Mimosas and atheism: Richard Dawkins comes to Kepler's Books


More than 100 audience members gave a standing ovation at a reading by world-renowned scientist and stalwart atheist Richard Dawkins at Kepler's Books on the morning of Sunday, Oct. 4.

While people sipped mimosas provided by Kepler's, Mr. Dawkins read from his book, "A Brief Candle in the Dark," the second volume of his memoirs and answered questions.

The sold-out event was moderated by David Cowan of Bessemer Venture Partners in Menlo Park. Mr. Cowan described the impact Mr. Dawkins' earlier works had on him when he was younger and more religious, an experience shared by a number of those in attendance.

Gina Figliozzi from Sunnyvale, who had studied Mr. Dawkins' work in college, said, "You should be free to ask any questions that you want." Mr. Dawkins, she said, "represents doing that in a scientific way."

Mr. Dawkins said that the book's title was an amalgamation of two quotes: the first from Carl Sagan, who used the phrase "Science as a Candle in the Dark" as a subtitle in one of his books; and the second, from Shakespeare's "Macbeth" -- "Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow ... ."

He read several humorous excerpts from his memoir, telling stories of adventures at Oxford and a whimsical search for props in advance of giving the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures.

During the question-and-answer session, he answered questions on a range of topics, including his perspectives on the future of artificial intelligence, how he responds to criticism, and his hopes for the next generation.

On artificial intelligence: "It's highly plausible to me that we're underestimating the power of computers in the future."

On responding to criticism: "Ignorance is no crime," he said. "It's the business of a scientist and educator to challenge it."

On the next generation: "I want to break the cycle of superstition and religion, and I think the real problem is the power of childhood indoctrination," he said, citing the tradition of children being labeled and raised with the same religion as their parents. "How dare you presume to label a child with an opinion it's far too young to understand," he said.

Marie Bertrand of Los Altos Hills said she came to the event because Richard Dawkins represents a "good anchor" for other atheists who may face rejection from society.

Kristen Carnohan and Torin Herndon also attended. Mr. Herndon introduced Ms. Carnohan to Richard Dawkins more than two years ago, when she was Catholic. He said Mr. Dawkins was a useful resource in explaining his atheism to her, and played a transformative role in her becoming an atheist too.

He added that it was exciting to see a public intellectual figure "fill out all these seats."

"You could hear the passion in the audience," he said.

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