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.”
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?