October 12th, 2009 By Kate Williams | News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Live from Wordstock: Richard Dawkins

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3 pm Saturday, Oct. 10 at the Oregon Convention Center:

Richard Dawkins fans are a fervent bunch.

A bit too fervent.

The unusually punctual crowd enveloped the space outside the room in which he hid, signing books for what must have been several hours. While the Wordstock volunteers and staff seemed utterly perplexed at the task of crowd control, the fans in line couldn't care less about the chaos. They were going to get to see Dawkins. In the flesh. You could feel the tremors of excitement coursing through the crowd as they anxiously awaited 3 pm.

As we entered the room, several brave souls ran up to the podium to shake the man's hand, sometimes saying, "Thanks," sometimes saying, "It's a pleasure to meet you" and many times saying nothing at all. Dawkins carried an expression of obligatory bemusement throughout the entire affair. I actually started to feel sorry for him when audience members ran up to the front and asked him to smile for the camera.
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The majority of the fans, however, sat quietly in their seats, reading as many pages of their signed copy of The Greatest Show on Earth as possible. They're readers, I get that, but, as Dawkins himself pointed out before his reading, it's a bit awkward to read along with a presenter. He asked everyone to place their books under their seats before he began.

Okay, you may be thinking, this doesn't sound too ridiculous. Photos and handshakes are normal for celebrities. Big deal.

Perhaps–however, the enthusiasm and reverence for a man preaching against worship of a different book, is a bit too ironic for my taste.

Maybe I should back up. Dawkins's new book is both a primer on evolutionary biology–a layman's 21st century version of On the Origin of Species, if you will–and a corrosive attack on fundamentalism and creationism. Dawkins speaks of creationists as the enemy–they brainwash children, manipulate the government and, above all, are just plain wrong. He creates a category of people who we, as educated, rational and science-minded liberals, should both fear and destroy. Anti-religionists unite!

Sounds a bit ... fundamentalist.

The crowd yesterday didn't think so, though. From their giggles at creation museums to their cheers at jokes—"A pregnant creationist asks how evolution could explain the growth of a single cell to a human being and the scientist responds, 'You did it yourself in only 9 months,' "—these fans jump onto the Dawkins bandwagon without stopping to consider the cultural consequences of forming such antagonistic relationships with a group of people that, as much as they would like it, aren't going anywhere. Science may be right, but creationists are people, too.

I was hoping, in vain, that in a room full of very smart and so-called open minded Portlanders someone would at least ask the question, "What about dialogue?" No such luck. Dawkins's snark seems to have won out.
 
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