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