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The Fact of and Facts About Evolution
Durham, NC - People filed into Page Auditorium on Oct. 3 carrying The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution tucked under their arm. The scene was typical of a lecture given on a college campus, except the instructor was the controversial and outspoken British biology writer Richard Dawkins.
And the students? They were a collection of Duke community members mixed in with area biology teachers and religious and free thinkers.
Todd Stiefel, Duke '97, then took the stage and asked if the audience was "excited about science and reason," to which the crowd erupted in cheers. A marketing professional, he pitched The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, of which Stiefel, along with J. Anderson Thomson, Duke '70, are on the Board of Trustees. The two alums had urged Dawkins to come to Duke and engage audience members in a discussion of evolution as fact. Before turning the stage over to Dawkins, Stiefel encouraged the audience to "come out and live out" as free thinkers.
Dawkins' lecture used no props or PowerPoint slides. For 45 minutes, he simply talked his listeners through his latest book, mixing scientific discussion with scathing jabs. He cited evidence for his argument that "we stop calling evolution a theory and call it a fact."
Dawkins cited the lack of fossil record for penguins' long waddle south and then apologized for using that and other examples to obliterate the "fragile nut" of literal belief in Noah's Ark.
He spoke about the family trees that linked all animals and how some would argue that "God deliberately deceived us." Maybe God did, Dawkins conceded. But if so, "I'm not sure if that is the kind of God you want to worship," he said.
He went on to describe the nerve connecting a giraffe's brain to its voice box and how it was an example of "unintelligent design." And yet, with all the evidence, "the fact of our own existence is almost too surprising to bear," he said.
"You have all the arguments on your side. (Students) may say well my parents, say or my preachers say this. Well, damn your preacher, these are the facts."
One audience member asked Dawkins if he and religious groups that advocate for many of the same causes as his foundation -- natural disaster relief, education reform, among others -- could ever work together. No, Dawkins said. At a fundamental level, the two groups' views would have them debating much more than aiding others, he said.
That was the last question. The auditorium was cleared for the Blessing of the Animals, to which Dawkins interjected that he'd be "delighted to bless your pets," but he had a plane to catch.
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