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Richard Dawkins

A leader to doubt and ignore or trust and follow?

“We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us

just go one god further.” – Richard Dawkins in TED talks on militant atheism.

Over the past thousands of years, man has believed in thousands of gods, ranging from the

original democratic deities to the relatively recent omnipotent singulars. As mankind has

progressed in various directions, the number of gods has whittled down to one 1 and now it

appears that this number will decrease even further; although Islam may lay claim to being

the fastest growing religion, lack of religion or atheism has been growing at an even faster

pace,2 taking up the prized third place in world beliefs with 16% of the total population

identifying themselves as nonreligious/secular. One would expect a movement as significant

as this to have received far more media attention through the years but the taboo surrounding

the topic has prevented many a non-believer from speaking out. However, one particular

Oxford professor has emerged as a leader of this somewhat outcast group.

Introducing a Revolutionary:

Clinton Richard Dawkins, also known as “UK’s chief atheist”, is a British ethologist and

evolutionary biologist who was the University of Oxford's Professor for Public

Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008. He has published several books, of which

The God Delusion (2006) is the most popular by far, selling over two million copies and

1
Currently approximately 54% of the earth’s population follows either Christianity (33%) or Islam
(21%) for a total of 3.6 billion people , making monotheists a majority in today’s world. (According to
adherents.com)

2 Islam has had a growth of 109% over the 10 years from 1990-2000 and Non-religious/secular has
grown by 110% in the same time period. (According to statistics in rationalist.com)
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being translated into 31 languages. He has given several speeches and participated in many

public debates, including a talk at TED (Technology Entertainment Design), which focuses

on “ideas worth spreading”, where he quoted the above mentioned line.

The Journey of a leader:

Dawkins was born in Nairobi, Kenya, returning to England in 1949, when he was eight. He

describes his childhood as "a normal Anglican upbringing.” However, in his mid-teens, he

concluded that the theory of evolution was a better explanation for life's complexity, and

ceased believing in God. He studied zoology at Balliol College, Oxford, graduating in 1962.

In 1995, he was appointed Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at

Oxford. He has delivered a number of inaugural and other lectures, served as editor of a

number of journals and has acted as editorial advisor to the Encarta Encyclopedia and the

Encyclopedia of Evolution. In addition he has sat on judging panels for many different

awards, is the author of several books and has made quite a few documentary films. In 2006,

Dawkins founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS). It

plans to finance research on the psychology of belief and religion, finance scientific

education programs and materials, and publicize and support secular charitable organizations.

Taking the Road Less Travelled:

Richard Dawkins is a respectable man; one who is moral and just and intelligent. He is highly

educated and has a solid reputation in society. He is the type of man who would normally

have been considered an appropriate role model for children. He could have taken the easy

way out and remained an atheist professor who did not express his views publicly; but that’s

not what leaders do. Leaders do not sit at home while the world changes around them; they

take initiative and they cause those transformations. Leaders do not choose safety and
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comfort; they take risks and endure the hardships they must face along the way. They accept

stretch assignments, (the way Dawkins accepted the position of Simonyi Professor for the

Public Understanding of Science at Oxford in 1995, where he was “expected to make

important contributions to the public understanding of some scientific field”.) and they learn

from the challenges, failures and other passages they go through (Dawkins has used the

immense criticism against him to learn which areas he needs to change or improve).

The Traits a Good Leader Possesses

Dawkins’ leadership focuses on rationality and logic as a platform to spread his message of

“militant atheism”. Much of his appeal stems from two fundamental sources; his position in

society and vast knowledge both help to justify his views to his audience. He has all five of

the leadership traits identified in Kouzes and Posner’s book, “The Leadership Challenge”.

1. Honest – Richard Dawkins has always been very candid about his religious beliefs and

affiliations. He expresses himself clearly and articulately in his books and is evidently

sincere in his views. This integrity on his part helps people to trust him and his opinions,

making it one of his most important leadership traits.

2. Forward-Looking – Dawkins’ is a man who might be described by some to be ahead of

his time and his avant-garde mentality is consistent with his actions and attitudes.

3. Competent – His abilities cover a vast range of factors, including rationality, eloquence,

understanding and persuasiveness and the confidence he exudes clearly makes him stand

out as a proficient and adept leader, one that people can support with conviction.

4. Intelligent – Dawkins’ is a highly intelligent and accomplished person with several

degrees and a vast knowledge on various topics and is thus considered an expert in his
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field. In fact, Dawkins’ actually flaunts his intelligence, citing it as one of the main

reasons he is non-theist. 3

5. Inspiring – One thing that Dawkins has in enormous quantities is charisma. This is

evident in any talk or discussion that he presents; his calm, composed manner coupled

with a few wry lines and witty comments captivates his audience and is sure to make

immediate fans out of many people. Barack Obama 4 has a similar ability to win people’s

hearts with his words and seeing how that quality played an important role in landing him

arguably the most powerful post in the world, it is clear that Dawkins’ owes a large

portion of his following to this one particular characteristic.

The Socially Intelligent Leader

Dawkins is a socially intelligent leader. He exhibits most of the seven qualities 5 associated

with being one in varying amounts. The two that he displays most evidently are inspiration

and influence; he has a compelling vision and is able to convince others to support him. He

also demonstrates a high degree of e mpathy and attune ment, both of which help him to

understand other people, identify with their problems and motivate them to join his side. His

social intelligence is an important factor in enabling him to convert believers into atheists as

well as ensuring those who do not believe that they are on the right path.

3
According to research published in the Social Psychology Quarterly, there is a positive correlation
between IQ and atheism, meaning the more intelligent a person the less likely he or she is to be
religious.
4
The first black president of the USA, who is undoubtedly another inspirational leader, but one who
would be far too common a choice for this report.
5
Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis
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Not all praise:

Dawkins is not above criticism and many people, especially those who have firm beliefs,

strongly condemn him. His most passionate and prominent critic is probably molecular

biophysicist and Christian theologian Alister McGrath who is a professor at Oxford

University and the author of Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life and the

Dawkins Delusion? He has accused Dawkins of being dogmatic and irrational, citing his lack

of solid evidence and his loose arguments which are forced into his “preconceived theoretical

framework” as proof of his point. Dawkins lacks some of the humility necessary for a leader

and comes on too strongly for many people. He has, however, responded well to such

criticism and through all the negative comments that have been said, he remains confident in

his approach and grounded in his beliefs.

Richard Dawkins may not be the most positive leader (Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela

would have been more virtuous choices), but he possesses many characteristics that a good

leader must have. He has been brave, consistent and respectful throughout his talks on this

sensitive topic. His trust in his scientific beliefs is admirable indeed. The logic with which he

presents his case in many of his discussions makes everyone think at the very least. He may

have made many enemies by his chosen line of work but he does not flinch at all. It is evident

that he believes very strongly in what he thinks; however, he is willing to be criticized a nd is

also able to reassess his position. He not only encourages others to think, but he himself is

also open to thought. In fact, it is this very detail of organized religion that he is most

opposed to; most organized religion discourages open inquiry and questioning, focusing

instead on telling children what they must believe and subsequently have faith in. He wishes

to incite controversy in people’s minds so that they can reach their own conclusions, either
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strengthening their own convictions or shattering them to pieces. Such contemplation is

essential to maintaining an ever-improving and intelligent society.

He also wishes to change society’s view of atheists, showing them that atheists can be

established, contributing, moral members of society. His aim is to counter any negative

preconceptions of atheists and atheism by giving not only statistical figures but also

providing himself and others like him, who are respectable, reputed people as examples of the

positive qualities atheists may possess.

In Conclusion

Atheism can probably be considered the religious movement of our time and Richard

Dawkins is definitely the leader of this momentous change. Through a combination of

personality and leadership traits, a great deal of courage and immense intelligence he has

placed himself at the forefront of this emerging revolution and is willingly heading the atheist

campaign. Religion, of course is a personal matter and any individual has the right to his or

her own opinions. It is therefore up to each person to decide whether he or she will doubt or

trust Dawkins views; to find out for themselves what they really, truly believe in. In the event

that they choose to follow Dawkins, it would be another addition to his proliferating non-

religious camp. However, one thing can be said with certainty; whether we choose to follow

him or not, whether we remain religious or change our mind, we cannot ignore him. A leader

with a growing following such as his deserves attention; overlooking him and his effect on

the modern world in which we all live would be naïve and ignorant on our part.