Meeting Richard Dawkins
Last week I was contacted by a researcher at the BBC. The World Service had scheduled Richard Dawkins to be interviewed on the monthly World Book Club program about The Selfish Gene, and he was looking for fans to offer questions that could be put to Dawkins during the recording. The researcher, having found this blog, invited me to offer a question about The Selfish Gene. Of course I accepted. Then, almost as an afterthought, he mentioned that if I were in the area I would be welcome to attend the recording. “Well, no, I’m not in the area”, I said, “but by all the angels in Heaven, I’ll get there!”
So, having booked the day off work (if they hadn’t let me I would have just quit!) I made my way down to London yesterday. I took my dad and my good friend Ellis14 with me. It was a long day. I was up at 8am, drove 200 miles to the outskirts of London, from where we got a taxi to the station and caught the tube into the city centre. It was the same in reverse on the way back, and I got home at 2am, only to be back up at 6am this morning to be in work for 8am. Was it worth it? You bet your life!
The studio audience consisted of only around thirty or forty people. It was a wonderfully intimate affair – we all had to walk right past the seated professor, within touching distance, just to get to our seats
I consider Dawkins to have one of the finest intellects on our planet, and to hear him speak in that environment was an utter pleasure, a once in a lifetime opportunity and a memory that I will treasure forever. He spoke with great conviction and passion, as well as humour and honesty.
I had planned, if I got the chance, to ask him what measures he took as a popular science writer to ensure that he was complex enough to be accurate, but simple enough to be understood? As it happened, the opening part of the program lead him to answer that question in advance, so as an opportunity arose, I thought of a new question completely off the cuff, about genetics. Because it wasn’t rehearsed, I didn’t phrase it very well, and as a result, I think he misunderstood me a little and didn’t really answer it, at least not as I had it in my mind. That, of course, was entirely me fault. Unfortunately, some of the audience had been asking what I felt were slightly facetious questions, more through a desire to provoke him than anything else. He did get a bit irritated with one person (understandably, I thought), and as my question followed I think he may have thought I was working through a similar motive, although I really wasn’t.
Either way, it was a very surreal moment, sitting about five feet away from Richard Dawkins, asking him a question with him looking me straight in the eyes, and a sound technician holding a microphone in my face so that in a few weeks time millions of people will hear it for themselves. Fortunately, despite the turmoil inside my mind and stomach, I managed to keep my composure. Granted, I didn’t phrase the question as well as I would have liked, but at least I managed to produce what could loosely be described as coherent language, and didn’t faint or vomit. I even managed to mention, while introducing myself before my question, that I write an atheist weblog called A Load of Bright!
The only real disappointment, was that after the recording Dawkins had another engagement and had to leave rather abruptly. I had my copy of The God Delusion with me which I was hoping to have signed. I had also hoped to have a photo shaking hands with him, which I was going to post on this article (the caption would have read: Here is a brilliant atheist. And Richard Dawkins). Sadly, it wasn’t to be, but I am extremely grateful for the opportunity just to have seen him speak live. It would have been amazing to speak to him off the air for a moment, but perhaps there will be another chance in the future.
At this point, I’m not entirely sure when the program will be aired. As soon as I find out I will post the details, and I will also provide a link when there is one available.