Freedom to Hear Richard Dawkins

Going to a public event where people on the sidelines shout into megaphones and flash signs to .. do what? In fact, the protest is almost the point – to not hear a speech by Richard Dawkins.  About 5,000 people have come to downtown San Diego’s Golden Hall, middle agers and up with a surprising number of twenty-somethings. Groups inside represent atheists, freethinkers, conscience causes, and the Atheist Party in this election year. On screen PowerPoint bon mots roll by, put up by the show organizers “Don’t pray in my school, and I won’t think in your church,” “God? lol” stuff like that. Over the excellent PA comes “Imagine” – part of, I guess – the white man’s atheist playlist. Definitely missing “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

Crowd at Golden Hall listening to Richard Dawkins

Alternative thinkers 2012-Apr-6-San-Diego

After learned speakers talk about the devolution of American values caused by religion (one of Edward Gibbon’s main conclusions in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire pub. 1776), I hold my wife’s hand because this is a rare event. On stage is Sean Faircloth, a politician. Refreshing words, but heavy-handed enough for an impatient older man to shout some long message, the gist of which is “I came to hear Richard Dawkins speak.” The crowd does not like their freedom to hear abridged by the protestor. Sean gives polite thanks for coming tonight. After ten political points he hands off to RD.

Richard starts in his firm British voice with some joke about pro-life Republican believers. Life begins at conception, but sadly for them, ends at birth. The speech is mainly about the intelligence behind intelligent design by comparing natural with rational selection. He is chock-full of ideas, illustrated in PowerPoint. Among the many: intelligent design by adaptive selection appears to be the only mechanism in the universe we know nature uses so far; rational selection is easier. Then a deep analysis of the scope of religious evolution – the oddness of commandments, Saint Paul’s redemption of sins policy, Abraham’s immorality to slay his son (Is it moral to listen unquestioning to anyone? Is it moral to kill on command? Is it moral to kill one’s own son? ) Lots of moral morsels. Then about forty minutes into it, after his moral imperative: mind your own business, he dives into why religion appears to be popular – a counter-poll shows people mask their fears of appearing unpopular when asked if they are Christian, the want to believe in supernatural things having a therapeutic effect on people with psychosomatic problems. “I have been talking long enough.” The slide show ends without any finish or closing remark.

QA is very interesting, points out my wife at dinner over my commemorative entree. The first questioner starts out softly and then rolls into a protest, a guy testifies about Jesus’s love for Richard Dawkins, and does he oppose his lamb who died for him. Oh God. A few good replies come to mind. Oh, you Mormons are all alike. Ah, Love? But Dawkins is polite saying he has already answered and disengages after a few shakes of his proverbial foot. Must be why I ordered grilled lamb for dinner tonight. Now that’s a lamb to love.

Question two is also from a theist with other ancient axes to grind. Then a guy who won’t quit, invites him to be on his radio show. Dawkins masterfully answers saying he refuses to debate issues that simply do not need debating (creationism). Then a your-books-changed-my-life fan quests: “To arrive at your profound views, did you take hallucinogens?” Answer: “Sadly I did not.” A book signing on stage shows he is perspiring and worn. He cannot see the 500 people lined up. All his books are sold out.

Does the Freedom of Speech necessarily imply the Freedom to Hear?

Pales By Comparison

Wait, let’s see that VP debate transcript. Did Sarah Palin really say the Taliban are working with us in Iraq? No it was Maliki and Talabani, ok, no gaffe. But with the many slips in her speaking, you never knew if she knew what she was talking about, as was clear in the Couric interview. As Kathleen Parker puts it

“Before we relax into giddiness or cynicism, however, it’s important to consider that a debate differs from an interview in significant ways. A debate is a point-counterpoint exercise that allows little opportunity for probing or follow-up. An interview requires that a candidate explain an idea in depth and offer specifics.”

Amid the betcha’s and eye wink connectives, Palin largely followed Biden’s topical lead, even though she had many opportunities to coherently advance the subject or even once seize the first response to the moderator. When confronted or perhaps not understanding difficult questions, she took the conversation into oddly irrelevant areas to what the audience was focusing on and waiting for her counter punch. For example when Gwen asked about policy on mortgage and bankruptcy, Joe gave a perfectly fine answer. Sarah’s turn. “I want to talk about, again, my record on energy policy”. For the audience, an unsatisfying comeback and repeating herself again already.
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