Dawkins defends Darwin in Dublin

Almost live from the World Atheist Convention in Dublin, which winds up today: here’s Richard Dawkins answering the questions of an annoying Muslim creationist.  Notice that Dawkins manages to avoid stridency despite the rudeness of the questioner, who implied that Dawkins really believes in creationism but won’t admit it.

h/t: via Grania Spingies

67 Comments

  1. Tacroy
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    How did it take 45 seconds for him to ask a question that boils down to “I didn’t understand what you said so will you admit that my incorrect interpretation of your words means you agree with me”?

    And why did I feel like throwing up the whole time?

  2. Jack van Beverningk
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    One of Dawkins’s most admirably traits, I think, is his patience. How many decennia now has he had to endure the same old stupid questions (yes, there are such things!) and every time he (STILL) finds the patience to eloquently answer the question instead of throwing up his arms, rolling his eyes, and asking for the next question (or running for the hills).
    How does he do that?

    • Posted June 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      Stridency?

      Seriously, I get angry when people accuse Prof. Dawkins of hostility, arrogance, incivility, etc. He nearly always replies patiently, politely and clearly to even the dumbest questions and assertions.

      • Yngve B
        Posted June 5, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        Obviously it is strident by default to criticize anyones religion.

        • Scott near Berkeley
          Posted June 5, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

          Agree. It is almost a “I was in this seat first, you cannot ask me to leave it” point of view by religionists. The religionists think the weight of years should carry something, and they dismiss the longer weight of years of those who have popped up throughout history and said, “No possible supernatural beings”.

          • Kharamatha
            Posted June 6, 2011 at 12:41 am | Permalink

            How can you guys not see how Dawkins was trying to murder him with a rifle? That poor man.

            Oh. My holy goggles were on.

      • Neil
        Posted June 5, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

        I have seen Dawkins speak and answer questions several times (every time I can), and he has never been strident or impolite in my experience. If there is repeated failure to comprehend, usually because the questioner has an anti-evolution agenda, he is blunt. Blunt is not strident or impolite.

        It reminds me of what Harry Truman said about giving the 80th Congress hell. “I never give them hell, I just tell them the truth and they think it is hell.”

    • Achrachno
      Posted June 5, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      Jack “How does he do that?”

      I think he’s just a better person than most of us. And especially compared to almost all his critics who, like this one, are often automatically, probably unconsciously, rude and arrogant. Ignorance and rudeness are apparently as much inherent parts of some people’s natures as wisdom and patience are central to Dawkins.

      If I’d been responding to this guy, I think I’d probably have been much more cutting and less considerate of his religious and personal feelings than Dr. Dawkins was.

      I should probably learn to ask myself “What would Dawkins do?”

      • Posted June 5, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

        Some ask themselves “What would Jesus do?”

        • Achrachno
          Posted June 5, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, but Dawkins is real.

        • Tacroy
          Posted June 5, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

          Jesus would curse a fig tree, bitchslap some moneylenders, and then die for a metaphor that he came up with himself – that’s what he would do.

          • Kharamatha
            Posted June 6, 2011 at 12:46 am | Permalink

            Yeah, “die”. Like people usually “die” in the summer to visit a resort.

      • Posted June 5, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

        WWDD? — the birth of a new meme!

        • Posted June 6, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

          Let’s hope not. I shy away from anything that would add fuel to the “atheism is a religion” fire.

    • Sastra
      Posted June 5, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      I suspect that a good part of Dawkins’ patience comes out of his background and experience as an educator, dealing with students. In an academic setting, you’re used to the ignorant and clueless raising their hands and asking “But how can that be, wouldn’t it mean blah blah blah …? And then you politely set them straight with a more detailed explanation.

      Students are supposed to be “ignorant and clueless” — that’s why they’re taking the class. To learn: thus, you teach. You know that going in. You practice patience with every class, every semester, always starting at ground zero.

      I think Dawkins still has the mindset, approach, and well-earned and carefully-learned patience of a Professor.

  3. Posted June 5, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely agreed with Jack. He was interviewed on Irish radio the other day and he was asked the same tedious tired old questions, but Dawkins responded with great patience and eloquence. The man is truly admirable in every sense, and it’s sickening to see him denigrated so loudly by odious little pukes.

    Excuse the harshness of my tone…I’ve gotta take a leaf out of Dawkins’ book.

  4. Greg Esres
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I think that anyone who answers to charge of “random chance” with the fact that natural selection is anything other than random is not really understanding or addressing the underlying concern of the questioner, and Dawkins is guilty of that here. For many theists, any end result that isn’t predetermined is “random chance”, and I think that this, overwhelmingly, is what makes evolution difficult to accept for many.

    • Dr. I. Needtob Athe
      Posted June 5, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      Good point!

      • latsot
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:43 am | Permalink

        I’m not convinced. The term is almost always used in an attempt to make evolution appear foolish. It’s a kind of mantra creationists use instead of thinking. It has one fortunate consequence: it’s a signal that the rest of us can stop listening and get on with some work, safe in the knowledge that we’re not going to miss anything interesting.

        I was in the audience at WAC and my impression was that this guy was using ‘chance’ in this sense. Throughout the weekend he continued to trot out the same old arguments all creationists do all the time. Not one single bit of novelty and no indication of thought.

        Besides, even if you’re right and he was equating ‘chance’ with ‘not determined’, Dawkins’ answer was still the right one. There’s no need for the outcome to be determined *because* natural selection is not random.

    • Achrachno
      Posted June 5, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      Greg “For many theists, any end result that isn’t predetermined is “random chance”, and I think that this, overwhelmingly, is what makes evolution difficult to accept for many.”

      They have many bad ideas blocking clear thinking. That’s just one of their problems.

    • Posted June 5, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

      That may be so, but then surely there needs to be some emphasis on asking the question properly – that we’re used to thinking in terms of mental causation and design doesn’t mean we should be interpreting questions that wany. Sloppy language is part of the problem – one cannot just redefine chance to mean lack of mental causation and expect people to treat it as such!

      • BradW
        Posted June 6, 2011 at 3:51 am | Permalink

        Isn’t that rather like the old “mind/brain” conflict?

        After all, isn’t abiogenesis anathema to almost all folks of a religious bent?

      • latsot
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:45 am | Permalink

        Yes, this is part of the trouble. As many have observed, they tend to change the meanings of words even WITHIN A SINGLE SENTENCE. They create shaky metaphors on the fly and use them to justify idiocy.

    • Posted June 6, 2011 at 5:14 am | Permalink

      I think it’s just a false dichotomy posed by common forms of theism: either the universe was “made” by God, or else it’s all here “by chance” (i.e, no one planned or caused any of it).

      Dawkins was of course right to correct the “chance” assertion regarding natural selection.

      • Greg Esres
        Posted June 6, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        “Dawkins was of course right to correct the “chance” assertion regarding natural selection.”

        It needs to be corrected, but it didn’t really address the fundamental problem of the questioner. Any good teacher understands that the question that needs answering often isn’t the one that’s asked.

        The way Dawkins answered this question, was, I thought, poorly done, because he was looking for applause rather than seeking to educate those with this point of view.

        The issue that needs to be confronted head-on is that, yes, there is no external purpose for our existence and we must find our own meaning. The universe doesn’t care about us any more than it cares about rocks or hydrogen gas.

        • latsot
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:51 am | Permalink

          “The way Dawkins answered this question, was, I thought, poorly done, because he was looking for applause rather than seeking to educate those with this point of view.”

          No, I don’t think so. I think his “How dare you?” was intended to emphasise his point – to show just how wrong that view of natural selection is. He obviously didn’t expect any applause.

          As for education, the guy *clearly* wasn’t there to be educated. His claim that he wanted to learn was one of the many lies he told throughout the weekend. Have a look at the #wac11 twitter feed for many, many, many, many more examples.

          • Greg Esres
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:58 am | Permalink

            As for education, the guy *clearly* wasn’t there to be educated.

            I’m sure that you’re correct, but these public discussions are most often for the benefit of those watching, not those participating. While this creationist isn’t likely to be educated, some people watching might be.

            • latsot
              Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:06 am | Permalink

              The people watching were atheists at an atheist conference. About atheism.

              Richard’s job there wasn’t to educate random idiots who might be watching on an incidental video of the event, but to take part in some panel discussions.

  5. Jon
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    What gets me about these kind of exchanges is not so much the ignorance – faith is obviously powerful. But the arrogance to think that after 150 years of research by countless scientists and an almost universal agreement in evolution/natural selection, that you’ve come up with a question that hasn’t been considered and addressed already.

    • Posted June 5, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      I disagree with you here, unless you mean a creationist stumper question.

      There are still untold questions on evolution that haven’t been asked, and untold numbers of questions on natural selection. There just aren’t any new ones being asked by creationists, because they are all rhetorical, dishonest questions from people who are not really interested in the answers.

      • Jon
        Posted June 5, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        I meant the question in the video.

      • Yngve B
        Posted June 5, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        The thing is though that you need to have a certain level of understanding for the subject matter in order to be able to ask good questions. If you haven’t understood the science you are criticizing then you will ask questions of the quality on display in the video.

        I just can’t believe that all these people are incapable of understanding evolution. It really is a fairly simple theory that you don’t need any maths or complicated logical abilities to grasp. I will add nothing new if I say that I think opposition to evolution would vanish the instant the last religious person converted to reason. ;)

        • Jon
          Posted June 5, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

          Yes, that’s what I meant but you said it better. There’s a difference between a religious argument ‘evolution isn’t true because my holy book/preacher says so’, and a ‘scientific’ argument ‘You can’t explain why the universe/life is designed, therefore evolution is false’. The first is ignorance, the second is arrogance (and ignorance too of course).

        • Scott near Berkeley
          Posted June 5, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

          They are not incapable, but to admit understanding means, by default, that you lose all support for your religion point of view.

          Maintain your religion= deny any possible argument that supersedes its validity.

  6. Garnetstar
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    How did these creationists get into the convention anyway? They actually bothered to buy tickets?

    The questioner also rudely states that Dawkins has been dishonest.

    • Achrachno
      Posted June 5, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      Garnet “The questioner also rudely states that Dawkins has been dishonest.”

      It’s just typical projection, IMO.

    • Dr. I. Needtob Athe
      Posted June 5, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      A “troll” is someone who makes an assertion that he doesn’t necessarily believe himself just to provoke an argument, so in modern Internet terms, by questioning his honesty, the questioner was accusing Dawkins of being a troll. (In fact, one could speculate that the questioner himself was a troll.)

      When Dawkins angrily retorted “How dare you?” I was certain that he meant something like “How dare you accuse me of not being honest?” and, considering their reaction, I believe the audience immediately assumed the same thing.

      But instead, he addressed this question of “chance” and used a softer tone. I wonder if Dawkins changed his mind while the audience was reacting, and wisely decided to shift to the issue under debate rather than object to the abuse from his opponent.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted June 5, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

        no.

        the initial emotional reaction was likely very much related to the continued mischaracterization of darwinianism as based on “chance”.

        This is the single, most often used bit of dishonest by creationists.

        Five bucks says that not only had Dawkins actually explained that to the questioner long before the Q&A session, but dozens of others had corrected him as well.

        Double or nothing that it has actually been explained to this same person hundreds of times before he ever attended the conference.

        How dare someone deliberately lie about what “chance” represents in the evolution of life?

        indeed, HOW FUCKING DARE THEY.

        • Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:19 am | Permalink

          Agreed. How DARE they? They don’t get to sit at the adult table until they grow up. Until then, they’re just wasting everyone else’s time on their personal masturbation target.

          I’m reminded suddenly of the axolotl. These idiots need an injection of salamander hormones.

    • Grania
      Posted June 5, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

      They ( a team of five) actually bought tickets for the convention. They spent most of the time outside the hotel handing out literature and debating anyone who was willing to talk to them rather than attending the sessions though.

      It was the source of some entertaining discussions if nothing else!

      • Posted June 5, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for getting this video. I read about this at Pharyngula and it’s nice to see how things happened.

        Technology’s amazing isn’t it–I’m not even at the conference :-( but get to see and hear some of it so fast.

    • latsot
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:53 am | Permalink

      This guy at least bought a ticket. The others, probably not as they seemed to be outside most of the time.

  7. Achrachno
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    The questioner says to Dawkins “in your book you say” but it’s perfectly obvious that his dishonest apologist hasn’t read ANY of Dawkins’ many books and is just relying on some quote-mined passage. If he’d read just “The Blind Watchmaker” he wouldn’t be standing there making a public fool of himself.

    Richard Dawkins is a model of patience (and much else) for us all. If there were secular saints, I’d nominate him.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted June 5, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps Dawkins should have answered his question with another question:

      “Is it possible to read a book, and remember none of it?”

      “You are either lying when you state you’ve read my book, or you have completely forgotten any facts contained within the book.”

      “Which is it?”

      • Achrachno
        Posted June 5, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        Yes, that would be a good approach, though it would be taken as a direct attack on the questioner.

      • Posted June 5, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        I think the questioner had read some quote-mined partial quotes, of course taken out of context, that formed the whole of his knowledge of Dawkins’ writings and talks.

    • Grania
      Posted June 5, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      Other slightly dubious claims made were: he had read all of Dawkins books and that he had been a secular Humanist once upon a time, until reason and evidence had turned him into a Creationist Muslim.

      • Jack van Beverningk
        Posted June 6, 2011 at 3:53 am | Permalink

        I would tend to dismiss that as ‘Lying for Allah’.

      • Dominic
        Posted June 6, 2011 at 6:29 am | Permalink

        Reason and evidence???! ha!

  8. Posted June 5, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    This is a perfect example of why we love Prof Dawkins. He is, well, stereotypically British (I mean culturally) in his manner of speaking and responding to questions by being clear, polite and honest. I think this is him at his most strident at the beginning of his response by saying, “How dare you!” I could sense the exclamation mark at the end of the phrase, and that was it for the stridency. This is as militant as he gets, so describing him as a militant atheist has always sounded just silly.

    As others have noted above, he is a great example, and thinking “What would Dawkins do?” is an excellent way of responding to the challenges of those for whom education and the Enlightenment have passed by.

  9. Posted June 5, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    This should be required viewing for those religionists and accomo-lackeys who keep pushing the stridency line.

    Dawkins sat patiently, waited until the ignoramus was finished and answered him politely – the same exact way he does when he writes or speaks about science or religion everywhere. No arrogance, no militancy, just a reasoned response containing, in my opinion, much more respect than the fucking stupid question (& the mentality that formulated it) warranted.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted June 5, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

      the question was not just stupid, it contained lies.

      in fact the very purpose of asking such “questions” is not even to get a response, it is to simply repeat the lies in a publicly recorded event.

      that guy already knew the answers to his “questions”. He just wanted the opportunity to spin a tale, under the guise of it being a question.

      lies and the lying liars that tell them.

      • Posted June 5, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

        Well, yeah, but it’s both I think: it was mindbogglingly stupid that this clown thought he stand there and straight-up lie to Dawkins’ face, not just about the science but about Dawkins’ own words, and not get called on it.

        A curt “How dare you!” would have been the very beginning of my response to such utter bald-faced bullshit.

        [Franken ftw, btw]

        • Posted June 5, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

          Further, I did immediately wonder how a Moonenplait would have “accomodated” that creationist stooge’s bollocks any better than RD did.

          • Ichthyic
            Posted June 6, 2011 at 2:26 am | Permalink

            I’m betting the Moonster would have just ignored the guy and said “next”.

            at THAT level, even accomodationists feel free to bring out the boot.

          • Ichthyic
            Posted June 6, 2011 at 2:31 am | Permalink

            btw, people monitoring the twitter feed noted that as soon as that guy had finished in the Q&A, he tweeted that he made a “two minute presentation to the conference panel”

            I swear, I did not know he had done that BEFORE I mad my earlier comments, but it exactly reinforces what i said:

            it wasn’t even a question, it was preaching, pure and simple.

            …Ok, perhaps puerile and simplistic would be better.

            still, like I said, the guy really didn’t care at all what Richard’s actually response was.

            • Posted June 6, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

              Oh, definitely. Any pretense to asking a question in the way most people would – to obtain information – melted away as soon as he claimed he “made a presentation” to the panel. So, not just stupid and dishonest but disingenuous as well.

              Standard creationis triple-play: three prongs, three kinds of bullshit.

            • latsot
              Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:56 am | Permalink

              I wasn’t checking the twitter feed constantly, but I thought the “2 minute presentation” thing referred to a later panel session when he actually was asked to stand up and account for himself for a couple of minutes by one of the panellists.

  10. Dawn Oz
    Posted June 6, 2011 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    thanks for sharing this. Dawkins has the patience of a secular saint. Terrible news about the science teacher in the Muslim school not believing in evolution. This doesn’t compute with me at all!!!!!

    • Posted June 6, 2011 at 5:20 am | Permalink

      I do quibble with the bit about “believing” in “evolution”, instead of “accepting” the theory based on its supporting reason and evidence. Let’s say “accept”, not “believe”.

      The science-teacher scene (probably on Youtube) is from a UK Channel 4 documentary, “Faith School Menace”. It’s even worse than it sounds: neither the students nor the teacher could even answer simple questions regarding the TOE.

      • Explicit Atheist
        Posted June 11, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

        That which we accept to be true on the basis of the evidence is that which we believe to be true. People can believe things contrary to the evidence, or without evidence, or with insufficient evidence, or on the basis of unrelated information that is mis-characterized as evidence for the belief. It is there, in the existence, relevance, direction, weight, of the overall evidence that the problem of justified versus unjustified beliefs resides. The problem is not in the utilization of the word belief to correctly identify our beliefs. You are not accomplishing anything worth accomplishing by replacing the word belief with “accept”.

  11. BradW
    Posted June 6, 2011 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    Ah; the inertia of the threee major Abrahamic religions is truly mind boggling!

    They BELIEVE! Therefore IT IS!

  12. Tim Harris
    Posted June 6, 2011 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    What is becoming clearer and clearer, and I am glad of it, as a result of seeing these people at work is the fundamental similarity of at least Christianity and Islam in certain respects; and of course, the way Muslims like our interlocutor are getting their anti-evolution ammunition, such as it is, from people like Ken Hamm, William Lane Craig et al, and not from any purely Islamic (and therefore divine) source. I think the buggers need to be lumped together as much as possible: ‘How dare you! And can you not come up with arguments that you’ve not poached from Christians?’ Or, ‘Why are you, a Christian, reciting an argument that is a favourite of Muslims?’ Or simply, ‘That’s what the Christians/ Muslims say?’
    Another point might be, ‘You ask for respect for religion. Why have you no respect for truth?’

  13. Posted June 6, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    He was actually pretty “strident” IMO. I mean, yeesh, he started the answer by shouting, “HOW DARE YOU!”

    Not that I’m criticizing — there is a place for stridency, and I would say that a questioner misrepresenting your views in a strained and stupid way that’s already been re-explained a bazillion times, well, that pretty much qualifies :D

    • latsot
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:58 am | Permalink

      Reacting passionately to a false accusation about yourself or your work is not strident.

  14. Andrzej K
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:35 am | Permalink

    Every discussion between creationists and any (but Richard Dawkins is the best) rational scientist is the challenge for patience of the latter. It is like answering to the child questions.
    The questions are often the same and every answer is the reason enough for the next question.
    and after about 40th question: is the day saved.

  15. Tezcatlipoca
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    What I find interesting, upon viewing this video and one of PZ Myers and Aron Ra talking to the group that was outside, is how can folks keep perpetuating the meme that Drs. Dawkins and Myers are some sort of New Atheist goons out to do nothing more than scream angrily and shrilly at the religious. I did not see that in either of these examples. The only one screaming was myself at my monitor.


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