The Controversy of Richard Dawkins. Rather routine, don't you think?

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 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.

By the way, that was it for my involvement in this talk ... I put out some feelers, and that's all. This major success happened because of the work of a lot of other people, whom we appreciate.

More like this

One of the most common comments I get from people: I dont understand why youre going to school in Oklahoma. Srsly. Oklahoma? Why didnt you got to UCSF or Harvard or something? Oklahoma?? Well, there are lots of reasons why I like it here. This is one of those reasons: In response, OU President…
Oooooo-oh!-klahoma where the wind goes whistling 'twixt the ears! Richard Dawkins, having visited Scibling Ed Brayton in Michigan, is on his way to Oklahoma, where Scibling ERV is skipping the event (she prefers to watch Casey Luskin and John "hard for Hitler" West, inexplicably). And if state…
It is nice to know that things are working so smoothly over in Oklahoma that Representative Todd Thomsen has the free time to propose a resolution (HR 1015) opposing the invitation to Richard Dawkins to speak on campus; encouraging the University of Oklahoma to engage in a certain discussion of…
Get out and celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the most important scientists of all time, Charles Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of one of the most important books in biology, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of…

Considering that no one outside of the UM system or western Minnesota was even aware that there was a university campus in Morris (or even a place called Morris) before PZ became an international cause celebre, I can't imagine that the university administration would be anything but pleased to milk that for all it's worth.

I always wondered if applications to UMM increased after the Expelled-from-Expelled and Eucharist incidents.

(Also, I think it would be really cool to see the U's CCE phased. I'm pretty sure they would turn invisible in polarized light. Oh, and they could walk through walls and stuff.)

Thanks John. And no, they also were not phased.

Oh, and there's a couple of programs at the CCE that stand head and shoulders above most of the U's programs. Don't be so quick to close it down. HP: I suspect you are an alum from the 1970s or so, yes?

One of the nice things about UM-Morris that I noted when my son was looking at colleges was that it would pay for the trip for a kid who was interested in attending though not for the parents. If I recall correctly, it was only Morris and the Twin Cities campus that tried to entice my son to head west from Wisconsin.

By freelunch (not verified) on 06 Mar 2009 #permalink

Greg: Nope, not an alum. I have no brief with the CCE; I just now picked up the acronym from your post. I was having fun with the idea of people being "phased," which I suppose in retrospect you might consider fun at your expense (homophone trouble, eh?), but then I got to giggling and typing at the same time, without a thought in my head or a care in the world for how my words might be received. Oh, fiddle-dee-dee!

Oh, goodness. By "brief" above, I assume I mean "beef," or some other word that might remotely make sense in that context. Who knows? I don't even have homophones as an excuse. Feel free to engage in underpants-related humor at my expense.

(Maybe I should be pseudonymous so nobody knows who I am.)

Minnesota is a well-known liberal atheist state. Of course they weren't bothered by the idea of Dawkins speaking about evolution. It just fits the tenor of the place. Oklahoma, where the Real America is, values Academic Freedom, which is why they need to prevent Dawkins from speaking.

brief works

You know, you guys crack me up. Every time I'm feeling a little gloomy over world events and the sad face of society, I come to scienceblogs and get a great pick-me-up. I'm quite serious about that! It's like attending the old Boskones on a far more frequent basis, running into Spider Robinson, the master of all puns, or listening to some of the guys from NESFA doing the after-con party. I'm glad to see such dry humor still exists in the rest of the country, and while I've been away from fandom for awhile, you all make think of it ever so fondly. (Must go and see where WorldCon will be this year....)

By hyphenate (not verified) on 22 Mar 2009 #permalink