Richard Dawkins, author of The Greatest Show on Earth, gave a “talk” last night at Indiana University. First, before I dive in to comment on Dawkins, I need to give mad props to the union board at IU for inviting him. It must not have been an easy decision and I’m sure it wasn’t an affordable one either. The event was well run and very well attended.
Now, having said that, I was incredibly disappointed in Dawkins’ “talk.” He spent about forty minutes reading from his new book. It wasn’t a lecture. It wasn’t a talk. It was a book reading. He offered very little commentary or value-add to the reading. The Q&A allowed him to engage more with the audience but the talk itself left me angry. At one point in the Q&A session Dawkins, in about the same breath, said that evolutionary biologists need to do a better job of educating those who will listen and then he corrected a student for video taping the session stating “You can video but please don’t put it on the internet.” Now don’t get me wrong, I understand intellectual property. I understand that Dawkins has a right to make a living and that video taping his talk and giving it away for free may undermine his ability to make a living. But let’s be honest. Dawkins isn’t broke. Nor is he struggling to be read. His books sell very well and I’m sure he was paid over $10k to give last night’s talk. He can afford to be a bit generous for the sake of his cause. For the benefit of every kid who is being inundated with creationist teaching at school and goes on the net to find alternative ideas. He can afford to be a better teacher.
Worst of all, Dawkins had an incredible metaphor that would have made it easy for him to advertise his book while offering something more to the audience than what they could get by just buying the book out in the lobby. He explains that evolutionary biologist and paleontologists are similar to detectives who have come to a crime scene after the crime is committed. The scientist’s job is to reconstruct the most plausible event from the evidence at hand. I agree with the metaphor completely. But rather than just reading a few pages from the book, Dawkins should have engaged the audience in a bit of detective work. He should have endeavored to convert us all to be detectives and scientists. To be better prepared to make a sound argument for the truth. Instead, he stuck a few post-its in his book, read some pages to hawk the book, and left us all wondering why we came when we could have just bought the book.