Richard Dawkins: High Priest of Atheism

My GF (I can call her that now) Deborah and I road tripped on up to Rochester MN last night to attend a little presentation by none other than Sir Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist, atheist, and naysayer of religion.

I don’t think he is a SIR, actually. I just added that for emphasis. I doubt anyone would knight Dawkins, nor would he much care for the moniker, God Save the Queen and all that…

I left work about 1:15 in the afternoon on Tuesday 6/9/15 and met Deborah at my house shortly thereafter. I reheated us a couple bowls of the delicious, healthy stir fry I had cooked up the night before. We ate and then hit the road.

We took her car, a fancy schmancy pants Audi A4. It’s a potent machine. The drive was uneventful, except for the fact that rural Minnesota along I-90 has ridiculously few rest stops. The exit ramps there are an untapped market for gas stations, restaurants, and motels (Note to self).

We ended up stopping at an Amish place to rest and refresh. I bought a small bag of trail mix as a car snack, though I didn’t end up eating any of it until the next day when we drove home.

We rolled into Rochester about 6 pm and found our way to the Super 8 motel where we would spend the night, after the Dawkins seminar. We changed into some socializing clothes in the motel room and then headed for the Mayo Civic Center downtown.

Rochester, from what we saw, is a fairly economically depressed town. I always forget that I am sheltered by the wealthy elitist liberalism of Madison WI.

On the bright side, evening parking is free in the downtown parking ramps of Rochester and we parked in one across from the Civic Center. It was about 6:45 by this time and the Dawkins presentation was to start about 7 PM.

Although the line at the concessions stand inside the Civic Center was a bit long, Deborah and I waited in it to secure some refreshments. I ordered a couple of Schell’s (MN Brewery) Firebrick beers, so I wouldn’t have to come back to the line to get a second one. Deborah ordered a wine and a water.

We took our seats, in the balcony, with impeccable timing. No sooner had we seated ourselves when the lights went down and the thing started.

Most of the show was a dialog between Dawkins and actress Julia Sweeney, an “openly secular” atheist actress (you know her from old Saturday Night Live episodes, most likely). Sweeney was playing the Devil’s Advocate (pun intended), arguing that religion has some redeeming features and a cultural importance for people. Dawkins partially agreed with her, but argued in favor of abandoning religion in favor of science and truth. He did concur that one could be an atheist within a particular religion, if the person was in the religion mainly for socio-cultural reasons (friends, family, and community in the same religion), not faith reasons. Because it is hard to give up on friends, family, and community, even if they are part of a group that worships a mythical deity and a bunch of so called prophets from the 1st century who were largely illiterate and lived in mud huts.

I always want there to be more discussion of evolution and science at these things, instead of just a lambasting of religion, since the latter is mostly just “preaching to the choir” and the science is way more fascinating and educational. But I am a biology guy, so I am biased.

I would be content with examples from science to support why people should abandon religion and accept science and evolution as their guiding principles. The closest Dawkins and Sweeney got to this was when they discussed the idea that science is not designed to PROVE anything, but rather to DISPROVE things. The closest science can come to proof is repeatedly failing to disprove hypotheses and theories with ongoing experimentation. I have always held that to be true. Dawkins also touched on the idea of intermediate species, proposing the thought experiment that if all intermediate species were alive today (had not gone extinct), then there would be a continuous line of individuals between humans and chimps, and each individual would be more or less indistinguishable from it’s neighbor, even though the individuals at the ends of the line would be very different. True, but not particularly compelling.

It was what it was.

There was a short Q&A after the talk and after it ended, we all filed out into the street. The Civic Center auditorium was filled almost to capacity with people, which was nice to see.

On the way out of the Civic Center, I asked a fellow if he was from town, and discovering that he was, I asked what would be a good place to go eat. He recommended a place about three blocks away, but we ended up going to a brew pub called Grand Rounds Brewery (I just realized this name probably stems from some reference to the Mayo Clinic) across the street from the recommended establishment. It was an enjoyable dinner and I got a sampler tray of the beers they brewed on site. Deborah liked the coconut flavored ones. I liked most of them.

We walked back to the parking deck and drove back to the motel. Notwithstanding a noisy and dysfuynctional air conditioner in the room, I slept pretty well. Deborah didn’t feel well and slept fitfully.

In the morning, we checked out and went for breakfast at the Denny’s next door to the motel, before cruising home to Madison at a leisurely pace. It was a fun time and also something of a “test” of mine and Deborah’s embryonic relationship. If you can survive a 7 hour road trip with a significant other, that’s a major milestone. We did more than great. It was Deborah, a self-described “atheist Jew,” who invited me to the Dawkins thing in the first place, earning her major brownie points.

That’s about all. I might go to another atheistic social tonight. The Madison Skeptics group, albeit a fairly dry bunch, are getting together to discuss science vs religion. Honestly, it’s another case of “I have heard it all before.” So I might just go to dinner with Deborah and then work on some music.

I am gearing up for a big EDDIE ATE DYNAMITE road trip this weekend. The band is playing at the Steel Bridge Original Music Fest in Sturgeon Bay WI on Friday night and we will probably stay through Saturday to hear some more music. We have lodging arranged for both Friday and Saturday nights. I hope the weather cooperates. I should get back around noon on Sunday and then I am going to the new Jurassic Park movie with Deborah and her family, at which I will meet her son for the first time. I already met her parents and if you have been following along, you know we hit it off pretty well.


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