Intimidated is not a word you would normally associate with Richard Dawkins. For a start, it’s difficult to imagine him being intellectually outmanoeuvred in many situations: this is the man, after all, who was recently named ‘the world’s top thinker’ by Prospect magazine. And then there’s his reputation as the sort of chap who would pick an argument with his own shadow – a reputation he insists is largely unfounded. “My public appearances are not as combative as you might think,” he says. “They’re usually pretty amicable affairs.”

Perhaps – though the last couple of times I’ve seen him in action, at the Cambridge Union, the temperature of the debate was definitely tipping towards ‘heated’. But then to say Richard Dawkins is a divisive figure is something of an understatement: he divides opinion in much the same way the guillotine divided Marie Antoinette. Even a cursory trawl through Google will yield results in which the 72-year-old evolutionary biologist is described variously as ‘the spawn of Satan’, an ‘arrogant chimp’ and ‘the most evil man alive’ (the latter cited alongside such other monsters as Hitler and, er, Gandhi). On a more positive note, he’s been voted ‘Britain’s top intellectual’, listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and was ranked 20th in the Daily Telegraph’s list of the 100 greatest living geniuses.

The bouquets are largely for Dawkins’ distinguished academic career, most notably his groundbreaking work on gene-centred evolution, as argued so persuasively in his seminal 1976 bestseller The Selfish Gene and further developed in the likes of The Blind Watchmaker and The Ancestor’s Tale. The brickbats, meanwhile, are inevitably a result of Dawkins’ status as atheism’s most ferocious attack dog, dedicated to demolishing religious cant and affronts to evidence-based scientific rigour wherever he finds them. Which seems to be just about everywhere.