By Michael Schulson
A while back, I was having some beers with the founder of a small atheist publishing house. I’d recently savaged one of his writers in print, and I started laying out a pretty standard critique of the New Atheists — that they caricature religion, they’re elitist, they’re too aggressive and so forth.
The publisher listened for a while, and then told me, politely, that I was being young, harsh and stupid. Until not very long ago, this kind of vocal, proud atheism just didn’t have a solid place in the public eye. These writers had carved out some space for freethinkers to thrive. And that alone was an achievement.
So, say what you will about Richard Dawkins, but give him credit for this: the man’s a pathbreaking iconoclast. In 1976, as a young evolutionary biologist at Oxford, Dawkins wrote “The Selfish Gene,” one of those rare books that’s accessible to lay readers, even as it shapes an academic field. The book established Dawkins’ reputation as one of the more elegant public explainers of Darwin’s theory. Then, in 2006, Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” hit bestseller lists, and made his name synonymous with a certain kind of hardline atheism.
“Brief Candle in the Dark,” released last week, is the second installment of Dawkins’ autobiography (the first, “An Appetite for Wonder,” came out in 2013). A loose collection of reminiscences, the book ranges from Oxford lecture halls to far-flung research stations. The picture that emerges is of an agile thinker who delights more in collaboration than confrontation.
Reached by phone during a visit to New York, Dawkins spoke with Salon about Twitter, pluralism, his love of computer programming and why he thinks Ahmed Mohamed is a fraud.
Read the full interview by clicking the name of the source below.