Local reporters were eager to interview Dr. Dawkins by phone and to write about him before he arrived. However, I was once again struck by how frequently articles about atheists include comments from ministers, as this nice piece about Dawkins reveals. I hasten to say I’m pleased that positive voices on atheism are finally getting coverage, even if they are invariably countered by opposing voices. I wonder how long it will be until articles about religious leaders include any comments by atheists.
As local and regional enthusiasm grew about Dawkins’ appearance, we began to worry that the auditorium might not suffice, so we reserved two overflow rooms with a capacity of 100 each. Fortunately, the event could be streamed to those rooms.
As it turned out, we had vastly underestimated the public’s interest in Dawkins. The event was to begin at 7 p.m., but by 5:30 the auditorium was filled, and by 6:00 both rooms had overflowed. We then opened a third room, with the same result, leaving many sitting or standing in the aisles. Finally, we even allowed people to sit on the stage floor, just a few feet away from where Dr. Dawkins and I would be conversing. Although we managed to accommodate about 1200, at least a couple hundred had to be turned away. Fortunately, the event was videoed, and it should be on YouTube in a few weeks. Check the Richard Dawkins Foundation website for details.
After an introduction by Sean Faircloth, Director of Policy and Strategy at the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, Richard and I walked onto the stage to a standing ovation. When the applause finally died down, I thanked the audience for applauding me, indicating that I understood for whom the applause was really intended.
This reminded me of the time I was working on a Habitat for Humanity project in Atlanta with Jimmy Carter and about 100 others. We usually had dinner together at nearby black churches. One day, I happened to walk in with Jimmy Carter, and all the church members stood and applauded enthusiastically. I whispered to Jimmy, “I hope you don’t mind. This happens to me wherever I go.”
Dawkins explained that he first wrote expository books on science to help make it accessible to non-scientists, and that his interest in promoting science motivated him to engage conflicts caused by religious beliefs, where fundamentalists often treat the Bible as a scientific text.