Friday, 30 Jan 2015 6:30 PM
Public Conduct: Richard Dawkins’ and Alain deBotton
Militant atheism”. Richard Dawkins urges all atheists to openly state their position — and to fight the incursion of the church into politics and science. A fiery, funny, powerful talk. Oxford professor Richard Dawkins has helped steer evolutionary science into the 21st century, and his concept of the “meme” contextualized the spread of ideas in the information age. In recent years, his devastating critique of religion has made him a leading figure in the New Atheism.
As an evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins has broadened our understanding of the genetic origin of our species; as a popular author, he has helped lay readers understand complex scientific concepts. He’s best-known for the ideas laid out in his landmark book The Selfish Gene and fleshed out inThe Extended Phenotype: the rather radical notion that Darwinian selection happens not at the level of the individual, but at the level of our DNA. The implication: We evolved for only one purpose — to serve our genes.
Of perhaps equal importance is Dawkins’ concept of the meme, which he defines as a self-replicating unit of culture — an idea, a chain letter, a catchy tune, an urban legend — which is passed person-to-person, its longevity based on its ability to lodge in the brain and inspire transmission to others. Introduced in The Selfish Gene in 1976, the concept of memes has itself proven highly contagious, inspiring countless accounts and explanations of idea propagation in the information age.
In recent years, Dawkins has become outspoken in his atheism, coining the word “bright” (as an alternate to atheist), and encouraging fellow non-believers to stand up and be identified. His controversial, confrontational 2002 TED talk was a seminal moment for the New Atheism, as was the publication of his 2006 book, The God Delusion, a bestselling critique of religion that championed atheism and promoted scientific principles over creationism and intelligent design.
Alain de Botton: Chairman, The School of Life London, United Kingdom. “What do you think of the aggressive atheism we have seen in the past few years? I am an atheist, but a gentle one. I don’t feel the need to mock anyone who believes.”
It started in 1997, when Alain de Botton turned away from writing novels and instead wrote a touching extended essay titled How Proust Can Change Your Life, which became an unlikely blockbuster in the “self-help”category. His subsequent books take on some of the fundamental worries of modern life (am I happy? where exactly do I stand?), informed by his deep reading in philosophy and by a novelist’s eye for small, perfect moments. His newest book is The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work.
In 2008, de Botton helped start the School of Life in London, a social enterprise determined to make learning and therapy relevant in today’s uptight culture. His goal is (through any of his mediums) to help clients learn “how to live wisely and well.”