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In praise of Richard Dawkins

The only ever uncaused event in the history of the universe – the BIG BANG – some 15 billion years ago, decreed that Charles Darwin would be born at Shrewsbury in England on the 12th of February 1809 and Richard Dawkins in Nairobi, Kenya on the 26th of March 1941. Because of that chronology Dawkins was able to stand on the shoulders of Darwin and therefore saw further and deeper than Darwin. In fact standing on Darwin’s shoulders, Dawkins stood the prevailing view of evolution and natural selection on its head. This profoundly original, philosophical, evolutionary biologist and thinker and man of letters is right now in our Isles of spicy breezes where every prospect pleases — and his mother Jean Ladner was born 95 years ago.

Magnum Opus

The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life is the tell-it-all title of Charles Darwin’s world shattering book published in 1859. It proclaimed the greatest discovery in the history of humanity: Organic Evolution. You will, however, look in vain in the whole of his magnum opus, for the word evolution. Darwin seems to have consciously eschewed use of the word like poison. In fact, it is on record that when he was ready to publish this book after 23 years of intense cogitation since returning to England in 1836 from the Voyage of the Beagle, he felt – as he put it – "like a prospective murderer". How come? you may wonder. The answer is that in the deepest recesses of his subconscious mind Darwin darkly feared that the ideas about Man and God, fervently believed as literal truth by Christians including his own "best and kindest of wives" Emma, would be instantly killed by his discovery reported in his forthcoming book.

Blind Watchmaker

On the other hand, Richard Dawkins’s breathtakingly daring book The Blind Watchmaker published in 1986 which exultingly celebrates evolution is a devastating and utterly convincing counterattack on its opponents. And his book titled The Greatest Show on Earth which came out in 2009 is a masterly synthesis of the incontrovertible evidence for evolution. For the evolutionary pioneer Charles Darwin in the 19th century, time was out of joint for the acceptance of the fact of evolution. So the vast body of evidence he marshaled in the Origin of Species only led him to "the theory of natural selection". For Dawkins in the 20th century, evolution was a stark, staring fact. But, you may well ask, doesn’t a theory represent a higher order of comprehension, a more powerful notion and a closer approximation to truth than a mere fact? In the given context the short answer is an emphatic no. For Dawkins a theory is a mere conjecture; a fact is something that has really happened.

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