Events I’ve been to, gigs, lectures, comedy etc.

Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers @ IoE London Wed 8th June

I was fortunate to be able to attend the BHA organised discussion event in London featuring evolutionary biologists, Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers (who writes the pharyngula blog).

The lecture was well attended (estimate: about 1000 people, roughly). There was a slightly exciting start due to an interruption by a group of students barging in and taking over the stage shouting about something-or-other. This delayed the start by about 40 mins, and culminated in a room full of polite mostly lefty atheists turning their backs on the protesters and shouting “Fuck Off” back in near-harmony.

I admit I assumed they were protesting due to religious reasons, but it seems (I only knew for sure afterwards) that they were protesting A.C. Grayling’s planned “private” university, of which Dawkins is going to be a member of lecturing staff. Anyway, their demo utterly failed, since only the 10 ish members of the audience who actually obtained their scrappy leaflet knew what it was they were protesting (I suspect most people, like me, assumed they were fundamentalist  Christians). Epic fail.

Tip to protesters

Next time :

  1. do a website that is mobile compatible
  2. write its content succinctly and articulately, describing  your grievance
  3. give it a nice short or very descriptive URL (suggestion:
  4. print said nice URL on a long large banner and roll it up.
  5. take banner to lecture, enter room, unroll banner on stage
  6. watch as audience of geeks taps your URL into their smartphones and bookmarks it.
  7. bugger off and let us paying customers hear our speakers.

Not only would this modus operandi result in about a thousand nerds visiting your page and reading your arguments, but also, those same nerds would be far more sympathetic to your cause. Nuff said.

The discussion was very accessible in terms of its depth and variety of subjects covered. Everything from what biology might be like if it exists on other planets to blogging and the future of atheism. It was a genuinely varied and interesting chat. It felt informal and friendly. There were quite a few laughs.

Very nice to be able to say I’ve now seen another of the ‘extended group of horsemen’, in the shape of PZ Myers. He came across as a very genial chap; far less strident than his blog would make you believe. In fact at one point Dawkins said (obviously for comedy effect) “Well I have to say what a surprise it is that you’re so nice!”.

You can listen to the entire lecture on the pod delusion website. Andrew Copson starts with a typically witty comment relating to the protests. One final note : you can also hear the nerdy audience tittering at his pronunciation “Pee – Zed” Myers.

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Uncaged Monkeys @ Hammersmith Apollo

I went to see Brian Cox, Robin Ince et al at Hammersmith Apollo on Monday night, doing the show they call “Uncaged Monkeys”.

The show takes its name from the Radio 4 Show “Infinite Monkey Cage” which Cox and Ince co-present with a variety of guests. The radio show and the live show are based around a mixture of science, rationalism, comedy and music.

For a far better and “detail heavy” review of the gig, go here. I’m not really attempting to review it, but just comment on my own experience watching it.

I like Robin Ince, I like Brian Cox, I like Simon Singh, I like Ben Goldacre, I like Richard Wiseman, I like Helen Arney, I like Matt Parker. I like those I’ve not been thorough enough to remember to mention……

I do not like Hammersmith….. At all.

I do not like Hammersmith Apollo…………    At all.

Possibly the hottest, sweatiest gig I have ever been to in my life. I almost fell asleep during proceedings. So, firstly, a massive thumbs down to the venue. Poor show Apollo. Have you heard of air conditioning? We paid almost 30 quid a ticket, is it too much to ask?

Secondly, I think I’ve profoundly realised that one can have too much of a good thing. Feeling slightly like a man who tells his friends that he tires of eating caviar, …. here goes.

I’ve now seen Brian Cox live something like 3-4 times in the last 6 months (ish). And, however amazing his talk is (it really is), once you’ve seen virtually the same talk, including jokes, more than a couple of times, you tend to start to pre-empt them. I almost feel guilty writing that. His talks are brilliant. But… Meh. There it is!

Same with Robin Ince. I’ve heard the same ‘set’ several times now. It’s a good set, very funny. But once you’ve seen it a few times, it does lose its appeal.

So to turn this whole thing around into a positive….

If you missed Uncaged Monkeys, BUT did manage to get to 9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People, don’t be sad! You probably saw most of it already.

If you haven’t seen one or more of the speakers before go and see it. It is a truly brilliant bunch of contributors, absolutely at the top of their game. No doubt a fantastic night out, if you don’t feel you’ve seen it a few times before. Special mentions for Matt Parker (stand up mathematician) and Ben Goldacre who were awesome.

Once again, I feel slightly embarrassed at the contents of this post.

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A.C. Grayling and Rowan Williams

Rowan Williams

I had the pleasure of being in the audience of a discussion event featuring the philosopher Anthony Grayling and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams yesterday evening. It was at London’s Southbank Centre.

It was an excellent discussion. I have to be honest and say, probably not one where I really learned any new facts, but certainly one which was interesting and thought provoking.

To hear two polite, highly intelligent and articulate individuals, whose core outlooks are polar opposites when it comes to religion, engaged in polite, respectful discussion and debate was a good experience.

Anthony Grayling

A common criticism levelled at the horsemen of the ‘new atheism’ (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens etc) is that they argue without due respect, or are “shrill”. I don’t generally agree with that point of view, but it is commonly held, by believers and rationalists alike.

Nobody could possibly have levelled that criticism at last night’s conversation. It felt like the best sort of very British conversation. Think of Family Guy’s “drive by argument” joke.

I arrived at the venue with a generous measure of pre-existing respect for Grayling, but possibly through ignorance, or just bias on my part, not so much for Williams. Having  now heard him speak, listened to his (at times, frankly, brilliant) wit, and the depth of his knowledge and uncompromisingly academic approach, I would say I have a similar level of respect for him as that which I reserve for Grayling and the other rationalist/scientist speakers I’ve seen. Obviously I’m not about to become religious as a result, but I was very impressed by his points, how he explained them or argued them and (most surprising of all) by his sense of humour.

The best quote of the evening came in response to an audience question which talked about god, but didn’t actually use the word :

Grayling  : “Well it’s clear you didn’t mention the obvious elephant in the room….”
Williams : “I’m pleased to hear you think he’s in the room.”
(audience laughter and applause)

Always nice to have your preconceptions challenged, and although this wasn’t a watershed realisation moment, I would certainly go out of my way to hear Williams in discussion with Grayling or another similar rationalist in future.

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