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Richard Dawkins interviewed at local church

Photo by flikr user mrcoos

Photo by flikr user mrcoos

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Biologist, acclaimed author and prominent secularist Richard Dawkins spoke at Fountain Street Church on Monday with Julia Sweeney — another big name in the secularist movement. The event  was in celebration of the merging of the Richard Dawkins Foundation (RDF) with the Center for Inquiry (CFI) — a Michigan-based organization for the advancement of a secular society — and of the fortieth, thirtieth, twentieth and tenth anniversaries of various Dawkins books.

Jennifer Beahan, the assistant director of CFI, opened the event with praise for Dawkins. She explained some of his biggest achievements as a biologist and writer, and how instrumental his work  had been for her in coming to terms with and becoming open about her atheism. She then presented the first goal of both organizations: to make society a safe place for non-religious individuals.

The next speaker, Robyn Blumner, is the president and CEO of the RDF. In reference to the merging of the RDF and CFI, she jokingly said, “The bigger we are, the easier it will be to take over the world.” It was a joke in its sinister formulation, but it is on par with both organizations’ second goal: to completely expunge religion from society.  

Dawkins and Sweeney opened the interview with an anecdote about Dawkins’ mismatched red and yellow socks. Dawkins argued that there should not be an expectation of people to wear matching socks. He concluded this bit by saying, “When you lose one sock, you have to throw the other away. How wasteful is that?”  

After this anecdote, the interview spanned a variety of topics — Dawkins’s work as a biologist, Sweeney’s involvement with a Syrian refugee family, the religion of Islam, the conflict between science and religion, and so on. But the underlying motives for the interview were the same as the above-mentioned goals of CFI and the RDF.

Dawkins said that the secularist movement and organizations seek to “remove the stigma of unbelief in America.” He wants politicians to realize that nonbelievers are a big sector of America and that they should “suck up” to them in same way they do to religious groups.

Sweeney added: “It’s really important that people aren’t atheists [by] themselves, it’s important that people say they are atheists openly.”  

Sweeney and Dawkins believe if atheism becomes something people can be open about, they will be able to organize and work towards a better society. Both speakers believe that society has been and is going in the direction of becoming completely secular.  

Dawkins says he is frequently asked, “Why is it that America is so much more religious than other countries?” Both speakers gave anecdotes supporting their belief that religion is a replacement for lost culture; when someone immigrates to a new  place, as so many have and continue to in America, they hold onto their religion as a way to keep their sense of identity. Sweeney added that she believes subsequent generations will gradually shed religion to the point of extinction.  

This second goal is desirable for Dawkins and Sweeney, as well as others in the secularist movement. They believe it will open the avenue for an inclusivist society dominated by reason and science alone. Dawkins believes that many of the world’s problems are a result of religion, and that a shifted focus to reason and science will push society in a better direction.  

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