Attendees of Dawkins lecture ‘naturally selected’, hundreds turned away

Richard Dawkins, addressing a packed house Thursday, July 15. Photo by Jeremia Schrock/Sun Star.

By Heather Bryant

Sun Star Reporter

Richard Dawkins, famous biologist, atheist and author made his visit to Alaska to speak at UAF, an event causing controversy long before it happened. The UAF Socratic Society invited Dawkins, who waived his speaking fee.  Dawkins’ airfare and accommodations were entirely paid for by the Richard Dawkins Foundation.

Dawkins has published many books and traveled extensively speaking about religion and science. He established the Richard Dawkins Foundation in order to encourage critical thinking, a concept he feels religion tries to repress.

The speech, scheduled at 7 p.m., had already drawn huge lines by 6 p.m. The evening started with an introduction by Eduardo Wilner, who spoke of Dawkins’ published books.

“The Selfish Gene was published in 1976, and sold over a million copies. Harry Potter and the Bible sold more, but both of those are works of fiction,” said Wilner.

Despite the controversy it was a friendly crowd, with many of Dawkins’ opinions and comments met by an audience nodding and laughing. The only sign of dissent was a table outside where Karl Sapp, of the Campus Bible Ministries, handed out a pamphlet titled “Destroying the Delusions.” Mike Sapp, also handing out the pamphlets, said that, “[they] believe the Bible cover to cover.”

The presentation “Is Religion Good for Nothing?” covered Dawkins’ theories of why religion is a natural phenomenon and how it occurs. His theories include how children are hard-wired to believe what they are told by those older than themselves, most usually their parents.

“Teaching children they are going to hell is one of the most disgusting types of child abuse I can imagine,” said Dawkins to the crowd, prompting a round of applause from the audience.

Even after the presentation ended, much of the crowd remained to watch the question-and-answer portion. At least twenty people lined up with questions; however, time ran out before all could be asked. Taking Dawkins’ lecture to heart, one questioner joked he was “unsure who to thank” that Dawkins decided to come to UAF.

For a presentation that seemed to generate much audience approval, not all were satisfied with the style of presentation.

“I appreciated his discussion, but I wish he was a little more angry about it, like he is in his writing. When he speaks in public, he’s a lot mellower and he doesn’t try to start fights. When he’s writing, he’ll piss off whoever he wants to, which is nice,” said attendee Grant Wright.

Marmian Grimes, public relations officer with UAF, estimated that 1,100 people attended the event either in the Davis Concert Hall or in overflow rooms in the Gruening building. Even with the extra rooms, people were still being turned away for lack of space. The event was also webcast, with around 200 hits to the site.

“We got here 25 minutes early and there was no room. So we headed over to Gruening. After they got the audio and visual up, I only caught about ten minutes of it,” said attendee David Spencer. “I am looking forward to getting a couple of books signed. I have the God Delusion and the Selfish Gene.”

CORRECTION: The article originally stated that Richard Dawkins’ air and hotel fare were paid for by the College of Liberal Arts.  This was inaccurate.  The article has been corrected and as editor I apologize for the mistake that I made.

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9 Responses

  1. John says:

    I can’t wait to see a video of this- if you find it online somewhere or it is released please post it

  2. joy breeze says:

    What a shame that Sarah Palin didn’t have the benefit of a scientific education!

  3. Sandman says:

    Nice comment Joy but a little inaccurate: it should just say

    What a shame that Sarah Palin didn’t have the benefit of an education!

    Heres a little tip: Try NOT voting for people who talk to, and take advice from, their invisible freind in the sky or still believes in witches.

    That way your state may NOT be the laughing stock of the States and rest of the world.

    For us out here in the real world its nice to know there are at least 1100 sane people in Alaska.

  4. Henric (The Netherlands) says:

    Very refreshing sounds from this big nation where not a single politician would dare to declare that he/she is an atheïst or agnost….

  5. evidenceofabsence says:

    That’s a little unkind Sandman. There are several other US States who would vie for the title of laughing stock. Then there are a lot of other countries who have Palin equivalents actually ruling them.

    Ahmadinejad comes to mind.

    Still, it is very heartening that so many people came to and enjoyed Dawkins’ talk. Even they were probably surprised. When a particular viewpoint is so dominant, people who disagree tend just to keep quiet.

  6. Quidam says:

    Alaska is among the LEAST religious states in the USA, Palin notwithstanding.

    #1 for lowest church attendance
    #2 for fewest people for whom God is important in their lives
    #3 for least amount of praying
    #5 for not believing in god

    http://pewforum.org/How-Religious-Is-Your-State-.aspx

  7. Duff says:

    Having read all of Richard Dawkins’ books, I am constantly perplexed when I hear people call him strident and harsh. He writes exactly as he speaks; calmly, clearly, concisely and very carefully. Methinks those who criticize his stridency have other issues. And those are their personal issues, not Dawkins’ issues.

  8. Richard Wyndham says:

    It never ceases to amaze me that allegedly scientifically educated men and women eg doctors etc can accept the clearly ludicrous accounts of life and the universe as propounded by religions. And, eg, how can anyone believe that a priest muttering at a piece of bread can produce anything but a muttered-at-piece of bread.
    Prof Dawkins is British, of course, and there ore a British National Treasure but it is nice to see our cousins have taken him to their hearts as well.
    Way to go,US..
    Richard

  9. Richard Wyndham says:

    It never ceases to amaze me that allegedly scientifically educated men and women eg doctors etc can accept the clearly ludicrous accounts of life and the universe as propounded by religions. And, eg, how can anyone believe that a priest muttering at a piece of bread can produce anything but a muttered-at-piece of bread.
    Prof Dawkins is British, of course, and therefore a British National Treasure but it is nice to see our cousins have taken him to their hearts as well.
    Way to go,US..
    Richard

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