Richard Dawkins at the Institute of Education

Last night we went to see Richard Dawkins speaking at the Institute of Education. It wasn’t the most organised lecture I’ve ever attended and due to my wife’s knowledge of the building we accidently found ourselves in the foyer of the hall, past any ticket checks before I had picked up our tickets. I actually had to go back out past the people checking tickets in order to collect our tickets. And then for some reason the queue that we were quite near the end of suddenly turned around so that we were very near the front, so when the doors opened we managed to get far better seats than we really should have.

The lecture itself took the form of readings from The God Delusion. Dawkins alternated with his wife, Lalla Ward (an extra treat for any Doctor Who fans in the audience), in reading extracts from the book. Obviously an hour’s reading can only touch on a few topics from the book, but I was slightly disappointed that Dawkins chose not to include extracts from chapter four as this is the real core of the book. It’s the chapter that attempts to prove the nonexistance (or, at least, the improbability) of god. But that’s also the most technical and complex chapter of the book so perhaps it’s understandable that it was omitted.

The sections that were included certainly gave an interesting taste of the contents of the book. In particular the section that ridiculed the idea that the god of the old testament could be used as a moral guide had the audience laughing out loud.

The readings were followed by a question and answer session. Sadly as the evening had started late and the readings had overrun, this was necessarily quite short. Given the numbers of hands that were in the air, I suspect that many of us would have been happy to sit there talking all night.

I don’t think many people were “converted”. A straw poll at the start of the evening showed that the vast majority of the audience already classified themselves as atheists. This is, of course, the problem with books like this. To a very large extent Dawkins will be reaching people who already share his beliefs. But that doesn’t make it a waste of time. I haven’t finished the book yet, but I’ve already got a lot of useful information out of it. It has galvanised me into wanting to do something useful in the fight against Bronze Age superstition and it has crystalised a lot of good arguments for me to use in discussions with religious people.

If Dawkins’ God Delusion tour comes to your town then I strongly recommend that you go to see him. If not, then I recommend you read the book anyway.

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