||Schofield Hall 218|
||Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
Richard Dawkins to Speak
at UW-Eau Claire March 6
MAILED: Feb. 12, 1998|
EAU CLAIRE -- Ultra-Darwinist Richard Dawkins, poet of evolutionary biology, will be presented by The Forum series on Friday, March 6, at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
A controversial, witty and tough-minded lecturer who holds Oxford University's professorship in the public understanding of science, Dawkins will speak on "Universal Darwinism" at 7:30 p.m. in Schofield Auditorium.
Widely known for his international best sellers and media appearances, Richard Dawkins has the rare ability to present original scientific thought in clear and interesting language.
Born in 1941 of British parents in Nairobi, Kenya, Dawkins read zoology at Oxford University. After two years as an assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley, he returned to Oxford's department of zoology, where he taught for nearly a quarter-century. In 1995 he became the first holder of the university's newly endowed Charles Simonyi Chair of Public Understanding of Science.
"What Dr. Dawkins does best is to communicate the message of Darwinian evolution to a citizenry that is increasingly less informed about science and, at least in this country, increasingly more receptive to the teachings of fundamentalist Christians," The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote in a recent profile. "Dr. Dawkins communicates his provocative ideas with a clarity and eloquence that few scientists possess."
"Without question, Richard Dawkins is the most brilliant and compelling propagandist of Darwin today," wrote Wired magazine. "His rhetoric inspires even as it provokes. He is a veritable Tom Paine of evolution, an uncompromising champion of the brute force of natural selection, ruthlessly dismissive of those who question evolution's essential truth. Creationists who believe in the divinity of natural design, of course, might think him more a Goebbels."
Dawkins' reputation began with his best-selling book "The Selfish Gene" -- published in 1976 and never out of print since -- which changed the way both scientists and thousands of lay readers looked at the world. He refined Darwinism by asserting that the real protagonists in the drama of evolution are genes, not the relatively clumsy species that carry them.
"They created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence," he wrote. "They go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines."
His most recent book, "Climbing Mount Improbable" (1996), continued the thesis of his 1986 best seller "The Blind Watchmaker" -- that natural selection fashions organisms and structures so intricate that theologians cite them as proof of the existence of God. In "River Out of Eden" (1995), Dawkins created the metaphor of a river of DNA that flows throughout geological time -- "a river of information... The information passes through bodies and affects them, but it is not affected by them on its way through."
Dawkins is perhaps equally well known for introducing the concept of memes -- powerful ideas that, like viruses, infect minds, reproduce, compete, evolve and affect human culture. The meme is the fundamental replicating unit in social evolution -- a process technically equivalent to genetic evolution. Examples of memes are tunes, slogans, fashions and religions.
"After characterizing religion as a 'virus of the mind,' Dr. Dawkins has been asked by those upset by the derogatory designation why he won't apply it to science or evolutionary theory," wrote The Chronicle of Higher Education. " His reply is that, unlike the exact replication of religious ideas, scientific theories are constantly modified. 'Some die, some live,' he says. 'They survive the test of experiment.' Religious doctrines, on the other hand, he says, are more like a chain letter that people are forced to pass on to others under the threat of eternal damnation."
As an educator and defender of science, Dawkins enjoys a celebrity in Britain comparable only with that of the late Carl Sagan in the United States. His high-profile public appearances include a Science and Religion debate with the Archbishop of York that was reported by The Observer under a headline reading "Lions 10, Christians nil."
Tickets are $7 for the public; $5 for those age 62 and over, and UW-Eau Claire faculty/staff; or $3 for those age 17 and under, and UW-Eau Claire students. Tickets are available at the University Service Center, (715) 836-3727, and will be sold at the door.
The Forum is made possible by student funds allocated by the UW-Eau Claire Student Senate.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: March 13, 1998