Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science
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In this hugely entertaining sequel to the New York Times bestselling memoir An Appetite for Wonder, Richard Dawkins delves deeply into his intellectual life spent kick-starting new conversations about science, culture, and religion and writing yet another of the most audacious and widely read books of the twentieth century—The God Delusion.
Called “one of the best nonfiction writers alive today” (Stephen Pinker) and a “prize-fighter” (Nature), Richard Dawkins cheerfully, mischievously, looks back on a lifetime of tireless intellectual adventure and engagement. Exploring the halls of intellectual inquiry and stardom he encountered after the publication of his seminal work, The Selfish Gene; affectionately lampooning the world of academia, publishing, and television; and studding the pages with funny stories about the great men and women he’s known, Dawkins offers a candid look at the events and ideas that encouraged him to shift his attention to the intersection of culture, religion, and science. He also invites the reader to look more closely at the brilliant succession of ten influential books that grew naturally out of his busy life, highlighting the ideas that connect them and excavating their origins.
On the publication of his tenth book, the smash hit, The God Delusion, a “resounding trumpet blast for truth” (Matt Ridley), Richard Dawkins was catapulted from mere intellectual stardom into a circle of celebrity thinkers dubbed, “The New Atheists”—including Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett.
Throughout A Brief Candle in the Dark, Dawkins shares with us his infectious sense of wonder at the natural world, his enjoyment of the absurdities of human interaction, and his bracing awareness of life’s brevity: all of which have made a deep imprint on our culture.
question he described his wickedly ingenious invention of an attachment to an astronomical telescope. The idea (now superseded by the computer equivalent of the same trick) was a cunning technique of taking photographs through previously exposed photographic negatives, in order to average out the random ‘noise’ of interference in the upper atmosphere. I next met him when he was again visiting Oxford, and Lalla and I invited him to dinner in our flat, together with Francis Crick and his wife
Climbing Mount Improbable, which I regard as my most underrated book (it is the least read of them all, although it is probably the most innovative after The Extended Phenotype). And now here’s another gate that conference opened. It was there that I met Ted Kaehler. One of Apple’s star programmers, Ted has the sort of creatively original mind we have come to associate with that artistically innovative corporation. He was there partly to assist with computer demonstrations (including mine), but
hung a cannonball on a wire from the high ceiling of the steeply raked RI lecture theatre. I stood to attention against the wall, held the cannonball to my nose, then let go. You have to be careful not to give it a shove, but if you just let it go by gravity, the laws of physics assure you that when it swings back it will stop just a tiny bit short of breaking your nose. It requires a modicum of willpower not to flinch as the black iron ball looms up towards you. I’m told (by no less an
‘divine’ by ‘psychic powers’ where to drill for oil or precious minerals). The philosophical interest goes further. Scientists of a rationalist bent are often challenged to say what might in principle cause them to change their minds and come to regard naturalism as falsified. What would it take to convince you of something supernatural? I used to pay lip service to the promise that I would become a supernaturalist overnight, the moment somebody showed me some convincing evidence. I presumed it
unpleasant individuals: the snarl-smiling Ted Haggard, for example. We concentrated most of our American filming in Colorado Springs because it has become a hotbed of Christian revivalism, while the ‘Garden of the Gods’, in the foothills of the Rockies just outside the town, provided some magnificent backdrops for filming pieces to camera, for example on the metaphor of ‘Mount Improbable’ (see page 417). Whole areas of new (and, surprisingly for America, dull) housing in Colorado Springs have