You ask the questions

(Such as: Richard Dawkins, do people find you intimidating? Or have you made science sexy?)
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Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and author of The Selfish Gene, was born in Nairobi in 1941. He was educated at Oxford University and became the first Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University in 1995. He lives in Oxford with his third wife, the actress Lalla Ward, best known for her role in Dr Who, and has a daughter, Juliet, from a previous marriage. His latest book, Unweaving the Rainbow, is published by Penguin.

Would you say Darwin is sexist, and would you say you're sexist?

Andrea Crane, Norbury

I don't think Darwinism is particularly sexist. But if it were, I'm afraid that would be just tough, for the truth is no respecter of political preferences. I disapprove of discrimination against (and in favour of) women. I support what I think of as the good parts of feminism, while laughing at the pretentious parts - like saying gender when you mean sex. I get an obscure pleasure from the fact that more than half these questions were sent in by women. Is that sexist?

Is there some sort of arcane link between your background and the fact that your wife, Lalla, was in Dr Who?

Joanna Martin, Cornwall

No. But she did read Darwin's Origin of Species when she was 14 and before we met she had read all my books, including The Extended Phenotype which was written for professional biologists. The statistician in me reluctantly points out that even this is less of a link than you might think - because it is hard to name a book Lalla has not read.

Was Mother Teresa selfish?

Jane Appleby, Nottingham

The answer may be a surprising "Yes". A good case has been madethat Mother Teresa was callously uncompassionate towards her patients, being more interested in saving their "souls" than in relieving their suffering. She may have believed she was buying her place in heaven. Others have devoted their lives to deeds as saintly as Mother Teresa's, but without her hope of posthumous reward.

I hated biology at school but loved your book. Have you made science sexy?

Chloe Gibbard, Colchester

Not for me to say. I hope you think so.

Who would you most like to have dinner with tonight?

Hanlon, Warwick

David Attenborough. I actually am supposed to be having dinner with him tonight but I'm developing a cough and have a horrible feeling I'm going to have to cancel.

When was the last time you cried?

Kathy Atkinson, Sheffield

I am quite a soppy person and a book can bring me to tears. It doesn't have to be sad. It may have been Lalla's beautiful voice reading Gertrude's lines on the death of Ophelia. Or the story of Einstein's last words (for ever unknown because the nurse understood no German). Or Hilaire Belloc's "To the Balliol men still in Africa". Trite but... see what I mean about being soppy?

Would it be true to say that you have a rather shallow understanding of religion?

Kevin O'Donnell, Crowthorne

I doubt that religion can survive deep understanding. The shallows are its natural habitat. The Bible as literature should be a compulsory part of the national curriculum - you can't understand English literature and culture without it. Meanwhile, we should devote as much time to studying serious theology as we devote to studying serious fairies and serious unicorns.

You seem so cynical about human life - how can you bear to get up in the mornings?

Sara Moore, Aston

Unweaving the Rainbow opens with this very question. And I quote from later in the book:

"After sleeping through a hundred million centuries, we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life... Isn't it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be part of it?"

Your books completely changed the way I see the world; what do you think the major effect of The Blind Watchmaker or The Selfish Gene has been?

Barry Shamplin, Ilford

I am happy, and a bit humbled, to tell you that quite a lot of readers have said something similar.

You are very emotional on the subject of religion. Did you suffer from religion in your childhood?

Joan Modlin, East Dulwich

The answer to your rather patronising question is no, I had a liberal upbringing and was never oppressed by religion. Just as anybody who writes exceptionally clearly is damned as "simplistic", it is often assumed that anybody who feels exceptionally strongly about something must therefore be emotional or irrational, fanatical or traumatised in childhood.

What is your favourite way of relaxing?

Louisa Dillon, Primrose Hill

In human intercourse.

You've got such a reputation for being clever; are people intimidated by you?

Ian Usborne, Edinburgh

Obviously I hope not. If my hopes are wrong, I am nonplussed, even hurt. I don't think anybody who really knows me thinks I am intimidating. And I'm not particularly clever, perhaps just clear. I suspect that some people find clarity intimidating.

What would you most like to be remembered for?

Julia Norris, Salford

In the words of Hilaire Belloc:

"When I am gone, I hope it may be said/ His sins were scarlet, but his books were read."

Would you describe yourself as selfish?

Simon Eldon, St Neots

In less happy times, a publication once asked me to compose my own epitaph, and because it was a charitable publication I obliged.

"Others lived beyond his means: a giver, not a taker. He was less selfish than his genes; more blind than his watchmaker."

You Ask the Questions

in two weeks' time: dj john peel, then daytime tv presenters richard and judy

Send questions for DJ John Peel, and TV husband-and-wife team Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan to: You Ask The Questions, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL (fax 0171- 293 2182; e-mail yourquestions@independent.co.uk) by noon on Thursday, 31 December

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