Dawkins event (and noms)

Yesterday was Richard Dawkins’s book “talk” at Northwestern University in Evanston (just north of Chicago).  Actually, it wasn’t a talk, but 45 minutes of conversation between him and me, followed by an equal amount of time devoted to Q&A with the audience.  This was part of a tour promoting his new autobiography, An Appetite for Wonder, which I’m told is now #11 on the New York Times bestseller list.

The moderator, who introduced both of us and kept the questions flowing, was Hemant Mehta (“The friendly atheist”), who did a terrific job.

I decided that because we had to leave for the venue at 4 p.m. (three hours before the event!), I’d go downtown early and treat myself to a nice late lunch before meeting Richard at his hotel. (There was no opportunity for dinner thereafter.)

After due deliberation, I selected The Purple Pig, a Mediterranean restaurant which specializes in meat and charcuterie. It was on Michigan avenue, close to the hotel. And, of course, because this was a treat, I made no attempt to eat “healthy.”

The main course was turkey leg confit (I’ve eaten many a duck confit in France, but never turkey), served with crispy lentils, endive, and “agrodolce,” something I’d never heard of.  Wikipedia tells me that it’s a traditional Italian sweet-and-sour sauce, and this one had added ingredients of unknown provenance. It was terrific, and a lot of food. I washed it down with an Italian beer, “Moretti la Rosa Doppio Malto,” another beer new to me, but which is apparently brewed by Birra Moretti in Italy.  Its heaviness and sweetness went well with the turkey:

Turkey

Feeling expansive, I decided to have dessert: a bread pudding with whipped cream. After this, and a beer that contained 7.2% alcohol, I was ready to face anything.

Dessert

A random photo from the restaurant, since I had my camera out:

Wine glass

After meeting Richard and his “handler,” the amiable Aisha Goss, the Deputy Director of the Secular Coalition for America (they’re merging with the Richard Dawkins Foundation), we drove to the venue, about 45 minutes away.  As we had tons of time to kill (why do they make us get there so early?), Richard and I went for a walk along Lake Michigan. This was a good thing to do, not only because the weather was lovely but because it gave us a chance to talk about this and that, and discuss questions for the evening to come.

Richard was much taken by the rocks along the shore, painted by Northwestern students. Many of them are romantic, and include not a few marriage proposals, which I imagine have stunned many a woman getting betrothed before a painted rock. Richard was fascinated by one religiously-painted rock, and photographed it (it’s the gray one lying flat before him). You can make out a few words, which I later found came from Isaiah 25:1:  “O LORD, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; For You have worked wonders, Plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness.”

Dawkins photographic rocks

We were introduced by Hemant, and Richard got a tremendous ovation—the audience was clearly going to be friendly. The venue, an auditorium seating about 900, was sold out. (The photo below, and the succeeding one, were taken by reader daveau.)

Hemant introducing JAC Dawkins

I was a bit nervous about our conversation, but I think it went well. I’ve known Richard for a longish while, and so we were pretty well acquainted with each other’s views. I assumed I’d just ask questions, but Richard wanted more of a give-and-take, so I compromised, occasionally interjecting some of my own views.  Some of the questions I asked, by the way, were suggested by you readers when I asked for suggestions a while back.

Here are some of my questions and, as far as I remember, Richard’s answers:

My first question was “Richard: briefs or boxers?”, but I didn’t let him answer. That was just to loosen things up with a bit of humor (I’m sure he’s never been asked that before!), and at any rate I’m not sure they use those terms in England. My impression is that over the pond men’s underwear is simply called “pants.”

Richard did a great job, and anyone who calls him “humorless” simply hasn’t been to one of these events. Much of the time he had the audience in stitches, something I don’t think Karen Armstrong does very often! It was a lot of fun, and we covered a lot of ground, including his book, atheism, religion, evolution, the compatibility of science and faith, and some personal stuff.

My favorite question was this: “I know you wouldn’t disabuse your grandmother of her faith on her deathbed, but do you think religious belief, although false, can indeed provide comfort for some people? That is, in your discussions of religion you always emphasize its falsity, but why must truth always trump comfort?” I added that it did for me, too, though I couldn’t quite explain why—perhaps because, as a scientist, that’s the way I’m trained.

Richard agreed that he wouldn’t hector his dying grandmother, but did say that it was hard for him to see how one could gain comfort from something false. He added that a lot of religious dogma, like that of hell, didn’t bring comfort at all, and he learned that, in hospices, it was the Catholics who most feared dying. What I wanted to ask, though, was for those people who really are comforted by religion, and don’t engage in any malicious activity, why would you want to dispel their faith?” We didn’t get to that, and although I have my own answer, I’ll let the readers chew it over.

I asked Richard why wrote an autobiography—a new genre for him (A: “My publisher asked me to”), and why he wrote The God Delusion (A: “I wanted to write it after 9/11, but my editor thought it wasn’t yet time. And then Bush became president, and it was time.”)

Book question: “In your book you note that ‘And insofar as anything was the making of me, Oxford was.’ Could you explain that?” Richard talked about the advantages he reaped from Oxford’s tutorial system, involving one-one-one meetings with professors and weekly essays, which, he said, were much better than conventional lectures and tests on which you’d have to regurgitate facts. When I noted that this rarified method would be difficult in a mass educational system like the U.S. , Richard suggested that one could have graduate students do the tutoring.

Accommodationism:  “Do you think being a vociferous atheist makes it harder to sell evolution, because you turn off religious people?” He gave the same answer I would, which you should know if you’re a regular here, and it’s really too long to reproduce. The gist of it was that he was unable to lie just to bring people to evolution, and that there wasn’t much evidence that such accommodationism worked anyway (that was my addition). In the Q&A someone asked him why he saw religion and science as incompatible, and he gave a marvelous answer. It was along the lines that the essence of evolution, and of naturalism—and the wonder of it all—was that all of life, including human intelligence, was a product of a simple and naturalistic process.  To sneak in intelligence at the very beginning, in the form of a creator or as a guider of evolution, simply “pulled the rug out from under the whole business.”

Sadly, they didn’t tape the event, as I’d like the readers to be able to hear his answers—and his humor. That video would forever silence those who accuse the man of being humorless.

On The Selfish Gene: “That book has been your best-selling work. But do you see it as your best book?” Richard said no, that he considered The Extended Phenotype as his best book, largely because of the original thought in it, which made it more than just a popularization of the ideas of others. (My favorite, for the sheer beauty of its writing and its expository clarity, is The Blind Watchmaker.)

Our conversation: two scientists on two chairs:

coyne1

We talked a bit about immortality, and Richard adamantly maintained that he’d rather be dead than immortal, even in Heaven, adding that his preferred fate was simply to be anesthetized forever, which is in fact the way it is. I pointed out Hitchens’s own regret at mortality, famously encapsulated in Christopher’s quote that what’s worse than being tapped on the shoulder at a party and being told you had to leave (i.e., die) is the idea that you not only have to leave, but that the party would continue. Richard noted, though, that Hitchens had added more: “But the party would go on forever.” Richard said the idea of an infinitely long life simply didn’t appeal to him.  I disagreed, saying that there would always be wine to drink and good food to eat, even if, after a while, you’d have drunk every wine and read every book. And besides, you’d presumably get to see what happened on Earth.

Finally, I asked Richard what he was proudest of in his life. He answered, “Having written The Extended Phenotype,” but I clarified my question, saying that I wasn’t asking about a book, but about what he had accomplished in general. His answer was touching: he noted that at book signings, like the one that followed the Q&A, people would often come up to him and tell him that he’d changed their lives for the better.

He wasn’t comfortable answering that question, but it was a good and honest answer and, in truth, that’s what I’d be proudest of, too.

Here’s Richard at the Q&A.  The questions were pretty damn good—better than the usual run one encounters, probably because the audience was smart and many had read his books. And his answers were eloquent, even when one person asked him whether he thought that the energy of the body lived on as some kind of “mind” after the body died, and why he didn’t accept that. I knew Richard was going to come down on him when he started his answer with, “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I don’t think you understand what the concept of energy is.” His answer was very polite, but devastating in content.

Dawkins Q&A

It was a delightful evening, marred by only one thing: the organizers screwed up and forgot to order my book, as I was supposed to be signing copies as well.  I don’t regret the loss of income, which would have been trivial, but I much regret the lost opportunity to meet people and chat with them (Richard, with hundreds of people in line, has little time to exchange words with his fans.)

Reader Su even made me a poster for my nonexistent book-signing table. Here it is, with a drawing of Professor Ceiling Cat, and you can see my expression of profound regret that I didn’t get to use it.

I did sign books for some people who brought them, but I apologize to readers who expected a more formal signing, as well as a sale.

No books, Jerry

Richard is having more events like this on the west coast, with discussion and Q&A; you can see the schedule here. I think that many of them are sold out, but if you can get into one, you’re in for a treat.

Come to think of it, I should have brought my copy of The God Delusion for signing.  And to the Dawkins Foundation: how about sending me an autographed version of the autobiography instead of the tattered draft copy I have, just as a reward for my hard work?

130 Comments

  1. Posted October 4, 2013 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Great post, Jerry. It’s like we were there!

  2. Eric Wojciechowski
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    I came from Detroit to attend this. Well worth the evening. I asked the question as to what is the best way to discuss Origins and ELE events with children (5 to 8 years old). Hoping Dr. Coyne could suggest some teaching materials here. Thank you in advance.

    • Posted October 4, 2013 at 6:37 am | Permalink

      Yes, that was a good question, and Richard gave a good answer, which was basically that’s it’s had. His “Wonder of Reality” book is good, but ELE events (“extinction level events”) are scary if they involve bolide impacts. But the vast majority of extinctions are less scary to kids, including that caused by very gradual climate change.

      There are a number of evolution and paleontology books for kids; perhaps the readers can suggest some.

      • Eric Wojciechowski
        Posted October 4, 2013 at 6:44 am | Permalink

        Due to the few materials for younger children on Deep Time, Origins, etc, I’ve considered penning my own. Don’t suppose there are any illustrators out here interested? My drawing skills are terrible.

        • JBlilie
          Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

          One good book that does discuss them, briefly and not too “scarily” is Our Family Tree, subtitled, “An Evolution Story”. It talks about how some life forms died out after a meteorite impact (and I think another ELE as well).

          It’s quite good and accurate at a level that young kids can enjoy and understand (<6 years).

          Another good one for kids is: Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be,
          by Daniel Loxton I don’t remember if it talks about ELEs directly; but I think it does.

  3. NewEnglandBob
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Too bad they did not tape it. I would have enjoyed watching and listening to the three of you.

    • SA Gould
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 6:40 am | Permalink

      The university spokesman told us to put away all our technology, not to take photos or tape it, then *they* don’t tape it. Why wouldn’t they? I am mystified by this.

      • Marta
        Posted October 4, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

        Oy. Combined with the fact that they had no copies of Jerry’s book available, not to mention how early they required Jerry and Richard to be there, that’s just a bunch of really bad management. Quite provoking, really.

      • Randy S
        Posted October 4, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

        In fairness, they simply said no *flash* photography.

  4. Posted October 4, 2013 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    That’s a great shame that the event wasn’t filmed, but your wonderful account of the evening certainly helps!

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    I’m so envious that you can eat all that yummy food. For some reason, I can’t eat big meals anymore after my stomach episode all summer (which hasn’t gone away completely).

    I loved the sign for the book signing that didn’t happen!

    Too bad Richard isn’t coming to Canada for his book tour.

    • Merilee
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Agreed about Canada, though we could’ve made his Seattle gig if it weren’t sold out.

  6. Lianne Byram
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    Sounds like a wonderful evening. Wish I could have been there!

  7. Posted October 4, 2013 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Thanks for that summary, I wish I could have been there in person!

    The comment by Hitchens is interesting, because I feel the opposite. It’s far, far worse to contemplate death when you believe the party will NOT continue (which due to climate change and ecosystem collapse from pollution, I very much doubt it will, much longer). I’m trying to think of a special descriptor for that type of grief, but haven’t come up with one yet. This article puts it rather well:

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/21/the-importance-of-the-afterlife-seriously/?hp&_r=2

    I believe in life after death.

    No, I don’t think that I will live on as a conscious being after my earthly demise. I’m firmly convinced that death marks the unqualified and irreversible end of our lives.

    My belief in life after death is more mundane. What I believe is that other people will continue to live after I myself have died. You probably make the same assumption in your own case. Although we know that humanity won’t exist forever, most of us take it for granted that the human race will survive, at least for a while, after we ourselves are gone.

    Because we take this belief for granted, we don’t think much about its significance. Yet I think that this belief plays an extremely important role in our lives, quietly but critically shaping our values, commitments and sense of what is worth doing. Astonishing though it may seem, there are ways in which the continuing existence of other people after our deaths — even that of complete strangers — matters more to us than does our own survival and that of our loved ones.

    • Richard Olson
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      I look forward to Scheffler’s forthcoming book about death and afterlife. This NYT essay at the link is very useful to expand and organize my heretofore muddled thinking about effective ways to reply to theist’s who suggest atheism implies no reason for living at all, let alone for living ethically.

      I would be interested in the reason the program producer’s prohibited recording this event. Q & A often provides very stimulating content worth review.

    • SA Gould
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      witsendnj: “…the continuing existence of other people after our deaths — even that of complete strangers — matters more to us than does our own survival and that of our loved ones.”

      Agree totally. While I would prefer a heroic death (saving someone else’s life), I have no problems with dying myself. Living on, while everyone around you dies? How could anyone want that?

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink

        The trick is to develop intimacy issues. It’s all easy after that. ;)

        • CharlieDarwin
          Posted October 4, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

          And I thought I was the only one to figure that out- AND put it into practice!

    • Posted October 4, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Yep. I see the state of affairs as a situation where you (we) will never know who comes after; but if we do our jobs right, they will certainly know us. In that sense, we build bridges into the future — hopefully good ones making us worthy of emulation, with a few danger signs posted warning against repeating our mistakes.

      So far, at least en masse, I’m not terribly pleased with the job we’re doing. The message we are sending one-way to our descendants would seem to telegraph that we never really gave a shit about them when the chips were down.

  8. Posted October 4, 2013 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    “After this, and a beer that is 7.2% alcohol, I was ready to face anything.”

    I think I’d be ready for a snooze.

    /@

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      Me too, after I tripped and fell when I tried to get up. :D

      • Merilee
        Posted October 4, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

        Tripped on the tryptophan?

    • TJR
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      I can see the headline now

      “Professor needed 7.2% alcohol beer to face Richard Dawkins”.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

        I think you mean, “member of Darwin Lobby and a needs alcohol to meet the leader of the Darwin Lobby”.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

          Oops look at that muphry’s. Well you know what I was going for. :D

          • Posted October 4, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

            Looks like you and a dranks alcohol before posting comment.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted October 4, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

              Well, I have a really crippling migraine today and it’s like being drunk. I took meds a few hours ago and the pain is less intense but I tried to dial the phone three times to call my parents to say I couldn’t go there for dinner tonight because my cognition and motor skills get sorta messed up.

  9. Randy S
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    A couple of my own pictures:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/eqs9m2pv2u2v80l/IMAG0214.jpg

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/v0akm1tx74q1yy6/IMAG0219.jpg

    I was bummed that I didn’t get to meet you, Jerry, but since we both live in Chicagoland, I’m optimistic that there will be other opportunities.

    And how dare Hemant Mehta refer to this site as a blog! ;)

  10. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    I disagreed, saying that there would always be wine to drink and good food to eat, even if, after a while, you’d have drunk every wine and read every book.

    I read somewhere that in San Francisco, you could eat at a different restaurant every night. Indefinitely. It’s not just the number of restaurants, but the turnover rate.

    • Posted October 4, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      I don’t know about San Francisco, but that’s definitely true of New York. Sometimes I feel like it’s true of my neighborhood.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Here’s a quote:
      “According to http://www.examiner.com/x-7480-SF-Tourism-Examiner San Francisco comes in at:
      5,369: The number of restaurants in the city.
      However, according to /www.squarefeetblog.com/commercial-real-estate-blog it is somewhat less:
      In San Francisco alone, there are some 3500 restaurants, giving the city the highest number of restaurants per capita in the country.
      Those are rather far apart! Looks like we’ll need a third opinion.
      In one article, the San Francisco Buisness Times states:
      More than 4,000 San Francisco restaurants have been reviewed. /www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/stories/2008/06/30/story1.html
      So, it looks like somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000.”

      So, if the average lifespan of a restaurant is 5 years, one certainly could eat at a different SF restaurant every night of your life.
      BUT this is only the total for the 49 square miles of SF proper. If you include Berkeley, Oakland, San Jose, the Napa valley, etc., etc., I’d guess the number within an hour’s drive of SF is maybe five times that number.

      • Posted October 4, 2013 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        I don’t disagree. But I wonder what will happen to those restaurants when the crops fail?

      • CharlieDarwin
        Posted October 4, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

        WAAAAYoff topic now! Who cares about exact numbers of restaurants?

        Focus, people.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

      I think you meant: It’s not the number of restaurants, but the turnover rate.

  11. Sastra
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    What I wanted to ask, though, was for those people who really are comforted by religion, and don’t engage in any malicious activity, why would you want to dispel their faith?” We didn’t get to that, and although I have my own answer, I’ll let the readers chew it over.

    Okie doke.

    My response to this question is to take it away from the high-but-condescending level of the view-from-above and move it down to the believer themselves. It now re-translates into a very critical personal question:

    Do you care more if your belief is true — or useful? That is, does it really matter to you whether God exists or not?

    Think hard here and commit. When it gets down to it, is the whole rigamarole of faith and religion and God all about your comfort? Answer and accept the consequences. It’s important.

    Bottom line, I think that granting due respect and dignity towards the believer is going to involve shifting the focus onto their own integrity and motivations, rather than approaching and treating them like children, patients, or Little People in need of protection. I also think that there’s a hell of a lot more respect now granted to religion and the ideas themselves.

    How a believer answers the question says a lot about our response. It also tells them a lot as well.

    If they admit that they would rather NOT know the truth — if the benefits and comforts of faith are far more important to them than whatever the hell they’re having faith in — then the whole point about God’s existence is gone and there goes the point about arguing about it. Nobody here actually believes that God exists because nobody cares. Religion is simply personal therapy, a preference or taste like singing in the shower or getting dressed up in hoop skirt and fairy wings to go to a Renaissance Faire. Whatever floats your boat. It’s like a homeopath admitting that homeopathy is a placebo. God is just pretend, a tool for other purposes.

    We can welcome them to atheism. And they can deal with that.

    But if they insist that no, God’s existence does indeed matter to them then they are forced to admit that yes, they’d want to be corrected if they were mistaken. They take the issue seriously, as an issue, and not simply as a buttress for their own needs. They’d want to change their mind.

    We can welcome them to the debate.

    We don’t “dispel faith.” We lead them away from belief in belief and grant them the capacity to change their own minds.

    • gluonspring
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      I like this. I may even try it sometime.
      I guess the original question was about individuals? This seems like a reasonable way to approach individuals.

      I’m not quite sure that I can be that deferential to believers as a category, though, because they aren’t content to go off to the religious equivalent of Renaissance Faire and enjoy themselves with their religious imaginings. I’d be fine with that, but they don’t just enjoy themselves, they actively seek to make me dress up as well, by force of law if they can, by relentless demonization and othering if they can’t. They seek to inject the study of fairies into the zoology curriculum, and try to solve problems both public and private by using fairy magic, with bad results. A very few even blow things up because fairies told them to.

      But back to the personal level, I’ve been trying to name a distinction you get close to here, a distinction that makes a difference in how I feel towards individuals with crazy views. The homeopath admitting that homeopathy is a placebo is completely unoffensive. I can even stand it if they actually believe it has some effect, so long as they have some respect for actual knowledge as well. If they go to the doctor and take his advice and add homeopathy on top of that, or say a prayer, or spin their plate three times before eating, or any other superfluous thing but use actual real knowledge when it counts, it’s fine by me. When they turn from a harmless additions to real knowledge to the actual denigration of real knowledge, that’s when it becomes insufferable for me. In the classic Tim Minchin bit “Storm” (http://goo.gl/4uVLsr), what makes the Storm character insufferable is not her absurd belief in homeopathy, but her accompanying self-righteousness and contempt for real knowledge, her ingratitude for what real knowledge has done for her. Like Tim’s character in that story, it is much harder to drink one’s wine and smile when someone is being as self righteous, bullying, and sure of themselves as they are abjectly ignorant.

      • Sastra
        Posted October 4, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        In general, believers as a category actually believe — or think that it’s important that they do. My question then is kind of a trick question. The “why should you care?” stance towards critics actually belongs in the category of private preferences and individual lifestyles: it shouldn’t be adopted by people who claim to be seeking truth towards other people with the same agenda. The trick question is designed to reveal the trick.

        It’s also a way to find common ground with the believer – and rise above the facile tendency to condescend over their “true” motivations and refrain from giving the poor dears what they can’t handle.

        If they go to the doctor and take his advice and add homeopathy on top of that, or say a prayer, or spin their plate three times before eating, or any other superfluous thing but use actual real knowledge when it counts, it’s fine by me. When they turn from a harmless additions to real knowledge to the actual denigration of real knowledge, that’s when it becomes insufferable for me.

        I agree — but I also find the I-use-both-ways “middle ground” insufferable in its own way. While I can forebear in personal cases, the general confusion is not really fine by me.

        Sure, it’s one thing if the person who adopts a superstition, religion, or pseudoscience does so rather sheepishly, as if giving in to a weakness and recognizing it as a human quirk. “I know it’s silly, but …” We forebear.

        But what I find usually happens is just another variation of “self-righteous bullying” and ignorance, with the combination of modern science and ancient and/or mystical “other ways of knowing” being put forth as the ideal between the extremes. What you call the “harmless additions to real knowledge” are framed as noble attributes, indicating an exemplary open-mindedness, adventurousness, flexibility, and ability to think outside the box. They don’t confine themselves! They explore and embrace all options! With open heart and mind and spirit!

        Which leaves us … where?

        Intellectually and emotionally limited, to put it as kindly as possible (which, in true passive-aggressive fashion, they are wont to do.) Even though the genuine ‘spirit’ of inquiry is actually on our side.

        It’s the whole concordance-between-science-and-religion issue again, with narrow-minded mean ol’ atheists sitting there insisting on getting to the bottom of things in the common search for truth when hey, they’re being offered the lovely fluff of the Middle Ground. Let’s-have-it-both-ways: science and faith; God and evolution; modern medicine AND homeopathy (because placebos are a kind of magic or even proof of God!)

        I don’t like that either. It might even be more annoying because it’s more insidious.

        • gluonspring
          Posted October 4, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

          I agree with all you have said here.

  12. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    The venue, an auditorium seating about 900

    Teh Interwebz tells me that was Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. Does it still have strange acoustic reflecting panels hanging from the ceiling? haven’t been there in… a long time.

    • SA Gould
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      Building has large white hexagonal panels hanging from the ceiling. Clearly made by a species of large bees. Probably decorative, as the sound system didn’t seem that effective.

  13. Greg Esres
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    I wanted to write it after 9/11, but my editor thought it wasn’t yet time. And then Bush became president, and it was time

    Huh?

    • Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      No, what he said was after SIX YEARS of George W Bush.

      • Posted October 4, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

        Thanks, that makes much more sense. I assumed “re-elected President” was probably the quote, but I wasn’t there.

        • Posted October 4, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

          Also, did you just write about yourself in the third person? Because that’s kind of funny. Or does the “he” refer to the editor?

          • Posted October 4, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

            “He” refers to the literary agent who dissuaded me from writing The God Delusion in 2001 but then, after 6 years of Bush, he said it was the right time for the book.

      • gbjames
        Posted October 4, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

        Hey! As long as you are following this page…

        THANK YOU.

        TSG was a huge influence on me as a young man all those decades ago when it came out. Even if you had never written another book I would credit your work as one of the pivotal contributors to my understanding of the universe.

        • Old Rasputin
          Posted October 4, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

          Seconded! TSG and The Extended Phenotype were the first two books on biology that I read and they have tremendously influenced my ideas about how evolution – as well as the world in general – works. As Mr. Deity says, thankyouthankyouthankyou!

      • JBlilie
        Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        I remember all 8 of the Shrub years — with pain and regret …

        Thanks for your talk sir!

      • BillyJoe
        Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

        It was interesting to read that your favourite book was “The Extended Phenotype”. Although most of your other books were easier reads, I was most impressed by that particular book. I read it right after “The Selfish Gene” and I enjoyed it immensely.

    • hazur
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      Yeah, I guess he meant it the other way around.

      • Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:48 am | Permalink

        I think the six years thing was right. The acoustics on stage were dreadful: so many echoes that I had a lot of trouble hearing Richard (the acoustics in general are dreadful in that auditorium, but were particularly bad onstage). So I’m going from a combination of memory and less than optimal hearing!

        • daveau
          Posted October 4, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

          He said “after six years,” and it got a big laugh. It was difficult to hear, though. Very echo-ey, and the sound system often dropped below audible levels, especially when Dawkins was speaking. Good thing we were toward the front and could actually hear the direct sound, or I suspect we would have missed half the conversation. Thank you for the very interesting discussion you led, Jerry. You got to a lot of subjects that weren’t covered by the Q&A.

          I’m glad I didn’t have my heart set on getting an RD autograph. Most of the other 900 people had books with them, and it must have been hours waiting in line.

    • Greg Esres
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      Hard to believe that “The God Delusion” came out so long after 9/11. I sort of remember that time span as being compressed, with the GD coming out shortly after.

      • BillyJoe
        Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

        TGD if you don’t mind.

  14. Keith
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Sounds like a lovely evening. I’m not sure I understand the audience member’s question about energy in the body. Was he or she referring to entropy? It would be correct to say that energy survives death, just not in any form where it remains organized (unless embodied in other living organisms).

    • Randy S
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      I think he was referring to a conscience that could continue on without the body. Ultimately, it was (as Richard pointed out) a misunderstanding of physical energy. The thing that most people are resistant to is the idea that the human conscience is within the brain, and once the brain fails, the conscience ceases to exist. It’s scary to some people, thus they believe that a conscience can continue after death.

      • Sastra
        Posted October 4, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

        Right. In woo-speak the term “energy” means something different than it does in physics (though the energy-proponents don’t necessarily realized this and often think their spiritual views are comporting with science.) Bottom line, it’s a marker for Substance Duality.

        As Vic Stenger points out, most people believe the universe is made of two kinds of stuff:

        1,) Matter — > Body

        Particles
        (Discreteness, Reductionism)

        and

        2.)”Energy” –> Mind, Spirit, Soul, Vital Force

        Electromagnetic/Bioenergetic Fields
        (Continuity, Holism)

        That’s supernaturalism. The questioner was hoping that Richard Dawkins was going to throw out God but grant legitimacy to supernaturalism. That’s because “energy” is one of those two-sided deepity words and religious/spiritual habits of thought trade on intuition and confusion, blurring concepts from one category and into another.

        Scientific thinking strives to be clear.

        • Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

          It’s a commutation failure.

          wooists tend to accept E=mc² (although some hideously abuse it), but tend to read it only one way – that matter with mass m has an equivalent energy E (the atomic bomb is a very powerful manifestation of that). But also, m = E/c²: anything with energy – light, a magnetic field – also has an equivalent effective mass.

          Mass and energy are equivalent properties of all quantum fields that constitute both matter and the forces that act on matter; both matter and forces are “made of” fundamental particles (fermions and bosons respectively) which are “ripples” in those quantum fields.

          Which possibly sounds “woo-ish” to wooists. But we have the maths and the LHC on our side!

          /@

          • Sastra
            Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

            When woo-ish people hear that “mass and energy are equivalent properties of all quantum fields that constitute both matter and the forces that act on matter” they translate this into “everything comes from/is made from Consciousness.” Or some variation of the equivalent, which is then called “spirituality” about as often as it’s called “God.”

            And then they think they have the maths and the LHC on their side.

            No conflict between science and spirituality! They’re coming together as scientists discover what confirms what the mystics have been saying all along!

            Excerpt that it doesn’t!

            • Posted October 4, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

              If I had less integrity (and more time!) I might write a book on Quantum Field Spirituality

              /@

              • Old Rasputin
                Posted October 4, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

                I suspect Mr. Chopra has already written that book. Probably several times.

              • Sastra
                Posted October 4, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

                Sure, go ahead and write another one. That’s the lovely thing about quantum. They’re so small, you can always add more and it makes virtually no difference.

              • Posted October 4, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

                @ Old Rasputin

                But mine would be better

                /@

      • Posted October 4, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

        I think you mean “consciousness,” instead of “conscience?”

        • Randy S
          Posted October 4, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

          D’oh! Yep… at work and responding too quickly for my own good.

      • Posted October 4, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        I think you mean consciousness, not conscience?

    • daveau
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      I think he was referring to matter ∝ energy, and after we are gone, wouldn’t the energy still exist? With maybe a bit of quantum “information is not lost” thrown in. But, of course, it wouldn’t be organized energy, would it? It did come off as a bit of new-age silliness.

      • Posted October 4, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

        That, of course, would be the type of “new-age” that rhymes with “sewage”…?

        b&

        >

      • Posted October 4, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

        But it isn’t *matter* that’s proportional to energy, it is *mass*, one specific property of bodies (i.e., one sort of matter). Energy is not a stuff – that’s the mistake of all these views. Yes, “your energy” survives your death – conservation laws, and all. But so does your angular momentum, your electric charge, your linear momentum …

        That energy is a not a stuff was shown clearly by Maxwell 140 or so years ago. The argument is quite clever – a dimensional analysis argument. I believe it is in _Matter and Motion_, but I can’t check right now. (Could be _Theory of Heat_.)

        • gluonspring
          Posted October 4, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

          Take comfort, dear, his angular momentum is still with us.

          • Keith
            Posted October 4, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

            Which is much preferred to his poor anger management…

          • Diane G.
            Posted October 5, 2013 at 1:06 am | Permalink

            ROFL!

  15. Adam Raven
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Good morning,

    It was a pleasure to meet you and shake your hand. The event was wonderful. We appreciate the the courage, passion, and love of tne natural world. Also, I have ordered one of your books from Amazon today.

    Thank you for helping us understand evolution and the wonder of life in new and exciting ways.

    Sincerely,

    Adam Raven

    • JBlilie
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      +11111111 …

  16. TJR
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    In UK usage the generic term is “pants” but briefs and boxers are both subsets of those, so its still an understandable question to a Brit.

    Yes, that’s the main thing I took away from the article……

    • Merilee
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      Also y-fronts and smalls?? WHY does my brain retain this useless trivia? (Greetings from Evolution(!) Lodge in Whistler, BC)

    • Posted October 4, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      I thought “panties” could also be appropriate, as in “getting one’s panties in a twist”. Except perhaps this would imply transvestitism being implicated by the questioner.

      Yes, I work in a field where I must ponder such things constantly. I am a bit preoccupied.

      • Posted October 4, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        Imply being implicated. …ergh.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 5, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

        Usually ‘getting ones knickers in a twist’. Either one, panties or knickers, refers to feminine attire (so if used to a male, it has the added insult of implying they’re effeminate. As you noted).

        “Underpants” is the term I’ve always heard used (exclusively male); the shortened version “undies” is exclusively female.

  17. Posted October 4, 2013 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    I’m glad it was a success, and I’m sad I couldn’t be there in person nor afterwards virtually. Perhaps somebody did manage to sneak in a recording that’ll make its way to YouTube?

    b&

    • daveau
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      It’s not like you weren’t invited. And no. ;-)

      • Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

        Oh, believe me — I was sorely tempted. Just wasn’t writ thus in the stars…this time….

        b&

    • gbjames
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      ditto. I wish I had been able to attend.

  18. Hempenstein
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Boots by…?

    • Posted October 4, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Did you just ask, “Who are you wearing?”

      • Hempenstein
        Posted October 4, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

        In one vernacular, I guess. But he usually tells us who made the boots.

        • Posted October 4, 2013 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

          I know, I’m just joking. I pictured a Hollywood red carpet event when i read your comment. The ides of a red carpet outside the Dawkins-Coyne Discussion, with Joan Rivers asking entrants “who are you wearing,” struck me as very funny.

          • Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

            I’m now mildly disappointed that it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever be interviewed by Joan Rivers at such an event. If I ever am, I’ll be sure to have Baihu draped over my shoulders just so I’d have a suitable answer….

            Cheers,

            b&

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted October 5, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

              Joan Rivers : “And who are you wearing?”
              Baihu : “I’m wearing a natty little cat transportation device called Ben, made for me my Mr & Mrs Goren.”

              • Posted October 5, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

                Poifect! I’ll have to remember that….

                b&

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted October 6, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

                The joke started out as a Prince with a frog on his forehead. It is venerable.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted October 8, 2013 at 12:36 am | Permalink

                You mean, not this one?:
                A Pommie (Australian slang for Englishman) walks into a bar with a cane toad sitting on his head. The barman says “Where d’you get that?” and the toad answers “It started as a wart on my ass”.

                I love collecting Pommie jokes. (I’m allowed to, I’m one).

              • Richard Olson
                Posted October 8, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

                I took a liberty with the Pommie joke:

                An Englishman visits the US House of Representatives and is standing in a hallway when John Boehner walks by, a cane toad wearing a tri-corn hat festooned with tea bags sitting on his head. The Englishman says “Where d’you get that?” and Boehner answers “It started as a wart on my ass”.

  19. David Thompson
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Great post. Thank you. I’m going to see him on Monday in San Franciso and this is really whetting my excitement. I’ve had tickets since August!

  20. krzysztof1
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Nice writeup. Wish I could have been there! Also some great shots of your boots! :)

  21. gluonspring
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    “why would you want to dispel their faith”

    Only one reason, really: because they make their faith insufferable to me. If their faith was invisible to me, or even sufficiently muted and benign, I wouldn’t give a rats ass.

    • Posted October 4, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      I think there’s another reason. Because it enables/encourages sloppy thinking. That can have negative effects on society in other areas. It’s good for society, and especially in a democracy, when people think and act rationally.

  22. Posted October 4, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Next time you want to indulge the carnivore in you:

    http://news.yahoo.com/chicago-burger-garnished-communion-wafer-052013819.html

  23. John
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    I will state the obvious and comment on Dawkin’s incredulity at some people’s belief in life after death. He was amused that those beliefs would be comforting to some people on their death bed. However, I think he has no more capability of understanding their folly as they do his certainty. I believe that gap is not navigable. No amount of reason will alter their beliefs. They are incapable of seeing the world without a deity of some kind. I know these kind of people and trying to change their minds with logic is a monumental waste of energy. Focus should be placed problems solvable, particularly legal. After all, some of the faithful might respond to doubt with that old saying “What have I got to lose?” And they truly believe they have lost nothing by their faith. If that isn’t obvious to you, you’re not looking.

    • Sastra
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      I believe that gap is not navigable. No amount of reason will alter their beliefs. They are incapable of seeing the world without a deity of some kind. I know these kind of people and trying to change their minds with logic is a monumental waste of energy.

      You don’t know every one of “these kinds of people.” Theists are not some sort of monolithic undifferentiated block, you know. I’ve heard that They are made up of individuals.

      What would alter your belief that “that gap is not navigable?”

    • gbjames
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      I’m not sure that is true, John. How do you account for the many people who leave religion after engaging with new atheist books, etc.?

    • gluonspring
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      How do you account for the relative loss of religious fervor in Europe, which was religious enough at one time, so I’ve heard, but now is not? Do you attribute that change to an imposition from the outside, by laws say, rather than to the cumulative conversion of individuals?

      What you say is clearly false in the absolute sense, since we know of many religious people who have changed their minds and say, credibly, that it was in response to the evidence, myself included. You could still be right that reason won’t won’t persuade the majority of believers, that examples such as myself are exceptions, but in that case I’d like to hear what your theory is for how those more secular places in the world got that way.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

      I can tell you from personal anecdote, that your statement is false in at least one instance.

  24. Yi
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Was the event video taped? Should we be expecting a Youtube video sometime soon?

    • Yi
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      I just noticed there wasn’t. Too bad.

  25. ladyatheist
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the debriefing. What a bummer that it wasn’t taped.

    I am a little glad I wasn’t there because I would have wanted to ask what would happen at Oxford if it was discovered that a “science” course was really an Intelligent Design course!

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      Given the increasing numbers of state-funded religiously-managed schools in Britain, the topic is coming up with increasing frequency. And each time it comes up, the offending school gets thoroughly slapped down for failing to teach the National Curriculum. So far …
      The barbarians are constantly hammering at the gates, but so far they’re not succeeding in getting through.
      (I may have the details of the education system in England wrong, since there’s a different system here in Scotland, and I don’t have any interaction with that either, so I’m going on 3rd-hand information here>)

  26. roedygr
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    I had a math prof who announced he was very lazy. He would teach two of the three classes a week and give up a quiz on the third. The quiz was always very easy, but it did require staying on top of the material. It was always very easy to understand his lectures because I was up to date. On the final I got something like 99%. The exam seemed ridiculously easy. Part of the key in university teaching is to push students to stay current. One of the tricks I used when teaching was to stop students from taking notes and to pay attention instead, and to work at the board like elementary students so I could monitor how they were understanding.

  27. Kevin
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Too bad no video. Richard would have looked even more awesome if he had boots on too.

  28. JBlilie
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Thanks to both of you very much!

  29. daveau
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    If I had half a brain, we should have organized a WEIT get-together afterward. Oh, well. Next Chicago event. Remind me.

    • Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      Note to Dave: remember to organize a WEIT get-together after the next Chicago event.

      You’re welcome.

      b&

  30. CharlieDarwin
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Painted rocks… “O LORD,won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz” makes a hell of a lot more sense!

    And that turkey- still I’m salivating.

  31. WC
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    It was great, I’m so happy to have had my copy of Why Evolution is True signed. I push it on everyone I know.

    And meeting Richard Dawkins was like meeting my rockstar. I hope my (eventual) daughter will one day also be more excited to meet a scientists than a Kim Kardashian.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      I love hearing this, WC! I’m glad you won one of Jerry’s tickets!

    • CharlieDarwin
      Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

      Intelligent, well balanced kids result from intelligent, well balanced parents. Your future daughter/son will be in no doubt about the ‘value’ of celebrity-idiot-Kardashian worship!

      Great to read your post.

  32. David Duncan
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    “After this, and a beer that contained 7.2% alcohol…”

    Glad you enjoyed your low strength beer. :-)

  33. Jovan Jovanovski
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    My 14-year old daughter, possibly the youngest audience member last night, and I greatly enjoyed the program. Dawkins’s insights and wit made the drive from Detroit worthwhile. Coyne for his part has a promising future as a celebrity interviewer. (I can’t believe we forgot to bring our copy of Why Evolution is True for him to sign. Rats.)

  34. BillyJoe
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    A controversial question:

    If you’ve read all of Richard Dawkins’ books, is it still worthwhile to purchase Jerry Coyne’s book?

    I mean, you would already know why evolution if true wouldn’t you?

    • gbjames
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      Not controversial at all, and an easy answer.

      “Yes”, for sure.

      One doesn’t read these books simply to toggle a switch to the “yes it is true” position. One learns a great deal about how evolution works and how we know what we know.

    • SA Gould
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      “Is it still worthwhile to purchase Jerry Coyne’s book?”

      1)Yes, because if you steal them it creates inventory problems for publisher and booksellers.
      2)Yes, because when Jerry Coyne writes another book on evolution, you can then say, “Well this is (not as good as)(so much more insightful than)his previous book.
      3)Yes, because if it takes *ten books* for you accept evolution, maybe you should try another author along the way that might explain it in a way that’s easier for you.

      Or… how about, “YES,” because I hear they keep finding out *new stuff* about evolution all the time, and sometimes they put it in books.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      Or how about just, “yes, because it’s a damn good read?”

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Uh oh.
      [SELF] Raises hand ; “Guilty!”.
      I’ve never actually brought a copy of WEIT. (Or begged, borrowed or stolen one either, including downloading.) Let alone read it.
      Not because I doubt that I’ll learn anything from it ; I just haven’t got round to it. And I’ve still got [measures] 68cm of books on the “unread” shelf, so I’m trying to adhere to a book-buying moratorium. (Down from over a metre a couple of months ago.) There’s probably a half-metre of Dawkins and SJGould books on the shelf, if I put them together.
      Gould was an excellent writer ; Dawkins still is ; as I can tell from his writing here, Prof.Ceiling Cat is also a good writer, so I do look forward to when I lift my moratorium and actually get the books. But I don’t particularly anticipate learning much new from it.
      I can’t remember if there was a bookstall at the Glasgow Atheists meeting that Prof CC addressed a year or so ago ; or did they sell out their (limited) stock before I got there? Sometimes the temptation is too great.

    • Andy
      Posted October 5, 2013 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

      Yes. For several reasons, with examples including these:
      Obviously no one author can cover every aspect of a subject this vast.
      Two different experts will make different arguments, one of which might resonate with you better.
      Both Jerry’s and Richard’s books are well written and entertaining to read, however much (or little) you might know about the subject.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 6, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      I already knew all about evolution but I bought it. I also know the ending of Hamlet, but I go see various versions of it because I want to see how they handle the play. It’s like this with evolution books. I also bought Richard’s book for the same reason.

      • gbjames
        Posted October 6, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

        To be or not to be? That is the question of evolution!

  35. Posted October 5, 2013 at 1:37 am | Permalink

    A very enjoyable write up, but it appears incomplete. Where are the words shrill, strident and militant?

  36. Garnetstar
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Anyone who thinks Dawkins humorless hasn’t seen his appearances on the Colbert Report. I’ve never seen a guest who was able to hold his own with Colbert, and to score off him with jokes, just well as Colbert does ot his guests. And, to make the audience laugh as much as Colbert does, while saying things of substance. I was impressed.

  37. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted October 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    My first question was “Richard: briefs or boxers?”

    This is a strategy to relax the interviewee and/ or audience?
    My answer, after a couple of seconds, would have been that though both are fairly objectionable, at least lawyers do have some uses and are less likely to hit you than pugilists.


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