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Dawkins Visits Houston

Quickie review:

The Houston area skeptics, along with a few hundred other guests, were treated to a lecture from renowned evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, Tuesday night.

Dawkins spoke at the fabulous Wortham Center in Houston’s Theater District, which is no small venue for a scientist. In fact, it’s quite an impressive place for anyone to speak. And being Dawkins’ first time to visit the Space City, the Bayou City, the Big Steamy, his presentation was equal to the setting.

Now, I have to admit to having been bored by Dawkins’ speeches before. Not the ideas contained therein, but his manner of public address has perhaps caught me after lunch or when I have missed out on a full night sleep for some reason, because I have been perilously close to napping more than once. But on this occasion, there was no such danger. And I have to think it was me all along, because he spoke in the same manner as before, and spoke about the same ideas as before, and I thoroughly enjoyed the talk.

The Houston skeptics, and other followers of science and scientific issues, really found nothing new in the presentation, as Dawkins program was basically a high-level summary of his book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. But even for those old hats, hearing the evidence for evolution laid out in such an eloquent fashion is a value add, to employ a bit of tired corporate vernacular.

We get comfortable with the concept of evolution, and we know all the scientific and rational arguments to refute a denier, but often, unless we work in the field, we don’t always consider the specific evidence for it, and just how powerful it is and the levels it covers. Dawkins’ book reminds us of that, and his talk reminds us of that.

So if he’s coming through your town with this program, get your local group together, have a nice dinner, and then enjoy an evening listening to a pretty bright guy discuss the evidence for one of the most amazing scientific ideas ever.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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7 Comments

  1. Dude, I was there. I didn’t even think to look for you. I drove up all the way from San Marcos and just got back.

    I’d already read the book, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to see him in person, he doesn’t seem to come to Texas too often.

    I really wish the Q&A section was longer, but what there was of it was entertaining. I was cringing when the guy was asking about “cell memory” but his response was hilarious.

  2. I walked out on him at TAM when D.J. interviewed him.

    He lost me when he said, and I’m paraphrasing, religion is the most problematic topic in skepticism.”

    For such a brilliant man, he is too agenda driven for me.

    I’m not an atheist and perhaps if I were an atheist his statement wouldn’t have seemed so absurd to me. Though I think organized religion has been very problematic in human history and perhaps it will always threaten reason and critical thinking, his declaring it public enemy number one for a skeptic stunned me? “Not for THIS skeptic,” I thought. In fact, to me, he seemed as extreme as any religious fanatic that disturbs me so.

    I would haved loved to hear him discuss evolutionary biology.
    But his extremism quite simply bothered me way too much to listen further … and that is truly a shame.

  3. @halincoh:

    I hear you.

    The idea that skepticism leads to atheism (or should lead to atheism, or is equal to atheism) is an old point of contention among those that drift through “skeptic” circles. (Kinda alarming to realize I’ve been doing this for so long that I see issues recycle into the forefront so many times. Maybe I should get a hobby or something, huh?)

    But I actually had an extended conversation about this exact thing with some of the Houston skeptics before Dawkins’ talk last night. Maybe I’ll do a full post about it, just to get the lay of the land around Skepchick.

  4. “In fact, to me, he seemed as extreme as any religious fanatic”

    Really?! Did he fly a plane into the nearest church? Did he try to make religious belief illegal? Did he stone a believer? If not, I might have to call the hyperbole police on you. Last time I checked, Dawkins stuck to the written and spoken word. It’s amazing how terrified believers are of words and ideas.

  5. halincoh:

    First, what mikerattlesnake said. Second, I’m not sure what’s bad about being driven by an agenda. You want to do something, you do it. I don’t see how you can somehow do this too much.

    I assume what you mean is that his agenda isn’t the same as yours and you don’t like it, which is an altogether better point. But as to the topic of whether religion is the “most problematic” (I’m quoting you rather than Dawkins here, since I wasn’t at the talk) “topic in skepticism”, then isn’t it? Isn’t that what skeptics argue about more than anything else?

    I don’t know whether Richard declared religion Public Enemy Number One but with a few minor caveats I’d personally suport the notion.

    Are we all crashing against an all-too-familiar wall here? Are we confusing ‘skepticism’ as the abstract quality of being skeptical with ‘skepticism’ as the beliefs and objectives of a random bunch of skeptics?

    I’d be amazed if Richard was trying to tell skeptics how to be skeptical. It seems more likely to me that he was talking about the accomodationist/new atheist waste of energy.

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