Rho, I have your answer

Okay, this will be a pretty quick post, because I’ve just gotten home from Richard Dawkins’ signing at Book People, which was attended by about 200, and have to head off soon back down to campus so I can get my reserved seat by the recommended time of 5:30. Photos of today’s festivities will have to wait until tomorrow.

Dawkins preceded his signing by a reading — the new preface to the paperback edition of The God Delusion — followed by a brief Q&A, which was actually quite good. I tried to get Rhology’s question in at the Q&A but wasn’t called on, so I waited until after Dawkins had finished his full signing and was getting up. Rhology will probably be somewhat disappointed by the answer, which is very brief and to-the-point (brief enough for me to quote it verbatim from memory, and I regret I didn’t have the ability to record it), but it’s pretty much the answer I expected Dawkins would give.

To recap, Rhology’s submitted question (it was actually a series of questions, but hey) was:

Professor Dawkins,

On page 92 of “The God Delusion”, you present a 4th option to CS Lewis’ famous “Lord-Liar-Lunatic” trilemma with respect to the identity of Jesus Christ, namely that he was actually mistaken.

Why is it that you rarely if ever extend such an understanding to today’s theists? If you met a man who said there was a pink elephant in a 10×10 room, would you say that the man could be “honestly mistaken?” How much less would you say that a man who thought he was the pink elephant in the room was “honestly mistaken?”

If Jesus could be “honestly mistaken”, can not then all theists?

To which Dawkins replied:

But of course I believe they [theists] can be honestly mistaken. Why shouldn’t they be?

There you have it. Again, I’m sorry I didn’t get a tape of this exchange. But it was very brief, and I felt a little nervous doing it in the first place. But hey, I’m the kind of guy who, if I say I’ll do what it takes to do something, I’ll do it.

What was interesting was that, while Dawkins was perfectly at ease in speaking before a large crowd, he seemed very ill at ease being approached directly. (During his signing, as I expected, the store employees were perfect sheepdogs, moving the line along efficiently, with Dawkins merely giving autographs without personalizations.) When I first introduced myself and asked if I could speak to him for just a moment, his look was wary and guarded. It wasn’t until we had spoken for a few minutes that he began to recover his usual congenial, good humor.

His attitude was understandable. I was told by some of my CFI buddies who were there that security has been a real concern for Dawkins during this whole tour. Dawkins is understandably cautious about the possibility of being waylaid by some some truly offensive theist berating him, or even assaulting him. Hasn’t happened, happily, but when this tour was first announced in the media, at least one Christian minister, David Cox of the First Southern Methodist Church in Charleston, SC, was quoted as saying…

I would certainly like to protest. [Dawkins] is a tool of Satan, of the AntiChrist it sounds to me. All God-fearing people will be opposed to an atheist touring.

Considering how many fundamentalists take rhetoric like that as a call to action, it is understandable that Dawkins would be guarded about his personal space. And lest we forget, there have also been two instances in which creationists approached him for interviews under false pretenses, most recently the producers of Expelled. So the direct approach is an iffy one to take with him, and I felt nervous doing it in the first place for all those reasons.

So no, I didn’t have a chance to make a tape of this brief exchange, Rho, but I can assure you on my word I did ask him, and the quoted reply is his reply. Now, I know you were doubtless hoping for a much more detailed reply, and I have one myself that I will present tomorrow when I post my report about tonight’s talk. I know also that Kazim and Lui, and possibly some of our other regular atheist readers, want to answer you themselves. They’re free to do so at this time.

I’m going to grab a quick bite to eat and hit the road. See you all tomorrow.

Here’s one for the creationists!

Earlier today, our old pal Dan Marvin, eager for attention as usual, tried to threadjack the comments about the blog meetup following Dawkins’ talk on Wednesday. He implied he’d have a real stumper to ask Dawkins if he could be there, and then trotted out some more silly crap from AiG about the appendix, and how he seems to think the recent discovery that it actually seems to have a function presents some kind of problem for evolution. Typical know-nothing creationist idiocy, which I quickly spanked with some information from TO. Then, being an evil mean old atheist, I slapped him around with the usual batch of personal insults and sent him packing. Hey, I gotta keep my horns and my pointy tail sharp, don’t I?

But I haven’t been able to stop chuckling about the whole exchange this whole time. Because it’s ever so entertaining to know that there are these clowns out there who, in classic Dunning-Kruger Effect fashion, think they know more about subjects like biology than the leading experts in the field. Of whom Dawkins happens to be one.

So I thought I’d make an offer to creationists who won’t be in Austin on Wednesday, one they just can’t refuse. I will be your proxy. No, I’m serious. All you have to do is this:

Submit to the comments the question you would want to ask Dawkins during the Q&A. Make it as h-a-r-d as you can think of! A real toughie! Squeeze your brain like an old mop and come up with a real humdinger. No going easy on the man, now. If you’ve got a question you think would leave him slack-jawed in stupefaction in front of an audience of hundreds of people, entitling you to do a little Snoopy dance all around Hogg Auditorium singing “Pwned in the Name of Jeezus!” at the top of your lungs, then, by all means, ask it.

I will pick the best question of the batch and present it to Dawkins myself. That’s right. I’ll be your proxy.

In fact, considering that it may be difficult to get the question in at the Q&A, I will introduce myself and present the question to him at his book signing Wednesday afternoon. (Though I will still try to ask at the Q&A; I suspect those will be highly limited due to time, but you never know.) If he’s too busy at the book signing, or if store employees are just rushing people through the autograph line like a conveyer belt, which could happen if the place is as jam-packed as it’s likely to be, then I will ask him politely if I may have a moment of his time after the signing is over.

Now, there is just one simple rule. Please try to follow it, creationists. Because you know how we like to be mean and insulting, and so if you demonstrate that you can’t even follow one simple instruction, well, that will just give us godless amoral heathens an excuse to make jokes about you involving inbreeding and sex with indignant farm animals and what have you. So just do this: Post your question in the form of a simple, easily phrased question. Don’t cutpaste a ten-paragraph page from Answers in Genesis or the Discovery Institute and then go, “So what about that?” Obviously, there won’t be time for anything like that. Just present the one, on-point, direct question you’d get to ask if you were able to attend Wednesday night’s talk.

Feel free to ask silly shit like “How do you feel abot the fact yer gowing 2 HELL!!1!??” if you like. But that’s not a good question, you know. Really, I plan to pick the best, smartest question, and so take this as an opportunity to show us arrogant, know-it-all atheist assholes that you’re not as dumb as we think you are and are in fact quite a bit smarter, thank you very much.

So there you are. Let’s all play Stump Dawkins. Just submit your question, I’ll pick the toughest, best one (I’ll even ask Kazim and Tracie and the other regular posters here to weigh in with their opinion of the best question), and ask that question to Dawkins personally on Wednesday. I’ll even arrange to record myself doing it, so you can get your answer straight from God’s…ahem…Dawkins’ mouth.

Can’t get much fairer than that, right?

Bring it!

PS: To our regular godless readers: Think of this as one of those trivia board games, where another player has gotten an easy question they can’t answer to save their lives, and you’re sitting there clenching your jaw going, “Oh god, I know this one I know this one!” In other words, please resist the urge to answer the questions that come up yourself in the comment thread…at least until after Wednesday. At that point, all the non-picked questions can be answered freely by any of you. For the time being, remember these are creationists’ questions for Dawkins, and so let’s get his reply first. I’ll be leaving comment moderation on to ensure everybody plays nice. (Lui, put that cricket bat down. Down! Thank you.)

Strictly for Austinites

Okay, so everyone’s looking forward to Dawkins’ appearance at UT this coming Wednesday. That will be at 7:00 PM. I suspect it will go about two hours, including Q&A. So I thought that following the talk, unless you’re all going to be a bunch of pathetic gotta-go-to-work-tomorrow candy-asses, we’d have an Atheist Experience Blog meetup somewhere in the vicinity. I’m announcing this early so that people will have a couple of days to think about it and add it to their schedules accordingly. There are any number of kewl coffeehouses or bars or late night restaurants to repair to in the UT area, up and down the Drag and elsewhere. Hell, even Amy’s Ice Creams is an option. So, all you locals chime in, and if you’re interested, offer your suggestions.

Blasphemy is, as they say, a victimless crime

Over in the UK, the population may be predominately non-religious, or at least indifferent to religion, in stark opposition to the way Americans can’t seem to get enough of the stuff. But it’s only been this week that the House of Lords* voted to strike down the nation’s laws against blasphemy. Nice of them to recognize it isn’t 1437 any more. Unless you’ve got a fascistic, Talibanoid theocracy going on, having blasphemy laws in a modern enlightened culture is like attaching a carburetor to your pyjamas: pointless and utterly silly.

Of course, some people are upset at learning the Middle Ages ended long ago.

Prominent Christian activist Baroness O’Cathain launched a blistering attack on the amendment, with particular fury aimed at Evan Harris. Lady O’Cathain maintained that abolition of blasphemy would unleash a torrent of abuse towards Christians.

Huh. I thought blasphemy was defined as making insulting or disrespectful remarks critical of gods, not their followers. As far as hate crimes against the religious are concerned, the UK has its Racial and Religious Hatred Act, a piece of legislation that makes it an offense to incite deliberate violence and hatred towards a person or group of people based on their race or creed. (I know it’s a law that feels problematic from a free speech standpoint, but the wording of it does try to make it clear that it’s only an offense when there’s clear intent to incite harm. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before it’s actually put to the test in the courts. After all, where’s the line between saying something like “Somebody ought to do something about those damn [insert minority here],” and “Kill the [minority]!”?)

One gets the impression that Baroness O’Cathain is merely troubled by the idea of anyone’s criticizing belief at all. As Tracie pointed out a couple of posts ago, it can be awfully hard for atheists to engage Christians in conversation about belief, simply because the minute you make one statement that’s even the tiniest bit snarky (like comparing their god belief to unicorn belief), many of them are so thin-skinned they’ll storm off in a huff right there. Not surprisingly, Dawkins and The God Delusion came up quite a bit in the House debates. The simple fact that atheist books exist, and are actually finding an audience, is enough for some Christians to think they’re suffering “a torrent of abuse.”

Well, let’s talk abuse. What about the people in the past who were actually the targets of the blasphemy laws in question? Ol’ Wikipedia tells me that the last guy to be prosecuted under the laws was John William Gott in 1921, who was sentenced to nine months’ hard labor simply for publishing pamphlets making fun of Christianity and Jesus. So Christians got their knickers in a twist because Gott snarked on their imaginary friend, and he got nine months breaking rocks. Call me crazy, but I consider that pretty damn torrential abuse. “Hey,” you might say, “that was 87 years ago.” Yeah, but I’m sure it still sucked for him.

Anyway, it was clearly time to get rid of the laws, because they were irrelevant and never used anyway. And as for Christian fears of persecution, again, I never cease to be amazed at these. Check your Yellow Pages and see how many pages it takes to list the churches in your city. Go to any bookstore in the US, and see how many shelves are swallowed up by the Religion category. Only Borders that I know of delineates a section to “Atheism and Agnosticism” within that category, and that section usually only amounts to about two or three shelves, as opposed to the fifty or so shelves devoted to Bibles, apologetics, and the usual twaddle from fundies like LaHaye and Strobel and Colson and their camp. But to many Christians, those two shelves for atheism are two too many, and amount to a horrifying all-out assault on their precious faith.

Cry me a river.

* I had to note my favorite comment about this on Richard Dawkins’ site:

Dear Britain, what the hell is a “house of lords”?? Signed, the 21st century.