Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dr. Dawkins comes to Madison


There were two lectures - a private lecture and a public lecture.

I went to both. AHA turned up about half an hour early for the lecture, and I nearly giggled when I saw Dr. Dawkins, who is a rather short man but possibly the most cantankerous person you will ever meet, and he signed my book.

Chris and I, notably, showed up in Scarlet Letter t-shirts and we got in the first two questions:

I asked a question about neurotheology. Dr. Dawkins didn't seem to be familiar at all with the terms and explained to the audience what the God helmet experiment was, but he didn't answer the question. (Chris, Karl, please correct me if I'm wrong - I probably didn't hear the tail end of the question, as I can get slightly ADD sometimes if someone rambles on for more than a couple minutes.)

Chris asked a question about a Kantian characteristic in Dawkins' book The God Delusion, which sad to say I have not read yet partially because I think I've heard all the arguments and, frankly, I agree with Dawkins on virtually everything he says. I am not familiar with Kant, so go to Chris's blog if you want to know more about this.

Ally asked a question about the His Dark Materials series of books by Philip Pullman, which is notable for its anti-religion, particularly anti-Catholic, motif. Dawkins said he did not, in fact, think the book was atheist, but rather anti-religion, and apparently has read the whole series. (The movie was apparently more explicitly anti-religion than the book.)

Someone asked a question about the Catholics' new set of deadly sins, which include such apparent vagaries as pollution, genetic engineering, and contraception. (Ratzinger is a fucking joke!) Dr. Dawkins said something along the lines of the fact that human genetics is certainly something to pay attention to ethical stuff about, but that Ratzinger is in fact a dogmatic asshole.

Someone asked a question about the fallacy from human imagination. Obviously, not enough people understand that people are idiots and cannot perceive everything.

I also pissed off Dawkins (which mortified me, as I didn't know whether his response was humorous or serious) when asking him about his appearance in South Park and his erstwhile marriage to Janet Garrison, who he labeled a 'bald transvestite'. (I was a little bit concerned about the fact that he used the term 'bugger' to describe the act of anal sex, but he isn't homophobic, to my knowledge. Dawkins is an obstinate old Englishman.) The point of the question was to ask him about whether he thought anything might trigger a schism in atheists down the road.

"Define satire!"
"[South Park] is a poorly animated, poorly drawn, poorly written, no-good two-bit excuse for a show!"
"You want good satire? Do you know about Monty Python's Life of Brian?"
Parker, Stone, you have been warned.

Karl wishes he had a tape recorder. Damn you, Karl. (I just about died.)

The public lecture was awesome. AHA made an amazing 85 bucks. Dawkins talked about the fact that you can't put a label on a child, about the fact that there are many fallacies which religious people use to attempt to back up their notions, and that religion is destructive. I am sure anyone sitting around me saw me cringe when the picture of female genital mutilation was up on screen.

Marcus Brigstocke's rant about the Abrahamic religions was awesome:

"I'd like to start this week with a request, and this one goes out to the followers of the three Abrahamic religions: the Muslims, Christians, and Jews. It's just a little thing, really, but do you think that when you've finished smashing up the world and blowing each other to bits and demanding special privileges while you do it, do you think that maybe the rest of us could sort of have our planet back? I wouldn't ask, but I'm starting to think that there must be something written in the special books that each of you so enjoy referring to that it's okay to behave like special, petulant, pugnacious pricks.

Forgive the alliteration, but your persistent, power-mad punch-ups are pissing me off. It's mainly the extremists obviously, but not exclusively. It's a lot of 'main-streamers' as well. Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about.

Muslims: listen up my bearded and veily friends! Calm down, okay? Stop blowing stuff up. Not everything that said about you is an attack on the prophet Mohammed and Allah that needs to end in the infidel being destroyed. Have a cup of tea, put on a Cat Stevens record, sit down and chill out. I mean seriously, what's wrong with a strongly-worded letter to The Times?

Christians: you and your churches don't get to be millionaires while other people have nothing at all. They're your bloody rules; either stick to them or abandon the faith. And stop persecuting and killing people you judge to be immoral. Oh, and stop pretending you're celibate -- it's a cover-up for being a gay or a nonce. Right, that's two ticked off.

Jews! I know you're god's 'Chosen People' and the rest of us are just whatever, but when Israel behaves like a violent, psychopathic bully and someone mentions it that doesn't make them anti-semitic. And for the record, your troubled history is not a license to act with impunity now.

Please don't kill us, seriously. As far as I'm concerned this is the only chance we get. When we die it's all over - there's no virgins and pearly gates waiting for us, no big, beardy man saying: [in deep, echoing voice and upper class accent] "Right, so how do you think that went, then? Killed a lot of people in my name I see. Not really what I had in mind. Um, tell you what, have another go as a worm."

I am going to be more brutally honest and be less 'respectful' of other people's views and stop caring about how they feel about their deeply-held religious beliefs being attacked - they attack my atheism all the time; I have the right to attack their Christianity or their Judaism or their Islam or their Hinduism or their Buddhism (I know they're full of shit anyway). Religion should be examined as thoroughly as scientific hypotheses are. People can have their perspectives, but I like to rip perspectives apart.

Bugger what everyone else thinks.

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