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Robin Dunbar

Evolutionary psychologist, Patron of Humanists UK, born 1947

Robin Dunbar was born in 1947 in Liverpool, and grew up in East Africa. He was educated at Magdalen College School in Brackley, Northamptonshire, and Magdalen College, Oxford. He became a scientist “because it was the only way I could get anything published” and has worked on reproductive strategies in baboons, feral goats and Homo sapiens. He is Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Oxford. In 1988 he was elected a fellow of the British Academy, an award made for high scholarly distinction in a branch of the humanities or social sciences.

In February 2003 he was one of the first lecturers in Humanists UK Darwin Day Lecture series. In “What’s wrong with creationism?” he gave a lucid account of evolutionary science, demolishing along the way many of the clichés of creationism – for example, that an organ as complex as the eye could not have evolved. He also pointed out the many imperfections of ‘creation’ – the human eye, for example, or the relics of the hip-bone in the whale – which made them improbable products of a creator god, though easily explicable in evolutionary terms. He finished by reminding the audience of the continuing importance of evolutionary theory; many contemporary problems such as the extinctions of species and the capacity of ‘bugs’ of all sorts to evolve quickly in response to attempts to fight them could only be addresses if we understood evolution. For an account of the evening’s lectures click here.

“I have always supported the Association’s objectives, and I would be glad to be associated with it,” he wrote to Humanists UK in 1996, “and pleased to help out in more practical ways too.” He was one of the 43 scientists and philosophers who in March 2002 signed a letter to Tony Blair and relevant Government departments, deploring the teaching of Creationism in schools. He was also one of the signatories to a letter supporting a holiday on Charles’ Darwin’s birthday, published in The Times on February 12, 2003, and also sent to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary.

He has written many books and articles. Books of particular interest to humanists include:

Dunbar, Human Evolution (Pelican, 2014)
Dunbar, The Science of Love and Betrayal (Faber, 2012)
Dunbar, How Many Friends Does One Person Need?: Dunbar’s Number and Other Evolutionary Quirks (2010) – read an interview about the book with Robin Dunbar and see him talking about it at the RSA.
Dunbar, Barrett & Lycett  An Introduction to Evolutionary Psychology (One World Books, 2006)
Dunbar, The Human Story (Faber, 2004)
Barrett, Dunbar & Lycett, Human Evolutionary Psychology (Palgrave/Macmillan and Princeton University Press, 2002)
Dunbar & Barrett, Cousins (BBC Worldwide, 2000)
Dunbar, Knight, & Power (eds) The Evolution of Culture (Edinburgh University Press, 1999)
Dunbar Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language (Faber, 1996)
Dunbar, The Trouble With Science (Faber and Harvard University Press, 1995)

Buy his books at Amazon.co.uk through this link and a small commission will go to Humanists UK.

See also
“Science to watch people by” – Robin Dunbar talks to journalist Andrew Brown about lonely hearts ads, Shakespeare and what makes us human in The Guardian, May 2003

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