Monday, 22 December 2008

Enlightenment

Last night, I was fortunate enough to witness an evening of utter enlightenment. And all in the name of atheism.

Jarvis Cocker even put an appearance to sing an old Pulp song and a Christmas song :-)

For me, though, the true highlight of the evening was the opportunity to hear Richard Dawkins talking. Despite finding "The God Delusion" a little bit hypocritical in being so preachy, some of his other books are well worth reading - for all those who are interested in learning about evolution.

I'd never seen Richard Dawkins speak before, and his prose, his language and his voice made listening to him a true pleasure.

Another highlight for me was Dara O'Briain shouting out to the audience "what's e to the i pi?" and being genuinely delighted at the number of people who immediately shouted "minus one" back at him.

The central theme of the evening was the beauty of the universe and a celebration of the things which make the world so wonderful - the intricacies of nature, the marvel that is human language and the fact that Katie Melua actually re-recorded a version of "Nine Million Bicycles in Beijing" to correct the bad physics in the original.

Of course, there was a serious undertone to some of the evening. If you want to read something truly shocking then start here - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthias_Rath - and dig a little. This section was presented by Ben Goldacre and had the sub-text "why bullshit isn't harmless".

And to end the evening - Tim Minchin with a fantastic beat poem about the twaddle which is new-age alternative medicine.

I guess I'm staying into contraversial territory in here for probably the first time, so I intend to tread carefully. But it was good last night to hear so many people talking, some comically and some seriously, about just how wonderful a thing the universe is.

It was refreshing to be part of an audience who could listen to Richard Dawkins says that with the sheer number of planets in the universe, it's highly likely that intelligent life has evolved elsewhere without any sniggering.

I had been having a rather melacholic weekend, but in the taxi home last night I actually felt a sense of having been uplifted, and a sense of just how beautiful the universe actually is. There are some true marvels out there in the world and in the universe and the true excitement and wonder of science is in the fact that we don't know everything and never will - and the thrill of finding a new type of animal or a new type of star is something I shall never tire of reading of.

So - and I acknowledge the irony here - I do actually feel rather Christmassy now. In the sense of feeling happy and content and looking forward to enjoying some time of relaxation over the holidays.

Merry Christmas...

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