Saturday, 13 March 2010


Together with some 2500 other people, I attended a lecture at the Christchurch Town Hall on Thursday evening by the celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins. His reception, which was described in the local newspaper as a "rock-star welcome," reminded me of that extended to another great iconoclast, Noam Chomsky, when he gave a talk here back in 1998. The difference was that while Chomsky spoke in front of an invited audience at Canterbury University, Dawkins lectured in front of a paying crowd, most of whom had bought tickets for $15 (although someone reportedly paid $132 for a ticket to the sold-out event on Trade Me).

People attending Thursday's lecture were greeted at the entrance to the Town Hall by a small group of Christians who were handing out free copies of Darwin's The Origin of Species. The catch was that this edition, published by Christian minister and evangelist Ray Comfort in 2009 after he discovered that the text was in the public domain and distributed at universities in the U.S., includes a "special introduction" penned by Comfort (although a section of it was alleged plagiarized from a text by Dr Stan Guffey, a biologist at the University of Tennessee) in which he seeks to discredit Darwin's work.

I haven't read the special introduction yet, but if Comfort's antics in this YouTube video are anything to go by, it's sure to be quite amusing. In the video, Comfort argues that the fact that bananas fit comfortably into our hands and mouths is proof that god designed them to be eaten by humans. There's so much wrong with this argument that it's hard to know where to begin in refuting it. But how about the fact that the modern banana depicted in the video is the result of years of human cultivation and propagation, one of the effects of which has been to remove the large seeds that once made the eating experience less enjoyable.

Incidentally, although he now lives in the U.S., Comfort was born in New Zealand, and began his preaching career in Christchurch.


Anonymous said...

A freind of mine who also went reckons that Comfort´s edition of the The Origin of Species if you rip the first 50 odd pages out.

~ Kerry

Walking fool said...

Um, I think you missed out some words in the middle of your comment there. But yes, you can rip out the introduction, but there's a note on the last page denouncing
such "censorship" and telling people where they can download the introduction. Also, I've heard that the first edition of Comfort's version was missing a few chapters of the original. Not sure if the book handed out the other night was this one or not.

Anonymous said...

Nah that was about right. I was planning on making about as much sense as that Comfort vid

~ Kerry

ultra_151 said...

I saved my $15 for Cocaine, Gambling & Hookers. BTW how was Dawkins? I haven't read the God Delusion, tho' I have read The Selfish Gene & The Ancestors Tale. The former was the basis of the whole science/craft/whatever of memetics. One of yr actual seminal thinkers (so to speak).

Walking fool said...

Dawkins was very good. Not exactly an audio-visual extravaganza, but you can't beat live entertainment. He pwned one questioner who expressed doubt that complex life could evolve from single cell organisms by quoting the geneticist J.B.S. Haldene, who once responded to a similar question from a woman by saying, "But madam, you did it yourself. And it only took you nine months!"

I haven't read any of Dawkins' books. In fact I was put off him when the selfish gene debate arose, having mistakenly categorised him as a kind of social Darwinist. As I understand it he recognises the importance of things like altruism and mutual aid, which he regards as products of natural selection. I look forward to reading his latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth (maybe when the paperback comes out).