Evolutionary biologist returns to campus for free lecture

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins will return to campus in March to give a free public lecture on “The Beauty of Science” as part of Taking Flight: The Year of the Humanities and the Arts.

Dawkins was listed as one of the “100 Most Influential People of the Year” by Time magazine in 2007. His work as an evolutionary biologist founded a gene-centric interpretation of evolution, and he has become a leading activist for scientific reasoning. He has written several popular science books, including the bestseller “The God Delusion,” which has sold more than 1.5 million copies.

Thanks to a gift from the Louis J. Appignani Foundation, Dawkins will not only lecture at 7 p.m. March 7 in the BankUnited Center, but he will also spend two weeks as a visiting professor in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Getting an academic of Dawkins’ caliber and reputation to work in the College of Arts and Sciences across disciplines is an important opportunity for UM,” said Leonidas Bachas, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Dr. Dawkins is a true thought leader across a broad range of topics in the science and humanities, and his work here promises extraordinary educational experiences for faculty and students, as well as for our entire community.”

Dawkins attracted a large audience when he visited UM in September 2011 to lecture on the magic of science and discuss a wide range of natural phenomena. Bachas believes this upcoming talk will also be very popular.

“His public lecture, ‘The Beauty of Science,’ is sure to be a signature event in Miami’s intellectual and cultural life this spring, and we’re thrilled to enrich our region with such an important event,” Bachas said. “In short, we are honored to host Dr. Dawkins, and we are eager to learn and exchange ideas with such an accomplished thinker.”

Dawkins runs the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, which supports scientific education, critical thinking and evidence-based understanding of the natural world in the quest to overcome religious fundamentalism, superstition, intolerance and suffering.

Otavio Bueno, chair of the Department of Philosophy, said that judging from what he has done in the past, Dawkins would offer a very insightful and different way of thinking about science, its impact and significance.

“I like his ability to consider the large landscape. He is not someone who misses the forest from the trees,” Bueno said. “Even when he is working out detailed issues, he always has a sense of ‘OK, what are the implications of that? Why should we care about these issues? Why should they matter to us?’”

Bueno said that Dawkins’ extended visit to campus is a unique opportunity for UM students.

“Students should try to interact with him because it is a great opportunity to learn from someone who has a vision about science,” Bueno said. “Dawkins is very unique. It requires a special ability that in many ways goes beyond the usual training in the sciences. As a scientist, you are trained to solve problems, not necessarily to step back and look at the larger picture, and Dawkins has an extraordinary ability to do the latter.”

Dana Krempels, director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Biology, said that Dawkins’ lectures are entertaining and enlightening.

“They will challenge students to think in new ways,” Krempels said. “This may be the only time in their undergraduate career that students will be able to hear a lecture by professor Dawkins. If biology has anything like a rock star, he’s it.”