When Richard Dawkins made a flying visit to New Zealand in March he attracted people from all over the country – including three from this household. Tickets to all events were quickly snapped up, but fortunately friends in the Auckland Univeristy Alumni Association put some aside for us.
The information content of a one-hour lecture (with about 20 minutes for questions) is not that great. And there wasn’t much in his presentation that anyone familiar with his work wouldn’t have encountered before, although he concluded with some ideas on the origins of religion that were new to me. For not much more than the $30 admission fee (less than half what Kelvin Cruickshank charges for an evening, I had to note) you could buy one of his many books, which would keep you busy for days.
But the evening wasn’t really about learning new stuff. It was a gathering of the tribe, of sorts, though admittedly it’s a rather odd tribe. It’s one that doesn’t really have leaders, but to paraphrase Terry Pratchett, Richard Dawkins is one of the most highly regarded of the leaders we don’t have. It was just good for one’s cosmic energy levels, to be in the same room, and breathe the same air for a while.
One gratifying feature of the evening was the age range in attendance. Grey, balding heads and beards would once have overwhelmingly predominated at an event like this, but there were good numbers of university age in the audience, and a much more even gender ratio than would have prevailed 20 years ago. Our 19-year-old daughter received jealous comments when she had to graciously decline an invitation to a steampunk party the same night.
And as a bonus, we picked up several free copies of The Origin of Species – the edition with the “Special Introduction” by New Zealand-born creationist Ray Comfort, which were being handed out on the street nearby. He’s gone out of his way to make Darwin’s words inaccessible: I didn’t know they made typefaces that small, although of course his introduction is impeccably laid out, with lots of amusing 19th century caricatures of Darwin. But I can’t help thinking that distributing this book to people who otherwise would never go near a copy is not a brilliant strategy, especially now he’s been made to call in his original version that was missing crucial chapters. Poor old Ray was never the sharpest knife in the drawer – check out his clip on YouTube about how the banana is an atheist’s worst nightmare. This latest stunt of his will no doubt create further amusement, but few converts, unless they’re in an unintended direction.