Richard Dawkins:We want people who don't know about us to be exposed to our ideas. I'm astounded by Dawkins' stance here.If any teachers are reading this, who are in the habit of giving credit for attendance at visitor talks, I am asking you to please NOT give credit for attending any talk of mine. I have a number of venues to come on my current US tour. I shall make a point of asking, at the beginning of each talk, whether any students are there because they have been told to be there, or because they have been offered extra credit for attending. If the answer is yes, I shall ask them publicly to leave. I cannot compel them to leave but if, as has happened at most of my talks on this tour, there is an overflow crowd outside, I shall draw it to their attention and invite them, as a matter of personal conscience, to give up their seats.This is incredibly stupid, quite frankly. Teachers, as Dawkins should know, give assignments for credit to encourage students to expand their horizons - to be challenged by ideas that go against what they've long accepted unquestioningly. This is at the heart of a university education. It can be a painful, emotional process, and people understandably are often hostile to new ideas, but few aspects of education could be more important. And he wants to impede these efforts? At any talk, there are going to be a number of people there who are obliged to be by a professor, friend, spouse, whatever. For every one who enters and leaves unchanged or more hostile, I would speculate that there's at least one who comes away thinking about things in a new way (especially when we're talking about a speaker of Dawkins' caliber). I can't tell you how many stories I've heard of people who later became activists having transformative moments when they were dragged to a public talk by a friend or spouse. Why on earth would anyone want to stop this? I would love to attend a talk by Dawkins, but I would be happy to relinquish my seat to someone who doesn't want to be there, especially a young person.
As for asking the students at the beginning of the talk to leave, this sounds insane to me. How the hell is it a "matter of conscience" to deny oneself a learning opportunity? And thinking back to my university years, when I was even more shy than I am now, I would have been utterly and enduringly traumatized by being singled out in front of thousands of people and asked to leave in a situation in which I was trying to do what my teacher had asked and had fairly obtained my seat. I would also have thought that atheists were assholes. The whole idea of it is horrifying, and I hope Dawkins changes his mind about this plan.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
I thought this was what we WANTED!
I just posted this over at Pharyngula's neverending thread, but I'm so bewildered by Dawkins' attitude and that of some of his commenters that I feel compelled to post it here as well (leaving aside, for the moment, the misogynistic-language issue):