Thursday, October 08, 2009

Praying with Richard Dawkins to the Great Ramen

This week Dr. Richard Dawkins, the pre-eminent evolutionary scientist of our age, visited Menlo Park for the third time. He addressed a mandatory assembly of the Menlo School (!) and then Daniel Mendez and I co-hosted a fundraiser for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason, featuring the blasphemous a capella music of Hereby Chants. Thank you Christopher Hitchens, Steve Jurvetson, Jeff Hawkins, Aaron Patzer and everyone else who attended and generously contributed. (Even @God was there!)

The next evening Richard addressed a crowd of over 600 fans at Kepler's Bookstore about his new bestseller The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, after which he tirelessly signed books for hours! I had the honor of introducing Richard at both events, which I opened by invoking a prayer to the Flying Spaghetti Monster:

From your Heavenly head to your Farfelly feet, you’re cloaked in fresh ziti—both dashing and sweet!

You don’t like to boast

But you’re smarter than most

with Noodly Knowledge from Sky Monster College.

Your blond AngelHair , with buttery flair

Is streaked with linguine.

Your Son the Rotini,

Who did twist and coil, was born of virgin olive oil.

Vanquish the sinners who eat milk with pig,

who worship the physics, the bio the trig!

Show them whose meatballs are big!

Now, join me in common

To praise The Great Ramen.

Together say: Amen.

But a funny thing had happened on the way to Kepler's. While I was trying to leave the house, the kids were fussing, so Nathalie asked me to take one with me. I worried that they might be confused and bored by the event, so I turned to Eliot and asked him if hew knew what evolution is. My 7-year-old looked at me blankly, but curiously. I gave him the quick explanation, and asked him if he'd like to go with me to meet the world's expert on evolution. Eliot beamed, and said, "I'll get my tie!"

A few minutes later I found myself praying to the Flying Spaghetti Monster with Richard Dawkins, Eliot, and 600+ Kepler's customers. As I publicly reflected on Richard's compilation of exactly 150 years of supporting evidence for Darwin's theory (published in 1859), it occured to me that natural selection is one of those ideas that, once it's stated, is so obvious that everyone says, "Now why didn't I think of that?" To demonstrate what an elegantly simple concept it is, I invited Eliot up to the podium and briefly interviewed him (without any rehearsal). Here's the transcript of what was said (since, unfortunately, the video was taken down from YouTube for some reason):
DAVID: What is your name?

ELIOT: Eliot Cowan.

DAVID: How old are you?

ELIOT: Seven years old.

DAVID: And can you tell us, what is evolution?

ELIOT: It's when a baby animal is born with some kind of advantage that other animals don't have. The baby has other babies with the same advantage, and they have more babies with that advantage. Eventually the animals with the advantage pretty much take over.

DAVID: Can you give us an example?

ELIOT: Okay. A baby giraffe is born with an extra long neck, so it can reach leaves higher up in the trees. It has babies with an extra long neck, and they have babies with an extra long neck and so on. The giraffes with the extra long necks are more likely to survive, so they pretty much take over.

DAVID: When did you first learn about evolution?

ELIOT: An hour ago.

When Richard took the podium (as you can see below on YouTube), here's how he began:

RICHARD: Well after hearing Eliot give the outline of the theory, I might as well go home!
The Richard Dawkins Foundation web site features 11 excellent educational shorts about science (check them out here). And if you agree that science should supplant mythology and superstition as the basis for which we make decisions about our lives, families, nation, and planet, please consider emailing me your pledge to contribute to the foundation. I promise that Richard will personally show you his appreciation upon his next visit!


  1. At Kepler's bookshop you say? Now there was a thinker, that Kepler Figured out heliocentricism I believe. Said he owed it to God. He wrote somewhere "My God, I am thinking your thoughts after you."

  2. Copernicus re-discovered heliocentrism. Kepler discovered elliptic orbits.

  3. Awesome fundraising event you put together, David! A lot of fantastic people there and the singing was very impressive as well.

  4. Now the real question for you, David, in pondering Eliot's future, is the age cutoff for the Nobel Peace Prize... :)

    Seriously, as the Aussies say, "Good on him!"

  5. Thanks for organizing! Here's a photo from the evening and some quotes: