Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Meeting Richard Dawkins (and his wife)

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A few years ago I met Richard Dawkins at a small, relaxed party.

I had a question I wanted to put to him.

At the time I was not a Christian, but I was interested in religions and was (for example) studying religiosity and atheism in relation to personality.

I had discovered that over the same period of the twentieth century that the US had risen to scientific eminence it had undergone a significant Christian revival.

The point I put to Dawkins was that the USA was simultaneously by-far the most dominant scientific nation in the world (I knew this from various scientometic studies I was doing at the time) and by-far the most religious (Christian) nation in the world.

How, I asked, could this be - if Christianity was culturally inimical to science?

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Unfortunately I lack Boswell's ability to recall conversion verbatim, and I would not like to misquote.

But Dawkins simply shook-off this point, with a shake of his head looking downwards, and the comment to the effect that the scientists and Christians were two entirely different groups of people.

(Even if broadly true, my point had been about US culture, not individuals.)

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I had thought that this was a genuinely interesting and challenging paradox from Dawkins perspective and looked forward to some kind of analysis; but it was rapidly obvious that I was wasting my time and that no engagement with my point was going to happen.

The mind was decided, the manner was impatient, irritable. 

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I gave-up - and instead spoke to his wife, Lalla Ward, who was Dr Who (Tom Baker)'s assistant (I was a huge fan of the Fourth Doctor era in the late 1970s - LW was Romana II, dressed as an old fashioned schoolgirl); and she was absolutely charming in the face of my rather gushing fan-boy talk - indeed she was probably the nicest famous person I have met.

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My point? Richard Dawkins was exactly like he appeared on the telly; Lalla Ward was much more of a real person than she appeared on the telly.

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