Late last night, on the ABC’s talkfest Q and A, a hastily gathered panel of Australia’s finest minds… er… a hastily gathered panel of eminent Australians… a hastily gathered panel of kooks, cranks and crazies were placed at a desk beside visiting UK author and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins.
Oh, Australia, the shame, the shame of being represented, even if only in part, by Senator Steve Fielding!
Richard Dawkins was introduced as an outspoken atheist (Incidentally, Fielding was not introduced as an outspoken idiot!).
Richard Dawkins used to be known as the fellow who wrote The Selfish Gene (still a controversial work).
When I was first introduced to his work, he was known as the fellow who had written The Blind Watchmaker and yet I didn’t get around to actually reading one of his books until he was known as the guy who wrote, Unweaving the Rainbow, which was the year I read River Out of Eden.
Unweaving the Rainbow and River Out of Eden, are both examples of the best kind of science writing, the kind that can help squeeze big, big ideas into my small, small brain.
In Unweaving the Rainbow Dawkins suggests that instead of waiting for Art to come to Science, as it did in the past (eg Da Vinci), Science should go to Art. He argues that scientists should find better channels for communicating their ideas – they should learn to write more engagingly, learn to depict their ideas in film, so as to engage directly with the public.
Art and Science used to be married, but in the early 20th Century the marriage foundered. Art blamed Science for the ills of the world -WWI, Industrialisation, Technology. Art felt betrayed. But went on to win custody of the children (most of mankind) and went about slandering, in its brilliant fashion, the good name of Science.
In Unweaving the Rainbow Dawkins suggested that Science no longer needed to suffer these insults in silence.
Dawkins’ books are filled to the brim with interesting ideas. They lead me on to other science writing – the works of Daniel Dennett, Carl Sagan, Steven Pinker, Steve Jones, Robert Winston and Jacob Bronowski.
I didn’t even click that he was a big A atheist when I read the astonishing article he published in The Guardian on September 15, 2001. (Yes, the date is correct.)
I wonder if Dawkins regrets publishing The God Delusion? He seemed to regret accepting the invitation to appear on Q and A last night. But then it must be rather dull for an author, who can talk intelligently on a great variety of subjects, to be always asked the same questions. And such silly ones.
I was ready for good TV. I was being optimistic, I know.
What did I find? We finally get Richard Dawkins on Australian TV and we sit him beside Senator Fielding and Julie Bishop!
Hmmm…. Were the big questions of Science discussed? Did we ask him about literature or politics? Climate change or species extinction or the latest in evolutionary biology? Did we mention his work at all? Nope. Instead, we asked him whether or not he feels like a man in a playground telling children that Santa Claus doesn’t exist!
Thank you Q and A, I’m now certain of one thing – last night Dawkins must have felt like a grown-up among children.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.