Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and author at the forefront of the modern skeptics movement, spoke to a packed audience today at UVA’s Old Cabell Hall.
Though Dawkins acquired his celebrity with the publication of The God Delusion, a controversial denunciation of religious faith that spent nine weeks on the 2006 New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Bestseller list, he came to Grounds to promote somewhat lighter fare. His latest book, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True, is aimed at children and young adults, and it’s heavy on the pictures.
“The very idea of a supernatural miracle is complete nonsense” said Dawkins. “The truth is more magical in the best, most exciting sense of the world, than any myth or miracle. Science has its own magic—the magic of reality.”
In the space of an hour, Dawkins outlined a few chapters from his book, including “Who was the first person really?” and “What is the sun?” Each section opens with popular mythic or religious explanations of natural phenomena—including rainbows, earthquakes or the birth of the universe—and invalidates them by presenting the scientific explanation and how it was reached.
During Dawkins’ presentation of the final chapter, “What is a miracle?,” his powerpoint showed an illustration from the book, in which a cartoon rabbit filled a magician’s hat with water while wine dripped from the bottom. “Don’t ever be lazy, defeatist, or cowardly enough to say ‘I don’t understand this, so it must be a miracle,’” said Dawkins. “We honor ourselves by standing up and looking reality in the face.”
While attendees looking for a polemic may have been disappointed (at one point, Dawkins plugged the iPad version of the book, fiddling with an interactive version of Newton’s light experiments), his quip-filled thought experiments and explications of logic drew laughs throughout.