walk a-musing

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

An Audience With Richard Dawkins

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The name of Dawkins first registered in my mind when I read an article "Is Science a Religion?". I was a fan almost immediately (and NOT after I saw how handsome he was, which is what my impish niece suggests). Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist, popular science writer and at present the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding Of Science at Oxford. He is an outspoken atheist, who was compelled to say after the Sept 11th attacks, "I used to think religion was harmless nonsense, entitled to at least some respect. I'd now drop the 'harmless'. And the last vestige of respect." And perhaps angered many.

I searched for and read other articles on the net and then finally found a fantastic book 'Unweaving the Rainbow'! This time, I fell in love with Science, all over again. The book can be considered as a retort to the accusation by Keats that Newton had destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to the prismatic colors. Dawkins has set out to show "the feeling of spine-shivering, breath-catching awe — almost worship — this flooding of the chest with ecstatic wonder, that modern science can provide" (quote from 'is science religion?') and has fully succeeded.

Imagine my thrill when I heard that " An audience with Richard Dawkins" had been organised in a hall near where I live! I called up and booked my ticket. I couldn't wait to hear such a learned and articulate man of science speak. It turned out to be more than I hoped for. There were about five hundred people in the audience. First there was a reading of passages from his various books, 'Unweaving the Rainbow', ' A Devil's Chaplain' and his latest, 'The Ancestor's Tale', by Dawkins and his wife Lalla Ward. They made a superb job of it. Lalla Ward being an actress, was able to bring in that extra life into quotations and dialogues found in the passages.

Next came a Q and A session. It is one thing to produce written work of extreme clarity, and lucidity (not that it is easy!), but an entirely different matter to speak with these same qualities when asked unexpected questions. There were questions concerning the recent controversy in America regarding teaching creationism in schools, about the place of morality in the absence of religion, how evolution explained the existance of moral values in humans, how if given the chance, Dawkins would change the teaching of science in schools...... Whatever the questions were, the answers appeared well thought out, and were engrossing and extremely thought provoking. I also have to note that some of the questioners obviously disagreed with Dawkins on the matter of religion. But to the credit of both parties, the exchanges were in a most dignified manner.

At the end of the program there was a book signing. I had bought A Devil's Chaplain' earlier in the evening and I got Dawkins' autograph on it before I went home. An evening well spent.

I had been a little reluctant to pick up 'The Ancestor's Tale' because of its size, and the fact that it is entirely about evolution, but this experience has left me with a thirst to learn more about evolution. I think I will go for it.



  • At 8:03 PM, Blogger starry nights said…

    Nice post.My husband is a fan of Dawkins .I have never read a book of his.I see the' ancestors tale' on the book shelf,the size of the book does scare me, but maybe I will go for it.tHANKS for stopping by my blog.

  • At 12:48 AM, Blogger Shruthi said…

    Me?? Impish???? But wasn't I right? ;))
    Wow, interesting!! Now I cannot wait to read Dawkins.
    I loved Keats' quote :D

  • At 12:51 AM, Blogger Anil Jagalur said…

    At this rate I will have to change my profession and become a digger. Give me half a chance and I will take a dig at the bush. I mean George W Jr.

    If 9/11 made Dawkins change his views on harmlessness of religion and respect for it, what would have happened to him when he heard the GWB Jr said that God asked him to go to war on Iraq?

    I have started wondering about taking a lenient view of religion after listening to Dawkins make his point on this issue on BBC.

  • At 1:49 AM, Blogger Anu said…

    Starry nights, Welcome to my blog! Yes, go for it! Perhaps you could start with Unweaving the rainbow? Just a suggestion:))

    Shruthi yes, you! no, not right! Loved keats quote?? I know one poet who would have pleased Dawkins. 'Putina'! He wrote a poem expressing his awe for the big bang and evolution!!

    anil Haha, we sure could call you a 'digger'. After all, digger also means 'searcher'? ;)
    Yes, about taking the linient view. I think it applies to a lot of us.

  • At 3:09 AM, Blogger Swathi said…

    color me green on meeting Dawkins in person,(btw, where was this?)
    been a big fan of his for long and dig his articles on the net.

  • At 5:03 AM, Blogger Anu said…

    Swathi, Welcome to my blog! :) This was in Berkshire, UK. Or did you want to know exactly where the program was?

  • At 10:24 PM, Blogger endevourme said…

    i find these posts 'complicated'...
    with a lot of NRI accent...
    btw keep posting :-)

  • At 1:23 AM, Blogger Anu said…

    endevourme hmmm...now what could this mean..?
    Thanks for visiting!

  • At 3:55 AM, Blogger Rose said…

    Fell in luv with the article myself..



  • At 7:30 PM, Blogger Sri Harsha said…

    Lucky u....got to meet one of the best minds on atheism....and obviously on Evolutionary biology in the world, at present.

    Tht docu. of his on BBC abt religion recently is a grt piece for all those who want to be rationale thinkers.

    Anyways congrats! Gud for u.


  • At 1:25 AM, Blogger Anu said…

    Rose, Welcome to the club...and welcome to my blog!:)

    Sri harsha, Yes, lucky indeed! Since I had not heard of Dawkins a few years ago when I was in India, I thought he is not well known there. Rather silly of me. Glad to know there are many more admirers.
    Thanks for visiting!

  • At 9:51 AM, Blogger PRIDERA said…

    I have not been a huge fan myself. But reading your blog calls for atleast a few minutes at the local library (and then purchase the book if really interesting)

  • At 2:21 PM, Blogger Anu said…

    Pridera, You will find a number of articles through the web site for Dawkins that I have provided. You may begin with them too.

  • At 9:21 PM, Anonymous confused said…

    Nice indeed.

    A time really well spent.

    Anu, I believe there can be no peace in the world till religion is attacked directly. I mean, what good has ever come out of it?

    Wars I can tell.

    Will read more. Thanks.,

  • At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Rajani said…

    I've never read Dawkins either..the subject kindof scares me...too heavy?!!! But maybe I can try now.
    BTW, I too met my favorite (Indian) author,Shashi Tharoor, last week and got a book signed by him. It was so cool. Like Dawkins, he too speaks as well as, if not better than, he writes. Quite an experience!!

  • At 3:28 PM, Blogger Anu said…

    confused, thanks ..and yes, hasn't religion led to quite a few wars though the centuries..? :(

    Rajani, Too heavy for YOU?? Definitely not! Try it!
    Wow, An audience with Shashi Tharoor.... I like his writing too, have read only one book though....

  • At 1:33 AM, Anonymous Bru said…

    very interesting post.
    i appreciate the way you make use of opportunities! keep it up. i plan to read dawkins :)

  • At 2:25 AM, Blogger Anu said…

    Bru, Thankyou. Please do:) I think you will like his writing too

  • At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Emma said…

    I read Dawkin's The Selfish Gene and became a fan immediately. I have not had a chance to read his other works though. Your post inspires me to pick up from where I left.

  • At 3:15 AM, Blogger Anu said…

    Emma, Wow, That is really nice. I am yet to read Selfish Gene.


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