Richard Dawkins accepts 2006 Lewis Thomas Prize
The 2006 Rockefeller University Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science has been awarded to British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and popular science writer Richard Dawkins. Rockefeller’s president, Paul Nurse, presented the award to Dawkins yesterday at a ceremony in Caspary Auditorium, where Dawkins gave a lecture titled “Queerer than We Can Suppose: The Strangeness of Science.”
The Lewis Thomas Prize was established in 1993 by the university’s Board of Trustees and named after its first recipient, writer, educator and physician-scientist Lewis Thomas. The award honors “the rare individual who bridges the worlds of science and the humanities — whose voice and vision can tell us about science’s aesthetic and philosophical dimensions, providing not merely new information but cause for reflection, even revelation.” Past recipients of the award include Jared Diamond, Thomas Eisner, Oliver Sachs and Edward O. Wilson.
Best known for promoting the gene-centered view of evolution in his 1976 bestseller The Selfish Gene, Dawkins is critically regarded for his ability to convey large, universal theories by use of detailed examples taken from a lifetime of observation of the natural world. The mating instinct of certain male spiders, he explains in The Selfish Gene, which after reproducing may be eaten by the cannibalistic female, illustrates how the interests of the gene override the interests of the organism in the process of natural selection.
Dawkins’s work in this vein has lent itself to interdisciplinary studies including sociobiology, evolutionary biology and memetics, the study of cultural evolution that Dawkins himself helped found. Dawkins is the author of nine books, including The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker and Unweaving the Rainbow, bestsellers that have been translated into several languages and have garnered prestigious international awards, including the Royal Society of Literature Award and the Los Angeles Times Prize.
“In eloquent, evocative prose, Richard Dawkins conveys the certainty that, rather than diminishing the myriad beauties of the universe and extinguishing wonderment at its mysteries, science reveals truths that are yet more awe-inspiring than the mysteries they solve,” President Nurse said at the award ceremony. “As such he has achieved the ideal of the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science.”
Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi Chair in the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. An Oxford graduate, he studied under Nobel Prize-winning ethologist Nikolaas Tinbergen. In 2006 he founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, an organization established to finance research into the psychology of belief and religion, support scientific education programs and publicize secular charitable organizations. Dawkins holds honorary doctorates in both science and literature and is a fellow of the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Literature. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Michael Faraday Prize from the Royal Society, a Nakayama Prize for Achievement in Human Science and a Shakespeare Prize for Distinguished Contributions to British Culture from the Alfred Toepfer Foundation.