Bashing Orthodoxy

Michael Powell

OXFORD, England —You walk out of a soft-falling rain into the living room of an Oxford don, with great walls of books, handsome art and, on the far side of the room, graceful windows onto a luxuriant garden.

Does this man, arguably the world’s most influential evolutionary biologist, spend most of his time here or in the field? Prof. Richard Dawkins smiles faintly. He did not find fame spending dusty days picking at shale in search of ancient trilobites. Nor has he traipsed the African bush charting the sex life of wildebeests.

He gets little charge from such exertions.

“My interest in biology was pretty much always on the philosophical side,” he says, listing the essential questions that drive him. “Why do we exist, why are we here, what is it all about?”

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Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Richard Dawkins: An interview with the evolutionary biologist, best-selling author and outspoken atheist.

Hazel Thompson for The New York Times

Richard Dawkins at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Terry Smith/Time & Life Pictures, via Getty Images

FOUNDATION Richard Dawkins, right, studying insect behavior at Oxford with Theodore Burk in 1976, the year Dr. Dawkins published "The Selfish Gene."

Courtesy of Richard Dawkins

EARLY DAYS Dr. Dawkins, standing at right in a family photo from 1958, before he entered Oxford. "I didn’t have a very starry school career," he says.

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