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The Med City Beat's Q&A with renowned scientist and author Richard Dawkins

The Med City Beat's Q&A with renowned scientist and author Richard Dawkins

(THE MED CITY BEAT) - A Rochester audience will have the chance next week to have their questions answered by one of the world's most prominent proponents of secularism.

English biologist and writer Richard Dawkins will speak June 9 at the Mayo Civic Center. Dawkins will share the stage with former Saturday Night Live performer Julia Sweeney, who he calls "charming and delightful."

Though this will be Dawkins' first time in Rochester, he has previously traveled to Minnesota for shows in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

He recently spoke to the Med City Beat by phone during a trip to California. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:

You’ve been speaking out against religion for a while now. How has the mood in America changed over the past several decades?

I'm not sure how much it's changed. The polls suggest there's the same relatively low level of acceptance of evolution in America as there has been for the last 30 years. Something over 40 percent of Americans think the world came into existence in the less than 10,000 years.

And that's been persistent ever since the 1980s, which I think is rather remarkable and shocking. So, I'm not sure anything has changed there.

Certainly the secular movement, in which I am apart of, has been advancing rather rapidly during that time. Those polls are much more encouraging in that direction. The number of people in America who do not consider themselves religious has been [gone up] to a record high.

The scientific community has come to a consensus on climate change. Why does skepticism still persist? 

It is a remarkable, unfortunate fact about human nature that there are people so wedded to a prior conviction that they won't listen to evidence. Climate change is not my subject but I see it, especially in the field of evolution, where there will be people who simply block their ears and don't listen to evidence.

The greatest threat to mankind: is it science, let’s say a nuclear explosion, or religious extremism, or a combination of both?

A combination of the two could be lethal in the sense that nuclear explosions are presently governed and controlled by responsible governments, whether we like them or not. They work things out soberly and they don't want to die.

But if nuclear weapons were to fall into the hands of religious extremists, whose greatest ambition is to die a martyr, then the normal calculations about deterrent fall to the ground. That could be very dangerous.

After a long and accomplished career, what keeps you on the road at age 74?

I feel passionately about what I do and what I have been doing since I wrote my first book in 1976. I don't think my commitment to scientific proof has lessened in any way, and I still feel a desire to promote science and reason.

What are the Q&A periods at your shows usually like?

[The crowd] is always tolerant and respectful — literally always. In a way, I would welcome a slightly more combative crowd. I would quite like a little bit of heckling from the fundamentalist community but they never actually turn up. I'm not quite sure why; maybe they don't want to hear the truth. But anything you could do to encourage them to come along and heckle me, so much the better.

Dawkins is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford and was the University of Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008.

He is well known for his criticism of creationism and intelligent design — and frequently travels across the world to speak in support of evolution. He came to prominence with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, which popularized the gene-centred view of evolution and introduced the term "meme." 

Admission to the show is $34. VIP tickets are $249, and include a pre-show reception with Dawkins from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. The show starts at 7 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased at the civic center's box office or though Ticketmaster.

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(Cover photo: File / Jasn / Creative Commons)

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