Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Think Week off to a good start

Oxford Think Week 2012 got off to a good start last night, with an event called 'In Conversation with Richard Dawkins'.  The other gentleman in the conversation was Benjamin Krishna, Chair of Oxford Atheists, Secularists and Humanists and student at Oxford University.  Oxford Town Hall was nearly filled to capacity, with an audience of about 600 people - which was said to be a larger audience than for any of the events in a week of meetings by the Oxford University Christian Union recently.

Richard Dawkins and Ben Krishna

Here are a few highlights - by no means intended to be a full transcript of the event, but just some things that I liked.

Naturally the recent results of the Isos Mori poll, (see here and here), sponsored by the RDFRS, were first on the agenda.  Much of the discussion mirrored the conversations that many people in UK will have heard on radio and TV recently.  Dawkins mentioned that most vicars and bishops were nice people who you might like to have tea with.  He said "I have only met one nasty bishop . . . quite recently actually" presumably in reference to his debate with Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali on BBC's Newsnight programme last Tuesday.

He recommended a new book by Steven Pinker, called "The Better Angels of our Nature" which sets out to demonstrate that the past was a much nastier time than the present. 

He also suggested that it would be possible to date almost any book written in the last century to the nearest decade simply by analysing the morals contained in it.  These morals come from somewhere complicated, and it is not fair to think of humans as intrinsically good or bad.  However, christianity is very good at assuming that we are intrinsically sinful

Speaking about his latest book Dawkins said that The Magic of Reality is not an atheist book - but if you read between the lines and you are a child of some intelligence you might begin to get the message.

When one of the audience questions went on longer than welcome - Dawkins replied politely "Thank you.  There's quite a lot there." and then he went on to answer the salient points.

Asked about whether his outspoken views on the burqa were helpful or not, he answered that he personally had a visceral hatred of it, and that it was abusive to women.  He said that he refused to hold back from criticising merely for fear of being branded islamophobic.

Another questioner said that he had two questions, and when asked by the chairman to choose just one of them he asked it.   Dawkins said "Oh no! Not free will! What is your other question?" which brought a round of applause. 

A good evening!  Maybe this has given you a taste of what it was like to be in the audience.  When the video is released - as I am sure it will be - I will post a link here.


Guy who asked about free will said...


When googling Dawkins' views on free will after the event, I came across this^. It is Richard Dawkins on free will in a recent interview, might have asked my other question if I'd already seen this. 00:37 is particularly interesting.

I and many others thought it was a pretty poor evening, with Dawkins doing little else other than paraphrasing the God Delusion (word for word at some points) and displaying a pretty poor grasp of Christianity and philosophy in general.

Plasma Engineer said...

I can see what you mean. I think everyone was hoping for a well known person in the other chair. Ben did pretty well of course but he was not up to the standard of last year's guest, A C Grayling.

As for Dawkins displaying a poor grasp of christianity - there I have to disagree with you completely! I think he demonstrated perfectly that almost all who call themselves christian have a much poorer grasp of their religion. You sir,are simply using the shifting sands of christianity to justify a criticism of a man who has thought this all through very carefully.

You might not agree with Dawkins, but I suggest it is only because he helps you to challenge your own beliefs.