Nobody who disagrees with the views of outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins ever seems to go to his lectures, the biologist and author has said.
Dawkins – author of, among others, The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion – was speaking at the annual Woodstock Festival in Oxfordshire, England.
The Independent reports that Dawkins – a former Oxford University professor – “seemed to be saying last night that he rather envied those teachers who have to drill irregular Latin verbs into the heads of schoolchildren. At least they do not have to teach their discipline against the background noise of well-organised and expensively funded pressure groups who deny that ancient Rome even existed and claim that all languages sprang into existence simultaneously more recently than that.”
But that is often what happens to scientists who want to teach evolution. He cites the USA, where 40 percent of the population believe the literal truth of every word of the Bible.
Dawkins cites a Muslim school he once visited in Leicester, England, “a lovely school, beautifully appointed, a lot of money spent on it, a lovely headmaster.” But no one among the staff and pupils believed in evolution, he said, not even the science teacher.
“There,” says the paper, “he was informed that the Prophet had said that salt and fresh water do not mix, and therefore it must be true. He wished afterwards that he had had the presence of mind to send for some salt water and fresh water and mix them in front of their unbelieving eyes.”
Of his travels in the USA’s Bible Belt, he said that no one who disagrees with his view “ever comes to my lectures – or, if they do, they keep very quiet afterwards.”
And the often mild-speaking professor doesn’t always keep his cool when confronted by those who refuse to believe the scientific evidence. But, in his defence, he quoted a favoured sentence once written by the Independent’s feature writer, Johann Hari: “I respect you as a person too much to respect your ridiculous beliefs.”
There was one question from last night’s audience, however, that prompted a moment of anger.
“A lady wanted to know how evolution could explain phenomena like the clotting of blood,” says the Independent, “which – she claimed – required a number of agents all to be present at the same time, and if one were taken away, the blood would not clot.
Dawkins’s response was that this was “a creationist lie.” Even if it were true, he said, it would not prove the existence of an intelligent designer of the universe. “You have got to look at the detail,” he told the audience member “You have got to stop being lazy and saying, ‘Oh, I can’t explain that so God did it.’”
Dawkins recently called for the arrest of Pope Benedict XVI, who began his four-day state visit to the UK today, but the government moved to prevent the possibility.
Meanwhile, protests continue about the cost of the visit, put at millions of pounds. And yesterday more than 50 UK notables from the worlds of science, literature and entertainment signed a letter saying that the Pope should not have come on a state visit.