Scholar Richard Dawkins Talks About Sexual Selection at the University of Miami

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Richard Dawkins speaking at a March 7 lecture at University of Miami’s College of Arts and Sciences, part of the university’s Taking Flight: The Year of the Humanities and the Arts at the University of Miami. Photo by Christine Capozziello

While he didn’t intend the statement to be LGBT-centric, Richard Dawkins presented a double entendre when he said, “the rainbow becomes more beautiful when you understand it.”

It was an answer to a question during his recent March 7 lecture at the University of Miami’s College of Arts and Sciences. The lecture focused on sexual selection, the beauty of science and the science of beauty. It was funded by Louis J. Appignani Foundation, self-described as “[supporting] activities that have a significant, vital and measurable long-term cumulative effect on our planets population and environment.”

Dawkins’ appearance is part of UM’s Taking Flight: The Year of the Humanities and the Arts at the University of Miami, a year-long program dedicated to promoting “scholarship, research, community engagement, and creative expression in the humanities and the arts.”

The lecture focused on various animals and plants and the way in which they promote themselves to members of the opposite sex or other organisms that progress their reproductions. For example, a bee isn’t the same species as a bee orchid (Ophrys apifera), but the orchid disguises itself as a bee (and even smells like a female bee). The flying insect attempts to fornicate with it and, though failing, spreads the orchid’s pollen. Laughing, Dawkins called the a bee orchid a “cockteaser.”

Dawkins is a former University of Oxford professor, and now runs the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. The foundation seeks to promote, through research, aspects of the psychology behind religion (and belief). It largely supports secular groups and organizations.

During a Q&A with the author of 10 books, the latest being 2012’s “The Magic of Reality” (a look at ancient myths about phenomenon that have since been figured out and explained scientifically, like a rainbow), Dawkins pushed for the “virtues of thinking,” stating that the more critically people consider their environment, the better the future of the human species and the Earth it inhabits. He even localized his lecture a bit when mentioning how said he’d be to see the Everglades get hurt in the near future due to ecological factores.

“I would be desperately sad to see rhinos and elephants go extinct,” he said while answering another question.

On his lapel, Dawkins (who coined the term meme in his 1976 “The Selfish Gene”) wore a pin of a large, red ‘A.’ Asked about it, he laughed and said it definitely doesn’t stand for ‘adulterer,’ referring to the famous “The Scarlett Letter.” It stands for ‘atheist,’ Dawkins being ardently opposed to religion and its various belief systems. The pin is part of the OutCampaign. As its names implies, the campaign was partly inspired by the gay right movement.

Dr. Elisabeth Cornwell, founder of the organization and executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, told SFGN that one of the organization’s goals is to keep religion out of the public sphere.

“Religion has such an adverse effect,” she said. “Atheists have lives. [The organization] encourages people to know they don’t need a god to live a good life.”

Dawkins told SFGN that the issue of gay rights is a cause of inner turmoil within the Anglican church, but refused to comment on any actions the church-at-large may be taking in the near future to accommodate congregants who sympathize with the movement. He cited that he’s not a church spokesperson and laughed.