Richard Dawkins on the first 35 years of his life

richard_dawkins-584-358.jpg(Chris Keane/Reuters)

First aired on Q 10/09/13

Richard Dawkins has earned followers around the world for his take no prisoners brand of atheism. The evolutionary biologist and author of the mega best seller The God Delusion, has been a galvanizing figure in the atheist movement and an often polarizing figure in the heated public conversation about the role religion and belief should play in modern culture. Dawkins has just released a new memoir called An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist, and spoke to Q host Jian Ghomeshi about it.

The memoir covers the first 35 years of his life, from his early years in Africa to his years in British boarding schools, to his studies at Oxford.

It also covers a part of his life that people might be surprised to learn about -- his experience being a religious youth. Dawkins explained that as a child he had an average level of faith. "I think it's normal for a child brought up in religious schools to be fooled by it for awhile and I was," he said. At the age of 13, Dawkins was confirmed into the Church of England. "I took it seriously enough to fantasize about being visited by archangels."

appetite-wonder-dawkins-200.jpgHis turn against religion began when he discovered Darwin. As an adolescent he became quite rebellious and would refuse to kneel in chapel as a form of protest. Dawkins shared one particular moment with Ghomeshi from his past that cemented his journey towards atheism: he was having a conversation with one of his friends who he refused to kneel down with and "we talked it through and we eventually agreed that Darwinian evolution was a big enough theory to account for the wonders of the living world," he said.

Despite his rebellious actions, Dawkins told Ghomeshi he's not as intense as people might think. "I've never been the sort of firebrand that I've been made out to be. I'm actually quite a mild person," he said. "Because people have got so used to the idea that you simply don't attack religion at all, if you do it -- even in a very gentle tone -- people hear it as though it was firebrand language, which it really isn't."

Everything Dawkins writes and says is looked at very closely by his critics and he takes a moment to address those critics in his new memoir. But he told Ghomeshi he wasn't consciously defensive while writing the memoir. Dawkins explained that he doesn't think too much about what critics will say because he doesn't use "violently abusive language."

"The closest I would come to that would be a certain amount of satirical humour," he said.

This is the first installment of a two-part memoir. The second volume will cover the rest of his life to the present. 

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