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Richard Dawkins is a well-regarded evolutionary biologist, popular science writer, public intellectual, and more recently, one of the most outspoken contemporary advocates of atheism and secular thinking. Dawkins hard-hitting anti-religious style, typified by his 2006 book The God Delusion, has earned him both enthusiastic supporters and fervent enemies. Dawkins is one of several prominent authors, alongside Sam Harris and others, representing the so-called New Atheism movement, most apparent in the United States and United Kingdom.
Dawkins has reached a new peak of fame with his advocacy of atheism, with many not familiar with his writings in biology being exposed to him for the first time. Many are not familiar with the fact that Dawkins has been a respected evolutionary biologist since the mid-70s.
In 1976, Dawkins published his first book, The Selfish Gene, which promotes the gene-centric view of evolution, a perspective that emphasizes that organisms are essentially shells designed to protect and pass on genes, not valued by evolution for themselves, but only as vessels of genetic material. This more sophisticated and mature view of evolution helps circumvent misunderstandings caused when people think of evolution as a sort of friendly Mother Nature caricature. In this book he also coined the term "meme," a unit of cultural transmission analogous to gene. In recent years, this word has gained extreme popularity and largely entered the lexicon of the English language. It is especially popular in online communities, where fads and trends are generated and spread with extreme speed.
In 1982, Dawkins published the now widely-cited The Extended Phenotype, which articulated a more inclusive view of the idea of a phenotype. The main point is that an organism's phenotype — adaptive expression of its genotype, or genetic code — should not be restricted to just its body, but also its behaviors and interactions with other organisms. For instance, a beaver's dam can be considered part of its "extended phenotype."
Starting in 1986, Dawkins started publishing books oriented towards explaining, in simple terms, why the invocation of a divine creator is not necessary to account for the complexities of biology. This culminated with his book The God Delusion in 2006, an inflammatory tome which sparked a new cycle of pro-atheist advocacy, especially in popular Internet communities such as Digg, which include large percentages of non-believers. It has also elicited a number of responses from religious groups. Dawkins has engaged in many high-profile debates with religious figures such as bishops.
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