Richard Dawkins is without doubt one of the most outstanding scientific minds of our or of any generation, but when he ventures out of his field, he does not shine quite so brightly.
This documentary in the BBC's short Beautiful Minds series is currently on iplayer for those who can receive it. Dawkins recounts how he grew up in what was then Nyasaland - part of Jeremy Paxman's Empire - and explains how he became fascinated by evolution through not Darwin's Origin Of Species but by the Dr Dolittle books!
It is not quite true that Dawkins rewrote Darwin, rather beginning with his first book, the magnificent 1976 iconoclast The Selfish Gene, he crossed the i's and dotted the t's. Among other things he explains how he had his eureka moment in 1966.
After a spell in California as a lecturer at the height of “flower power”, he returned to Oxford.
Suffice it to say, not all scientists are happy with his thesis; one of these is interviewed here, Professor Steven Rose. Professor Rose is actually a Marxist, but that is not mentioned, nor are his own rather quaint views on the origin of one species in particular - of which no more anon!
Predictably, eugenics is dragged in, and allied with Nazism and related philosophies. It is ironic that the same people who are so quick to attack eugenicists are also enthusiastic proponents of abortion on demand.
Others confuse the selfish gene with the selfish individual, and not everyone is happy with this.
It goes without saying that his later book, The God Delusion, antagonised not scientists but people who don't share his view of religion as a force for evil, repression and ignorance in the world.
It has to be said that Professor Dawkins' attacks on religion amount to far more than mere arrogance, as suggested here by a Christian fundamentalist. He should perhaps take note that another great mind, that of the late Professor Antony Flew, a lifelong atheist, converted to theism towards the end of his life. His far from original view was that the Universe appears to show intelligent design. Of course, we can have intelligence without consciousness - that is what computers are - and for God to truly exist, He (if we may attribute Him a gender) must have created the Universe as a conscious act.
Professor Antony Flew (1923-2010). I can't remember exactly when I took this but it was around 1991; as can be deduced from the poster on the wall behind him, he was speaking at a Libertarian Alliance conference. Although he was never afraid to argue his case forcefully, Professor Flew was a genuinely nice guy.
Another thing not mentioned in this documentary is his rather liberal view of homosexuality - no, he isn't! - the emphatically heterosexual Dawkins has been married no fewer than three times, although his own genes have been anything but selfish, he has produced but one child, a daughter, which is undoubtedly a tragedy, though few fundamentalist Christians will see it that way!