Saturday, November 04, 2006

Richard Dawkins in Philadelphia

On Thursday, Richard Dawkins came to Philadelphia as part of The God Delusion book tour. Since I've been a fan of his writing for many years now, I had to attend. I was able to get off work early, but I still got to the event late. The auditorium was full and the spillover crowd was mobbed around a closed-circuit television showing the lecture live. I didn't exactly have the best seat in the house, but I was able to catch most of it. He essentially read excerpts from his book and threw in a few personal anecdotes. Much of the talk centered around Biblical evidence supporting the now almost-famous line opening Chapter 2 (page 31).

"The God of the OldTestament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."

I have to confess that I just bought my copy on Wednesday and haven't had a chance to read it yet. (I'm still about a hundred pages shy of finishing The Ancestor's Tale.) All indicatons are that it's going to be a very good read.

Later that evening, Dr. Dawkins appeared on The Rational Response Squad show for a 60 minute round table discussion. I found it quite interesting to see him in a setting other than a standard interview or rehearsed speech. The part I found most interesting was at one point, he brought up how many of his critics say that for political reasons he shouldn't make himself so prominent; quotes like "Darwinian natural selection is what led me to become an atheist (my paraphrase, I don't remember the exact quote)" hurt the cause. He said it was a strong argument, that maybe they were right, and asked what his fellow panelists thought about it. That, to me, exemplifies good scientific/rational thinking. You must always be willing to listen to smart people and question your own beliefs and rationales. Kudos to Dawkins for being able to do that.

Personal note:
When I found out that Dawkins was coming to town, I started searching for just the right thing to wear. I settled on a DNA double-helix necktie. I was hoping I'd actually get to talk to him, but it soon became apparent that that wouldn't happen. After waiting in the book signing queue for 20 minutes, one of the ushers came around telling everyone that there wouldn't be time to personalize autographs and that the author would only be signing his name. "Please have your book open to the title page." At that point, my only hope was that he would appreciate my tie.

When I got up there, I told him how I enjoyed the talk, as he autographed my book. When he gave me the book back, I slowly backed away from the table. Then he said "I really like the tie."

Now I know how a star-struck teenaged groupie feels when she finally gets to meet the idol whose posters adorn her bedroom walls.
"(sigh)," he fluttered "I'll never wash this tie again."


Kristine said...

So, you didn’t get to ask him your question about evo-devo?

Well, he never responded to my e-mail (probably partly because, since I was trying to appear halfway intelligent, it ultimately ran to three pages—you twit, Kristine!), but I will get to spend 10 days on a boat with him in May. Ten days. On a boat. With Richard Dawkins (and Lalla Ward and Paul Kurtz). Retracing Darwin’s trip. And then I can die broke, I don’t care! ;-)

The Science Pundit said...

That sounds like a really fun cruise. Enjoy the finches and tortoises, but remember, don't touch! ;-)

No, I didn't get to ask him my question. That's okay, these things happen. Maybe if I get off my ass and actually do something important I can get a mention in his next book (I've heard people bragging about pages 45, 69 & 211).

Have fun on The Beagle!