17.95, February 1999, 0 7167 3046 4
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... the purposive-sounding Just-So stories by which evolution is often explained. The writers of these two books have a string of popular works behind them. They also have a history of disagreement, with Dawkins on one side and Eldredge on the other. Eldredge is associated in this controversy with Stephen Jay Gould, his long-term research collaborator.* The disagreement, and the heat that it generates, are ...


Jerry Fodor

18 April 1996
Climbing Mount Improbable 
by Richard Dawkins.
Viking, 320 pp., £20, April 1996, 0 670 85018 7
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... position. If I say ‘colder’, go back a step and repeat from there. This is a kind of procedure that they call ‘hill climbing’ in the computer-learning trade (hence, I suppose, the title of RichardDawkins’s new book). It’s guaranteed to get you where you’re going so long as the distance between is finite. (And so long as there are no insurmountable obstacles or ‘local maxima’ in the ...

Genes and Memes

John Maynard Smith

4 February 1982
The Extended Phenotype 
by Richard Dawkins.
Freeman, 307 pp., £9.95, December 1981, 0 7167 1358 6
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... The Extended Phenotype is a sequel to The Selfish Gene. Although Dawkins has aimed his second book primarily at professional biologists, he writes so clearly that it could be understood by anyone prepared to make a serious effort. The Selfish Gene was unusual in that ...

Darwinian Soup

W.G. Runciman: The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore

10 June 1999
The Meme Machine 
by Susan Blackmore.
Oxford, 264 pp., £18.99, March 1999, 0 19 850365 2
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... The word ‘meme’, popularised by RichardDawkins in The Selfish Gene, has recently gained entry into the OED as ‘an element of a culture that may be considered to be passed on by non-genetic means, esp. imitation’. But the idea that culture is ...

Short Cuts

Jenny Diski: Melanie Phillips

13 May 2010
... and much besides) since the Enlightenment: civilisation ruined thanks to Francis Bacon, Rousseau, Hume, Comte, Marx, Bergson, William James, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Gramsci, Rowan Williams, RichardDawkins, liberation theologians, Princess Diana, Professor Nutt, someone called Matthew Fox, Madonna, Cherie Blair – and Barack Obama. Nor is our gratitude due for her elucidation of why human ...

On Jonathan Miller

Neal Ascherson: Jonathan Miller

22 December 2019
... depths. Why can a portrait’s eyes follow you round the room, when a sculpture’s eyes can’t? Once we argued about genotypes and phenotypes, and Jonathan rang me two days later to tell me that RichardDawkins had defined the ‘extended phenotype’ as an artefact that can only be created by a given species incapable of modifying it whereas humans can vary phenotypes endlessly.Sometimes, as his ...

Shock Lobsters

Richard​ Fortey: The Burgess Shale

1 October 1998
The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals 
by Simon Conway Morris.
Oxford, 242 pp., £18.99, March 1998, 0 19 850256 7
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... mankind alone has access to transcendence. He does not say so in so many words, but one senses the pull of the divine in the Conway Morris version. The word ‘numinous’ appears in a footnote; how RichardDawkins would shudder. Do these differences in historical interpretation amount to anything more than the kinds of fiction which can be built around the idea that Hitler won the Second World War ...

The Darwin Show

Steven Shapin

7 January 2010
... with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law’. If T.H. Huxley was ‘Darwin’s bulldog’, the Oxford emeritus professor for the public understanding of science, RichardDawkins, has been called his unmuzzled rottweiler; according to Dawkins, Darwin’s idea wasn’t just a great one (‘the most powerful, revolutionary idea ever put forward by an individual’), it ...

Disappearing Acts

Terry Eagleton: Aquinas

5 December 2013
Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait 
by Denys Turner.
Yale, 300 pp., £18.99, May 2013, 978 0 300 18855 4
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... whom he was acquainted was not that they were bad on the subject of mind or spirit, but that they weren’t very good on the subject of matter. Aquinas believed in the soul, as Daniel Dennett and RichardDawkins do not; but one reason he did so was because he thought it yielded the richest possible understanding of the lump of matter known as the body. As Wittgenstein once remarked: if you want an ...

Let’s eat badly

William Davies: Irrationality and its Other

25 November 2019
Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason 
by Justin E.H. Smith.
Princeton, 344 pp., £25, April, 978 0 691 17867 7
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... as distinct from what economists or moral philosophers think should determine them. Marketers aren’t the only ones hungry for these insights. The popularisation of behavioural economics was led by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s book Nudge (2008), which inspired the setting-up of ‘behavioural insights’ teams in governments around the world (with Cameron’s coalition government at the ...

Tall, Slender, Straight and Intelligent

Philip Kitcher: Cloning and reprogenetics

5 March 1998
Clone: The Road to Dolly and the Path Ahead 
by Gina Kolata.
Allen Lane, 218 pp., £15.99, November 1997, 0 7139 9221 2
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Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World 
by Lee Silver.
Weidenfeld, 315 pp., £20, January 1998, 0 297 84135 1
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... who cleared ‘the road to Dolly’ and a sympathetic account of their struggles. Some of the historical details are not entirely accurate – Hans Driesch’s name is consistently misspelled and RichardDawkins is awarded a Nobel Prize (in what field?) – but Kolata is particularly good at providing accessible explanations of scientific ideas and achievements, and even those who know very little ...
20 July 1995
by Edward O.Wilson.
Allen Lane, 380 pp., £20, August 1995, 0 7139 9141 0
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Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration 
by Bert Hölldobler and Edward O.Wilson.
Harvard, 228 pp., £19.95, November 1994, 0 674 48525 4
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... the Xerox machine in Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology when we were first introduced. At the time I was working, one floor below his, in collaboration with his formidable ideological critic Richard Lewontin – the second of the remarkable triumvirate who inhabit the Museum (the third, in the basement, is Stephen Jay Gould). Lewontin claims that when the conflict between them was at its most ...

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