Famed scientist, author Richard Dawkins speaks at packed Pick-Staiger


Sarah Nelson/Daily Senior Staffer

Scientist and author Richard Dawkins speaks about his life and career at a packed Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. The event was hosted by NU’s Secular Student Alliance, after Dawkins approached the group to promote his new book “An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist.”

Sam Osburn, Reporter

Evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins spoke about his new book to a sold-out crowd at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on Thursday night.

The event was part of Dawkins’ tour to promote his autobiographical memoir, which details his upbringing and the early part of his work up to the release of his first book, “The Selfish Gene.” Dawkins ran the gamut of his career, discussing in equal parts his views on religion and his passion for science. The conversation was moderated by fellow biologist, vocal atheist and renowned University of Chicago Prof. Jerry Coyne.

Dawkins spoke of his time in high school and at the University of Oxford, during which he underwent a loss of faith and was “bowled over by the beauty of the natural world.” This led him to a successful career in evolutionary biology, he said, culminating in his articulation of what he calls a “gene-centered” view of evolution in his numerous books.

It was, however, his inflammatory discussion of religion in his 2006 book “The God Delusion” that catapulted him to global fame and established him as a controversial figure.

The event was put on by Northwestern’s Secular Student Alliance, whose mission is to foster a community for secular students on campus, in part by hosting speakers, SSA president Diana Rawles said.

The Weinberg junior said Dawkins approached SSA and asked if it would host a stop on his nationwide book tour. She said she wanted to bring him to campus because he is a “productive … great face” in the atheist community, despite his sometimes harsh tone.

Fellow SSA member and Weinberg senior Glenn Alexander said he saw hosting such a prominent figure in the atheist community as an honor and a “great publicity opportunity for the organization.” 

Bienen graduate student Brandon Acker said he heard about the event just days ago and was “ecstatic” to see Dawkins, who he believes has “done wonders for atheism.”

Attendees filling Pick-Staiger’s nearly 1,000-seat auditorium were not just from Evanston and NU. Jovan Jovanovski, who said he is very well-versed in Dawkins’ work, came from Detroit to hear the author speak. Jovanovski said he doesn’t see Dawkins’ opinions as particularly controversial. He said he considers the author’s statements to be “pretty indisputable” and believes that some people “simply don’t like the facts.”

SSA member Michael Lamble praised the interplay between Dawkins and Coyne, who he said seemed comfortable in their dialogue. Lamble, a Weinberg senior, said he appreciated that the two could “commiserate and share thoughts about things that they both know deeply about,” and was enthusiastic about their ability to “make science approachable.”

Attendees lined the auditorium aisles for the question-and-answer session that closed the talk, asking Dawkins about topics ranging from his thoughts on the future of science and its place in government to religion’s place in the world.

Throughout the talk, Dawkins made his position on faith clear.

“The world would be a better place without religion,” he said.