Richard Dawkins, the scourge of pseudo-science, Christianity and homeopathy, is to step up his campaign for rational thinking with a series of high-profile lectures deep in the heart of the American Bible Belt.
The Oxford University professor travels to the US next year as part of his battle to promote evolutionary theory in the face of a backlash against the concept in the world's most-advanced industrial nation.
He is to address a series of 2,000-seater venues in the American heartlands. The tour will coincide with the publication of his best-seller The God Delusion in paperback in the US in January and act as a prelude to a series of global events to mark the bicentenary of Charles Darwin in 2009.
Professor Dawkins has charities in his own name on both sides of the Atlantic to promote reason and science. He has said that it is in the US, where 50 per cent of the population believes the universe is less than 10,000 years old, that the Enlightenment is most threatened.
However, he said he did not expect audiences to be too tough on his atheist beliefs and that many thanked him for speaking out. "The Bible Belt is a lot less monolithic than it portrays itself. I have a feeling that there is rather a large groundswell of people who agree with me," he said.