Saturday 30 October 2010

Richard Dawkins at TAM London 2010

DSC_1772w_RichardDawkinsFor many at TAM London 2010 the appearance of Richard Dawkins is likely to have been a big draw. He was scheduled to speak at last year's inaugural TAM London, but pulled out — presumably due to a clash with his US book tour.

As with Sue Blackmore I'd heard Richard Dawkins speak in person on two previous occasions — at Conway Hall in June 2009 as part of the Darwin, Humanism and Science one-day conference, and more recently at the Intelligence Squared debate "Atheism is the New Fundamentalism" at Wellington College in Crowthorne, Berkshire. I've also seen many videos and heard many radio programmes on which Dawkins has featured, so I was especially pleased to hear him deliver a talk I'd not previously heard.

DSC_1776w_RichardDawkinsHe's proposing that the teaching of evolution can serve as an all-round education in the same way that the teaching of classics has been traditionally considered as an education fit for any profession. An understanding of evolution encompasses many fields and imparts a knowledge of humanity's place in the living world, and relative to the universe as a whole. That's the gist, but the thesis was closely argued — and illustrated — with typical Dawkins clarity and rigour. I didn't take notes, so I'll refer you to someone who apparently did. The Sceptical Banter blog details Dawkins' argument and provides plenty of links to background material. The lecture was enlightening, with much content, and I'd really like to hear it again. If the past is anything to go by, I think that's quite likely to happen.

DSC_1780w_RichardDawkinsDSC_1777w_RichardDawkinsIn contrast to Sue Blackmore's lively talk this was a relatively subdued lecture, with Dawkins' passion for his subject seeming a touch more low-key than usual. Perhaps this was the first time he had delivered this particular talk and was taking it slower than normal (which for Dawkins is pretty slow anyway), testing it out. The photographs accurately suggest that there were few laughs, and there was no Q&A session after.

Given the disappointing news that broke a few days after TAM London, Professor Dawkins may have had other matters weighing on his mind.