Happy birthday, Richard

March 26, 2011 • 1:42 pm

Professor Dawkins has reached the first day of his eighth decade, and let’s wish him many more good years. For the years he has had, I’m grateful for his

  • Being the most lucid and engrossing popular writer on evolution, thereby teaching a huge number of people about the supreme achievement of the human intellect: the true story of where we—and by “we” I mean every species—came from;
  • Inspiring many younger people, including me, to become evolutionary biologists, thus giving him a widely extended academic phenotype;
  • Having publicized and popularized the gene-centered view of evolution, which, though under attack by some ambitious miscreants, is still standing tall; and
  • Becoming through numerous writings and appearances the world’s most famous activist for atheism—thereby giving thousands of people the courage to go public with their godlessness.

Any one of these would be enough for a lifetime, but he’s done all that and more. I’m proud to call him my friend.

Instead of just saying, “Happy birthday,” why don’t we tell him how he influenced us?

How can you top this for fame?

101 thoughts on “Happy birthday, Richard

  1. Happy birthday, Richard. You were instrumental in helping me rid myself of my last few irrational religious beliefs, thereby setting me on a path of clear thinking. Also, I am now pursuing an undergraduate degree in biology, and it’s very likely I would not have made this decision if it wasn’t for your popularization of science.

  2. If it weren’t for Dawkins, the word “atheist” would still be thought of as nothing but a definition in the dictionary. As irony would have it, in this case just like some others, the invisible and the nonexistent look awfully similar.
    Thank you and happy birth day, Dr Dawkins.

      1. ‘Tis true, but I’m ashamed to admit that it took me a full minute before I realized what you were saying. I also, at first, thought you were saying he was 80…

        And I was ready to post about how amazing he looks for an 80-year-old… suffice it to say, he still looks a good ten years or so younger (to me) than 70, so…

        But then, I’m a *bad* judge of age…

        Happy birthday, Richard. Here’s to another 70 years, eh? 😉

    1. I’m surprised that Dawkins backed down from saying that he didn’t believe that parents had the right to make choices for their children. That really is what he’s been advocating, although not stating it so baldly. It’s certainly a defensible statement.

  3. Hi Richard, Happy Birthday from sunny South Africa, and many happy returns of the day.
    Thank you for making us aware that we have only one life to live and to live it to the fullest.

  4. Thank you, Richard! I very much prefer living in a universe in which you have done all that Jerry mentioned above than in what I imagine one would be like without your contributions.

    That is, not only am I profoundly fortunate in that I will one day die, but I am even more fortunate that your death will come so long after my birth that I will have had the privilege of sharing the universe for so long with you.

    And, you know what?

    Thanks to your contributions, both in directly adding to the human understanding of how the universe works and in inspiring others to surpass your own insights, the medical arts have advanced sufficiently that you’ve even added a bit to the average length of time we’ll all have as part of the universe. No small feat, that.

    Oh — and happy birthday, too! Seven decades is a good start. Let’s see how much more you can shake things up after a few more, eh? Should be a fun ride. Who knows? Maybe you can even be one of the ones to make sense of this vast, overwhelming set of genomic data everybody is collecting. I’m sure there’re some fascinating secrets lurking in there, and you’ve got a wonderful knack of seeing forests where others only see a bunch of trees.



  5. The influence of Dawkins is immense. Within biology, The Selfish Gene elucidated and promoted the ideas of Hamilton, Haldane, and others in such an elegant way – so that they could no longer be ignored by any thinking biologist. The book fortuitously appeared as I began began graduate school. After noting the hostile reaction by a few well-known biologists at the time, I quickly realized – he is definitely on to something here! Dawkins’s more popular books also serve as an invaluable source for any biology teacher trying to find the very best way to describe basic evolutionary concepts. And all these magnificent contributions were produced decades before The God Delusion came along as a clarion call for rational thinking in the face of religious nonsense. Richard Dawkins – what a gem.

    1. Dawkins’ influence is immense, from the Selfish Gene to God Delusion, he spanned decades of very sharp thinking on humanities. And for me personally, he is truly saint Dawks. I read the comments downward, to find a common soul, which I believe is really abundant. And yes, Frank’s comment above ..

      Happy birthday saint-Dawks … may gods never blessed you audience 😀

  6. Prof Dawkins’ books helped me to gain a fairly good layperson’s understanding of evolution. He has done as much or more for the public understanding of science as anyone I know.

    He also made it easier to “come out” as an atheist.

    So, happy birthday, Prof Dawkins!

  7. I was a graduate student when The Selfish Gene was published. It profoundly influenced my intellectual life. I will always be grateful.

    Happy Birthday, Professor Dawkins!

  8. Happy Birthday to Richard Dawkins! Dawkins’ ability to so eloquently express the beauty, wonder and fulfillment that there is to behold in the natural world makes me want to jump up and down, pump my fist in the air and shout, “YES!” Sometimes it also gets me a little choked up because our time here is so brief and all the more precious for seeing the beauty and wonder. Here’s to many more years of discovery for you, sir!

  9. Happy birthday, Professor Dawkins! Keep up the good work!

    (Yes, I am aware that “good work” must be the understatement of the century.)

  10. Happy birthday. Thank you for giving non-scientists like me insights and arguments, understanding and passion. The Selfish Gene is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

  11. Richard Dawkins was one of the chief evil atheists maligned and misquoted by the apologist/creationist (ID) texts I devoured as a young Christian. Eventually, I had to read the other side to understand the arguments fully, and I’ve never looked back. In particular, I devoured The Greatest Show on Earth–it made me shake with anticipation for the next revelation and kept me up at night thinking through the arguments and implications. I found it to be at once an elegantly constructed case for evolution and a joyful celebration of life. Salut!

  12. When I started as an undergrad, I took zoology classes because that was what my girlfriend was majoring in. I really had no particular interest in the subject beyond a childhood love of fishing and stomping around in creeks with my brother turning over rocks. I had a couple of classes that I thought were interesting, but I was still on the fence at the end of my first year.

    Then I took Doug Mock’s course on Animal Behavior, which was taught from Alcock’s book and The Selfish Gene. It was the first time I had ever seen mathematics used to develop and test models in biology, and it was a transformative experience for me. From that point on, I was absolutely an evolutionary biologist to the core. A lot of that was Doug’s influence – for those of you who haven’t seen him speak, he is one of the most engaging storytellers you will ever see. A large part of it was also The Selfish Gene, though. It solidified and transformed my understanding of natural selection, and deeply influences the way I think to this day. Simply put, I might not be a biologist today if I hadn’t encountered Dawkins’ book and Doug’s class.

  13. Having cherished his books for years—not to mention his documentaries and speeches—I’d like to thank Richard for countless hours of enrichment, entertainment, and enlightenment. So thank you Richard.

    Looks really good for his age, too. The S.O.B.

  14. Happy birthday Richard.

    You influenced me by making me feel quite a lot less like being quiet when people talked religious nonsense. Step 1: an interview you did on the local public radio station on the Seattle leg of your book tour for Climbing Mount Improbable. Something you said inspired a listener to phone in and urge you to get measured for an asbestos suit. I don’t think I thought in so many words “well why should I be tactfully silent then?” but I might as well have. Step 2: a reading you did at the University Book Store the same day or the next day, at which there was some discussion of that kind of reaction – the asbestos suit kind. This re-enforced my sense that Resistance was not Futile.

    That’s not exhaustive, but it does stand out for me.

  15. Indeed, Happy Birthday from an abnormally frigid Pittsburgh this weekend. My favorite comment of yours was when you were asked on a radio phone-in a few years ago by someone of the faithful persuasion what you would recommend as a way of dealing with some rather simplistic theistic challenge to evolution (in a way in which the questioner intimated that he had one over on you), you replied precisely and emphatically, “Read_A_Book – there are shelf-miles of them!”

  16. Dr. Dawkins, sir, you saved my non-existent immortal soul from eternal stupid and I want your genetic material for my babies. Please excuse the creepiness. I used to hate you, you see.

    Jerry: Have you ever heard of this guy? He really seems to not like you. http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2011/03/point_coyne-terpoint.php

    I’m sure, he’s like, written a bestseller on promoting evolutionary biology to the general public, and I’m sure I’ve read it, so his scathing criticism that you don’t even have your own TV network (and that’s a quote) carry a Noah’s Flood’s worth of weight.

    I’ve been trying to post “What does this post even mean?” for a while now, but I keep getting ‘permission denied’ errors, meanwhile other people are posting “Yeah, those gnus! So dumb.”

      1. Well, maybe, but let’s not derail the thread, as it’s meant to give encomiums to Richard!

  17. As a non-scientist I have found books like Unweaving the Rainbow and The Ancestor’s Tale provided a clear explanation of evolution and the wonders of a scientific world view. The God Delusion reinforced my atheism too.

    Happy Birthday Richard Dawkins. And thank you.

  18. I became an atheist and finally left behind the guilt and fear due to reading Richard Dawkin’s writings. His clarity, common sense and gift of explanation, along with his calm delivery continues to amaze me.

  19. Thank you for your insistence on asking blunt and critical questions of aspects of religious faith and other claims long considered taboo and…

    B) Thank you for rebutting the old myth that to understand something is to rob it of any beauty or inspiration. In other words, thank you for showing that the intellectual stimulation that comes from dissecting a phenomenon does not come at the expense of the emotional exhilaration of experiencing it.

    1. Thank you for rebutting the old myth that to understand something is to rob it of any beauty or inspiration.

      This somewhat tangentially reminded me of something else Richard does so well: demonstrating that it is not necessary to become the world’s leading expert in a particular theory in order to demonstrate the incorrectness or insufficiency of the theory.

      Just as one need not be able to calculate a 60th-degree epicycle to reject the geocentric model of the universe, one need not be able to distinguish between Ophanim and Seraphim to reject the deistic model of the universe. It is sufficient in the former case, today, to look at the Pale Blue Dot; for the latter, only to note the complete incomprehensibility of the claims and the perfect refusal of the religious to present verifiable evidence to support their claims — not to mention the mountains of irrefutable contradictory evidence.

      Thank you, Richard, for not wasting your time on learning how to cast horoscopes merely to placate the astrologer’s guild.



  20. I am grateful to have shared space and time with Dr. Dawkins. He once commented that Darwin made it possible for an atheist to be intellectually fulfilled. I would add that Dr. Dawkins has made it possible not only atheists of the modern era to be intellectually fulfilled, but has added to this fulfillment immeassurably. I know that many an atheist and science geek like myself were influenced greatly by The Selfish Gene or one of Dr. Dawkins many excellent books on evolution. And for me they did add immensely to my education and understanding. But Dr. Dawkins influence on me stems from a book that receives less attention than some of his other titles, Unweaving the Rainbow. This marvelous book was my gateway into the true wonder of science. Along with Sagan’s A Demon-Haunted World, it has been a source of inspiration to me for many years now. So thank you Dr. Dawkins for all the intellectual joy you have provided so many, myself included. Happy Birthday and I hope I will have the pleasure of repeating this many times into the future.

  21. I owe Mr Dawkins my sanity. I was following the catholic faith for many years and read his books that opened my mind to see the fallacies of faith. Thank you Richard Dawkins.

  22. How Dawkins has influenced me.

    Reading The God Delusion back in 2006 gave me a new clarity on atheism. I’d been an outspoken atheist for nearly 10 years before reading the book, but that book was able to give a coherent narrative to it and assuaged some of the more confusing aspects that had come from debating with believers on the matter.

    Much of my understand about evoution comes from reading The Blind Watchmaker, The Selfish Gene, The Ancestor’s Tale, and The Greatest Show On Earth; as well as the documentaries Nice Guys Finish First, The Blind Watchmaker, and The Genius Of Charles Darwin.

    The value of scepticism and asking for evidence to back up claims was presented so emphatically in The Enemies Of Reason and A Devil’s Chaplin.

    As the compilation of essays titled Richard Dawkins: How A Scientist Changed The Way We Think suggests, Dawkins has had a huge influence on my intellectual development. I’m very glad I got to see him talk in Melbourne last year. So happy birthday Richard Dawkins, this layperson is very glad you’ve made such an impact in public education.

    1. The God Delusion is not my favorite Dawkins book, but if it had not been a best seller, I might never have known who Richard Dawkins was. That being the case, I would have missed out on The Ancestor’s Tale, TGSOE, The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, Unweaving the Rainbow, and A Devil’s Chaplain. Further, I would likely not have gone on to read WEIT, Your Inner Fish, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, The Red Queen, How the Mind Works, and other great books that I would have been oblivious to had I not seen TGD prominently displayed in the book store one day. Thank you, Richard, for writing popular books on science that even an accountant can understand!

      I also highly recommend the Richard Dawkins essay collection that Kel referred to, especially the essay by David P. Barash (What the Whale Wondered: Evolution, Existentialism, and the Search for “Meaning”). Without that, I might never have read Douglas Adams or Albert Camus!

      “The waves murmur their eternal murmur, the wind blows, the clouds fly, the stars twinkle, indifferent and cold, and a fool waits for an answer.”

  23. Reading Prof. Dawkins’ books got me intensely interested in biology (you too, Jerry!), and was a major reason that I decided to finish school, and now I plan on going to grad school for biophysics. I also learned a huge amount of biology, so all of my bio classes are very, very easy since I have such a strong framework already (well, I also read a ton of other biology books, as well). He also really made me think more about my lack of belief, something I really hadn’t though much about in years, and I think I’m a better person now because of it. Thank you Richard. =D

  24. In my fourth decade of being inspired by Richard Dawkins! From Selfish Gene in my undergrad evolution class to teaching my own classes with Blind Watchmaker, Mt Improbable and, my favorite, Greatest Show.

    Thanks for them all, and South Park too!

  25. I could have attached this to Ophelia Benson’s comment because mine is in a similar vein. Richard Dawkin’s made a simple argument/statement in The God Delusion that changed the way I respond to the religious as well. A life-long atheist, when he said there is no need to respect religion it was a real eye opener (yes, astounding, I know!) because I was brought up to respect others’ religious beliefs, as were most others in my generation, I’m sure. It is one of those things I was taught early on and never thought about much. Now, every time I think that I labored under that misapprehension until reading that one little statement by RD I feel like an idiot – but now a vocal idiot! – for thoughtlessly observing that silly rule all my life, while the religious proceeded to affect my life in less than satisfactory ways. I have never hidden my atheism but now I am much more inclined to be aggressive about it. Thank you, Sir.

  26. Happy Birthday Richard!

    Thanks for opening my mind and giving me the ability to be a happy atheist.

  27. I first read “The Selfish Gene” when it was published in the seventies and everyone was running round screaming how dreadful it was. I read it and couldn’t understand the kerfuffle, it all seemed very straightforward and obvious to me, due no doubt to Richard’s great writing. I basically learned evolution from Origin and Selfish Gene. It has stood me in good stead! By the time God Delusion came along he was preaching to the choir, but I enjoyed it all the same.
    Happy birthday Richard! 🙂

  28. Feliz Cumpleaños para Richard Dawkins, fue la conferencia de TED en la cual habla de la humildad de la ciencia la que me aclaro muchas visiones de lo que es la vida a partir de ahi su contribucion fue muy importante para mi

  29. I’m a bit older than 3/7’s of Dawkins age (damn, sayin that almost sounds to my non-math half of my brain like I’m older than him. Wierd) and so I turned 30 last year, and thinking about that was actually the first time I thought about the fact that when you are 30, then you are really finishing your 30th year, andso you’re really never 30, exactly, if you know waht I mean, it’s like I missed my 30iest year, if you get my drift, the year between 29 and 30 is really your 30iest year, right? anyway, 70 years of Dawkins! may he live 70 more. I’m gonna celebrate by chewing gum and wearing my caps backwards, just to offend him. Cheers!

    1. Oh, God, I have to stop posting stuff drunk, please replace the “30iest” with “30th” in your heads and blame the language barrier, english isnt my first (or drunk) language

  30. When I first read a borrowed copy of the Selfish Gene as an undergrad, I was in a daze for several days, thinking of the new ways of thinking it had opened for me. Even now, as an evolutionary biologist myself, there is always something new I learn form his writing. But his biggest influence on me has been as a model of honesty, integrity and as an unrelenting pursuer of truth – especially one that does so while eschewing the canopy of religion.
    Happy birthday Prof. Dawkins, and I wish you many more!!

    1. Yes. RD’s books are great in contents, but another very strong ingredient is conciseness, clarity and the intellectual strength and bravery in pursuing truth.

      Saint-Dawks is inspiring in many level. I would like to say the late Carl Sagan is be similar, but not exactly the same ..

  31. Well, I’ve been a fairly outspoken atheist and a fan of science most of my life. Richard is my goto on biology and I certainly thank him for that. When I first stumbled across the Tedtalks video ‘An atheist’s call to arms’ I had a feeling that he was about to give me something much better, and he has. Essentially, he’s given me most of you. That’s not bad at all.
    Thanks Richard

  32. Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, Happy birthday dear Richard, happy birthday to you.

    Now can I have some cake?

    The Greatest Show on Earth was my first book about evolution. Now I can’t get enough biology, the most interesting subject on earth.

  33. Happy Birthday, Richard, and thank you for all the wonderful time spent reading your books.

    And just to make sure it’s official, we’re to call ourselves the Allied Atheist Alliance, not the United Atheist Alliance, right?

    1. Instead of just saying, “Happy birthday,” why don’t we tell him how he influenced us?

      James Gleick does this so well in his new book The Information, which features RD alongside Claude Shannon (!) as one of its heroes. Everyone on this site should read it. Gleick on Dawkins:

      Part of what was happening was a collision between molecular biology and evolutionary biology, as studied in fields from botany to paleontology. It was as fruitful a collision as any in the history of science—before long, neither side could move forward without the other—but on the way some sparks flared. Quite of few of them were set off by a young zoologist at Oxford, Richard Dawkins. It seemed to Dawkins that many of his colleagues were looking at life the wrong way round.
      As molecular biology perfected its knowledge of the details of DNA and grew more skillful in manipulating these molecular prodigies, it was natural to see them as the answer to the great question of life: how do organisms reproduce themselves? We use DNA, just as we use lungs to breathe and eyes to see. We use it. “This attitude is an error of great profundity,” Dawkins wrote. “It is the truth turned crashingly on its head.” DNA came first—by billions of years—and DNA comes first, he argued, when life is viewed from the proper perspective. From that perspective, genes are the focus, the sine qua non, the star of the show. In his first book—published in 1976, meant for a broad audience, provocatively titled The Selfish Gene—he set off decades of debate by declaring: “We are survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.” He said this was a truth he had known for years.
      Genes, not organisms, are the true units of natural selection. They began as “replicators”—molecules formed accidentally in the primordial soup, with the unusual property of making copies of themselves.
      “They are past masters of the survival arts. But do not look for them floating loose in the sea; they gave up that cavalier freedom long ago. Now they swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control. They are in you and in me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.”
      This was guaranteed to raise the hackles of organisms who thought of themselves as more than robots. “English biologist Richard Dawkins has recently raised my hackles,” wrote Stephen Jay Gould in 1977, “with his claim that genes themselves are units of selection, and individuals merely their temporary receptacles.” Gould had plenty of company. Speaking for many molecular biologists, Gunther Stent dismissed Dawkins as “a thirty-six-year-old student of animal behavior” and filed him under “the old prescientific tradition of animism, under which natural objects are endowed with souls.” Yet Dawkins’s book was brilliant and transformative. It established a new, multilayered understanding of the gene. At first, the idea of the selfish gene seemed like a trick of perspective, or a joke. …
      “Anthropocentrism is a disabling vice of the intellect,” Edward O. Wilson said a century later, but Dawkins was purveying an even more radical shift of perspective. He was not just nudging aside the human (and the hen) but the organism, in all its multifarious glory. How could biology not be the study of organisms? If anything, he understated the difficulty when he wrote, “It requires a deliberate mental effort to turn biology the right way up again, and remind ourselves that the replicators come first, in importance as well as in history.” …
      gene might maximize its own numbers by giving an organism the instinctive impulse to sacrifice its life to save its offspring: the gene itself, the particular clump of DNA, dies with its creature, but copies of the gene live on. The process is blind. It has no foresight, no intention, no knowledge. The genes, too, are blind: “They do not plan ahead,” says Dawkins. “Genes just
      are, some genes more so than others, and that is all there is to it.” …
      Richard Dawkins made his own connection between the evolution of genes and the evolution of ideas. His essential actor was the replicator, and it scarcely mattered whether replicators were made of nucleic acid. His rule is “All life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities.” Wherever there is life, there must be replicators. Perhaps on other worlds replicators could arise in a silicon-based chemistry—or in no chemistry at all.
      What would it mean for a replicator to exist without chemistry? “I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this planet,” he proclaimed at the end of his first book, in 1976. “It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting far behind.” That “soup” is human culture; the vector of transmission is language; and the spawning ground is the brain.
      For this bodiless replicator itself, Dawkins proposed a name. He called it the meme, and it became his most memorable invention, far more influential than his selfish genes or his later proselytizing against religiosity. …
      Fred Dretske, a philosopher of mind and knowledge, wrote in 1981: “In the beginning there was information. The word came later.” He added this explanation: “The transition was achieved by the development of organisms with the capacity for selectively exploiting this information in order to survive and perpetuate their kind.” Now we might add, thanks to Dawkins, that the transition was achieved by the information itself, surviving and perpetuating its kind and selectively exploiting organisms.

  34. Waitwaitwait… It’s Richard Dawkins’s 70th birthday? No way, it’s Leonard Nimoy’s 80th birthday! 😀 I don’t know whether this is awesome or weird. It’s both. It’s… Weirdsome. 😀 Anyway, I really do have a lot to thank Richard Dawkins for. His book, The God Delusion, was the first book on atheism that I had ever read. I was a Christian when I began reading, a confused agnostic-but-not-really when I finished it, and approximately a year later the atheist that I am today. Prior to reading it, I wasn’t even entirely sure what an atheist was, let alone if they were anything more than an anomaly that the adults occasionally talked about in hushed tones (yes, I was really that sheltered). I still haven’t actually told anyone that I’m an atheist yet (the mere thought of what might happen is enough to put me in a dour mood for the remainder of a day), and I don’t know if my parents will allow me to not get confirmed (yes, I’m really that young). I am afraid for the future, but at least I know that I have reason on my side. So thank you, Richard, for showing me my very first glimpse of reality. Thank you for opening my eyes after a lifetime of slumber. I don’t know how I can ever repay you, and I doubt I ever will. All I can offer is my undying thanks.

    1. I can’t quite put my finger (paw?) on why, but I teared up on reading this. Good luck for the future, and there are lots of us out here.

  35. Oh, where to start? Happy birthday Richard. I first heard of you by searching for someone as inspiring as Carl Sagan was to me and my family – someone who was able to transmit the value of knowledge and scientific reasoning, and boy did I find that someone. I thought I understood evolution until I read your books. It’s because of you that I now follow people like Jerry Coyne, Dan Dennett, Neil Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, Robert Sapolsky, Steven Pinker, and many – many more including some of your critics (why not?). You’ve opened the door to so much knowledge that I now have piles of books read and waiting to be read (and bought), and you also allowed me to feel ok with being an outspoken atheist! For this and for so much more I thank you Richard.

  36. I never really understood evolution until I read “The Selfish Gene”, followed up with “The Extended Phenotype”. For me, it completely changed my world view, and I expect it did for others as well. The Selfish Gene was the most important book I read in my life.

  37. Can one who is just a tad older than Richard Dawkins also confess that he had a powerful influence on my scientific development? I was a geneticist/developmental biologist with little background in evolution (never a formal course)when I read “The Selfish Gene”. It was a revelation, utterly convincing and doubtless the first impulse toward an ever increasing attention to evolutionary problems for the rest of my career. (Alan Wilson, more for the problems he posed than the answers he provide, was the other great influence.) I must add that “the Blind Watchmaker” is, in my opinion, the greatest book of “science popularization” ever written. I always believed Dawkins wrote more clearly because he thought more clearly. So, happy birthday Richard and thanks great stimulation and great pleasure.

  38. Happy birthday Richard Dawkins! I’m grateful for your books. Couple years ago I read The Blind Watchmaker and decided that I want to be a biologist. Now I have a student place in University Of Turku. Your writings have opened a whole new beautiful world for me.

  39. It was Christopher Hitchens and not RD who originally converted me from “I’m not sure how all this stuff I’m learning from physics at uni gels with my christian beliefs” to gnu atheism but Richard Dawkins was responsible for something that to me was more important. I went to a catholic school and evolution was glossed over by a biology teacher who was much happier discussing with the class what actions were and were not a sin. I never understood evolution until I found the blind watchmaker in my local bookstore. This had a profound effect on me, the only thing that had a similar effect on me was when I learnt Einstein’s theory of relativity. It is not a stretch to say that if I had discovered Dawkins earlier (or if my biology teacher had been as good as my physics teacher) then I might have taken a different path at university. Richard Dawkins opened up my eyes to the beauty and wonder of the biological world, something I had previously only found in physics. I treasure that feeling of awe and it’s why I chose to become a scientist, so for that I am eternally grateful to Richard Dawkins. Thankyou and happy birthday.

  40. As they say in “horse country” I will be 84 this spring and except for Tom Paine, Marshall J. Gauvin and Bertrand Russell I thought I was winging it alone, then Richard came along some 35 years ago. Although I am not a personal friend, all his works since “The Gene” have been my constant companions and he led me to Stenger, Hitchens et al. I just noted recently that the lives of Darwin and Paine overlapped briefly in 1809. If Tom had been around 50 years later I am sure “On the Origin” would have have moved him over to our camp.
    Many more, Richard.

  41. In my life, before I knew about Richard Dawkins, I greatly enjoyed science and skepticism, Sagan and Clarke and Asimov–but I didn’t know about all the wonderful resources and blogs and podcasts and conferences in the skepticism movement. The God Delusion pointed me to RDnet, and RDnet pointed me to a million other wonderful places, including this blog.

    Thank you so much, Prof. Dawkins, for not only writing so clearly and beautifully, not only coming out as an atheist so boldly, but ALSO taking the extra step to providing resources and community!

  42. Happy (belated) birthday, Richard! Thanks muchly for teaching me that there’s a lot more to biology than dinosaurs and Latin names, and showing me that it’s important to stand up for reason and critical thinking, and intellectual integrity. And thanks for all those wonderful books that have provided me with (counting multiple re-reads, because who could resist?) probably hundreds of hours of entertainment and enlightenment. ‘Tis very much appreciated!

  43. Thank you Richard, and Happy Birthday. The God Delusion finally truly opened my eyes to the harm of religion in society, while also showing the beauty of an honest assessment of evidence. That led me to your website, which has led me to other sites (like this one), all of which is forcing me to take a good solid look at the state of the world I’m in. Some of that has made me angry, some has made me question people’s sanity, but I am finally starting to get the courage to speak up and to speak out. You started that process, and I thank you.

    Also, while I haven’t finished The Greatest Show on Earth, it has so far proven one of the most delightful descriptions of life I have ever read in my 32 years.

    Thank you again.

  44. Thank you Jerry for putting this thread up

    Prof. Dawkins ~ you changed my perception of the world

    I’ve always been interested in the workings of nature, but I was not a critical thinker. An Eric Von Danekin was as good as an Asimov. A Carlos Castaneda equalled a Sagan. I shudder thinking about the hours I wasted reading tripe! I made these errors because my Catholic upbringing had primed my attitudes ~ it seemed reasonable to me in those days that certain attributes of the world were beyond the natural. I was a sucker for all the baloney going. It was YOU who made me realise the necessity of evidence-based thinking.

    To mangle a Gouldism ~ in essence my outlook underwent evolution by jerks ~ I’m the jerk

    I bought The Selfish Gene in ’76 to see what the fuss was about ~ I didn’t accept the gene-centric argument that you had further developed from Williams’ work. My firm belief was that evolution must occur at the level of the organism or group & it seemed absurd to zoom down to the gene level. I got Williams’ book & read it twice. I reread your Selfish book every year & then The Extended Phenotype came out in ’82. That was the critical year for me ~ that was when I realised that I knew nothing

    Each year since ’82 I know less & less about more 🙂

    By the way Richard the only non-fiction authors from those days that I’ve reread with pleasure are Asimov (not the SciFi), Sagan, Gould, some Feynman essays & you. Out of those five you are the man who can really write…

    Not a word out of place, nothing about baseball & very light on the “awesome” adjectives.

    I’m looking forward to your book for young adults ~ keep ’em coming ~ I can never have enough of insight & wit delivered the Dawkins way

  45. I feel we should have someone to whisper in our ears “Remember he is mortal”. I get uncomfortable with too great adulation of any individual who is still alive. It is one of the criticisms aimed at non-believers that RD is treated as some evangelical atheist guru. He been a great & important populariser of the biological sciences & of the importance of evolution & the cause of secularism & for that I salute him, but please don’t put him on a pedestal too soon!

  46. It’s a little late, but happy birthdays to Richard! He’s probably the reason I became an evolutionary biologist, ever since someone gave me “The Selfish Gene” for my birthday when I was in high school. It really opened up my eyes and for me turned biology from a dull stamp-collecting kind of science into a great adventure.

    My immense gratitude!

  47. Thanks Richard for waking me up both to the splendour of evolution and to the real harm religion does in the world. Both realisations have changed my life. Happy birthday.

  48. Happy birthday, Mr. Dawkins, and thank you for your admirable writings! The following quote (from “The Blind Watchmaker”) is especially dear to me.

    “It is raining DNA outside. On the bank of the Oxford canal at the bottom of my garden is a large willow tree, and it is pumping downy seeds into the air. There is no consistent air movement, and the seeds are drifting outwards in all directions from the tree. Up and down the canal, as far as my binoculars can reach, the water is white with floating cottony flecks, and we can be sure that they have carpeted the ground to much the same radius in other directions too. The cotton wool is mostly made of cellulose, and it dwarfs the tiny capsule that contains the DNA, the genetic information. The DNA contents must be a small proportion of the total, so why did I say that it was raining DNA rather than cellulose? The answer is that it is the DNA that matters. The cellulose fluff, although more bulky, is just a parachute, to be discarded. The whole performance, cotton wool, catkins, tree and all, is in aid of one thing and one thing only, the spreading of DNA around the countryside. Not just any DNA, but DNA whose coded characters spell out specific instructions for building willow trees that will shed a new generation of downy seeds. Those fluffy specks are, literally, spreading instructions for making themselves. They are there because their ancestors succeeded in doing the same. It is raining instructions out there; it’s raining programs; it’s raining tree-growing, fluff-spreading, algorithms. That is not a metaphor, it is the plain truth. It couldn’t be any plainer if it were raining floppy discs”.

  49. Dear Professor Dawkins,

    It was you who reminded me, after many years of doing other things that I didn’t really enjoy but didn’t know what I did want to do. And there was Unweaving the Rainbow on the shelf in the Yokohama Library. I picked it up, read the first page, didn’t notice my feet taking me downstairs to check it out, to the train to go home…. and I suddenly realized how much I love, have always loved, science in general and biology in particular. One of the happiest bookstore trips in recent years was discovering Ancestor’s Tale on the shelf– a new one that I didn’t know about! And *thick*, so it wouldn’t be finished too soon–the happiest possible thing to find from a favorite author. The God Delusion helped me let go of the last shreds of religion that cobwebbed my mind and weighed on my heart. I’m on the last of your books now (for me)–Extended Phenotype, which I’m reading slowly, both to understand as much as I can from it (with lots of scribbles in the margins and spiked with sticky notes) and also so your books won’t be all done.

    Sensei–thank you. And Happy Birthday.

  50. What a great tribute to Richard Dawkins! He is graceful and witty, bold and respectful, determined and relaxed, educated and eloquent, and an inspration to me and so many others on this small but wonderous planet.

    The God Delusion is one of the best books I read and I’m currently reading The Greatest Show on Earth. I’m not a biologist or scientist so I am thankful for Richard’s awesome abilitiy to explain complicated material in simple, every day terms so that even I can understand his fact based theories.

    Happy Birthday, Richard and I wish you many more inspiration years to come!

  51. Richard influenced me to take a stand. I am more outspoken and more “militant” about being an atheist. I no longer sit silently and allow Jebus to be sold; I challenge the ideas.

  52. Your books have helped me gain a firmer grasp of evolution and to replace a fuzzy-warm isn’t it sweet view of nature with a more realistic understanding-which is much more intellectually and even emotionally satisfying. The God Delusion is especially dear to me not because of the arguments against gods, those I knew, but because it helped me realize I was not alone. Thank you and please accept my wishes for a belated happy birthday.

    Let me add a very special thank you for your humor and gentleness. I cannot imagine many people reading hate mail with a bubble of laughter under the voice and such apparent delight.

  53. Dear Richard,

    When I mentioned to Connie this morning that today was your 70th birthday, she said, “Oh yes! St. Richard!! 🙂

    Words cannot possibly express our gratitude for who you are and what you contribute to the world — your work, writings, and passion for truth, science, and evidence — and for fearlessly confronting the enemies of these, especially traditional, otherworldly, superstitious religion.

    May you live healthy and clear-minded for at least another two decades.

    Co-evolutionary love and blessings,

    ~ Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow

  54. PS. (from Connie):

    Richard, in 1986, I was reading your “Blind Watchmaker”(as part of a voracious multi-year avocation of reading popular science books, thanks to finally discovering that the textbooks of my college years were not the only—nor best—way to learn science) and I came to a particular page in which my whole world and the course of my life shifted. At that moment, I realized I, too, would become a science writer, and I would begin by creating an anthology of the best classic and current writings on the intersections of evolutionary biology and meaning-making — which I did: “From Gaia to Selfish Genes” (1991: MIT Press).

    Thank to your influence I went on to write three other books: “Evolution Extended: Biological Debates on the Meaning of Life” (1994: MIT Press), “Green Space Green Time: The Way of Science (1997: Copernicus Books), and “The Ghosts of Evolution” (1992: Basic Books).

    So, thank you, Richard, for fostering my own profound interests in science writing and exploring the intersections of evolutionary biology and worldviews.

    ~ Connie Barlow

  55. Happy Birthday Richard Dawkins! YOu’ve definitely inspired me as a young biologist and an outspoken atheist!

  56. Happy birthday Richard.
    You, as ‘Darwins Pitbull’, have inspired me to emulate you.
    Unfortunately I’ve only got so far as being Jerry Coyne’s crocoduck, but, what the heck, it’s a start!

  57. When I was young, discovering science, I also encounter myself with evolution in the form of Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins, the most representative evolutionists at the time. At the same moment I was attracted to the science divulgation thanks to Carl Sagan, a reason for studying astrophysics, and my lead to reason. The hole that Sagan left when he passed away was filled by the powerful reason movement that I rediscoverd with Dawkins, giving me more arguments for being a scientists, an evolutionist, and an atheist.

    I must thank you for giving me more arguments that I had, a new perspective that was always there but I needed the push to see it.

  58. Professor Dawkins opened my eyes almost 20 years ago, though I didn’t realize it was him at the time.

    There was a copy of his Blind Watchmaker program set up on an old Apple at the Museum of Science in Boston. It was a simple demonstration of how selection can work, but so very compelling. Years later of course, The God Delusion helped me wave the smelly incense smoke from my view and truly see the world in all its wonder. Not that there’s anything wrong with incense of course.

    Happy birthday sir. And thank you.

  59. Many happy returns, Professor Dawkins. Your books and lectures and talks and programmes and discussions (…) have been very important to me over the last few years, and I would like to say thank you for all the inspiration you have provided. My daughter, by the way, often says the same, and I am sure she will be pleased to be included in this. All very best wishes from us both.

  60. Herzliche Glückwünsche, Doctor Dawkins, and on to a few more decades, contentedly, audaciously, and cheerfully!

    (One influence for this second-language speaker is Dr. Dawkins’s English, clear and drily humorous–quite British–brittle like good millefeuille.)

      1. … and yesterday’s jubilate was never my teacher in anything other than books or videos. (Just trying to be clear.)

    1. Dr. Dawkins’s English, clear and drily humorous–quite British–brittle like good millefeuille

      @Ben Breuer:

      Well observed & well put

  61. “The Blind Watch Maker” was one of the first difficult books that I read. When I was young I read tons of bad sci-fi novels and not much else. Around age 12 I got into programming in Q-BASIC (the old DOS 6.0 version). This started partly because my friends and I had discovered books about fractals in the library. James Gleick’s book “Chaos” was fascinating, and it featured a few shots of the Mandelbrot set. Also Clifford Pickover’s wonderful books of mathematical diversons to be explored on a PC. Pickover included BASIC code in the index, and tinkering with those programs taught me a lot about programming, mathematics and algorithms.
    On the same shelf as Pickover, I found Steven Levy’s “Artificial Life”. That book fascinated me, and I searched high and low for books mentioned in the bibliography. No luck, until one day I went into the bookstore before a long car trip. We used to go on long trips to see my sister at college, and before we left, my mom would give me a few bucks to get a book, which would keep me occupied in a boring (for a 13 year old) college town. I spied “The Blind Watchmaker” and recalled that it had been mentioned in Levy’s book, and I picked it up.

    TBW took me a long time to read, but I was fascinated, and have been reading popular books about biology ever since.

    Thanks Richard! and happy birthday!

  62. Happy Birthday, Dr. Dawkins!

    I may well be one of the few here that will have to look forward to opening one of Dawkins longer texts. But I can already tell that he has helped me tremendously to grasp selection (as in the selfish gene), memes, bayesian learning (Shannon information), empirical atheism, and the human right for children to not be brainwashed into belief. That is from the top of my head, I’m sure there is more, which long list compared to the bits and pieces snagged from other contemporaries says it all right there.

    1. My recommendation for order:

      1. Unweaving the Rainbow

      2. The Ancestor’s Tale

      3. The God Delusion

      4. The Blind Watchmaker

      then all the rest of them …

      1. River Out of Eden is what I would give to anyone wanting the essence of RD’s views – particularly as it is less dense than some of his other books, though not in any dumbed-down sense, I merely mean more accessible/shorter.

  63. Many happy returns, Richard, and here’s to years more demolition of the rationally challenged.

    “…their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence…they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.”

    I can’t easily describe the effect that these words, and many others from the Selfish Gene and the Blind Watchmaker, had on me when I first read them in the mid-80s. Ever since then I have devoured and enjoyed and felt the richer for pretty much everything you’ve written.

    I read Chemistry at Oxford from 1975 to 1979. OK, I was lucky enough to have Peter Atkins introduce me and my fellow first years to quantum theory – a special enough experience; it was, in truth, Atkins who confirmed me for ever as an atheist. But had I read The Selfish Gene when it was first published and not in the mid-80s – and known then that its author was just round the corner from the labs and lecture theatres I visited every day, I can’t help thinking I would have jumped ship.

    Ah well.

  64. I know I am posting a bit late, but Happy Birthday, Prof. Dawkins!

    While I realized my own atheistic nature before having come across your literature, your books awakened a new passion within me. I have taken a very strong interest in evolutionary biology since I began reading your books, because you sparked within me the desire to learn more about the amazingly interesting subject. So much so that I regret the engineering pathway I took in college a mere two years ago, and long for the chance to follow a biological pathway instead.

    I now look at evolutionary biology as a wonderful hobby of mine, which is very much so a part of my life, and by extension, the lives of people I commonly associate with. I often find myself trying to convey to others the sense of deep profundity that accompanies evolutionary biology, in a similar way that you have for me, Prof. Dawkins.

    I extend my sincerest appreciation to you, sir.

    Best Regards,

    Brian Perry

  65. Dr. Dawkins’s Unweaving the Rainbow was the book that finally caused “the scales to fall from my eyes:” I came to the fully complete realization that I was an atheist. This had been coming on for years; but I’d never actually formulated the thought.

    Dawkins’s book made me look at things afresh and come to the conclusion that to only reasonable and informed position, given what we know from science, is atheism: 6.9999999 … on his scale from 1 (fully certain there is a God) to 7 (fully certain there isn’t). The last sliver of doubt is only there because I am open to new evidence. Not that I think there will ever be any.

  66. Happy Birthday, Dr. Dawkins,

    Your steadfast reason in the face of religious confusion and obfuscation is a lesson for all of us. Hilarious how such a soft-spoken, gentle man could be branded a “pitbull.”
    I treasure our brief, chance meeting at Heathrow a few years ago.
    Live long and happy.

  67. The Selfish Gene did it for me. I was just a kid, maybe 10, and I’d read a few pop science books, but The Selfish Gene was something else.

    It was an argument. I recognised it as a growing sense of excitement that this amazing book was building up to something. It wasn’t just describing cool stuff, it WAS cool stuff.

  68. For years – decades, really – I had an idea that there was no particular reason to respect religious views on the sole grounds that they were religious views. Nobody seemed to agree with me; the default position was to respect religious beliefs, even if you didn’t share them.

    But I didn’t respect them. I found them shallow, unconvincing and childish.

    The God Delusion was one of the books that changed that. It helped everyone realise that it’s just perfectly OK to disrespect stupid ideas.

    Thanks for that. Richard.

  69. Until The God Delusion came along, I considered the memes like God, religion, astrology as harmless beliefs. Now I know that “harmless belief” is an oxymoron.

    Prof Richard’s books and talks and interviews have changed the way I think about the Universe and the importance of scientific literacy. I deem myself lucky to be a part of this generation.

    To quote Prof Dawkins —

    “You could give Aristotle a tutorial and you could thrill him to the core of his being. Aristotle was an encyclopedic polymath, an all time intellect, yet not only can you know more than him about the world, you also can have a deeper understanding of how everything works. Such is the privilege of living after Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Planck, Watson, Crick and their colleagues.”

Leave a Reply