Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Richard Dawkins & Neil de Grasse Tyson at Howard University (1)

I attended the dialogue between Richard Dawkins & Neil de Grasse Tyson on "The Poetry of Science" at Howard University in Washington at noon on Tuesday, 28 September. The two speakers were at their charming best. Tyson cracks more jokes and makes more pop culture references, but Dawkins interjected a few quips as well. I've seen them both before separately but not together.

I'll report more on the intellectual content more later. In particular, I want to say something about physics and philosophy, a theme which Tyson addressed.

I noticed that the demographic of the audience did not reflect the demographic of Howard University itself: this event attracted a lot of white science buffs and atheists, which seemed to constitute the majority of the audience. Why that is, I do not know: perhaps the students were in class or on lunch break between classes.

Atheism was not the subject of this discussion, but a couple audience members brought up the issue of religion in the Q & A. The final questioner apparently thought he would bait the speakers, or so I gathered from the tone of his question. After referencing Boethius' The Consolation of Philosophy, the questioner asked: if you were about to be executed, what would you have to say, relying on your knowledge of science alone? Tyson took that question, responding: "I would ask to be buried rather than cremated, so that my body would provide nutrients for other organisms just as I have fed off the nutrients from the organisms preceding me."

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