Richard Dawkins at the Melbourne Town Hall

Last night, Other Half, a friend and I had the pleasure of attending Richard Dawkins’ appearance at the Melbourne Town Hall. An out-of-season event  of the Melbourne Writers Festival, the subject of the evening was Dawkins’ latest book release The Greatest Show on Earth. According to the MWF website the show was sold out, but there were easily tens of seats free in the balcony area.

The show took the format of a Q & A session, with ABC Radio National’s Robyn Williams comfortably (sometimes overly comfortable with the  sound of his own voice) taking on the role of interviewer. Dawkins was lucid as ever, and displaying in person the characteristic wonder and awe of the natual world that comes across so well in his books.

I found it quite curious that on stage with Williams and Dawkins were two Auslan interpreters, one of whom was particularly enthusiastic in his signing to the point of being a little distracting! I say curious because I have never seen this done before, but I am glad that the hearing-impared were able to enjoy the evening as I did.

A highlight of the evening was Williams asking Dawkins about his infamous interview with Andrew Denton featured on the Elders series last year. You can view it in three parts here if you haven’t seen it. The interview ends hilariously, with Denton asking Dawkins what his star sign is. One of the sticking points was that Dawkins was reluctant to answer questions of a personal nature. When Williams asked him about these questions he struggled with, or refused to answer, Dawkins said that he didn’t feel that what he thought about anything, other than his own area of expertise, was interesting to anybody. Now, I would be happy to accept that he won’t answer those questions out of privacy, or being uncomfortable with that line of interviewing – but he can’t say that people are not interested in what he thinks when he looks in the mirror in the morning, or what he feels ‘wisdom’ is. He can’t deny that he is a celebrity, and there is something about humans that makes us interested in all facets of a celebrity, including their opinions on things no matter how banal and clichéd they may be. But anyway, I have gone a little off track.

Although the main part of the evening was a discussion of The Greatest Show on Earth, the floor was opened for questions towards the end and some additional thought-provoking content was generated from the audience questions. There was relatively little discussion about religion, perhaps the crowd were content with evolutionary biology this week and willing to wait for attacks on religion at next weekend’s sold out Atheist Convention.

Finally, I feel as though I must include the photo I took on my phone (just as the MC was requesting no photography – oops!), despite it’s very poor quality. But that’s Dawkins there in the middle…



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