Published on theMusic.com.au, May 2018
“What would replace religion if it went away?” asked the evening’s moderator, Australian radio host, satirist, filmmaker and author John Safran, to the formidable force sitting across from him. Celebrated evolutionary biologist, acclaimed author and atheist Richard Dawkins didn’t think for a second before rattling off a number of alternatives: “Human friendship, music, art, science, literature.”
He was relatively calm and softly spoken throughout their conversation, but would unleash when confronted with an opinion he opposes, which happened often when questions from Safran and audience members touched on the psychology and inherited flaws of religion, a lot of which he discusses in his new book, Science In The Soul.
“You can call religion a computer virus,” Dawkins said, discussing the way in which religion gets passed down through families, generation after generation. “It’s an amazing coincidence that everyone is born into the right religion – think about that.”
The conversation was largely driven by points he makes throughout the 2017 novel, with audience members treated to live readings, which were quickly given deeper analysis by the legend on stage.
A number of videos were also played, with Dawkins providing commentary, including Ray Comfort’s banana argument. “Checkmate, Richard,” said Safran, to which Dawkins responded, “It’s like a Monty Python set.”
Dawkins doesn’t shy away from controversy, he embraces it, as evident to his response to Republican Todd Thomsen trying to get him banned from doing a speech at the University of Oklahoma back in 2009: “I’m quite proud of that” – it’s a badge of honour.”
Having coined the term meme in his 1976 novel, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins was treated to “the life of a [modern] meme” by Safran, who projected images of Pepe the Frog onto the screen, detailing the character’s transition from a happy frog to hate symbol. “That’s quite good,” Dawkins said. “It does show an evolutionary progression.”
But being a founder of meme culture isn’t enough for Dawkins, who revealed he’s working on a children’s book (working title OMG, I Think I’m An Atheist).
He also covered off Darwinism (which he rejects – “natural selection does not have foresight”), and championed those like Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson, the latter of which toured Australia in 2017, thanks to the same promoter, Think Inc.
It felt like a true privilege to be in the presence of such a historical figure for an evening, and the packed house and slew of questions thrown Dawkins’ way proved people are hungrier now more than ever for answers and change.