I had been having thoughts regarding the larger context of Richard Dawkins‘ visit to the University of Minnesota (in which he gave this talk), and the socio-political context of this visit, but had not decided if I would write about them. Then I read, at Pharyngula (the other Minnesota scienceblogs.com blog – you probably have not heard of it, but it’s pretty good) this post: Richard Dawkins: banned in Oklahoma? Indeed, a legislator of that wayward state is trying to ban the man from the U. As if.
What I was thinking about requires some historical background regarding Dawkins’ visit.
Some time back a discussion began among people here at the U, including the student atheist group CASH, myself, and a few other people. At that time, there was no prospect of getting Dawkins, or a least, little more than a hope, and to investigate one possibility, I spoke to top people at the College of Continuing Education, which brings in a lot of outside speaker. For instance, the CCE has a series called “Great Conversations” which has had Jared Diamond, Desmond Tutu, and others on stage. The idea with Great Conversations is that a U faculty person and a famous mucky-muck visitor sit around on comfy chairs on a stage with four thousand people watching, and they have a conversation. It actually workes out quite well (at least the one’s I’ve attended).
So I approached the people in charge at the CCE about Dawkins, and had a “great conversation” about the idea of having Dawkins visit. I was wondering in advance if the whole Godless Atheist thing would be an issue, or what. I also intended to mention that PZ Myers should be the faculty member talking to him. With Crackergate still echoing in the halls of this little corner or Academia, and PZ not being a faculty member on this campus, I wondered how that would go.
And I was quite surprised. It went something like this:
“So, what would you think about the idea of having Richard Dawkins for a Great Conversation. Or something?”
“Right Richard Dawkins. The Brit. The Selfish Gene, The God Delusion, and everything in between. ”
“Oh, right, Dawkins! That would be great!”
“You know, the ideal faculty member to do this with him is PZ Myers.”
“Right. PZ Myers. Biologist, on the Morris campus. The blogger. Pharyngula. Famous atheist. You know, that dust-up with the Eucharist and everything?”
“Oh right, PZ Myers! That would be great!”
“So, can we do this for some time around Darwin’s 200th birthday?”
“Darwin’s 200th birthday?”
“Right. Darwin’s 200th birthday is in February of this year. Big celebrations planned. This could be a nice fit.”
“Too bad. We run our scheduling out a year or more. Can’t do it this year. Maybe next year, though!”
Now, the cynical among you will assume that the people I was talking to knew all along that they could say no at the end of this conversation, but this is simply not the case. Even though the reality of Dawkins’ visit is that it was organized by semi-subversive highly organized atheists, with a very real and rather proud (appropriately so) sense that they were being semi-subversive, the truth is that the higher level people at least at the U’s CCE were not fazed one bit by the prospect of any controversy arising from having Dawkins as part of their show-case program.
We could have done this as a normal, day to day, routine big deal event at the University of Minnesota, a main stream thing. Sure, we may have had a legislature or two trying to introduce a bill to have the man tarred and feathered, but such a reaction would not get much farther than the blogosphere. And it probably won’t in Oklahoma, either.