Exclusive media partner: The New York Times


Receive regular updates about forthcoming events and other news from Intelligence Squared


You have been added to our mailing list and will now be among the first to hear about events.

Play video1:33:59


Richard Dawkins: The Rational Revolutionary

Our panel celebrated the man who has probably done more than any other person alive to illuminate how we think about ourselves and the world around us.

In the 1960s and 70s, a revolution took place in the way we understand human nature. Out went Marx and Freud, and in came a rational, scientific approach to the way we see ourselves. At the vanguard of that revolution was Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist whose book The Selfish Gene changed the thinking not just of other scientists but of all of us, and propelled its author to intellectual stardom as the modern heir to Darwin.

To mark the 40th anniversary of The Selfish Gene and Dawkins’ 75th birthday, Intelligence Squared staged a global event, bringing together luminaries from the worlds of science, philosophy and culture to engage with Dawkins about his life and work. Steven Pinker, celebrated cognitive scientist, and Daniel Dennett, philosopher and fellow ‘New Atheist’, was beamed in live from America. Stephen Fry paid tribute via a special recorded message. On-stage guests include the illusionist Derren Brown, an avowed fan of Dawkins’ theories about the workings of the mind, the science writer Susan Blackmore, who has further developed some of Dawkins’ important ideas, and the acclaimed novelist and playwright Michael Frayn.

It was Dawkins’ understanding of the gene as the fundamental unit of natural selection that captured the popular imagination. It was Dawkins, too, who invented the word ‘meme’ to describe the cultural equivalent of a gene – an idea, belief or practice that replicates itself from person to person and is subject to the same selective pressures as genes – whether it’s an age-old religious practice or a modern fad such as the ice bucket challenge.

And on the subject of religion, the publication of The God Delusion a decade ago marked the moment when Dawkins became the patron saint of atheism. The book turned him into the world’s leading controversialist – hero-worshipped by atheists, demonised by believers. But throughout the hubbub of being the celebrity scientist and the non-believers’ poster boy, Dawkins continued his scientific studies at New College, Oxford, and in obscure corners across the world – where he honed the art of observing and writing beautifully about nature, conveying his sense of wonder at how organisms developed their complexity over the ages.

Here we gathered some of the world’s most original and incisive minds as they celebrated the man who has probably done more than any other person alive to illuminate how we think about ourselves and the world around us.



Jonathan Freedland

Guardian columnist, author and broadcaster

Guardian columnist and former foreign correspondent. He is the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s contemporary history series, The Long View, as well as two podcasts, Politics Weekly America for the Guardian and Unholy, alongside the Israeli journalist Yonit Levi. He is a past winner of an Orwell Prize for journalism. He is the author of twelve books, the latest being The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World.

Richard Dawkins

Evolutionary biologist and bestselling author

Former Charles Simonyi Chair in the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and emeritus professor of New College, Oxford. His books, which have sold 8 million copies worldwide, include The Selfish Gene (1976), The Blind Watchmaker (1986), Climbing Mount Improbable (1996) and The God Delusion (2006).

Susan Blackmore

Writer, lecturer and broadcaster

Writer, lecturer and broadcaster, best known for her work on memes, and more recently on what she calls ‘temes’, a new class of meme, spread by technology.

Derren Brown

Illusionist and broadcaster

Illusionist who has enjoyed a spectacularly successful career on television and on stage. He is a master of the art of psychological manipulation, convincing members of the public to perform outlandish actions. He has exposed people who profess psychic and faith-healing powers and took part in Richard Dawkins’ Channel 4 TV programme ‘The Enemies of Reason’.

Michael Frayn

Novelist and playwright

One of Britain’s most distinguished and prolific novelists and playwrights, described by Richard Dawkins as an ‘aristocrat of literary and philosophical learning’. His novels include the acclaimed Headlong and Spies, and amongst his best known plays are the farce Noises Off and Copenhagen, about the relationship between two giants of modern physics, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg.

Daniel Dennett

Philsopher, writer and cognitive scientist

Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University, who has published numerous books, including Breaking the Spell (2007), Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1996) and Consciousness Explained (1991). Along with Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, he is known as one of the ‘Four Horsemen of New Atheism’. In 2012 he was awarded the Erasmus Prize, recognising his ability to translate the cultural significance of science and technology to a broad audience.