Background Probability

The Agnostic Popular Front has moved to its new home at Skeptic Ink, and will henceforth be known as Background Probability. Despite the relocation and rebranding, we will continue to spew the same low-fidelity high-quality bullshit that you've come to expect.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Richard Dawkins at OU

Richard Dawkins demonstrates the proper approach to climbing
 'Mount Improbable' to a roomful of British youngsters.

Went to see Dr. Dawkins last night at OU, with a friend from Edmond.  The lecture was mostly about how genes have unconsciously engineered living beings to pursue purposes which are ultimately beneficial to the genes ancient 'purpose' which is of course to make more copies of themselves.  The lecture in and of itself was mostly straightforward mainstream biology, with a few especially interesting examples thrown in as slides.  Without knowing about the speakers' background as an outspoken proponent of freethinking as opposed to indoctrination, one would have had some trouble understanding why a biology professor, even one with such a mellifluous voice and well-prepared slides, could manage to pack out a fair-to-middling-sized athletic arena.  

Which brings me to the crowd.  Where exactly did these people come from and why do they seem so eager to clap whenever the speaker makes a witty jab at faith-based thinking?  Judging from the few with whom I spoke personally, they came from universities throughout Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, really just about everywhere within driving distance.

In his opening remarks, prior to the lecture proper, the good Dr. roundly ridiculed certain local politicians, while making it clear that he understood that quite a few of us are not reactionary regressionists, we just happen to live here.  The crowd went absolutely apeshit crazy, rock-and-roll arena style.  I've occasionally seen people get this excited in the context of a large field house, but never in the absence of some sort of playoffs.  Really, it felt a more like a mega-church in the middle of a revival sermon than a gathering of science-minded people for a lecture on purposiveness and intention as evolutionary adaptations.

In truth, the experience was a bit of both.  I got the feeling that most of the people there were at least passingly familiar with the details of evolutionary biology, even the gene-centered selective theories popularized by Dawkins, but they came mostly for the sense of solidarity engendered by filling a room entirely with people who prefer scientific free inquiry to faith-based indoctrination.  This was especially noticeable whenever Dawkins made his characteristically biting remarks condemning those who hope to inject religious dogma into science classrooms.  From the response, you'd expect the whole room was filled with frustrated young grad students, biology post-docs, and maybe a couple hundred of those scheming secular humanists that I keep hearing about on the John Birch website.

I still think Dawkins is a bit naive about the propriety of addressing metaphysical arguments with materialistic premises, but for all that, he proved a very persuasive and entertaining speaker.  Perhaps Matt Stone and Trey Parker were a little too hard on him, after all.

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