A hundred walked out of my lecture

621

by Sue Blackmore

I’m still shaken by yesterday’s lecture and its aftermath. Oxford in the 21st century was, I’d fondly assumed, the epitome of somewhere I could speak freely and fully, and expect people to listen and then argue and disagree if they wished to. Apparently not.

I was invited to give a lecture on memes by the “Oxford Royale Academy”, an institution that has nothing to do with the University of Oxford but hosts groups of several hundred 17-18 year-olds for two weeks of classes and, I guess, some kind of simulation of an ‘Oxford experience’. I was told they were of 45 nationalities and I assumed many different religions. So I prepared my lecture carefully. I tried it out the day before on my husband’s grandson, a bright mixed-race 16 year-old from Paris, and added pictures of the latest craze for ‘Fatkini posts’ and more videos, including my favourite Gangnam Style parody (Python style), but I wasn’t going to avoid the topic of religious memes – religions are an example, par excellence, of memeplexes that use wicked tricks to ensure their own survival. I simply made sure that my slides included many religions and didn’t single one out.

Looking back I should have seen trouble coming early on. I began with a pile of stuffed animals on the desk that I use to illustrate natural selection. Many laughed at my ‘dangerous predator’ eating them but at the word ‘evolution’ a young man in the second row began swaying side to side and vigorously shaking his head. I persevered, trying to put over the idea that evolution is inevitable – if you have information that is copied with variation and selection then you must get (as Dan Dennett p50 puts it) ‘Design out of chaos without the aid of mind’. It is this inevitability that I find so delightful – the evolutionary algorithm just must produce design, and once you understand that you have no need to believe or not believe in evolution. You see how it works. So I persevered.

Introducing memes, I asked for volunteers to come up on the stage and invent a new meme. This same young man, called Moritz, was up in a flash, followed by four others. I asked him, at the word ‘go’, to make some simple movements and sounds. ‘One, two, three, Go,’ I said, and he waved one hand around in a circle, chanting ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word ….’. The others then imitated him and that was fun. Three obediently began reciting from the Bible but the fourth threw both arms in the air and declared ‘There’s a big old man in the sky’ and raised a huge laugh and cheer from (some of) the audience. This seemed an opportunity not to be missed so I asked the whole audience, at the word ‘go’, to imitate either of these two new memes, whereupon a great cry burst out of, ‘In the beg…’, ‘There’s an old man …’. Great, I said, we’ve now got two memes, you have just seen meme creation and selection at work.

Then I arrived at religion. I pointed out that religions demand lots of resources (I showed them pictures of a church, a Hindu temple, a Jewish menorah and Muslim pilgrims on Hajj); they pose threats to health (I showed people ‘purifying their souls’ by wading in the stinking germ-laden Ganges) and make people do strange things (I showed rows of Muslims bent over with their heads on the floor). I hadn’t gone far with this before five or six young men got up and began to walk out. They had a good distance to go across the large hall, so I said ‘Excuse me, would you mind telling me why you are leaving?’ There was a long silence until one said, ‘You are offending us. We will not listen,’ and they left. Soon after that another bunch left, and then another.

I explained the idea of religions as memeplexes: they package up a set of doctrines, tell believers to learn them, to pass them on, to have faith and not doubt, and they ensure obedience with fearsome threats and ridiculous promises. This I illustrated with images of Christian heaven and hell. Then I read from the Koran “those that have faith and do good works, Allah will admit them to gardens watered by running streams … pearls and bracelets of gold.” “Garments of fire have been prepared for the unbelievers. They shall be lashed with rods of iron.” More walked out. By the time I arrived at a slide calling religions (Richard’s fault!) ‘Viruses of the mind’, the lecture hall was looking rather empty.

The cartoon was worse. As I have often done before, I suggested that one final trick of a desperate religion (I didn’t say quite that this time) is to forbid laughter. I warned any devout Muslims in the audience to look away as I showed one of the Danish cartoons. It’s so simple – just a bunch of terrorists arriving in heaven to be told, “Stop, stop, we ran out of virgins’. That normally gets a good laugh – along with sympathy for the cartoonists threatened with death for something so innocuous. Not this time. More walked out.

I called out to some as they left, ‘Can’t you even listen to ideas you disagree with? In Oxford, of all places, you should be open-minded enough to hear alternative views’. But no. They said I needed an open mind. This really got to me, raising painful memories of my early research on psychics and clairvoyants who said, ‘You just don’t have an open mind,’ when my careful experiments showed no psychic powers. By the time I moved on to showing Internet memes and viral videos more than half the audience was gone.

There were good questions from those who remained and even more from a little group who gathered round afterwards, a few sceptical ones challenging some brave believers who had dared remain. Then I looked for the chairman who had introduced me. I felt shaken and exhausted and hoped for support. After all, he must have known when I was invited that I was a vociferous atheist, and since I was invited to talk about memes he must have expected me to mention religions. But his face was like thunder. As we left the building, discussing what had happened, I asked him if he was religious. ‘I am a Christian,’ he said, darkly. No comfort there!

Outside, some young Muslims were waiting for me. I was angrily told that I’d made them feel ignorant. They asked whether I’ve read the Koran – at least I could say that I’ve read an English translation (of the whole horrible book). I was asked whether a leech looks like an embryo. (What ???) ‘A little bit,’ I agreed, ‘and there are good biological reasons why animal shapes are … ‘There you are then, that’s why I believe the Koran is the word of God. This is true, like everything in the Koran’.

I staggered up the High Street confused and upset – both at what had happened and at what I had said, and not said. What should I have done? They are ignorant aren’t they? Isn’t that why they’ve come to this city of learning, even if not Oxford University itself – to learn? Was I a coward to apologise? Were my attempts to be reasonable the best way of engaging them or just plain cowardice? Should I have said that the Koran, like the Old Testament, is a foul book full of hatred and violence; that they hold the beliefs they do only because they were infected with this horrible religion when they were too young to object? That they could escape … ?

Walking miserably up the High Street I felt profoundly depressed at the state of the world. I could cheer myself with the thought that I’d learned something. I learned that Islam has yet another nasty meme-trick to offer – when you are offended put your hands over your ears and run away. This would be funny if it weren’t so serious. These bright, but ignorant, young people must be among the more enlightened of their contemporaries since their parents have been able and willing to send them on this course to learn something new. If even they cannot face dissent, or think for themselves, what hope is there for the rest? And what can I do?

 

Susan Blackmore is a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. She is the author of several books including The Meme Machine.

621 COMMENTS

    • I would use even a simpler one, sad. What happened is just sad…
      but hey, let’s cheer up and think that even if only one person with strong religious beliefs stayed till the end, and put some thought on what was said in the lecture, it is worth, right?
      Yet, I feel deeply sorry for what Professor Blackmore had to go trough to get if only that one person think a bit … that’s still remains sad

      • I was one of the ORA students that attended to the lecture. In fact I sat 2 rows directly behind the guy who was shaking his head as fast as he could, when Blackmore talked about natural selection. I, who had been on the course for over a week had already gotten to know most of the people attending. I was really looking forward to the lecture, however I was pretty afraid to see the reaction from many of these people, because many are devout christians or muslims.

        I had a hard time focusing on Blackmore’s lecture because of the guy who was in front of me. I recall an Italian guy sitting directly behind him, patting him on the back; trying to comfort him because of what he was hearing. I cringed and felt embarrassed during the lecture.

        In Denmark (which is where I originate), people tend to be open and relaxed when it comes to talking about religion or natural selection. However, the moment Susan started the lecture I could already feel that the administration must have made some mistake. I knew from the beginning that many in this lecture room will be highly offended.

        When the majority of the students left I felt an urge of relief. Finally! I can relax and listen to this lecture, without looking around seeing agitated muslims. I enjoyed your presentation, and I really wanted to walk up to you and say I’m sorry about all of this. They’re all good people. Just not tolerant.

        A girl from the ORA facebook group shared a link to this blog, so I felt that it was necessary for me to create an account just to write this. Even though I am an atheist, i am not actively engaging in any community (except for reddit.com/r/atheism).

        But yes MartaMon. She did well, and the students who remained to ask questions had some good ones. It was a very awkward day when we arrived back at Balliol College.

        • Dear Mark,
          Thank you very much for joining in here. I was so pleased to hear from someone who was actually there and could describe their own experience of the lecture. I am sorry it was so awkward, and I hope the administration were able to help the students afterwards.

          • I think there are some contradictory points, and to be contradiction-free is one of the most essential traits for any scientific and philosophical work.
            1- Methodologically, the writer has got a problem in what does religious replicated gathering look like? Her meme analogy about magnetic power of religion in unifying people and replicating the number of people, is not compatible, and then it turns to be subjective, though she tries to use scientific objectivity and terminology.
            The writer, here, deals with two main issues concerning memes; the replicating power of memes, and their random replication.
            She only talks about similarities between the gathering of memes and youth in replication, without comparing what would cause and frame the replication itself in both cases. The biological replication would not match, nor explain the social one, for the natures of their constituents are not alike.
            She argues that biologically similar memes would get together. If we consider for instance that all the youth in a certain region are biologically similar, so why they don’t all get together about a certain religious or cultural gathering? Why they get divided on so many diverse groups and congregations? And if we consider all the youth in a certain region are different, so the analogy she offers will fail. So, in either cases, memes don’t look like youth as the smallest constituents or individual units of replication and gathering.
            On the other hand, even replication of memes is not random. They exist in a certain body which is controlled by the brain. That’s why only the genetic and memetic replications are sustainable and survive that are guided by brain and balanced by the overall frames and the designs that certain parts of body have. For instance, certain replications of cells are constructive when they lead to designed growth, specialty, and balance, like making an eye, bone, finger, kidney, tongue, and so on. However, the kind of replication which enlarges a cancerous part will be either deteriorating the body balance and would be stopped, or it will stop and end up the life of the body itself. So, replication is not random.
            The analogy she suggets is just like comparing insects’ replicational gathering round a bulb with people’s replicational gathering for a football game. Here, only the phrase “replicational gathering” will be similar, else those two events differ in everything. As personal first impression on a surface level, as she took it apparently, they would seem similar, while on a deeper scientific analytic level, they are not. There are pros and cons in the game. What replicates people is entertainment and psycho-social relief; laughter, eating, interacting, witnessing their favorite team’s excellency and passing time. In the contrary, insects’ gathering is only replicated by survival needs, without enjoying success of a certain team, or even without any sense of team spirit.
            2- She has a problem in why does she get shocked at the end, at all? The authenticity of her emotional interaction, her final shock and jaw dropping attitude when the youth leave the hall, is questionable. She gets shocked about something she considers axiomatic at the beginning. She was trying to prove that religious replicating gathering is just like memes’, however; when the youth gathered and left, she got shocked! So, the shock does not seem authentic to me, at all, else, she was supposed to feel OK about what she has been expecting from the beginning.
            If meme replicating gathering analogy was true for religious gathering, it must be true for the whole other types of gathering like, scientific, monetary, power-based, democratic, tyrannical, athletic, artistic, and so on. The core focus, here, is about an unconscious replication and gathering, however; she only exemplifies religious gathering. As, she doesn’t tell any differences between all those types of gathering, and only projects the meme analogy on the religious one, the whole seminar turns to seem offensive and subjective, in a way that she didn’t notice.
            3- She has a problem in whom does she address the speech to? The competence of her audience was supposed to be as high as her profession and specialty, not to address a group of youth who may not have enough background, information and experience. It is just like a physician who may get angry and shocked and starts blaming a client who got a infectious disease for not knowing fairly about the disease, not caring for getting together with people who got it, not knowing about the potential risks, symptoms, and the way the disease gets infectious. Those kinds of details are supposed to be known by someone aware of the disease, not this casual client, who does not have enough background, or information about what he suffers from!
            4- She has a problem with how does she deal with hatred and violence? She uses non-measurable emotionally biased and almost phobic terminologies, like “horrible” for Qur’an, and “dare” for youth, accusing them with violence and hatred, while she practices textual violence and hatred, using offensive terms against the same very people she has already accused. She clearly says, “Should I have said that the Koran, like the Old Testament, is a foul book full of hatred and violence; that they hold the beliefs they do only because they were infected with this horrible religion when they were too young to object?”, and describes Qur’an as”the whole horrible book”.
            Moreover, she has prejudices about religious youth and finally thinks that there were “a few sceptical ones challenging some brave believers who had dared remain”. One would ask, scientifically, how can she distinguish between the ones who dare to remain and the ones who don’t? How can she decide who are the ones who try “to hear alternative views” and who are the others whom when “are offended put [their] hands over [their] ears and run away”? How can we be sure that she didn’t aim at challenging and frightening all the youth to “dare remain” instead of neutrally presenting a scientific seminar?
            That’s why I would feel the tone of the essay is more emotional than logical, the attitude of the writer is more offensive than neutral, and her conclusions are more subjective than objective.

    • Let me get this straight: this pseudo-intellectual delivers a terribly-constructed lecture which is insulting to religious believers. Some believers in the audience leave QUIETLY without making a fuss. However, they are HECKLED from the podium by the speaker as to why they are leaving and ‘outed’ as believers. They then have the nerve to wait after the lecture to express their anger about being ridiculed in such a way.

      And she feels threatened???????????

      • For that you get it straight: She has a postion of a Visiting Professor! Who are you to call her pseudo-intelectual? By insulting her, you do not get away with telling facts about religious nonsense is always insluting religious beliefs! When she asks the YOUNGSTERS why they leave you think this is a thread? They did not have the nerve but the impertinence to wait until the end of the lecture they failed to listen and to confront her with even more religious nonsense! They are there to learn and ignore information? Again who are you to write such awful stuff? And there is a big difference between being threatened (I translated the text, meaning I read it slowly and carefully – did you(?) – And did not find this word only once!) and depressed by ignorance. Are you insulted because you are a biliever in what kind of Godsoever? Step back and start thinking about, what Mrs Blackmore wrote about really means!

        • As someone who has had professional contact with Dr Blackmore, I must say that her position of Visiting Professor at Plymouth is hardly indicative of her professional career and frankly, I’m not surprised that people walked out of her lecture, maybe it was because of her subject matter, maybe it was her delivery, whichever it was, I don’t blame them.
          Her Pseudo-intellectual credentials begin with a PHD in Parapsychology and that’s really where they end.

          So Please Mr Walsing, check the horse you’re backing before you ride into town shouting it’s name.

          • Hi Graham,

            Sue Blackmore has a degree in Psychology and Physiology from Oxford University; quite impressive. And while her later research was initially instigated by a desire to find evidence for mystical-like activity, her subsequent path in debunking such phenomena and her career in journalism, writing books etc. seems to provide plenty of evidence that she is someone with an interesting point of view and worth listening too.

            What professional contact have you had with Sue Blackmore that brings into question her credentials?

            So please, Graham, provide the information you have, that others do not.

      • I thought the same as Rachael. And the stuffed animals, play acting, pictures. It all sounds very goofy and patronizing. And it is one thing to discuss differing points of view, another to sit and be told that your beliefs are ‘ridiculous,’ ‘strange,’ or ‘threatening’ without a chance to respond.

      • Last week I wrote replies to many of the comments here, including this one. Apparently there was a server error last Friday and lots of comments, including mine were lost. So I will try again!
        Rachael did not ‘get this straight’. Of course my lecture was constructed , and very carefully too. I thought about the age and possible interests of the students (given what little I knew about them). Being asked to speak on memes, I tried to design a lively and interesting lecture to include some fundamentals of evolutionary theory as well as new and challenging ideas about memes for them to think about.
        I heckled no one and no one heckled me.
        I threatened no one and no one threatened me.

        • I have not read all the comments here, but I am very glad to have stumbled upon this bog post. I have admired Sue Blackmore for years for her fascinating ideas about memes and consciousness. I am riveted whenever I watch her speak, and I would consider it to be a great privilege to hear her speak in person.

          I can easily imagine myself in the situation she describes. I have definitely been in classrooms when the most interesting ideas are dismissed out of hand. I also have been a teacher, and I am filled with dismay when things have appeared to go badly. I am very familiar with questioning myself, my motives, and my social skills after an awkward situation.

          Her ability to engage an audience intellectually had previously earned my great respect, and now in addition I must acknowledge how movingly she can tell a story.

      • Last week I wrote replies to many of the comments here, including this one. Apparently there was a server error last Friday and lots of comments, including mine were lost. So I will try again!

        Rachael did not ‘get this straight’. Of course my lecture was constructed , and very carefully too. I thought about the age and possible interests of the students (given what little I knew about them). Being asked to speak on memes, I tried to design a lively and interesting lecture to include some fundamentals of evolutionary theory as well as new and challenging ideas about memes for them to think about.

        I heckled no one and no one heckled me.

        I threatened no one and no one threatened me.

      • Precisely, and I couldn’t say it more concisely! She derives religion from fatkinis and expects all believers present to surrender to the inexorable logic of that demonstration. She refers back to the similar experience with the psychics — more has been made of their offended reactions than of her study. Why does this keep happening to her? She obviously knew the audience was full of young believers. It’s true she’s more closed than they are, because she is deaf to common universal civility.

    • “they pose threats to health (I showed people ‘purifying their souls’ by wading in the stinking germ-laden Ganges)”

      Ignorance of germs has nothing to do with religion: how many women died in childbirth due to doctors not washing their hands after cutting up the dead?

      • But religious belief does tend to provide an erroneous view that through belief, disease can be ignored if one is faithful enough…that god or gods will intervene to protect the chosen.

        Yes, ignorance of simple facts can indeed affect anyone, but the difference between not knowing something and not believing (no matter the evidence) are not the same.

      • Very interesting! In the German language there are two clearly distinct terms. “Ignoranz” in German means definitely to ignore something (like the toxicity of germ-laden water. Have you ever seen Varanasi the place where they burn their deaths and throw the half-burnd carcasses into the river and a hundred meters away people are climbing into the river? I would not even put one toe into that water! Besides in the Town where I live they started to understand that the graveyard directly situated at the Münster the biggest church in a wide area was a thread to the water in the city. So the “outsourced” it out of town – in the dark ages!) and “Unwissenheit” meaning not to know. Maybe that’s the source of your problem to understand – or the fact that you dare not to think about her ideas!

      • rachael Aug 20, 2014 at 9:03 am

        they pose threats to health (I showed people ‘purifying their souls’ by wading in the stinking germ-laden Ganges)

        Ignorance of germs has nothing to do with religion: how many women died in childbirth due to doctors not washing their hands after cutting up the dead?

        You seem to be using the common religious meme of the irrational tactic of side-tracking issues to avoid facing or answering the stupidity of religiously motivated actions being dangerous and anti-social!
        Historically, doctors were honestly ignorant rather than wilfully ignorant!
        The Ganges bathers have modern information available, but like those who walked out of the lecture (by a world leading expert on the subject – who you called a pseudo-intellectual – from a viewpoint of profound ignorance of memetics) they blocked their ears and kept their minds firmly closed.

        That’s one of the features of religious memes. Those possessed by them THINK they know better than the world’s leading experts, and whole libraies of evidenced knowledge, because their understanding of the universe consists of 10 words:- god-did-it-by-magic-so-I-know-it-all!

      • quite I doubt sue has ever been near the Ganges let alone the confluence at Allahabad. I spent the entire three months of the Kumbh Mela 2013 with tens of 100’s of Sadhu’s many of whom, including a Australian Dr (a marine taxonomist so as familiar as I am as a soil scientist with disease and its transmission) who bathed every day in the Ganges. Sure its not pristine but it’s not toxic either.. and the purpose of bathing is not to attain earthly purity but to remove karma.. to achieve moksha (liberation) from the cycle of life. It may not be a belief system Sue shares but it is as valid, some would aver more so than her atheism. Similarly referring to the Koran as “a horrible book” reveals both her lack of knowledge of the Koran and her intent to use circular reasoning.. One could claim the same for the Origin of Species since unlike the Koran it has been used to defend Eugenics, an ‘art’ honed by Hitler and Stalin. Sue set out here to be critical, to be insulting and when she achieved that she then tries to argue that her audience were closed to debate. Sue put forward a narrow minded and prejudice view. One clearly designed to insult and constructed in the form of a logical fallacy… If anyone is closed minded here it is sue blackmore with her silly circular reasoning.. [yawn], so lame you almost have my pity.

        • While I might question Sue’s choice of emotive/insulting language to describe the state of the Ganges i do not understand what your comment:

          quite I doubt sue has ever been near the Ganges let alone the
          confluence at Allahabad.

          has to do with the validity of what she has to say about the Ganges. I have never been near the Ganges but I can read, just as she can e.g.

          http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/varanasi/Bathing-in-Ganga-highly-dangerous/articleshow/5899475.cms

          And this was just the first link of many one can access about the level of pollution in the Ganges.

          I spent the entire three months of the Kumbh Mela 2013 with tens of
          100′s of Sadhu’s many of whom, including a Australian Dr (a marine
          taxonomist so as familiar as I am as a soil scientist with disease and
          its transmission) who bathed every day in the Ganges.

          Again, just because you bathed in the Ganges or someone else bathed in the Ganges (whoever they may be) does not attest to it’s cleanliness. What does, is the myriad of information from multiple sources readily available on the web about the levels of pollution in the river.

          Sure its not pristine but it’s not toxic either..

          The many sources on the web disagree with you… and these are not just opinion pieces but from Indian medical organisations etc. who have made measurements of the contents of the Ganges over many years and are concerned for people’s health, welfare and livelihoods.

          and the purpose of bathing is not to attain earthly purity but to
          remove karma.. to achieve moksha (liberation) from the cycle of life.

          One can find many people who have many opinions on what they view the Ganges as doing. Many of them involved “purification” of some sort or other, as well as many other reasons for bathing in the river. What Sue wrote was a quick reference in brackets, not a detailed analysis of the all the reasons people bathe in the Ganges. So I don’t see the relevance of your comment.

          It may not be a belief system Sue shares but it is as valid, some
          would aver more so than her atheism.

          I too question the belief systems validity. Feel free to defend it / try and convince me otherwise by providing some evidence of why it is valid.

          Similarly referring to the Koran as “a horrible book” reveals both her
          lack of knowledge of the Koran

          You put “a horrible book” in quotes, but she doesn’t write this in the article. I am being a little pedantic here, as she says something similar, but for clarity it would be good to keep quotes to represent what is exactly said. Also, I imagine by referring to the Koran as being unpleasant (as she also does to the Old Testament) she is referring to the many passages that glory in violent acts that have been committed or exhort people to commit violent acts.

          One could claim the same for the Origin of Species

          Please could you back up this claim with quotes from the Origin of Species that exhort people to commit violent acts.

          since unlike the Koran it has been used to defend Eugenics

          If this is what you mean by claiming “the same of the Origin of species” then I would claim it is not an apt comparison, as mentioned above. Also, the Koran (as other holy books and non-holy books) has, and is being used as justification for many acts of violence and terror. Claiming the Origin of Species is a bad book because it has been used to defend Eugenics is a criticism on the same level as claiming a medical book (the intention of which is to help in the healing of people) is bad because someone then used the information in it to improve their torture techniques. The difference with the Koran (Old Testament etc.) is that it contains explicit exhortations to violence etc.

          Sue set out here to be critical, to be insulting and when she achieved
          that she then tries to argue that her audience were closed to debate.
          Sue put forward a narrow minded and prejudice view. One clearly
          designed to insult and constructed in the form of a logical fallacy…
          If anyone is closed minded here it is sue blackmore with her silly
          circular reasoning..

          Why do you believe she set out to be insulting?… I have to admit that some of the language she used in this article is relatively emotive (I’m guessing that is related to the emotion she explained arose from her experience) but her reporting of how she gave the talk does not sound like she approached the lecture in an emotive way or set out to insult people. It seems clear she was trying to inform people of the concept of “memes” an area in which she has expertise. If you disagree with specific points she makes about memes, please discuss, but you have not made any such specific disagreement. Also you talk about her use of “circular reasoning” and “logical fallacy”. Perhaps you could elaborate on exactly where you thought she engaged in either of these.

          [yawn], so lame you almost have my pity.

          While quite a few people on this site indulge in personal jibes (I try not too, but I can’t remember how good I’ve been)… it aids discussion if we can all stick to discussing the ideas rather than throwing insults.

          • first why did this and several other posts disappear? is it technical (can’t use WordPress properly) or censorship? but in reply to @Theo H:

            Wow, so many points to address, one could be forgiven for thinking you want a rewrite.
            regarding:

            quite I doubt sue has ever been near the Ganges let alone the
            confluence at Allahabad.
            first hand experience (visiting the site, which I have) are relevant. As regards the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna at Allahabad it is where most choose to bathe: it being the most holy of sites in India.

            http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/varanasi/Bathing-in-Ganga-highly-dangerous/articleshow/5899475.cms

            times of India: bad reference.. no credibility whatsoever: a comic for tourists.

            I spent the entire three months of the Kumbh Mela 2013 with tens of
            100′s of Sadhu’s many of whom, including a Australian Dr (a marine
            taxonomist so as familiar as I am as a soil scientist with disease and
            its transmission) who bathed every day in the Ganges.

            Again, just because you bathed in the Ganges or someone else bathed in the Ganges (whoever they may be) does not attest to it’s cleanliness.<<

            Actually I didn’t but somewhere in excess of 20 million did (if you believe the times of India)..so I suspect that meets any ones criteria for the minimum number of replicates. As far as I am aware no one suffered any ailment from doing so (if they did it certainly wasn’t reported in the times of India). Admittedly several Sadhu’s died there but then that’s what many old men come and hope for.. To die at the Mela and achieve Moksha liberation (their belief not mine but one I respect). Rather ironically Moksha is synonymous with annihilation.. to not exist which is what I believe atheists expect following death: nothing. So they are chasing the same thing only they are not so assured.

            Sure its not pristine but it’s not toxic either..
            The many sources on the web disagree with you…

            There are many sources on the web that tell you many things that are not true or are exaggerated.. The Ganges still has fish and river dolphins that eat them..
            Yes it has high faecal coliform counts, common with many rivers in third World countries and with Delhs industrialisation feeding into the Yamuna it carries a fair degree of chemical contamination too. |None of this is disputed what is disputed is the idea that it will kill you if you touch it: no it won’t, I don’t advise drinking it but it’s fine to swim in and carries less overall danger to a swimmer than an abandoned flooded quarry in the UK..where cold and cramp is a bigger killer . So put it in perspective.

            and the purpose of bathing is not to attain earthly purity but to
            remove karma.. to achieve moksha (liberation) from the cycle of life.
            One can find many people who have many opinions:

            perhaps you can but what I state here is correct.. hold an alternative view if you like but I have lived with Sadhu’s I know why they bathe in the Ganges so I’m not going to engage in disputing it with you.

            ” What Sue wrote was a quick reference in brackets, not a detailed analysis of the all the reasons people bathe in the Ganges. So I don’t see the relevance of your comment.”

            the relevance I would have thought was obvious: it is important to understand why before you criticise.

            It may not be a belief system Sue shares but it is as valid, some
            would aver more so than her atheism.
            I too question the belief systems validity. Feel free to defend it / try and convince me otherwise by providing some evidence of why it is valid.

            It is valid or no more valid than an emotional response to a situation.. it’s not logically to feel happy or sad, to know love and despair but it’s part of the human condition: just as belief is. That’s why it’s valid.

            Similarly referring to the Koran as “a horrible book” reveals both her
            lack of knowledge of the Koran
            You put “a horrible book” in quotes, but she doesn’t write this in the article.

            admittedly I paraphrased and missed the word whole as in “the whole horrible book” : the full context being: “They asked whether I’ve read the Koran – at least I could say that I’ve read an English translation (of the whole horrible book). “

            I am being a little pedantic here,…

            really is that what you call it? because I think I’m correct and you are not.. for clarity calling it “the whole horrible book” is not referring to “the many passages that glory in violent acts that have been committed or exhort people to commit violent acts.” it is referring to the book in it’s entirety, the vast majority of which preaches peace and equality, but hey it’s a complete book and as a species we do violent acts, and no more so than in the current paradigm, so I think in context in which the book is intended to guide a person through life it would be absent of a true reflection of humanity were it to ignore our violent natures.

            One could claim the same for the Origin of Species
            Please could you back up this claim with quotes from the Origin of Species that exhort people to commit violent acts.

            And you accuse me of note quoting correctly.. why split the sentence? “One could claim the same for the Origin of Species since unlike the Koran it has been used to defend Eugenics, an ‘art’ honed by Hitler and Stalin.”
            Dawinism and Eugenics.. perhaps news for you but not for the many who suffered as a consequence of Darwinism being used to justify slavery and oppression of non-whites…as well as genocides. As for the relevance it is the use of such works to justify an act.. Sue as with Dawkins is fond of pointing out how religious text have been used to support atrocities.. and thus blame the book rather the perpetrators.. if that is fair for religious books that have been misused surely it is fair to blame the Origin of Species for Eugenics. I’m simply pointing out that the same miss use can occur with any works, including the ‘Torah’ of scientific materialism: the origin of species…

            Sue set out here to be critical, to be insulting and when she achieved
            that she then tries to argue that her audience were closed to debate.
            Sue put forward a narrow minded and prejudice view. One clearly
            designed to insult and constructed in the form of a logical fallacy…
            If anyone is closed minded here it is sue blackmore with her silly
            circular reasoning..
            Why do you believe she set out to be insulting?…

            She admitted as earlier noted that she was hostile re: that horrible book”

            “I have to admit that some of the language she used in this article is relatively emotive (I’m guessing that is related to the emotion she explained arose from her experience) but her reporting of how she gave the talk does not sound like she approached the lecture in an emotive way or set out to insult people. It seems clear she was trying to inform people of the concept of “memes” an area in which she has expertise.

            really memes? Why is it when anyone from Dawkins ‘camp’ want to talk about memes they always use religion as an example.. surely the transfer of ideas, which is what a meme is, applies to the whole spectrum of life and not just a few theologians.

            If you disagree with specific points she makes about memes, please discuss, but you have not made any such specific disagreement. Also you talk about her use of “circular reasoning” and “logical fallacy”. Perhaps you could elaborate on exactly where you thought she engaged in either of these.

            Sue set out to offend, and when she did and got the most polite possible response she could, they walked out, she tried to use it as a justification to claim they are closed minded… no they are just not as thick skinned as someone like me.. had I been there I would have stayed.. because the arguments she gives are so lame they are easy to tear apart and expose for what they are..

            [yawn], so lame you almost have my pity.
            While quite a few people on this site indulge in personal jibes (I try not too, but I can’t remember how good I’ve been)… it aids discussion if we can all stick to discussing the ideas rather than throwing insults.

            I certainly don’t retract it and fail to see how me signifying ‘boredom’ should be a worse insult than Sue gave to her audience.. I at least didn’t waste a bus fare… unlike many who went to here her speak and felt oblidged to walk out. Where’s her apology?

          • malcolm Aug 21, 2014 at 7:50 pm

            I spent the entire three months of the Kumbh Mela 2013 with tens of 100′s of Sadhu’s many of whom, including a Australian Dr (a marine taxonomist so as familiar as I am as a soil scientist with disease and
            its transmission) who bathed every day in the Ganges.

            This is called trying to use science as a badge of false authority!

            Theo H Aug 20, 2014 at 11:31 pm – Again, just because you bathed in the Ganges or someone else bathed in the Ganges (whoever they may be) does not attest to it’s cleanliness.

            Actually I didn’t but somewhere in excess of 20 million did (if you believe the times of India)..so I suspect that meets any ones criteria for the minimum number of replicates. As far as I am aware no one suffered any ailment from doing so (if they did it certainly wasn’t reported in the times of India).

            The lack of awareness of the assertive ignorant looking through “faith-blinkers”, has no relevance to reality!

            Sure its not pristine but it’s not toxic either..

            Utter nonsense! Lets look at some facts!

            http://www.smithsonianmag.com/making-a-difference/a-prayer-for-the-ganges-173708201/?page=2

            In Varanasi, India’s most sacred city, the coliform bacterial count is at least 3,000 times higher than the standard established as safe by the United Nations World Health Organization, according to Veer Bhadra Mishra, an engineer and Hindu priest who’s led a campaign there to clean the river for two decades. “Polluted river water is the biggest cause of skin problems, disabilities and high infant mortality rates,” says Suresh Babu, deputy coordinator of the River Pollution Campaign at the Center for Science and the Environment, a watchdog group in New Delhi, India’s capital. These health problems are compounded by the fact that many Hindus refuse to accept that Mother Ganga has become a source of illness. “People have so much faith in this water that when they bathe in it or sip it, they believe it is the nectar of God [and] they will go to heaven,” says Ramesh Chandra Trivedi, a scientist at the Central Pollution Control Board, the monitoring arm of India’s Ministry of the Environment and Forests.

            Twenty years ago, then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi launched the Ganga Action Plan, or GAP, which shut down some of the most egregious industrial polluters and allocated about $100 million for constructing wastewater treatment plants in 25 cities and towns along the river. But these efforts have fallen woefully short. According to a 2001-2002 government survey, the treatment plants could handle only about a third of the 600 million gallons of domestic sewage that poured into them every day. (The volume has increased significantly since then).

            The stupidity of “purification”, by bathing in a mixture of toxic effluent and raw sewage is only too evident to all except those blinded by the “faith-meme”!

            Also:-
            http://www.smithsonianmag.com/making-a-difference/a-prayer-for-the-ganges-173708201/?no-ist

          • malcolm Aug 21, 2014 at 7:50 pm

            and thus blame the book rather the perpetrators.. if that is fair for religious books that have been misused surely it is fair to blame the Origin of Species for Eugenics.

            I quite agree – and of course it is not fair to blame the Origin of Species, nor the religious books, but the perpetrators.

            There is a case for saying that Salinger’s novel “The Catcher in the Rye” has exhorted people to commit murder. Arguable, but let’s say it did. Would it be helpful then to say the novel poses a threat to health, to life even? Would Chapman be a well-balanced law-abiding citizen had he not read Salinger’s work? If we blame the book, will that help stop further murders?

            There is right now a serious, disturbing problem in the UK, and probably elsewhere, of youngsters, mostly, being coerced into fighting in Syria and Iraq. A lot of the inculcation is achieved using religious texts, ideals and methodology. But to blame the religion does not help. There have been calls for the Muslim leaders and community to take a more active role in discouraging this, using religious texts, ideals and methodology. And some are; “It really hurts my feelings as a Muslim to see these people doing that and thinking its justifiable when it’s totally not justifiable at all in any way shape or form”. [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28807384] This is commendable. But to to blame the religion for the evils will only drive people like this away. It will only exacerbate the situation – it is that, that angers me; continuing to do so is pernicious.

        • Actually I took the photograph myself. I was at the Ghat in Kolkata on my way to a tour of monasteries in the high Himalayas. I briefly told the story in my lecture – that I waited with hundreds of people who were swimming and bathing in the water. I put my hands into the water and it took me over 24 hours to get rid of the smell on my skin. The river there (an arm of the Ganges) is stinking, dark brown, and polluted with sewage. Yet the people were there to purify their souls.

      • Present day has nothing to do with how many women died before Doctors understood that not washing their hands had a direct effect on the mother AFTER a child was born. Their are many risk to a woman during child birth. Even today. The reference of the “purifying their souls” shows the dangers associated with religious dogma along with some modern day Christian beliefs also. There is a denomination of Christianity that refuses medical treatment not only for themselves but for their kids also. All because they believe in the “power of prayer”, children have died from things/illnesses that are preventable or treatable… especial snake bites. This anti vaccine movement is a growing problem not only within Christianity but Islam also as Muslims spread stories about how shots will cause them to not be able to have children. Illnesses that were almost eradicated are now spreading again. And like any good bacteria/virus/pathogens, they evolve (evolution) to grow more resistance to cures or treatments… is that a correct statement?

    • Hi Sue,

      I hope you get a chance to read this. Honestly, the reaction of your audience is exactly how I would have predicted it based upon your depiction of the presentation. I’m a Unitarian Universalist (about 20 percent of my church self describes as atheist) and I’m also a public speaking director, coach, professor, and consultant at Northwestern University. If you or any of the other presenters who left comments here want to keep your audience from walking out in the future please feel free to get in touch. I really can help.
      Ryan Lauth

    • This sounds like an excellent idea for a lecture. Start with an obsolete statement made from a religious viewpoint, like “Illness is caused by evil spirits and cured through interceding prayer.” Go step by step through Leeuwenhoek using a microscope and Flemming’s discoveries of antibiotic properties of mold. The old idea compartmentalizes a very scary thought, “people get sick and die for mysterious, maybe magic reasons.” It enables us to project the problem onto evil agencies and somehow get on with life without constant panic or feelings of helplessness. The new idea re-arranges our world by giving us causes of illness that we can defend against. It enables many of us to live better and longer. But the old ideas were with us for millennia. They have been part of our relations with each other and of our institutions, baked into our developmental proclivities. Now we have sciences to explain much of which is unseen, and psychology to tell us of how our mind naturally interprets objects of fear and uncertainty. Come to the statement that beliefs change and have a discussion about that. I think this can be done without using deprecating words like foul, ridiculous, and the like.

    • I think adjectives is the word to focus on here: while I am also a non believer, I think it was the adjectives used that were the problem. If I were giving this talk and my goal was to avoid insulting believers, I’d have deleted all the adjectives mentioned. I’m surprised anyone is surprised believers walked out, to be honest. Simply stating science facts flatly without adjectivial emphasis would have been challenge enough for the believers, and much more respectful of their positions.

  1. Steve Jones told me the same thing happens to him (not on the same scale) when he lectures to medical students at University College, London. Muslim students walk out as soon as he starts talking about evolution.

    In his case, let me stress again, these are medical students, aspiring to become doctors in Britain. I don’t know about you, but one of the qualities I value in my doctor is open-mindedness.

      • Sounds like the same imposter. Just on the old site. Why is it so difficult to separate an avatar name with the real name? Unless there is some official recognition from the website that the user is the real Dawkins, why shouldn’t we think that an imposter is responsible for the blatantly unintelligent comments.

        The following is a comment made by the”Richard Dawkins” you linked to.

        “I too caused a girl to cry, for the same reason, when I made a cameo appearance in a classroom at a small university in America earlier this year. I felt remorseful at the time, but afterwards I thought about it and remorse turned to anger. Anger at the girl’s stupid parents. Anger at the girl herself for being so weedy. What the hell did she think a university was for, if not to encourage her to think in new and unfamiliar ways, going beyond what she was exposed to when living with her ridiculous family? I didn’t in any way insult the girl herself or say unpleasant things about her or her family. I didn’t even tell her to grow up, although I should have. All I did was lay out the facts of evolution and the evidence for it, in unemotional, scientific terms. And that was enough to make the little fool cry.”

        Would the real Dawkins say this nonsense?

        “what the hell…”
        I don’t think Dawkin’s uses that idiom.
        “make the little fool cry”
        Cmon, this is just blatantly trying to make the real Dawkins look bad.

        • The following is a comment made by the”Richard Dawkins” you linked to.

          “I too caused a girl to cry, for the same reason, when I made a cameo appearance in a classroom at a small university in America earlier this year. I felt remorseful at the time, but afterwards I thought about it and remorse turned to anger. Anger at the girl’s stupid parents. Anger at the girl herself for being so weedy. What the hell did she think a university was for, if not to encourage her to think in new and unfamiliar ways, going beyond what she was exposed to when living with her ridiculous family? I didn’t in any way insult the girl herself or say unpleasant things about her or her family. I didn’t even tell her to grow up, although I should have. All I did was lay out the facts of evolution and the evidence for it, in unemotional, scientific terms. And that was enough to make the little fool cry.”

          Would the real Dawkins say this nonsense?

          That comment was clearly a fake; the genuine article would never say something as vile as that about a teenage girl. I still think the Richard on this and other recent threads is the real deal. You are beginning to win me round though.

          Someone here said that Richard recently tweeted in defense of a bunch of racist scumbags who smeared bacon grease on the walls of a British mosque. And then there’s the whole saluting of the neo-Nazi Geert Wilders for his marvelous Fitna movie business. And the endorsement of the reptile Pat Condell.

          Goshdarnit, nothink, are you nothinking what I’m nothinking? Richard has been replaced by a replicant programmed to say awful, illiberal things in an effort to discredit the New Atheist movement.

          Pound to a penny says it’s the Illuminati up to their old shenanigans.

          • @nomorewoo 5:46pm

            I don’t agree with Katy’s position on this lecture issue but equally Sue Blackmore rather screwed it with under-balanced illustrations of seemingly odd behaviours produced by “religious memeplexes”. Katy, though, is on the money with change-phobic, ban the koran but keep the good book, neo-(cultural)-nazi Geert Wilders, and pre-senile Pat, darling and follower of UKIP. (What happened to him!?). Richard would do well to publically finesse his views on these two.

          • Katy – I’m with you on this. Dawkins is more of a hindrance than a help to the atheist cause. He makes it look absurd and ignorant. I am an atheist, of a sort, and the very last person I’d want on my side is Professor D. He attracts ridicule to the whole of science.

          • Peter Aug 22, 2014 at 11:21 am

            Katy – I’m with you on this. Dawkins is more of a hindrance than a help to the atheist cause. He makes it look absurd and ignorant. I am an atheist, of a sort, and the very last person I’d want on my side is Professor D. He attracts ridicule to the whole of science.

            I think this is just a declaration of your lack of understanding of science!

            Have you read ANY OF HIS BOOKS? If not I suggest you start with this one:-
            http://richarddawkins.myshopify.com/collections/frontpage/products/the-magic-of-reality-paperback – The illustrations in the hardback version are better than in the paperback.

          • I don’t see where Peter’s scientific understanding or lack thereof enters into this, Alan. I’m one of those scientific illiterates you seem to hold in such low regard. I believe in evolution, a 13.8 billion year old universe, that the only time dinosaurs and humans interact is in Hanna-Barbera cartoons, Raquel Welch movies and (spoilers) tomorrow’s new episode of Doctor Who. A T-Rex in the Thames, eep.

            It’s great that you decided to pursue the life scientific, but those of us who went down another path are not automatically the dullards you’d portray us as.

            I agree with Peter’s assertion that Richard with his ill-thought-out public ejaculations, particularly in his Twitter career, sometimes brings science into disrepute. i don’t have to be scientifically literate to recognize this; no one does.

            All anyone needs to know is that there is a battle being fought between fundamentalist religious types who decry scientific endeavor and discovery, and the scientific community of which Richard is a vociferous defender. When he says offensive things on social media, he’s giving succor to the other camp. Why else all the damage limitation about his recent comments on abortion ?

            Just because I don’t know how large hadron colliders work (I couldn’t even find my way around a small hadron collider) or how many atoms you could fit in a Mini Metro, that doesn’t automatically invalidate my or any other science ignoramuses’ opinion on the effect Richard’s pronouncements have on the cause of science.

            I’ll remind you that Dawkins has said he hasn’t read the Qur’an. Following your own logic, that means he shouldn’t get to comment on Islam. If he knows nothing about the religion’s precepts how can he possibly be expected to give an informed opinion?

            The illustrations in hardcover versions of this book tend to be better than the ones in paperback editions too.

          • Support, read the “qur’an” or don’t talk about it.
            How can you judge people walking out, when you don’t read their popular horrible religious meme books?
            The “Hyperion Cantos” has a very good quote: “The book was so horrible, I didn’t even read it.”

          • I think the particular problem here is that people don’t see much context. On both sides.

            Religious books can be “horrible” and violent and bloody, but then turn on your TV. (For argument’s sake, I’m not talking about the news, I mean films and TV programmes. Look at the modern narrative and the violence and horror. That has very little to do with religion and a lot to do with the audience. Are we not the same audience now as we were when these texts were written?

            Are advertisers and adverts not as guilty of brainwashing as religious leaders and texts? They use science (psychology) to manipulate people much more effectively.

            Just want to give you guys something to chew over. All communication has a purpose or bias and most often this is manipulation. It is either all “horrible” or it is all natural and understandable.

          • This is a good point. Advertisers manipulate us, or try to, all the time. These are meme tricks too and in my lecture I mentioned many examples. And please note that I did not call the Koran a ‘horrible’ book in the lecture but only in my article where I admitted to some of the things I would have liked to say but did not.

            I have read the whole of the Koran but only in an English translation, and some Muslims have told me that the one I read (the Penguin Classic version) does not do justice to all the subtleties of meaning. But I’m not inclined to read yet another version, even though it’s nothing like as long as the Bible and quite readable.

            Dip into this ‘holy’ book and you will find that the ‘merciful’ Allah is cruel, manipulative and violent, as is the God of the Old Testament. I agree there is violence and cruelty all around us in the modern world, both real and depicted. But the difference is that we do not refer to violent films as ‘Holy’ or feel we have to emulate or worship the characters in them.

          • The point about religion, is that it’s emphasising the mysteries of life which are not understandable. God is the ultimate unknowable force. Religion has to be lived – you can’t analyse it from outside.

    • “I don’t know about you, but one of the qualities I value in my doctor is open-mindedness.”

      The real Dawkins would never say “open-mindedness” is a virtuous quality. Only someone who hasn’t thought critically about that sentiment would say that.

      • nothink Aug 18, 2014 at 9:32 pm

        I don’t know about you, but one of the qualities I value in my doctor is open-mindedness.

        The real Dawkins would never say “open-mindedness” is a virtuous quality. Only someone who hasn’t thought critically about that sentiment would say that.

        I think he has said, “Critical open-mindedness to new evidence, is a virtue“,
        but that is not the same as the faith-head claim, that everyone should have a mind “open” (like a slop-bucket with no lid) to any rubbish they wish to pour into it!
        Unsurprisingly, I have found that proponents of such views, usually have firmly closed and locked minds, in regard to evidence refuting their claims.

    • Obviously people aren’t going to learn much when you start off by pointing out the absurdity of (their)popular beliefs. Your disdain for religious belief is transparent when you use words like “spaghetti monster” when describing God/gods.

      Get a clue? Socrates had the same problem, he lacked tact.

        • Hmmm… Do you tell a child who believes there are monsters under the bed, “There ARE no monsters, you stupid child! Only STUPID children believe in monsters?” No, you calmly turn on the light and show them the room.

          • Where is the light switch to calmly flick when we want to falsify the existence of a god? Just so I know for next time…

          • One can reasonably expect children to have irrational thoughts in their still-forming brains. This shouldn’t be an excuse for mature – apparently “educated” – adults.

            But here’s the difference. Children won’t damn you to hell, blow you up or behead you to support their belief in a monster under their beds. That takes the evil genius and guidance of an adult.

          • Where do your children get the idea of monsters under their beds from? From you obviously. And 17 – 18 year old people who traveled around half of the planet tod study at Oxford are no longer children! They are about to become academics. I expect of such a person at least to stay and to listen!

          • The people who walked out were not children though were they?
            They were Oxford students.Are you really saying that the only way to get through to religious people is to dumb down and treat them like children.
            This is the real issue in essence in that we should ‘ Put away childish things’ as we become adults and break the cycle of religious doctrination of children that is perpetuated by memes.

          • Brian – There are so many internal inconsistencies in these religions that they most certainly CAN be proven to be false. Here is just one: If the God of Christians, Muslims, and Jews is all-knowing – that is, he knows everything that has ever happened and everything that ever will happen – then why did he get angry so many times in the Bible? If you know something is going to happen, what’s the big surprise? Why get angry? And why take revenge for an outcome that you not only knew, but caused?

          • Actually, it is very easy to prove that religious beliefs are mostly completely false. There are many religons in existence with millions of believers around the world. Most, if not all of what is believed by one religion, is contradicted by another, therefore, most of what is believed is definately false by that reasoning. The rest will probably false by other reasoning.

          • Fortunately (Unfortunately for the Theistic Religions notice the emphasis upon THEISM specifically) it is trivial to prove that their described/defined God(s) do not exist.

            Each of their Gods is based upon an Authoritative Religious/Holy Text.

            Without this text, any claim for a God is no different than John Ruel Robert Tolkien’s, Joanne K. Rowling’s/Robert Galbraith’s claims of Hobbits, Dragons, Wizards, and other fantastic elements of their worlds… Such a claim is nothing more than a fanciful creation.

            The Holy Books are, to put it directly: The Foundation of the Religion.

            And, if they portray a God that is impossible to exist, then that God does not exist.

            And claiming that the Holy Books are metaphor, or just “inspired” by this God does not relieve the burden of this Foundational Claim.

            If the book is “just a metaphor” then so is the God it describes (because we are then back to just making things up).

            If the book is just “inspired,” then the case is even worse, because now you have an inspiration that contains categorical evils as being parts of this God, AND it is still just making stuff up.

            For the Bible, Genesis 1:2 (that is the second verse of the Bible) proves that the God it defines does not exist. Genesis 1:2 refers to water before God creates the Universe.

            From a purely internal (to the Bible) Point of View, this is a contradiction to the statement that God created everything, because there is something in existence somewhere (specifically, water, or the “oceans” in the original) before God creates anything. And from an external, objective Point of View, it contradicts known reality: Water did not exist for several million years after the Big Bang, or whatever it was brought our current universe into existence. Current observations reveal this.

            This rules out the Abrahamic God (which includes Allah, or the Islamic God) as an actual being.

            So… It **isn’t ** “Just an opinion. it is a matter of a factual claim. Science doesn’t prove things, it disproves (re: falsifies, which means “to disprove”).

            Theistic religion makes the claim: This Book defines our God.

            That is a falsifiable claim, as their books make claims about the real universe.

          • Have you ever heard of the burdon of proof! The claim there is a God of any kind requirs the proof of this claim. The denial is just the null-hypothesis. If you claim something extraordinary like a God exists, it’s your task to prove it, not mine to disprove it. It is not a question of opinion, like the choice of the favourite colour or music taste. As you can read in the example above it has consequences. And if you want to be part of an academic institution you have to be able to endure a lecture that questions you religious belief. If you don’t you are at the wrong place! Scientists don’t go to church to preach. The give lectures at university or related institutions. That’s where your opinion is of absolute no interest, only proof and evidence counts!

          • Brian: It is not merely an opinion to state that one making an assertion without proof has not demonstrated the validity of that assertion. It is up to the person making a claim about the existence of a god to prove that that existence is, indeed, fact. Faith isn’t good enough, and the burden of proof is on the person making the assertion, not upon the person admonished to believe the unsubstantiated assertion that that assertion is not true. “There is a god” without proof is an opinion. “You have not proved there is a god” is stating fact. The two are not the same thing at all.

        • No there isn’t. However, to explain evolution to a fundamentalist you have to talk about it in a step by step way. Describe each part of the process and make sure that they understand evolution is just change and the theory of evolution is just an explanation of how change works. Best to make inroads than to blow the fundamentalists out of the room. Establish common ground, find areas of agreement. Then all of a sudden evolution doesn’t looks that scary to a religious person.

          • That’s of no use to deal with a fundamentalist because they believe their holy book to be literally true. Some are scrabbling with ‘intelligent Design’ as a way of rationalising the conflicts, but most are in complete denial. They have been brainwashed and will not confront the facts. As soon as they bump up against something uncomfortable, they turn aside, just as those in this story did. That’s why they seek out members of their own belief, because in that society they don’t need to face troublesome questions. It’s gone even further with some Moslems. They want to forcibly convert everybody, and kill those they cannot convert. That way they never need to have their faith challenged. They rationalise this evil because they tell themselves they are doing their god’s will.
            We do not have a war against terror. What we have is a war against religion. It will largely be a psychological war, and winning it will be one of the hardest things the human race has faced.

        • To call a person that has a faith (a BELIEF) a LIAR is a crude personal insult. It’s not intelligent, it’s not the action of an educated person, it is brutish, thugish ignorance.
          To say, “Your ‘Faith’ is a load of old tosh… you can’t even prove the existence of your ‘Imaginary Friend’ – oops, I mean God!” is disingenuous. By exactly the same token that you use in your argument, neither can you CONCLUSIVELY disprove the existence of God.
          YOU are the one that wants proof… OK, so go ahead: give me CONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE that God does NOT exist. It is not my obligation to prove to you the existence of God; it is YOUR obligation to prove to me the NON-existence of God.

          And who says that belief in God and acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution are mutually exclusive?… Religion (at least, the flavour of it to which I subscribe) is based on a faith in God, not a faith in the Bible.

          But to return to my original point: to accuse someone of being ignorant and stupid because they do not share your beliefs is… er… well, it lumps you in with those fundamentalist/terrorist types… doesn’t it?….

          • To call a person that has a faith (a BELIEF) a LIAR is a crude personal insult.

            True, but this is a strawman.

            Believing a lie and telling a lie are in no way the same. There is no personal culpability in the former. Only proselytisers can be called to account. No-one here, I hope, wishes to be the thought police.

            Parents, though, might like to consider how confident they are in their knowledge before they pass it on.

          • Yours is not a rational argument. To borrow another’s metaphor, if I tell you that there is a teapot in orbit around Mars, is my claim as valid as that of those who deny such a ridiculous concept? Of course not. If I am to make such a wild claim, it needs evidence to result in any belief.
            Now you claim that a super-being who is not subject to all the known laws of science, indeed, who defies all those laws, created the universe. We have lots of evidence of physics which indicate to us a completely different cause. Actually lots and lots of evidence, so far unchallenged. So where’s your evidence? You don’t believe in a literal bible, apparently, so where do you get your evidence from? A gut feeling perhaps? A feeling that there has to be something greater?

          • T Aug 20, 2014 at 11:42 am

            To say, “Your ‘Faith’ is a load of old tosh… you can’t even prove the existence of your ‘Imaginary Friend’

            OOPs – No proof of imaginary friend – so let’s play the offended card and falsely assert the claim is disingenuous to duck the issue!

            – oops, I mean God!” is disingenuous. By exactly the same token that you use in your argument, neither can you CONCLUSIVELY disprove the existence of God.

            This is call the negative proof fallacy (known classically as appeal to ignorance) It is a logical fallacy which takes the structure of: X is true because there is no proof that X is false.

            YOU are the one that wants proof… OK, so go ahead: give me CONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE that God does NOT exist.

            Did you have a particular god in mind or do you believe in all 2,000+ or so of them? – with all their contradictions of each other. The Hindus alone have hundreds of them?

            It is not my obligation to prove to you the existence of God; it is YOUR obligation to prove to me the NON-existence of God.

            WRONG!
            The onus of proof is on those making assertions!
            That is why it is the responsibility of those who believe in Krishna to prove his existence, and not your or my responsibility to disprove this god and all the other thousands of gods you don’t believe in! There are no “default gods”. Any claims need to be supported by evidence or they can be dismissed.

          • T Aug 20, 2014 at 11:42 am

            But to return to my original point: to accuse someone of being ignorant and stupid

            It is quite possible to simply be honest in stating that someone is ignorant and stupid, simply because they are ignorant and stupid.
            This is especially so when the ignorant and stupid are contradicting well informed expert opinion.

            because they do not share your beliefs

            Funny thing! I believe those, who in the 21st century, believe the Earth is FLAT and the Moon-landings were faked – are ignorant and stupid!

            is… er… well, it lumps you in with those fundamentalist/terrorist types… doesn’t it?….

            Nope! That’s a pretty pathetic assertion as an attempted substitute for reasoning!

      • We’ve become a nation of cowards and appeasers. It’s time that those who adhere to the Islamic faith understand that not everyone is going to accept their nonsense without questioning it openly and often. We need to make sure they understand we’re not going to be cowed by their threats.

        Tact? Chamberlain tried tact. Remember how that worked out?

        • And so the truth of religious intolerance begins to be revealed. People who cannot listen to criticism or engage in constructive debate even when the debate is about memes of all things, shows just how broken the religious society is. If this lecture had been supporting religion guaranteed not a single atheist would have walked out. I think that this behaviour from “bright” young students in a university city is disgraceful. How can they possibly succeed in life when they behave like this over someones opinion. and to think these are the moderates of those faiths!

          • No one wants to be put on the spot or have their flaws picked apart on stage. There’s a reason even comics like say Andrew Dice Clay often got booed off stage or walked out on.

            It’s always funny when it’s about someone else, it’s always “profound” when it’s about someone else’s shortcomings.

            The problem is, if you want to win hearts and minds from religion you don’t attack them with reason. You offer them a chance to explain themselves and to see what and how they’re explaining it. If they can see their double talk laid out before them they just might wake up from it.

            A lecture isn’t really formatted for that though. It doesn’t help when you can throw from the stage, tons of verbal barbs in their direction. It puts people on the defensive and the most defensive thing you can do is to just get up and leave.

          • Several comments here concern how atheists can best engage reasonably with religious believers – asking whether politeness is the best way and whether we should hide what we really think so as not to offend. I touched on this at the end of my article when I admitted to some of the things I would have liked to say at the time but did not.

            I did not set out to offend. I set out (as I was invited to do) to explain evolution and memetics. But I did not hold back from giving examples from various religions when it came to the theory that religious memes protect themselves by using untestable threats and promises, and other tricks, to protect their own survival. I clearly didn’t get the balance right this time, but I will not be stopped from presenting scientific theories and evidence because they might offend. Should I be?

        • Melinda Aug 19, 2014 at 5:20 pm

          So if people who are aspiring to be doctors believe that disease is caused by evil spirits, one needs to be tactful about telling them that what they believe is nonsense?

          The stupid will regularly play the offended card, when they are told they are being stupid, while the pseudo-thinkers of political correctness, will ignore the implications for the real world and banter semantics!

          http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-28827091

          Police fired warning shots but failed to disperse several hundred people around the Ebola centre in Monrovia .
          A quarantine centre for suspected Ebola patients in the Liberian capital Monrovia has been attacked and looted by protesters,

          A senior police officer said blood-stained mattresses, beddings and medical equipment were taken from the centre.

          “This is one of the stupidest things I have ever seen in my life”, he said.

          (OOooooo The offensive attack on those conspiracy memes! !!!!!!!! – Some tell us – “Just let them choose what they want to believe”??????? )

      • “Spagetti monster”, honest, its just a metaphor. However, the reality is that there’s not much difference in believing in a speghetti monster and anyone one of the 500 recorded gods in human history. Obviously, most of them have been discounted as myths. That leaves a handful of the other gods of the great religions of present day which have yet to be discounted as myth by their many believers. Because they have many believers, doesn’t make them less mythical than the previous gods. Its just a matter of time before facts and reality catch up. Get used to educated scholars and scientists making statements like that.

      • So when the religious be they Christians telling me I will burn for eternity, or Muslims who have threatened me with physical violence and then being tortured for eternity. We have to have tact with them. Sorry can’t see that happening to the extent they want.

        • Bit of an eye opener when one is told that someone has the “right” to stab you due to their religious beliefs…

          “don’t offend me or I will kill you, but you have no right to be offended by what I say”

          …doesn’t exactly engender respect for such a position.

      • The only reason anybody can get away with leaving a lecture in a snit because they’re offended with the presentation of reality so that it offends them is because religion has gotten a pass for so long. It is obviously hardest on the first generation who are suddenly forced to own up to facts over fantasy and enforced delusion. There is nothing in anybody’s freedom of religion that protects them from offense any more than I’m protected from offense at the fact that well meaning parents teach their children that magic is real and that supernatural devices are appropriately applied to life defining issues. I am PROFOUNDLY offended that children’s discernment is hobbled to the extent they later are offended in adolescence or adulthood with the presentation of reality contrary to the magic they’ve been taught.

        And, you argue tact? Tact won’t ever undo the damage caused by purposefully exposing innocent minds to religious contagion. In-your-face tactics won’t change the mind of a true believer any more than calm and soothing reason shall ever. Yet, it may reach someone exposed, but fighting off the infection, enough to repel the delusion and its effects.

      • The Spaghetti Monster is a demonstration of the ability to make up a religion without any proof for anything. That is all it is there for honestly. Instead of showing the difference between each religion and questioning who has the correct religion and who does not… look.. a totally made up religion.. have a look at it and demonstrates the amount of proof that is provided by other religions. All you have to do is have faith for it to work.

    • I’d like them to be more objective and have more respect for science than that. I get into arguments all the time, even with other atheists, because they say I’m actually religious and that my “faith” is in science. I’m not sure what the answer to this problem is, but being effusively “nice” to everyone ain’t it. I’m tired of having to explain to otherwise intelligent, educated people that yes, there is such a thing as objective reality. No, accepting evolution is NOT the same thing as believing in the old testament. No, there is not a tinge of doubt in my assertion that there is no god and no, that doesn’t make me arrogant or turn atheism into another religion. Sometimes, I think it is better for the public at large to think (incorrectly) that atheists are arrogant than it is for atheists to water-down their discourse so as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of those whose beliefs have spilled oceans of blood.

      • because they say I’m actually religious and that my “faith” is in science.

        I love this one; faith in science. Ha ha. Except, science has been proven to work and can be demonstrated to exist as a process. Were you to ask 1000 scientists what the scientific process was and to demonstrate it via an experiment you would get roughly the same explanation and results from each scientist. It can be observed and tested and those results compared, accepted, corrected or rejected.

        Having faith in science over religion is like having faith in glasses over wishing for sight. Glasses are proven to work, I accept that, I do not need faith to know glasses work. And, faith won’t help me see, unless I have faith in glasses.

        Were it true, I would rather have faith in science than faith in nothing.

    • The quality that I most value in a doctor is…er, a valid understanding in scientific principles and logic. And if they CANNOT have that out of some meme-based belief system they hold, then they ARE NOT SUITED TO BE DOCTORS TO THE PUBLIC. Very simple.

      • So what you are implying is that if a Doctor happens to be a Christian, Muslim etc they are not suited to BE a Doctor?

        Sorry but the characteristics that make up a good Physician is whether they can correctly deduce based on evidence what the problem is with the patient and accurately treat it. Whether they choose to believe in a god or not is irrelevant to them being able to perform well as a Doctor.

        • The implication is that a doctor in training who walks out on a lecture because of religious beliefs is not suited to be a doctor. Attending your lectures during training is the path to making correct deductions based on evidence and proceeding wtih treatment. If you want to be treated by Dr. God of The Gaps, be my guest. I’m Irish. You want to tell me that religious belief is irrelevant to performing well as a doctor – hah! Hope you’re not dealing with a complicated pregnancy.

        • Really depends on if they will be practicing medicine or limiting medicine based on their religious beliefs…in the event that they choose to refuse medical treatment on religious grounds, they should at least provide a patient a viable alternative to seek medical treatment from.

        • Sorry but the characteristics that make up a good Physician is whether they can correctly deduce based on evidence what the problem is with the patient…

          …without applying any of this ability to deduce from evidence whether god is a viable hypothesis, or that evolution is true?

    • The psychological umbilical chord, – Dr. Rollo May, – Man’s Search For Himself, pub. 19??, is much more difficult to cut than the fleshy one. As long as people are attached to their ancestors and cultural myths, there will be a dogmatic response to what they have been taught is heresy. Dr. Rollo May also stated something else I believe is important to understand as we try to state our case for evolution, “Many people suffer from the fear of finding oneself alone, and so they don’t find themselves at all.” These words changed my life because I was ready to become aware of real things and truth, in spite of what I was taught as heresy. I also felt comfortable with being alone but I know how horrific that is for many others. As new cultures become absorbed in free societies, the gravity of culture and religion lose their grip ensuring future generations become stronger and more independent of memes.

    • The problem is religion itself. Whatever the brand. It is almost always practised by people with uninformed closed minds.

      I have an acquaintance who is a Muslim. One day, he said, “You are a pretty clever fellow; who was the first man in space.” I thought carefully and then replied “Yuri Gagarin”.

      “No. The first man in space was Mohammed who flew from Mecca to Jerusalem on the back of a winged horse.”

      I replied, “Hasan, you seem like a pretty clever fellow. Do you actually believe that?”

      “Yes, for it is written in the Holy Koran.”

      Competing against close-minded ignorance is always difficult, if not impossible.

    • Richard
      I have noticed that in Cambridge (where I am a supervisor and used to lecture a course in Critical Thinking) the highest incidence of creationists is among students of Engineering, Medicine and other technical degrees such as Molecular biology and the like. Note that there is a similarity among these educations. They are all trained to solve practical problems. Medics are no more than engineers of the living machine. It is faulty, they seek for the source of the problem and solutions to fix it. Evolution, according to their curriculum, is not a very important subject and I doubt they even touch on the subject during their courses. It is assumed by the Universities that they have learnt it during High School.
      Another problem with the University teaching is that the students are not invited to make a connection between all the disciplines taught during the 3-4 years of their courses. They study a subject, they do the exam. they pass it , they forget all about it. Next one please! They do not make the integration of the global knowledge that is provided to them during their courses. I see this when I am lecturing animal behaviour, welfare and ethics to Vets. When I enter the ethics I discuss the evolution of the brain, I discuss comparative neurobiology and ask them about the mind, the concept of suffering and how it relates to the limbic system. To most of them, who had taken some of these courses individually, never occurred to them to make the connection. That one needs to understand evolution, behaviour and neurobiology in order to argue about animal ethics.
      back to medicine again, when they are learning about the immune response they would have a good opportunity to see evolutionary mechanisms at work, but I doubt that their lectures had even noticed that.
      I have seen people working on molecular biology and genetic diseases ( my sister in law is a Professor at Oxford) and believe that God has an action of the random mutations during the evolutionary process. I have no doubts that these people can be very good technicians and apply the scientific method with all its statistics in the most perfect fashion, but then they hang the white coat behind the lab and when they close the door, the turn into uncritical brain mode. In my opinion it is this discrepancy and incongruity that separates those who are simply good technicians from the intelligent people.
      As we all very well know, to be a Oxbridge Professor or having a PhD is not necessarily a sign of intelligence. From what I have seen, it is less a less a question of “know-how” and more a question of “know whom”.

    • A very small fraction of medical students become doctors of western medicine. Medicine requires understanding of biology. It has been well said that nothing in biology makes sense without evolution. So let them fail.

    • It saddens me when I hear (read) things like this, perhaps it is this persistent believe that evolution some how disproves religious theory, the very dogmatic approach of some evolution specialists is that it exists to somehow debunk a religion, which I think massively undersells the beauty of evolution and indeed the believe that evolution started how we think it did, when realistically, we must say, we can only suppose how it started, but prove how it developed.

      • Hi Graham,

        perhaps it is this persistent believe that evolution some how disproves religious theory

        Evolution is a major part of our knowledge of the world developed through the scientific approach to finding out about our world that does make any religious belief, untenable.

        dogmatic approach of some evolution specialists is that it exists to somehow debunk a religion

        I don’t know of any “evolution specialists” (do you mean academics at Higher Education Institutions?) that hold this position. Perhaps you could reference some. However, as mentioned, it so happens that evolution is a major part of our knowledge of the world developed through the scientific approach to finding out about our world that does make any religious belief, untenable. So it is not surprising that some people who are “evolution specialists” (e.g. Dawkins) would make reference to how evolution plays a role in making religious belief an untenable position.

  2. These people who shouted at you after you left the lecture: they are products of a sick society, a sick upbringing. They don’t understand the concepts (memes?) of freedom of speech, free inquiry, scientific inquiry, of needing evidence for their beliefs. Extraordinary claims require an extraordinary degree of evidence. Bless you (in a non-religious sense!) for your endurance and your efforts.

    • Really? Can you really say they don’t understand? Don’t get me wrong, I’m firm in my lack of belief in a god and in creation but don’t feel any threat by those who feel differently. I’ve never read a piece of religious text yet that hasn’t seemed completely illogical or of any benefit, but all these people did was leave quietly when they felt their intellect and possibly their values were being defined as defective. It was the lecturer who insisted they defend their actions, clearly knowing that it was because they differed in their beliefs, and who couldn’t tolerate their answer. They averted confrontation but it was she who couldn’t accommodate (if only in her head) their differing beliefs. If my atheism was defined as defective I’d like to think I could justt walk out without making a fuss. If I were heckled by the lecturer I’d feel possibly even stronger about my beliefs. What I wouldn’t do is sit there and take on board the rest of the lecture that relied on understanding that my beliefs are wrong and defective to be of any benefit. There’s no benefit in aggressive teaching like that, it’s human nature to close the door on someone who is trying to get through to you by what would have felt like ridicule.

      • You see, the thing is, if it was us, atheists, who were sitting in a class and listening to a religious lecture about atheism, we wouldn’t have just walked out. What could they say about atheism that is both true and so negative? On the other hand, religion is a negative thing, it teaches you to be satisfied with not knowing, it completely closes your mind, you are afraid to think outside the box because you are afraid of some divine judgement.. But, she didn’t even say any of those things. She simply showed those khm, intelligent people some memes, then started talking about evolution, natural selection, etc. They felt so offended that they felt the need to leave the classroom, for what? Can’t they just listen to some ideas? It’s not like she was shoving evolution down their throats and forcing them to believe it.. They can’t even hear an opinion that differs from their own. About those Danish cartoons, I don’t know if you remember, but when they were released, there was a Muslim outrage shortly after about those cartoons. Those people can’t take a fucking joke.. Denmark is a secular country, people have freedom of and from religion, although there aren’t as many religious people as there are in neighboring countries. The lecturer thought that the people in the university were open-minded, as anyone would think, since it’s the fucking university, and it’s in Oxford. I mean, those people are supposed to be intelligent, at least intelligent enough to accept facts. The thing about religious people is, they do not accept evidence nor fact, especially if it’s attacking their beliefs. So, again, what was your point? You were talking about us atheists, I wouldn’t find it surprising if it was the other way around, we would’ve picked an argument and discussed about it..

        • The lecturer thought that the people in the university were open-minded, as anyone would think, since it’s the fucking university, and it’s in Oxford.

          If you read the article carefully you will see that this lecturer was not giving a lecture under the auspices of The University of Oxford but as part of a summer school programme for pre university students run by

          http://www.oxford-royale.co.uk

      • Right on the button Lux!
        These people weren’t expecting to attend a lecture ridiculing their beliefs and, from the description of the event, there wasn’t a forum for them to respond. I can’t say I wouldn’t do exactly the same as them if I participated in a lecture that morphed into a sermon on religion.

        • The lecture was apparently on memes and meme evolution, and used religion to illustrate a point. It certainly doesn’t sound like the lecture aimed to preach for or against religion. Where in the content of the article that refers directly to the lecture did you detect any ridiculing? And re. the ‘forum to respond’, I would assume you have attended lectures in your lifetime? Wasn’t there any opportunity to ask questions of the lecturer? And why do I or anyone else for that matter have to be asking and/or writing any of the above when clearly the lecturer from the article planned a lecture according to her audience, aimed to make it as little ‘controversial’ as possible (unless of course you consider the mention of evolution – a fact – to an audience that includes religious people a provocation to their beliefs?), and most certainly did not set out to offend anyone? Could it be, just for the sake of argument, that some of that lecture’s audience simply refused to engage and claimed ‘offense’ at the first mention of – again, for the sake of clarity – a scientific fact?

      • You write as if all beliefs are equal.
        They are not.
        I am sure there may have been Nazis who walked out of a lecture on the theory that Jews were not, in fact , subhuman scum. Would you praise them for avoiding confrontation?
        These people simply want the confrontation at a time and place of their choosing. Has anybody on this planet got defective values according to you? Possibly not now that Pol Pot is dead.
        In any case I imagine it would be wrong in your book to define his values as defective to his face. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not comparing Islam to the Khmer Rouge but rather making the point that their are good ways to think and bad ways to think.
        If we do not attempt to distinguish between the two I suggest we fall into the latter category.

        • An interesting example you give, what if we were to turn it around, what if it were a Jewish person (Or any decent human being) walking out of a Nazi led lecture about the evil Jew? why would you praise them for leaving, but not praise a Nazi for leaving a lecture about the equality of Jewish people? Well to put it simply, you would praise the Jew because (I hope) that person conforms to your morals and social values… When we put it in that context, there are no good ways to think, there are no bad ways to think, there are just ways to think, some will adhere to our accepted concepts, and will be praised, some will not and be vilified, and before you question my logic, let me put this to you, simply, if the War between the Allies and Axis had ended differently, you would be most likely speaking in terms of the Hero Nazi and the evil Jew… it is only the outcome of a war that has shaped you conformity to what is correct, nothing else.

          • @Bob and &@Graham
            I think you have both made the same mistake of conflating being racist with disagreeing with a person’s beliefs – they are not the same thing and it is a false dichotomy of which Richard Dawkins has often been wrongly accused.
            To disagree with someone’s political or religious views is not a hate crime and should be accepted as open to debate.
            Walking out of a lecture because you disagree with the lecturer’s opinions is infantile.
            To hate someone because of their race is completely wrong.
            It is not wrong however to criticise the political or religious views that may be held by members of the country or community if you consider that those beliefs are wrong.
            For centuries religions have relied on stifling or persecuting dissent- it is how they have survived for so long.
            I praise the lecturer for having the courage to put her head above the parapet.

      • No! The point is that they were right to feel their intellect and their beliefs defective. And, those deficiencies in intellect and beliefs are injurious on society as a whole. Their rejection of the information offered to them in favor of the destructive, socially damaging fairy tales they prefer is the greater offense to both themselves, whether they recognize it or not, and to society which they shall continue to damage by their unrecognized closed mindedness. There is no virtue in delusion. There is no virtue in religious faith without proof that those things held in faith are actually true. So what that the offended students felt badly? Poor, precious snowflakes. The ongoing damage done to society as a whole hurts even worse, and causes unacknowledged hardship and suffering every second of every day. Every faithful person finding enough camaraderie among demagogues withholding benefits to the needy because they are somehow unworthy are complicit, by virtue of their faith and failure to stand up to those injustices, in the damage done to society. And, this is but one of thousands of examples.

      • Lux repeats the accusation that I heckled the audience. I did not.
        When the first few decided to leave I asked them why. That is surely a reasonable thing to do. People leave lectures for all sorts of reasons – the lecture is boring (I’d like to know if so), the lecture is over their heads (ditto), they have a train to catch, they have a class to go to. So I asked, and they replied “You are offending us. We will not listen”.

    • Actually the only people that are sick are the ones that happen to think as you. You err in thinking that just because YOU believe as you do that means that everyone must believe as you or HAVE to sit and take what some deem as abuse as they acquiesce to an ineffectual demand that they defend what they choose to believe in. They are not obliged to defend their beliefs to you or anyone else. If they CHOOSE to, great, if not, it is not a sickness of society or upbringing.

      • “They are not obliged to defend their beliefs to you or anyone else.”

        Oh, yes they are.

        When said beliefs find their way into laws and legislation that affects ME and the rest of the population, they are QUITE obliged indeed…

      • What makes you I imagine everybody should think like me. I merely lament the fact that some people think in ways which damage other people. What in your opinion is a philosophy that one could legitimately object to?
        I would never ask somebody to defend their beliefs because I would not attack their beliefs. Its the actions which stem from those beliefs which is the problem. Again, I ask you to name me one defective value system. It seems to me that if you can not say Islam you can not say anything.I f you can not say anything then you represent moral relativism gone mad!

  3. What infuriatingly moronic person you are. You mock the ignorant for being ignorant. Who is going to view your perspective as anything but antagonistic (other than your zealous peers of course) if you come at these folk with such belligerence?

    You were absolutely and obviously not going there with a constructive point. You were simply there to satiate your own vociferous Atheism.

    You attacked the leavers for not being open minded enough to sit there and listen to your opinion, and by not doing so they have somehow offended your graciousness. It’s called voting with your feet sweet cheeks, and when you behave as a charlatan, this sort of behaviour is something you should become used to, and fast.

    Once again to re-iterate; if you are so much more knowledgeable than these Theists – as you quite clearly think you are – you should act as such. Not like some petulant little child looking to arouse hostility in people, and then cry because you’re left alone in a room without an adult.

      • Are you implying that simply by disagreeing with this buffoons inability to coherently and constructively debate, I am in some way a Muslim?

        If it satisfies you, I should like to clarify that No, I’m not. Allah is no such God, and Muhammed certainly was not a prophet, at least not in my opinion.

        • By calling Ms. Blackmoore a “buffoon” you’ve pretty much shot any credibility as being interested in serious debate. Which is too bad because underneath all the venom and rhetoric I think you may have had a half way cogent point but as long as you are going to call people names you can’t be taken seriously.

        • “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”

          Seems appropriate to me here.

          The actual “buffoons” are those supposedly “bright” young people who went to a lecture about memes expecting to be “offended” and then made their intolerant point. It’s quite clear that Blakemore set out to antagonise no-one.

          • Of course she didn’t. Of course she expected the audience to positively marvel at her wit of mocking them.

            “and make people do strange things (I showed rows of Muslims bent over with their heads on the floor).”

            Of course she wasn’t trying to antagonise them. Why on Earth would respond with wilful ignorance when a person mocks an act they carry out devoutly 5 times a day?

    • Moses (weak pun intended), do you know what the word ‘mock’ means? I didn’t think so. But stating the same point in several angry paragraphs does nothing to strengthen what seems to be your point: that Ms. Blackmore is a moron (hey, look who’s actually mocking!) and that she “attacked” the students who left (you also may want to brush up on the word “attack”).

      Though it seemed plain as day to me, let me remind you succinctly of what Ms. Blackmore spent a bit of time trying to explain to you: these students were simply naïve, rude and yes, ignorant. When the best they have as follow-up after having plenty of time to consider their position is asking her if a leech looks like an embryo, well…

          • My apologies clearly I’d overlooked my own language there.

            She was knowingly belligerent towards the ignorant. She may as well have attacked the Amazon dweller for not understanding Wi-Fi. This is the level of ignorance that needs to be addressed.

            By playing the victim after being deliberately offensive, she is only pleasing her own peers. Which clearly, isn’t going to allow people to respond to the Humanistic perspective with anything but hostility.

        • Explain how educating people to scientific facts is antagonizing? How do you propose showing someone their worldview is wrong be done in a way that is not going to be taken as antagonizing? Also, below you state that empirical knowledge is not the only way to know. Please enlighten us to another way of gaining scientific knowledge and, please, by all means, provide examples.

          • … Mockery is scientific education?

            How is any of the below scientific fact? How can you even argue that it is constructive rather than polarising?

            “I warned any devout Muslims in the audience to look away as I showed one of the Danish cartoons. It’s so simple – just a bunch of terrorists arriving in heaven to be told, “Stop, stop, we ran out of virgins’. That normally gets a good laugh”

            “By the time I arrived at a slide calling religions (Richard’s fault!) ‘Viruses of the mind’,”

    • Mosses Aug 18, 2014 at 11:57 am

      What infuriatingly moronic person you are.

      No! Merely presenting intellectually challenging information.

      You mock the ignorant for being ignorant.

      No! It is the ignorant who cover their ears and are determined to remain ignorant who deserve to be mocked!

      Who is going to view your perspective as anything but antagonistic (other than your zealous peers of course) if you come at these folk with such belligerence?

      Perhaps you are not aware of the Psychological projection you are demonstrating!

      It’s called voting with your feet sweet cheeks, and when you behave as a charlatan, this sort of behaviour is something you should become used to, and fast.

      Once again to re-iterate; if you are so much more knowledgeable than these Theists – as you quite clearly think you are – you should act as such. Not like some petulant little child looking to arouse hostility in people, and then cry because you’re left alone in a room without an adult.

      Patronising drivel like this in the absence of an informed argument, really does show the projection of an ignorant childish mentality, – comically outlined by posturings of adulthood!

      ( Yes! Some childish posturing postings do deserve mockery!)
      The lecture was on the psychology of memes! Perhaps you should start your studies by looking up the word in a dictionary!
      http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meme

    • It’s too bad you have to resort to that kind of ad hominem attack, when you start your comment by calling your opponent “infuriatingly moronic” I pretty much tune out the rest of the comment.

      Because I think there is actually a decent point to be made and that you may have been on the way to making it before you took your detour into Internet troll language. And the point is this: if Ms. Blackmoore is seriously interested in discussions about religion and memes why pick examples that are guaranteed to inflame the audience? To make one part of the audience offended and to make another part rally behind her with anti-religious fervor? The point of discussing things like religion and memes scientifically is to try and be objective and rational.

      To illustrate with an example: when Chomsky does a lecture on language he doesn’t choose example sentences that illustrate what he would call the propaganda model of the MSM or things like the bias of American exceptionalism. He picks very bland examples about things like “furious green ideas” because he can make his points quite well with innocuous examples and he doesn’t want to confuse the issues.

    • Moses, you are confused. Prof. Blackmore’s lecture was about memes. She presented examples of some memes. As an interesting example she presented religions. Religions can be viewed as memes if you study them and their effects using the tools of science.
      If her lecture had been about creation myths from the iron age, she could have talked about religions in that light.

      You are not able to separate the processing of the idea of religion as a meme and the mush of feelings you have about your religion, your dignity, your purpose and all the other brain functions your religion commandeered.

      It is common among those who are recuperating from religion to have old neural pathways reactivate and pull down all the old feelings of hurt and indignation. In some way it works like cravings for drug abusers. You feel like you are free of the whole mess, and you have left it behind you. But if you come into a situation where you feel the familiar tug from the old bottle, or pipe, or religion, you respond by returning to how it used to be.

      Moses, free yourself from the monkey on your back. Let the hate go. Come out in the sunshine, it is pretty nice out here. Maybe you won’t like all us atheists (or agnostics…) here, some of us can be a bit odious, but I bet you can derive much more enjoyment from the clarity and open debate than from the vestigial religious feelings that hold you hostage.

    • “You mock the ignorant for being ignorant”<<
      Are you saying religious people never mock, kill, or condemn , ‘in it’s name’ ‘other’ religions and non-believers to their imaginary ‘hell’?
      I for one am sick and tired of religion being the cause of so much hatred in the world because of some childish non-proven ‘theory’ that everything was made by their imaginary god, they need to be insulted for being so stupid, cajoling them doesn’t seem to work, they need to be ‘shocked and shaken’ lest they simply shrug off such a notion that evolution is fact and creationism isn’t, otherwise they’ll never learn to think for themselves, they’ll simply walk out of a lecture and feel ‘holy’, ‘knowing’ their god will approve.
      “if you are so much more knowledgeable than these Theists”<<
      She very much IS.
      Religion+The Curse of Mankind. all of it, bar none.

    • A suggestion, if I may, Moses: re-read the article, this time with comprehension, please? In no way does the author of it, and the lecturer from the story of that article, allude to having antagonised her audience, at least most certainly not intentionally, and definitely not because she thought some of them ignorant. Indeed, her opinion, which she shares in the article, and I suspect she did not share with the part of the audience in question, that said audience were ignorant, formed as a result of what the audience did in reaction to the lecture. And the reaction, as described in the article, was due to the author’s coverage of evolution, and later – of using religious beliefs (various) to illustrate a point about the evolution of memes. It doesn’t seem she suggested along the way, during the lecture or after, in the exchange outside of the lecture theater, that religious belief equates with ignorance (which arguably it indeed does) or that anyone who disagrees with her is ignorant (even if she may have thought it). I’d greatly enjoy it if you could cite any part of the article that corroborates the following of your statements: 1. ‘You mock the ignorant for being ignorant.’ 2. ‘Who is going to view your perspective as anything but antagonistic (other than your zealous peers of course) if you come at these folk with such belligerence?’ and 3. ‘You attacked the leavers for not being open minded enough to sit there and listen to your opinion.’ I’d venture to propose that you cannot possibly defend said statements through citations from article, and ergo my suggestion to give it another read, this time attempting to process the meaning and distinguish between the descriptive from reflective elements there.

      • Regardless of whether her intention was to mock or belittle or not , it shows a lack of understanding of people to be scathing and laugh at or show as ridiculous something which as an atheist she cannot hope to understand. I am somewhat amazed that someone of her intelligence could possibly have thought her remarks could be anything other than offensive.

        • It is absurd to suggest atheists are unable to understand religious fervor. Not only is the inquiring mind capable of extrapolation and interpolation, even if the atheist in question was never religious, a good many of us atheists were at one time enthralled by religion, but managed to disentangle ourselves and gain our freedom from its deceptions.

          Her remarks were part and parcel of a package of information presented as described in the lecture’s title. It’s up to the audience to decide whether to attend. Would they walk out on a sermon because the preacher somehow deviates from their prefered dogma, or would they suffer through and complain about it later? Leaving in a show of pique in the middle of a lecture offered in good faith is rude and offensive. Why is the religious objectors’ public display of rejection immune to challenge? How is “Explain to me why you’re being rude” an attack? Why is the lecturer brought to task as offensive when the first ridicule of religious demagoguery was the reply to “In the beginning there was the word” with “An old man in the sky?”

          Personally, I find the relentless infusion of God this and Jesus that in public discourse as tedious as it is offensive.

    • “You attacked the leavers for not being open minded enough to sit there and listen to your opinion, and by not doing so they have somehow offended your graciousness. It’s called voting with your feet sweet cheeks”

      Actually, it’s cal;led ‘voting with a closed mind’.

      “Once again to re-iterate; if you are so much more knowledgeable than these Theists – as you quite clearly think you are – you should act as such. Not like some petulant little child looking to arouse hostility in people”

      ‘Sweet cheeks’?

      i·ro·ny1
      ˈīrənē,ˈiərnē/
      noun
      the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.
      ““Don’t go overboard with the gratitude,” he rejoined with heavy irony”
      synonyms: sarcasm, causticity, cynicism, mockery, satire

    • Your presumption is wrong Prof Dawkins. I am an avid fan of your works, particularly the Greatest Show on Earth. I love all the progress you have made for the cause of Humanism, but you are also guilty of this fascicle ridiculing of the ignorant.

      However please do go on to tell me how your perspective can be the only correct perspective because it is empirically sound, and because the truths that these faith-heads follow cannot be true as it doesn’t live up to the same empirical scrutiny as your own.

      Not everyone has to adhere to empiricism. By closing that off as “stupid ignorance open to mockery”, you’re alienating anyone who could (even vaguely) see sense in the things you say. When I left Islam, I only responded to a slow decaying of the things I saw as misinformation within the Quran, however had I been faced by the current bile spouted by militaristically Atheistic baboons, I dare say the light of being faith-free may never have been cast upon me.

      • I also found it hard to believe that you were being serious when you opened with calling Sue “infuriatingly moronic”. It is ironic that you then continue to criticise her for being antagonistic!

        If there was every any validity in what you were trying to say (which is actually quite possible), I’m afraid you’ll end up losing it by behaving in such a rude and aggressive manner.

          • Mosses Aug 18, 2014 at 1:32 pm

            I don’t care about your assertion that any ground of my perspective is lost by being aggressive in response to belligerence.

            The problem is, that you are so wrapped up in your own belligerence, that you don’t care about understanding of the topic of the lecture, and are making no effort to understand the psychology of memes which was its topic.
            Facts do not change because some people don’t like them, or decide to be offended by them.

            Memes are about the passing on cultural behaviours. The lecture was about the study of this.
            You, like those who walked out, show no understanding of the subject of memes or comparative religion, but seem stuck in “offended mode”, throwing insults at other people, with your eyes shut and your hands over your ears, showing no interest in any view other than your own!

            This is not how rational debates are conducted.

          • Dear Alan4discussion,

            How fitting it is that you cannot be replied to…

            “or decide to be offended by them.”

            Because I’m offended, of course I am, please don’t put words in my mouth. If the speaker was trying to simply point out the shift in cultural behaviours and altering in cultural zeitgeist, then she should have done so.

            But she didn’t, she strayed from her topic of discussion and tried to include snipes at core beliefs, once people began to leave, her feelings got hurt because less people would hear the validity of her views, so instead of focusing on sticking to the point, she thought she’d post an out pouring of grief to her peers to stroke her ego.

          • You misapprehended belligerance as did the others who walked out. Holding a mirror up to ourselves makes us see things in a new light.

            It works like this Bob Newhart sketch The great bulk of the people laughing at this in the 1960s themselves probably put rolled up leaves in some paper, put it between their lips and set fire to it just like Walt Raleigh . They all laughed at themselves. Imagine this behaviour was not part of your culture. Starting to do it is pretty wacky looking.

          • …once people began to leave, her feelings got hurt because less
            people would hear the validity of her views…

            I don’t believe Sue Blackmore was hurt because fewer people were hearing the validity of her views, it was more like frustration and disbelief at such incredible levels of intolerance. If you hear something with which you fundamentally disagree, it is quite simple to say “excuse me, but I find your comments very offensive and completely disagree with you”. Simply walking out is a bit limp really, as is resorting to personal insults.

      • Theism is ridiculous and by default those who believe such nonsense should be ridiculed. More so for denying science. Evolution is necessary for any organism to adapt to it’s environment . It is a function of Life itself. It is not something you believe or not. It just happens and it can be observed documented and quantified. You can’t say that about any gods.

        If I am in a lecture and the speaker even hints about creationism being an alternative to evolution, I walk out. If they start saying things that belong in a church, mosque or synagogue and even buddhist temple, I walk out.

        I can’t tolerate people trying to convince me an others that these things are true and real when they clearly are not and the proof is sen every day. Anytime someone claims their religion is a peaceful one yet everything in their books points to violence and horrible death. It points to being a slave to something that does not exist and was invented for the sole purpose of political and societal dominance.

        Yes, people should be ridiculed for their ridiculous beliefs.

    • I think there is some irony here–Mosses and Dr. Blackmore have the same problem, and that is how to make their point without alienating their audience. Isn’t this lecturing 101? Are we to ignore this very real aspect of humans, of their biology, if we are to try and educate them? Teaching people how to think is always more effective than telling them what to think–we atheists cannot overcome years of indoctrination and expect someone who was raised religious to just “see the light” because they are sitting in a classroom where free thinking is welcome. This is one of my greatest concerns with the atheist movement–alienation of theists is not going to lead to progress.

      • You’re never going to change the mind of a true believer. Coddling the delusions of the deluded isn’t going to gain anything, and may, indeed, delay challenging public displays of religious propaganda enough to lose somebody sitting on the fence and vulnerable to religious magical thinking. The only reason religion gets away with this kind of passive aggressive public coercion is because religion has been given an undeserved pass at abuse of public tolerance for far too long. It’s imperative religious bloviation, grandstanding and manipulations be called out and stood up to at every turn. Alienation of religionists who insist on wearing their god on their sleeve is inevitable — and NECESSARY for the good of society. Full Stop.

  4. “Mosses”, all you are displaying here is your own inability to understand debate. If someone tells you something you disagree with, the correct response is not to get up and leave: that merely displays your own fear of being proved wrong.

    The best pre-emptive way to deal with people you fear might simply run away when you challenge their preconceptions is to say right at the beginning: “Some of you may feel you cannot cope with what I am saying, and yu have to leave the room. Before you stand up and leave, ask yourself, ‘What am I afraid of? Why am I fleeing from these words?'”

    • Please don’t attempt to attack my comprehension. It’s a poor tactic, she wasn’t trying to prove a point, she was berating them. Why should they have to sit through that? And who on Earth is going to sit through a talk where their core belief structure is mocked? Who is going to be enlightened by that?

      • Mosses Aug 18, 2014 at 1:10 pm

        Please don’t attempt to attack my comprehension.

        Why? – When you show no comprehension, and just churn out disparaging rhetoric?

        It’s a poor tactic,

        It is an issue of substance not a tactic! The fact that you fail to recognise it as such, reflects on your lack of comprehension.

        she wasn’t trying to prove a point, she was berating them.

        No! It is you who are berating her and missing the point and substance of the lecture. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meme

        Who is going to be enlightened by that?

        Those who have built “core beliefs” around uncritically accepted misinformation! – If they listen and learn.

      • Too true, who will sit through a talk where their core belief structure is mocked? Oh, that’s right me… I was able to manage a trip through church and tolerate the bullshit that came out of their mouths, politely.

        I did not get up and walk out but rather listened and waited for it to end. When my stepfather insisted I also attend the Sunday School, I went with the other kids. And when I challenged their claims in front of the other kids and requested, maturely, for evidence, they kicked me out and asked I never return. You must willfully remain ignorant to be religious.

        Some of these people want to be doctors and don’t accept evolution. That’s like a flight instructor not accepting gravity. If I saw any instructor walk out at the mention of gravity, I would write their name down and publish it for the safety of all. We should do the same for those who want to be doctors.

        • “Hi everyone, I’m here to lecture you on memes, but if we differ in our core beliefs, I’ll have to spit in your face first. Oh, and, don’t leave or you’re ignorant and it will further my own belief that this world is hopeless.”

          • It seems very likely to me that some portion of the walk-out was staged by people who showed up knowing exactly who the lecturer was with the full intention of making a scene and staging a walk-out. It would seem shocking that so many people showed up having no idea who the person was or what type of talks they give. Back when I was still religious I never took myself so seriously as to get offended if someone called Jesus a zombie Jew. I usually just laughed right along with them because it’s funny. If you can’t look at your own habits, religious or not, and see that from an outsider’s view they probably seem quite silly you probably have a personality disorder.

          • There was no demonstration of a differing of core beliefs. Firstly, only one side demonstrated that they held beliefs. Beliefs that rely heavily on ignorance to explain the natural world. But hey, we’re all ignorant of most knowledge.

            The other side was merely presenting an accepted conclusion derived from observational data gathered from the natural world (not strongly held wishes from the imagination). These are among the best conclusions the data can produce and they would be gladly chucked out were better conclusions to arise. That these conclusions hurt feelings is not important.

            As far as spit, it is one thing to complain about venom that has been constructed for the express purpose of being spit in your eye (“you will burn in hell you heretic”). One might feel justified to leave such a place.

            It is an entirely different thing to put your face in front of a spitting cobra and complain of being spat at in the face. You may want to leave that situation as well, or you could wear the Glasses of Openmindedness they block venom and allow you to see the beautiful cobra up close. Careful, this snake is real!

  5. They said you made them feel ignorant. Everyone is ignorant about something. In order to not be ignorant at all, you have to be omniscient. If something makes you feel ignorant, it is because you are. That feeling should not be run from, but embraced and filled with knowledge.

    “A burning itch to know is higher than a solemn vow to pursue truth. To feel the burning itch of curiosity requires both that you be ignorant, and that you desire to relinquish your ignorance. If in your heart you believe you already know, or if in your heart you do not wish to know, then your questioning will be purposeless and your skills without direction. … Be wary of those who speak of being open-minded and modestly confess their ignorance. There is a time to confess your ignorance and a time to relinquish your ignorance.”

    Eliezer S. Yudkowsky – Twelve Virtues of Rationality
    http://yudkowsky.net/rational/virtues/

  6. Unbelievable, what a lot of idiots! A pity I don’t live in Oxford, else I had absolutely joined your lecture. Well, don’t give up, just go on lecturing. If the memes spread the ignorance wil decrease.

    I am in the middle of your book “The meme machine”. It is really fascinating. I’ m enjoying it very much.

    • Ophelia,

      Very true. In Britain we had a culture of shrugging at other folk’s attempts to ‘rattle our cage’. As a child I was taught to respond with “Stick and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me!” and keep my dignity as I turned away. But foreign ideas of being offended have polluted the British stiff-upper-lip so we’ve got laws against using ordinary English words with no intent to offend.

    • is being offended not reason enough? Is it impossible to give a lecture on memes without peppering it with the absurdity of religious belief?

      How sad that the lecturer is inept at getting their point across to audience members with different beliefs. All that preparation and energy wasted. I didn’t see a bunch of people walking out on Dawkin’s presentation of memes using his kaleidoscope screen.

  7. Temper tantrums from hypocritical boneheads. I bet they’re ok with her having a go at the rest (you know Hindus, Christianity, Jews, ect…).

    I would have no time for these ignoramuses. Leave, fine. Go cry a little.

  8. Dr. Blackmoore, moving beyond the issues of Islam I’m curious how you respond to the criticism of meme theory raised by Scott Atran in this paper: The Trouble with Memes: Inference vs. Imitation in Cultural Creation I think it’s agreed upon by everyone that for a replicator (genes, or memes if they exist) to be a replicator there has to be high fidelity replication. But Atran claims, and gives pretty convincing empirical evidence to support that claim, that memes, unlike genes, do not replicate with high fidelity.

    I’m also curious how you respond to Atran’s critique that meme theorists have not engaged in significant empirical tests of the theory, unlike Atran’s experiments which seem to offer strong evidence against meme theory.

    • We are not limited to imitation, as far as I like to resume: each one of us is a machine of creating meaning, Acculturation and socialization are mechanisms of cultural transmission, and tradition has it s own mechanisms of preservation, besides the values that individuals take as their own.
      It is out of the question (even for E. O. Wilson ) to presume that an animal creator of such a complex culture would ever rely only on imitation.
      Professor Dawkins has created a vocabulary recurring to the analogy of genes replication, but that s an analogy, don’t take it too far and so literally, nevertheless he is absolutely coherent in his own thought and vocabulary.

      • And your point is what exactly? All I could get out of your comment is that understanding human behavior is complex and can’t be reduced to anything so simplistic as rote replication. Which is true but so obviously true that it’s vacuous. The point of meme theory, I thought was that it’s supposed to show something more interesting than rote replication but part of the theory is that a meme, like a gene, can be a replicator in the sense that Dawkins and others understand the term. And the way Dawkins defines replicators they have to replicate with good fidelity as genes do. He says as much in the few things he’s written about memes and other people who advocate for memes seem to agree. So the question is: do memes replicate with enough fidelity that they are replicators and hence it makes sense to apply some of the same analyses we use for genes to memes?

        Atran provides compelling evidence that they don’t. His point is that memes may be useful as a general idea but as a foundation for a science of ideas and cognition they can’t work for that reason. That’s a very substantive point that I’ve never seen any advocate for meme theory refute, including Prof. Dawkins the one time he engaged with me on that issue, I found his response very unconvincing.

        For Blackmoore memes are — at least I thought — more than just an analogy, they are supposed to be the foundation for an actual scientific theory. If they aren’t that she should be up front about it. But if they are then it’s a very reasonable question: where are the social science experiments that would provide evidence for or against memes? And if no one can create such experiments than memes are just an analogy but that isn’t what the proponents for meme theory say, as far as I’m aware.

    • Memes are unlike genes in some important ways. The main reason that genes have to be strongly conserved (faithfully copied) is that they are chemical; mistakes in copying are usually fatal or at least deleterious. Beliefs are (1) more complex to transfer, as they are conveyed by imprecise language rather than very precise chemicals, and (2) mostly less subject to immediate selection pressure – in most places you don’t get killed for having a faulty copy of a meme (you may be subject to pressures to conform, but not usually immediately killed) and (3) memes can be amended and altered in ways that genes can’t. There is an analogy between genes and memes; it is a weak analogy. Memes are not genes. Genes need high fidelity. Memes need adequate fidelity, or the idea being transferred becomes quite lost in a single telling. Genes transfer once; memes can be reinforced or weakened in training effects. That’s actually very easy to see in schismatic religions, where one teaching drifts from the mainstream, and then another variation of that is born, and drifts off further. Tolerance for variant replication is generally pretty high. And we train hard when we want faithful replication. That’s what those repeated hours on a Sunday, or five times a day, are there for. To reinforce patterns and amend poor copies. And it is what schools are for, too. Pattern correction – a feature currently unique to memes. Wouldn’t genetics be fun if genes could improve over the lifetime of an organism, eh?

  9. Don t despair, I would say.

    Just trying myself to make same “desperate” point.

    _Sometimes in academic life, there would be no more than a Professor and two students for a class, that was even more interesting.

    -There are curious numbers of good (bad) sense, as far as I was an excellent student in philosophy, once only one answer out of 30 was correct (that was mine), don t ever despair with numbers.

  10. I dunno, if I turned up at a seminar in a Muslim country to hear a science talk and the person delivering it suddenly launched into a tirade against the West complete with controversial anti-western images, I might start to think I’d been suckered in. Is it common practice on the scientific lecture circuit to mock the culture of any minorities in the audience with no prior warning?

    The Danish cartoons are innocuous to those of us raised with western values and non-Muslims generally. To Muslims though they’re examples of hate speech directed specifically at them. They see reproductions of these drawings on placards and t-shirts whenever the EDL or BNP has a march through their neighborhood. They would have been entitled after the cartoon display to wonder what was coming next; a showing of Fitna maybe?

    It must have come as quite a shock to many of these children, who have presumably done exceptionally well in their A Levels, enough to have earned perhaps a place at one of the greatest Universities in the world, to learn that even in the hallowed halls and rarefied air of Oxford academia there will always be those looking to attack or just mock them because of their background.

    Jeez, you study hard, avoid all the temptations of youth—boyfriends, parties, concerts etc. The library is your second home and Facebook is just something you heard about. You ace your exams and endure sleepless night after sleepless night wondering if you will be called for an interview at the university of your choice. You are and it’s a success! You’re the first person in your family ever to go beyond a high school education. You’re going to make them so proud. You’ll miss them dreadfully but if you’re honest it will be nice to be someplace where you aren’t called Paki when walking to the shops; where when you get on the bus others don’t rush to disembark lest the backpack you’re carrying contains something more sinister than the books which actually bulk it out. You’re going to be surrounded by intellectuals, people who will see past the color of your skin and the culture you had no say being born into.

    Then in the first week of your new life, homesick as hell and feeling smaller than a mosque mouse, you wander into a lecture on science being delivered by a lady with crazy, multicolored hair (Omigosh, you could do that to your own barnet if you wanted, that’s just how free you now are). You settle in and…

    Oh…dear…God.

    Even here.

    Does this never end?

    P.S. If an audience member chooses to leave a performance a speaker is giving, unless they depart in an ostentatious manner I don’t think it’s the place of the speaker to heckle them. If the first to walk out tried to do so discreetly, and were challenged by Professor Blackmore to explain themselves, that to me makes her look like the aggressor in this whole business.

    Audiences are good at recognizing when a performer is hostile toward them.

    • If those diligent students are unable to participate in academic discourse, they ought to go back to their libraries and sleepless nights until they are fit to do so.

      Working hard, missing your parents and being called a “Paki” is no excuse for ignorance and does not give you the ability to think.

      P.S. Sorry for opening up with both barrels, but I do so hate snivelling.

      • If those diligent students are unable to participate in academic discourse, they ought to go back to their libraries and sleepless nights until they are fit to do so.

        Academic discourse involving racially charged cartoons? If a Jewish student turned up at a lecture on Rodentia and was treated to a slideshow which included images of German propaganda posters from the 1930s depicting Jews as vermin, would you recommend he abandon his academic goals if he elected to storm out?

        Working hard, missing your parents and being called a “Paki” is no excuse for ignorance and does not give you the ability to think.

        Being accepted into a prestigious university like Oxford does show you possess this ability though.

        P.S. Sorry for opening up with both barrels, but I do so hate snivelling.

        Don’t worry about it, I think your shotgun might have jammed anyway. Some people do tend to think they’re packing a howitzer when most of the time it turns out to be a pop gun.

        Am I the one sniveling? I’ll have to watch that.

        • I believe the cartoons lampooned a phenomenon tied to a religion, not the traits of a “race”.

          In general, I think it is better to confront and ask what something means and engage in debate. Maybe it is appropriate to show propaganda posters in that particular context, I don’t know. At any rate I think it would be more appropriate to label the propaganda in your example “Nazi” rather than “German”. Germans are a bunch of pretty decent people who fell under the spell of National Socialist ideology.

          Being accepted into a prestigious university like Oxford does show you possess this ability though.¨

          And walking out on a lecture just because you disagree shows that you must have lost this ability right after you were accepted. Btw. I think this was not the university proper, but rather an organization that had borrowed the halo with the name.

    • Katy, Do you think these Muslim student had NO idea what the lecture was going to be about or who was holding it?
      I thought education was making us face our ignorance.
      If they plan on going out in the world they better plan on hearing alternate viewpoints.

      • I think you are missing the point. The question is: if your goal is to have a serious scientific discussion why go out of your way to offend part of your audience? The examples could easily have been made with all sorts of other religions, why go to the one that is most likely to inflame both sides of the audience? Unless you aren’t serious about the science and are just looking to generate political controversy. The more I see of the new atheists the more I think they are hypocrites in this regard. They talk about science but when it comes to questions of politics and society they seldom if ever talk about serious research or analytics and go right for the most inflamatory rhetoric.

          • Memes are more of a philosophical discussion than a scientific one.

            I don’t know what you mean by that distinction. As I’ve said before I don’t recognize a hard and fast distinction between science and philosophy only between useful philosophy which for me is reasoning about topics we don’t understand well enough to call science yet and bullshit philosophy which is what most of academic philosophy is IMO.

            In any case regardless of what you mean by that distinction I don’t see how it changes the argument. An argument is invalid regardless of whether you call it science or philosophy. And in the Forward to The Meme Machine (p. XV) Richard Dawkins says:

            Richard Dawkins: “I believe a sufficient case has been made that the analogy between genes and memes is persuasive… But can the analogy do useful work? Can it lead us to powerful new theories that actually explain anything important? This is where Susan Blackmore really comes into her own”

            Whether you call it philosophy or psychology those words sound like someone who is taking it seriously as a theoretical construct and thus should be open to questions about how the idea stands up to empirical tests. The fact that Blackmore seems more interested in generating bullshit controversy, to play yet another round of “make the Muslims look like ignorant savages” (an easy game to play given the opponent) says to me that like Dawkins these days she is more interested in celebrity than in serious science… or philosophy.

            BTW, if Mario Mello is still reading I also think that quote addresses the reply that memes aren’t meant to be anything more than an analogy as well. Dawkins clearly thinks that “the analogy between genes and memes is persuasive” and that “it [can] lead us to powerful new theories that actually explain [things]”

          • Yes I think this is the case. People don’t like to be made to face their own ridiculous beliefs. And they can’t ever offer a logical explanation for having them.

            They dislike to be pointed out as ignorant. Whether it is voluntary ignorance or not. They want the undeserved unspoken entitlement of respect for their ridiculous beliefs. As if that makes them more knowledgeable or special in some way. Better than others and need to be treated with kid gloves otherwise jihad !

            I wonder though, if she had been wearing a burka, would it had made any difference?

        • Good point, well said, Red Dog, though I think perhaps the criticism is not as applicable to those new atheists who never were scientists, like Dennett and Hitchins. Both Prof. Dawkins and Sam Harris have moved beyond mere scientific discussion and into other social agenda, imho. Even the name of the web site implies as much: It is not just “The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science.” Harris seems to me more open about the transition, he seems to have more-or-less left his scientific persona behind. I wonder if Prof. Dawkins is comfortable in the political role?

      • Katy, Do you think these Muslim student had NO idea what the lecture was going to be about or who was holding it?

        I don’t know what these youngsters thought. From what I gather, the job of the Oxford Royale Academy is to acclimatize college leavers to University life; give them a taste of what to expect. A fresher week sort of thing involving tours of campuses, handing out of bus timetables and reading lists, and attending proper grownup lectures. It’s possible some of them were familiar with Professor Blackmore’s writings and knew what they were walking into, I guess.

        I thought education was making us face our ignorance.

        It’s the twenty… (hang on a sec while I check)… the twenty-first century. The job of education is to create productive members of the capitalist mincing machine. The Aristotelian ideal of knowledge for its own sake is long gone.

        If they plan on going out in the world they better plan on hearing alternate viewpoints.

        If you say so. Exposing yourself to alternate viewpoints means you’re more likely to become a rounded, tolerant person, but that isn’t essential to being a success in life. It may actually be a detriment to that goal.

    • I understand you’re being contrarian (which is not to say that you don’t believe every word you write; I trust you do), but you’re also assuming a lot methinks. First, she indeed warned those who would potentially be offended by the cartoon that she would indeed be showing something they might deem offensive, then described it so that they could look away if they chose not to see it (I warned any devout Muslims in the audience to look away as I showed one of the Danish cartoons).

      And the tale of woe you cook up regarding the imagined Muslim student is clearly slanted to elicit the greatest sympathetic effect, with the imagined coda of “does this never end?” I think you’re assuming a lot here. I think the students had every reasonable modus to presume what this lecture might entail. A soupcon of research into the lecturer herself might have given them enough info to avoid it like the plague. Even some mild research into the topic might reveal enough to inform them about possible tangents the subject matter might take liberty with.

      So I think the onus is on the “A level” student here. The rest is simple courtesy. Turn your head; cover your eyes; chant “la, la, la, la, la”. Better yet use those A level critical thinking skills to critique the actual lecture. Perhaps cook up some questions that have nothing to do with leeches. Etc.

      • You have to concede that Katy’s ‘tale of woe’ did conjure up a very vivid picture of the minuscule mosque mouse venturing out into the big scary world. I could totally visualise her getting off that bus with her little backpack and everything.

        However, I completely agree that the disgruntled students should have stayed and ‘used their critical thinking skills to critique the actual lecture’. That might have been quite enlightening for all concerned!

        • You have to concede that Katy’s ‘tale of woe’ did conjure up a very vivid picture of the minuscule mosque mouse venturing out into the big scary world. I could totally visualise her getting off that bus with her little backpack and everything.

          Ratpack™

      • @Steven007

        I understand you’re being contrarian (which is not to say that you don’t believe every word you write; I trust you do), but you’re also assuming a lot methinks. First, she indeed warned those who would potentially be offended by the cartoon that she would indeed be showing something they might deem offensive, then described it so that they could look away if they chose not to see it (I warned any devout Muslims in the audience to look away as I showed one of the Danish cartoons).

        So Blackmore knows the pictures might cause offense and thoughtfully warns devout Muslims about this and then gets in a huff when some of them choose to leave. Isn’t averting your gaze in order not to see an offensive image sort of on the same spectrum of activity as walking away from it? Why is the first of these acceptable behavior to her but the second isn’t? Perhaps she has a fundamental objection to lower body locomotion.

        And the tale of woe you cook up regarding the imagined Muslim student is clearly slanted to elicit the greatest sympathetic effect, with the imagined coda of “does this never end?” I think you’re assuming a lot here. I think the students had every reasonable modus to presume what this lecture might entail. A soupcon of research into the lecturer herself might have given them enough info to avoid it like the plague. Even some mild research into the topic might reveal enough to inform them about possible tangents the subject matter might take liberty with.

        It was a fresher week for these kids, to give them some idea of what university life will be like. There’s no reason to think they had any idea or even any interest in what Blackmore’s lecture was about. I doubt any promotional bumf handed out included the information that she was going to launch into a stand-up routine about those nutty Mohammedans complete with racist cartoons.

        So I think the onus is on the “A level” student here. The rest is simple courtesy. Turn your head; cover your eyes; chant “la, la, la, la, la”.

        Yes, or quietly walk out. I actually don’t think it would say much for these students if they had done what you suggest. It would make them look extremely passive and spineless, like ostriches burying their head in the sand. Suppose you went to a comedy club and a comic came on and launched into a routine you found personally offensive; homophobic, sexist, whatever. Would you take your own advice and cover your eyes, turn your head or mumble a few nonsense words to yourself to block out what was going on on stage, or would you storm out?

        How discourteous of you if you did the last of these. The comic has a right to his opinions you know! It’s a free country where people can say what they like! How dare you not stay to listen and be challenged, you bigot! Hate crime, hate crime!

        I think it says quite a lot about some of the atheists commenting on this story—present company excluded I’m sure—that they would demonize these young people and paint them as bigots for taking a moral stand just because the thing they’re standing up for is something the atheists disapprove of. If these seventeen and eighteen year old Muslims want to make it in the world, they damn well better learn not to stand up for themselves when their culture is traduced and their beliefs mocked. We’ll tolerate these brown johnnies, let them work in our service industries, even as GPs (you wouldn’t want one as a surgeon, mind, the line has to be drawn somewhere), but by God they better not get uppity. Uncle Tomeshes only need apply.

        Better yet use those A level critical thinking skills to critique the actual lecture. Perhaps cook up some questions that have nothing to do with leeches. Etc.

        Interrupt the comic’s set to challenge him, you mean? Or wait till he’s finished and no longer has the microphone and the authority afforded him by the comedy club. According to Blackmore, over a hundred of these kids left her lecture (I don’t suppose it occurred to her that it might have been boring). And a few confronted her outside afterward. Are we supposed to assume that the slug kids were speaking on behalf of all one hundred of the leavers? Did they get together after walking out and elect a deputation to confront the good professor?

        You’re doing what many on this thread and others having to do with Islam do: treating Muslims not as individuals but as a homogeneous, Borg-like mass; what one thinks, all think.

        Another hypothetical for you: Susan Blackmore is giving the same talk in America, in one of the Heartland states with all straight lines God was thoughtful enough to delineate. There are no Muslims in attendance so she reworks her lecture to reflect the audience demographic, as any good lecturer would. Instead of the Danish cartoons, she shows Robert Mapplethorpe’s Piss Christ and other supposed anti-Jesus stuff. She goes on to mock Christians in other ways and at the end of her lecture, half the audience has made like a submarine screen door and split. Outside afterward five or six people approach her and launch into a rant about the bacterial flagellum, or about bananas and how they fit so nicely into the human hand and ‘how does she explain this?’

        Would you conclude that these idiots are representative of all US Christians? Or would you concede that many of those who took to their feet might have been extremely open to the idea of evolution and how it fits in quite nicely thank you with God’s plan for us, but took umbrage with an image of an effigy of their lord and savior immersed in several gallons of micturant being shown, and all the cracks—”Look, look at the funny sheeple, baa baa, prostrating themselves before an imaginary being, aren’t they silly, boys and girls”—about how dumb they are?

        That’s probably not even a good analogy as the American audience would have been almost entirely culturally Christian, unlike the minority group we’re dealing with in this real world event.

        • If I were a professor giving a science lecture to A level kids, the last thing I would think of is their religious sensitivities. By the same token if I were giving a lecture on religion the students opinions or sensitivities regarding science wouldn’t trouble me very much either. Perhaps this makes me naïve and perhaps it is good that I’m not a professor, but I really don’t think so.

          As I’ve stated elsewhere (upstream or downstream – who the hell knows at this point) I would never personally walk out of a lecture (and I’ve been to plenty that got me heated) and this is the prism in which I view this situation. My other opinions disseminate from this position and I gather the same is true for you (and everyone). And from that I extrapolate that you, as you’ve alluded to with your opinion here, would have no problem walking out on a lecture, finding it no less offensive than diverting your eyes from an offending cartoon (cartoon!)

          Your comedy club analogy actually supports my point. Have you ever really been caught off guard by a comic’s routine? If you see Sarah Silverman on her Jesus is Magic tour I don’t think you’ll be surprised by some potentially offensive soliloquies. If however on a whim you see some comic you’ve never heard of on a first date to pass the time I guess there’s a chance for your PC glands to be tweaked. But I really don’t think this describes the culturally diverse Oxford Royale Academy crowd at the lecture in question.

          As for your American Heartland analogy, again, who in this environment would even attend a lecture of hers without knowing something about it? I continue to believe that, as I’ve stated before, the smart phone laden and tech fluent “kids” of today would, could or should have SOME idea of an event they chose to attend. Maybe it gets in the way of their Facebooking and Instagramming so yeah, perhaps they should get a pass. But you don’t go to an NFL game and pretend to be offended by the violence.

          Please note, I’ve never said these kids didn’t have the right to leave or shouldn’t have. Clearly they do and they did. I simply stated that I thought it was rude of them and revealed a narrow mindedness that’s discouraging.

    • EXACTLY! Katy I agree.

      I admit I have a problem being critical and at times socially inept…but she went far over the line into disrespect. When will people realize that you will have a harder time winning people over with vinegar? It’s basic human nature/psychology. She could have approached the topic in a multitude of ways. Being able to predict inevitable responses takes social intelligence. Why do people seem so shocked that people respond with offense? duh!

      • Question: How did she go into disrespect? She illustrated how religion is a “memeplex.” Based on your comment, and Katy’s, you both seem to have missed the parts about her showing memes about Christianity, and those kids leaving, too.

        Why do people seem so shocked that people respond with offense?

        Maybe because being offended isn’t a viable response to something? All someone does when they say, “I’m offended,” is actually saying, “What you’re saying isn’t wrong, but I think it should be, so you should stop.” In other words, they can’t control their emotions so the speaker should do it for them.

        Final question: Why is it okay to mock Christians but not Muslims? Both believe something without evidence, and is a holdover from antiquity.

        • Exactly. Religion is the problem.

          An atheist would never walk out of a lecture, because nothing can phase us. We aren’t emotionally connected to ideas or beliefs. If we hear something we don’t like, or disagree with, we’ll discuss it at the end.

          On the other hand, the religious are so strongly tied to their specific set of ideas, that when anything makes them think they have to attack or run away from it.

          This is why extremists kill people. They can’t win a war of words so they win a war of blood and execution. They know their ideas aren’t logically viable but their cemented ideologies can’t handle it.

    • Hi Katie,

      … Is it common practice on the scientific lecture circuit to mock the culture of any minorities in the audience with no prior warning?

      Why is prior warning necessary?

      If I attended a lecture on sociology in France, Italy, or Belarus I would frankly be disappointed if the dogma of Marx and Engels did not get an airing – and very disappointed if that dogma were not delivered with the bile and passion that is clearly ‘necessary’ against those of us from ‘Anglo-Saxon-Viking’ countries that don’t ‘get it’.

      All subjects are taught within the cultural confines in which the teaching is delivered.

      Truth, including science, can transcend those boundaries. It seems to me that it is a mistake to confuse cultural influences that inform teachers / lecturers with the learning process. I have three friends who studied education, and they agree with me, their response is:

      “Tell us what it is – to teach – and we will gladly do so.”

      This is something that the students of most Western countries in the 1960’s understood.

      The organisation that planned this presentation is to be commended for understanding that Oxford Uni. has a closer fit between cultural framework and the delivery of truth.

      The Danish cartoons are innocuous to those of us raised with western values and non-Muslims generally. To Muslims though they’re examples of hate speech directed specifically at them.

      I don’t get it (“oh well! as usual” I hear you respond). To me the above paragraph is obviously two thoughts that are being confused:

      The Danish cartoons are innocuous …

      Er, yes …

      … they’re examples of hate speech …

      What that?

      [People] see reproductions of these drawings on placards and t-shirts whenever [other people have] a march through their neighborhood.

      Oh boo-hoo.

      Free speech anyone?

      [The proto-students] would have been entitled after the cartoon display to wonder what was coming next; a showing of Fitna maybe?

      Direct connection between the film Fitna and memeplexes please.

      It must have come as quite a shock to many of these [young adults] who have presumably done exceptionally well in their [previous studies] enough to have earned perhaps a place at one of the greatest Universities in the world, to learn that even in the hallowed halls and rarefied air of Oxford academia there will always be those looking to attack or just mock them because of their background.

      So well that, as another Poster points out, they forgot how to use a Search Engine and look up Susan Blackmore?

      Okay, they were short on time. But the fact remains that Blackmore did no more than challenge their thinking, and their only response appears to be defensive anger. What kind of a World emerges from a precursor where students in tertiary education can only hear what they want to hear?

      [Young people work hard to escape the clutches of the poorly educated who are therefore racist, or inverted snobs, or ignorant, or all three] – I hope an accurate summary … ?

      In your World these students don’t emerge from groups of intelligent people who are disadvantaged and in thrall to those more powerful than themselves …

      [ … at which point the students’ hope is that they’re: ] going to be surrounded by intellectuals, people who will see past the color of [their] skin and the culture [they] had no say being born into. Then …

      Oh…dear…God.

      Even here [their beliefs are challenged]

      Does this never end?

      Equating racism with free thinking? That’s your best shot?

      Pfft.

      If that seems dismissive of your argument … it is. My feelings are hurt every day by the faithful. My feelings have been treated as nothing throughout my life by the faithful … ergo … I am free to dismiss the feelings of the faithful, and so are all my unbelieving friends, QED.

      Truth cannot be expected to sit in a Waiting Room. Compartmentalised away, while lies and deception play.

      Feelings have little value beyond self, and no value beyond love.

      The term ‘to take offence’ has always seemed accurate to me:

      To dispossess someone (i.e. to steal or illicitly remove free speech by claiming annoyance from a perceived insult)
      The action of attacking someone or something, typically without evidence
      Anger at a perceived violation of what is personally judged to be right

      I don’t care. People are offended by someone else’s free speech all the time. Free speech means telling other people what they don’t want to hear, or it means nothing. It really is that simple.

      You use an interesting definition of intellectual above. One that seems to be so at odds with the normal definition that I must ask: What do you mean?

      A University is the place where thinking must be challenged. Education cannot be equated with ‘alternative’ narratives. Students either accept this, or accept that they are unfit for tertiary education. This is most decidedly not eternal damnation, it is merely pragmatic – if one is persuaded that truth is important …

      P.S. If an audience member chooses to leave a performance a speaker is giving, unless they depart in an ostentatious manner I don’t think it’s the place of the speaker to heckle them.

      Agreed. If they walked out without giving a rational argument ( I just double-checked, and this was definitely missing from Blackmore’s account), they don’t deserve a tertiary education of any kind – they’re simply not equipped to make the best of it.

      This, of course, counters all of your forgoing argument.

      Peace.

  11. ” like a gene, can be a replicator in the sense that Dawkins and others understand the term. And the way Dawkins defines replicators they have to replicate with good fidelity as genes do. ”

    Not quite as I presume, have you ever noticed that even when you can compare two different Muslims, two different Christians they value things differently, what means that in our complex culture, people take as their own different values in their own universe (as i resume, each one of us is a machine of creating meaning), which does not, of course, refutes, by any means, that we, as a species with a long period of maturation and dependent on socialization have a natural predisposition to learn well, not only as imitation (creating stereotypes), but solving problems, and transmitting good ideas rather than bad ones (which unfortunately takes so long).

  12. “Should I have said that the Koran, like the Old Testament, is a foul book full of hatred and violence?” Really? Recommending that if violence is used against you it’s best to turn the other cheek? [OK, I know that’s in the words of the NT but the message was the same in the Qur’an,] That doesn’t seem too violent to me. I admit that when I read the Qur’an there were several inconsistencies and some passages that I took exception to, but I didn’t get the same overall impression as you have.

    I’ve been an atheist for fifty years but was troubled several years ago by some of the accusations that were being made against Islam so thought I should go to the source to verify them. In general, I found them to be false. Now, given what seem to me to be a lot of ignorant remarks surfacing on the social media, I’ll have to refresh my memory again. Could be my memory’s played tricks on me – it’s about a decade since I read the book – or perhaps people have read into the book what they have expected or wanted to see. Before anyone jumps on my case. “people” also includes me.

    • As with all holy books, the faithful cherry pick the phrases, passages and words that justify their current needs. Depending if I want to entice some ignorant to blow them selves up in a crowd of people, or if I am trying to convince an audience that my particular book of myths is the most peace loving and life affirming text ever written, I choose the passages that validate my assertions.

      Heck, with bible codes I can even justify wearing white socks with black shoes.

      • As with all holy books, the faithful cherry pick the phrases, passages and words that justify their current needs

        I hate to tell you but it is not by any means only “the faithful” that do that. See the book The Folly of Fools by Robert Trivers. We ALL do it and if you think that you don’t do it because YOU have the truth where as THEY are ignorant “faith heads” that is a perfect confirmation of what Trivers would predict.

  13. Yesterday, I was watching again some part of Faith School Menace, considering how patient Professor Dawkins he must be.
    What a pity the respect even young people show for a Professor (I remember when I was young how much respect I had for my teachers, how I admired them and above all, how my mother taught me to have the maximum respect for teachers, how afraid I was not to learn well what some of them were teaching)

    (Listening to a researcher scientist, I know that studies concerning learning in both genders are held, even among chimps feminine gender seems more careful in learning).

  14. It was a talk about memes, and religions are the most prominent and powerful memes there are. To discuss memes without mentioning religion(s) would be like talking about the development of the car without mentioning Henry Ford.

    And as some-one(?) once said, “you do not have the right to not be offended”. If you are going to run away and hide every time you see something you don’t like, you will spend your whole life hiding.

  15. Almost as pathetic as the bigoted walking out is the questioning of Sue outside: Doesn’t a leech look like an embryo? It is hard to muster the charity to feel anything but contempt for these people, so desperate to find scientific vindication of their scripture that they seize upon something as ignominiously unconvincing as the faint resemblance of a leech to an embryo. I’ve met the same thing myself. Apparently educated students seriously think they have struck a telling blow when they say a leech is like an embryo, or ants “talk”, or mountains stabilise the Earth, or salt water and fresh don’t mix. I feel positively despairing when I think how many people in the world, including in Britain, alas, take their ridiculous religion seriously.

    • Its easy to corner a person with your viewpoints with your peer group. Its hard to do that when there is a impartial group.
      I question the students waiting for the Professor to come out of the lecture to present their viewpoint.
      I also suspect these students did not walk into a lecture without knowing who was giving the lecture or the content of the lecture.

      • The small group outside clearly didn’t feel sufficiently confident to hit Sue with their leech argument in the main lecture hall. They must surely know, even at some deep level of consciousness, that such an argument is ridiculously weak and would have resulted in humiliation.

        For anyone who hasn’t clicked on Sue’s link yet, I would recommend it. “Mind-blowing stuff” they describe it as. It really is. Unbelievably mind-blowing.

    • These were kids, Richard, not forty year olds. Their brains aren’t even fully formed yet. Kids are supposed to be stupid and arrogant, even the smart ones.

      If you were willing to put aside for a moment the contempt you have for these seventeen and eighteen year olds, you might consider what accepting concepts such as evolution really entails for them. It could mean complete ostracization from their entire social group. Imagine being seventeen and someone telling you that if you pick box A everything will remain as it is and your support network will continue to embrace you to its bosom; if you go for box B on the other hand your mother, father, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends and community at large will disown you. Forever. That’s it. Your mom will never hug you again, your mates will blank you on the street. No more Christmases or birthday presents. You’re a pariah from here on in. I’ll remind you that you’re seventeen.

      I for one would be sorely tempted to go for box A. Even if I knew it was full of crap.

      There is such a thing as compartmentalization. If on a routine visit to your Muslim GP you were to pull him to one side and ask him on the qt what he really thought, I have little doubt he’d tell you that of course he believes in evolution, but he has a place in the community and a family and a mortgage and he loved The Greatest Show on Earth but he’d rather not jeopardize his pretty good life. His religious faith won’t impact on his professionalism at all.

      And dude, calling teenage college students pathetic contemptible bigots… not cool, guy. Not cool at all.

      • @Katy
        The thing is, they’re already in Box A, swimming around in the crap. They could at least glance at Box B, or perhaps even acknowledge that there is a Box B.

        It’s not really a black or white question though – there’s a huge amount of grey in-between where they can still have Christmas (really?), still be with their families and not be disowned.

      • What sort of a ‘society’ is it if people have to pretend to believe things they do not believe in order not to ‘jeopardize his pretty good life” or get a mortgage. Personally I would rather not live in such a way in any ‘society’ and would not consider it a “good life” having to live a constant lie.

        What sort of ‘community’ is it if people feel so oppressed that they cannot even express their own feelings or beliefs for fear that it might jeopardize their way of life?

        • @Naij

          What sort of a ‘society’ is it if people have to pretend to believe things they do not believe in order not to ‘jeopardize his pretty good life” or get a mortgage?

          Um… ours.

          Personally I would rather not live in such a way in any ‘society’ and would not consider it a “good life” having to live a constant lie.

          I envy you your commitment to living an existence characterized by absolute truth in everything you say and do.

          I don’t believe it for a second.

          I remember reading a science fiction short story years ago about a supposedly benevolent alien race which arrives on Earth and gifts humanity with telepathy.

          The twist is that these visitors have designs on our planet and this is the best way to get us to annihilate ourselves.

          Deception is a fundamental requirement for societal harmony in our species.

          “No your ass doesn’t look big in that dress.” “That was a great joke Mr employer sir, you’re so witty and in no way a complete moron.” “Four inches is above average.”

      • Hi Katie,

        These were kids … their brains aren’t even fully formed yet. Kids are supposed to be stupid and arrogant, even the smart ones.

        I don’t get it (“ah” I hear you say, “no change there then”).

        The whole point of education is to challenge and develop minds – young ones for preference precisely because they are still growing … no?

        … the contempt you have for these seventeen and eighteen year olds …

        I won’t pretend to talk for Richard. For myself; not contempt, but pity, concern and a desire to teach truth.

        … you might consider what accepting concepts such as evolution really entails for them.

        Your plea to consider potential negatives associated with making a personal decision seem to me to amount to a plea that children not be allowed to grow up.

        I was never prouder of my Daughter than when, aged 15 or 16, she told her devout Orthodox Mother that she is an atheist.

        Making tough decisions is a part of life.

        Box A … Box B … choose one and:

        You’re a pariah from here on in. I’ll remind you that you’re seventeen.

        Yes, that would be in the nature of a tough decision.

        The 16 to 18 age group that Blackmore’s talk was aimed at will have to make plenty of other decisions along these lines and, if they found this talk so bad that they walked out of the queue to get into Oxford Uni, then they are free to take the easy path.

        I for one would be sorely tempted to go for box A. Even if I knew it was full of crap.

        I see your choice as the ultimate down side to this story. The West’s education systems up to age 16 are so poor that we cannot give our children the self-confidence to make a choice for truth? Now I’m offended.

        There is such a thing as compartmentalisation.

        There is indeed. It is often used as a first line of recovery for those with mental illness. Your point, including the proposed thought experiment of the Religious Doctor, would appear to be that we should teach our children to avoid difficult decisions. Live a lie, and everything will be fine!

        I’ve been doing exactly that. It is not a path to fulfilment and happiness. I go out of my way, as I am now, to decry any such philosophy and cowardice – yes, that’s what I called myself.

        His religious faith won’t impact on his professionalism at all.

        You say. Well the Doctor you had in mind is in your head, so I won’t argue against that. In real life such a person would raise many more questions.

        Peace.

      • It could mean complete ostracization from their entire social group. Imagine being seventeen and someone telling you that if you pick box A everything will remain as it is and your support network will continue to embrace you to its bosom; if you go for box B on the other hand your mother, father, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends and community at large will disown you. Forever. That’s it. Your mom will never hug you again, your mates will blank you on the street. No more Christmases or birthday presents. You’re a pariah from here on in.

        Sounds like what happened to me when I came out as an atheist at the age of 13. Box B, I mean. But, you know what? I got over it. I’m still an atheist at the age of 34.

        If on a routine visit to your Muslim GP you were to pull him to one side and ask him on the qt what he really thought, I have little doubt he’d tell you that of course he believes in evolution, but he has a place in the community and a family and a mortgage and he loved The Greatest Show on Earth but he’d rather not jeopardize his pretty good life.

        I don’t know about Professor Dawkins, but I’d call said hypothetical Muslim GP intellectually dishonest. But, I could understand him doing so where religion ruled the state. However, I could not understand him continuing to live there. There are nations where you can have all of those things, and not have to hide your beliefs.

        And dude, calling teenage college students pathetic contemptible bigots… not cool, guy. Not cool at all.

        I take it it has been awhile since you were around a collection of said students?

        • Sounds like what happened to me when I came out as an atheist at the age of 13. Box B, I mean. But, you know what? I got over it. I’m still an atheist at the age of 34.

          You were ostracized by your entire family and community, none of whom ever spoke to you again? That must have been awful. I can’t tell you how much I admire you. I hope you don’t mind my asking, but have you or they ever made any attempts at reconciliation?

          I don’t know about Professor Dawkins, but I’d call said hypothetical Muslim GP intellectually dishonest.

          I don’t think intellectual dishonesty is a hanging offence. If it was, most of us would be swinging from a giblet.

          Wait… that’s not right.

          If it were. Yeah, that’s better.

          But, I could understand him doing so where religion ruled the state. However, I could not understand him continuing to live there. There are nations where you can have all of those things, and not have to hide your beliefs.

          The ability to move from one nation to another as and when one desires isn’t a luxury most of the world’s population gets to enjoy. The vast majority don’t just get to pack up their belongings and hightail it somewhere else if the fancy takes them.

          I take it it has been awhile since you were around a collection of said students?

          Hey, I’m down with the kids. I know all the cultural references and argot: That stuff is outta sight, it’s groovy daddio, Cliff Richard is a dreamboat.

          • have you or they ever made any attempts at reconciliation?

            With family, yes. I’m speaking sporadically through Facebook with my younger siblings, and occasionally on the phone with my mom. Dad still says that old, “I have no son,” thing. Funny thing is, my little brother gets mad whenever he does. lol

            The community? No. I live in a different state now.

            I don’t think intellectual dishonesty is a hanging offence.

            It’s not, but when I discover it, I attempt to ascertain the reason, and if said reason doesn’t work for me, I reduce my interactions with that person. I prefer honesty in my interactions with people. I’m strange that way. ;)

            The ability to move from one nation to another as and when one desires
            isn’t a luxury most of the world’s population gets to enjoy. The vast
            majority don’t just get to pack up their belongings and hightail it
            somewhere else if the fancy takes them.

            This is true. However, we’re speaking of a hypothetical doctor. I have personally met farmers from other countries here in the U.S. who scraped together enough to come. The average doctor has quite a bit more money than said farmer.

            Hey, I’m down with the kids. I know all the cultural references and
            argot: That stuff is outta sight, it’s groovy daddio, Cliff Richard is
            a dreamboat.

            lol. I must say, hearing a dame like you talk a bit of the jive is pretty much the bee’s knees. Slip me some skin. ;)

    • If there was a God I believe he would be on the side of the enquiring atheists and agnostics rather than the closed minds of the fervently religious. Also, if you did believe in a great and powerful creator, why on earth would or should you be offended by any of your fellow humans’ opinions? Why would you care whether or not they shared your beliefs. Any belief is susceptible to mockery and we should be able to take it on the chin – live and let live… How arrogant to believe that you should go through life without ever being ‘offended’ – it is anybody’s choice whether or not they are offended anyway. When the ‘offended’ turn violent, people suffer a lot more than offense for their beliefs or non-beliefs. Also the ‘offended’ are constantly trying to suppress freedom of speech, which is extremely offensive. They should learn to laugh at themselves and take themselves less seriously, for all our sakes.

      It is only the closed and ‘cultically’ (my word) oppressed mind that shrinks from the truth or new information. In order for us all to learn new things and increase one’s awareness or become more enlightened (to borrow from the religious), surely one needs to be prepared to listen to anything and judge for oneself.

    • Inhale…. now exhale…..Breath deeply…….aaaaaaand relax.

      You just need to realize that it will take more information than what you’re dishing out to convince certain people.

      At times, it gets frustrating repeating information that seems to be common sense. If you give up and attack, you will achieve nothing. A different approach is needed.

      I remember hearing a story about school aged children seeing a cow for the first time. (Not sure of the culture…) They were shocked that it was so big compared to the tiny photo in the book. Imagine – they expected the cow to be the same size depicted in the book. Such a reaction could be seen as silly or stupid to some. Others might recognize that they are children. Instead of mocking them, the teacher used their reaction as a teachable moment. At times, we need to drop our expectations of what people should know or accept and keep teaching.

      Mocking does not enhance cognitive abilities.

      • This analogy is superficial. What we’re discussing isn’t some honest mistake that could be corrected by politely pointing it out and gently correcting it. I agree with you that mockery should never become our means of persuasion – what a poor tool that would be! – and Dawkins should quit trying to promote mockery and ridicule over furthering the discussion (at times). Yet frankly, I’m not convinced we need “more” than the intellectual case for atheism, or a “different approach”, because that “more” and that “different approach”? Both are part of the problem itself.

        The issue is sacred belief, untouchable belief, belief that has gone beyond simple questions of publicly disputable facts and truth, and gone into the realm of personal identity, dogma, unquestionable personal “faith”, and basically anything that immunizes it from criticism. This is precisely where it shouldn’t go. This attitude stops treating people as rational beings, and starts treating them as emotional toddlers who refuse to let go of their favourite toys. That’s not our problem. That’s their problem, that’s what we’re trying to wake them up to, and our role is, without compromising the message, to get people to realize that.

        In fact, it’s worse than that: these are beliefs that are used to judge the holder’s personality, and it’s almost never in the atheist’s favour. The prospect of religion being wrong or ridiculous or baseless isn’t scary unless its opposite – “new atheism” – is a Bad Place To Be. The result is religious privilege and “respect”, and atheist-bashing, at best.

        I’m not advocating mockery, but if we can mock politics and other topics, religion should have no exemptions. The alternatives to mockery do not have to be any more tactful than any other discussion. Information is the be all and end all of this “new atheist” movement because it is primarily a matter of information and intellectual debate – the truth claims of religions and religious apologists – that we criticize. The notion that religion should be treated differently because some people will refuse to listen if certain lines are crossed: this is not something we should respect or accommodate. This IS the problem. This is the ROOT of other problems. This is not a feature; it’s a bug, and its debugging is long overdue.

        It will be solved when, for instance, we get the majority of the population in at least one country to agree that “sacred beliefs” are nonsense. We will know when that occurs because the notion of using kid gloves for religion will be perceived as being as ludicrous as wearing kid gloves for politics, scientific theories, pseudoscience, and anywhere else where the arguers would be embarrassed to use rhetoric and emotions to manipulate their audience.

        • I’m not advocating mockery, but if we can mock politics and other topics, religion should have no exemptions.

          But if you are doing a SERIOUS scientific talk you don’t start out by picking an example that is guaranteed to alienate a significant part of your audience. You only do that if you’ve given up on science and are looking to make a media event that you can then write and tweet about and have all the people that agree with you pat you on the back and say “good job for showing how ignorant the Muslims are!”

          I’ve watched many of Chomsky’s lectures. You can’t get more political than Noam. I’ve never seen him start a talk on linguistics by using an example that shows how the NY Times distorts the news. He has plenty of examples like that but he saves them for his political lectures. Because Chomsky is a serious scientist with serious things to say about linguistics.

          • Oh, I agree this was a poor decision on Blackmore’s part. Quite apart from the issue of memetics being a dubious subject for discussion, a memetics lecture is not the place to beat a religious target over the head repeatedly, if only because it distracts from the actual subject at hand. So instead of people asking “how good is her case for memetics?”, they end up asking “why does she harp on about religion so much?” It would be like hosting a talk on the features of a particular economic policy, and then spending most of it explaining why, according to the model, Newt Gingrich is going to ruin American healthcare. Nobody asked, nobody was expecting it, and nobody’s going to learn as much.

            I don’t think this was a cynical pity ploy, though. To put it informally, I think Blackmore just made a dumb choice in a naive “ivory-tower” sense. Given her history of coming to reject some pseudoscience and becoming a skeptic (memetics aside), I think she just thought it was OK to handle fire, and didn’t realize she’d get burned for it. I don’t doubt her surprise is genuine.

            My overall point, though, is that it’s one thing to say a science talk is on a dubious theory like memetics, is excessively slanted on religious memes, is judged by its audience as missing the point/misinformed/self-indulgent, relies more on rhetorical mockery than actual argument, and just overall sucked in its pedagogical aims. It’s another to bring in the “offence” and “alienation” card. That’s when the criticism stops being valid criticism and starts being a problem in itself. That’s the trap we should avoid. That’s a sign of a broader problem that we’re up against.

        • I Agree – bad example of the kids with cows….

          Red Dog stated:

          But if you are doing a SERIOUS scientific talk you don’t start out by picking an example that is guaranteed to alienate a significant part of your audience.

          (whew – I finally found my post…not sure if I like this newer format.)

    • Richard Dawkins Aug 18, 2014 at 5:31 pm

      Almost as pathetic as the bigoted walking out is the questioning of Sue outside: Doesn’t a leech look like an embryo? It is hard to muster the charity to feel anything but contempt for these people, so desperate to find scientific vindication of their scripture that they seize upon something as ignominiously unconvincing as the faint resemblance of a leech to an embryo. I’ve met the same thing myself. Apparently educated students seriously think they have struck a telling blow when they say a leech is like an embryo,

      I think it should be pretty obvious that if fundamentalist evolution deniers attend a lecture on the evolution of memes, they are going to have their views challenged and their asserted ignorance “insulted”!
      I am slightly surprised that some posters here cannot recognise that as being obvious.

      • You’re making the mistake a lot of others are making, Alan: assuming the offense caused was entirely to do with these students’ lack of belief in evolution and that was why they left. Did you miss the part where Professor Blackmore recounts how she gave a little slideshow complete with racially charged cartoons or are you ignoring it because it doesn’t suit your take on this story?

        The various cultures of these children, many of whom will not presumably have English as their first language, were traduced; they were mocked for their wacky habits such as praying (like those of us who come from secular societies never engage in weirdery); as Melvin says below (don’t ask me where, someplace near the bottom of the thread, you responded to the comment so I’ll assume you read it) Blackmore may have been using the polluted state of the Ganga River as a metaphor for the inherent filthiness and lack of commitment to hygiene of those from the developing world.

        Even if that wasn’t her conscious intent her own first-person account of the events of 17 August shows that she holds people of faith, even children of people of faith, in low regard, so her subconscious may have been handling the reins for this bit. It’s infinitely deniable anyway.

        But no, I’m sure you’re right and it was all about their not believing in evolution… Even though as you say the fact this lecture concerned evolution would have been made clear to them. Makes you wonder why they turned up at all in that case. Perhaps the conspiracy theorists here are correct and the walkout was all carefully orchestrated. It’s a mystery to be sure, unless you accept that this had nothing to do with evolution and was all about Blackmore’s insulting remarks about the attendees’ backgrounds and religions. Q.E.2.

        About the fact that these were children, by the way and if I can go off on a tangent form a moment. Dawkins in one of his comments calls their actions bigoted, an opinion I’m guessing you share as you do usually toe the party line when it comes to New Atheist dogma (I’ve never seen you take a position contrary to what Richard or other NA luminaries have to say anyway). What I’ve never understood is why religious indoctrination is child abuse but the sympathy we’re meant to feel for these victims is only allowed to extend up to a point. What I mean is, once they reach a certain level of maturity—let’s say seventeen as that’s the age of the youngest attendees at Professor Blackmore’s gig—their religious conditioning counts for nothing and they’re just ‘the enemy’.

        I suspect what New Atheists are doing is projecting their own deconversion history onto everyone else: “Well I was religious up to a certain time but then I had a realization that it was all bunk and became a non-believer. If that happened to me, anyone who gets to the age I was when I had my epiphany and doesn’t experience similar, and in fact continues to have faith, must be doing it willfully.”

        Ergo all the brainwashing that went before can be dismissed as soon as this imagined age of enlightenment is reached; the child abuse can be forgotten and we get to hate them with a clean conscience. Yay.

        Ask yourself, had the seats at Blackmore’s lecture been occupied by students two years younger than the actual audience demographic and it was fifteen and sixteen year olds who walked out on her, would your attitude toward them and your comments about them be the same; and if they were, wouldn’t that be kind of disgusting on your part? I like to think you’d be a tad more sympathetic and blame the religion/culture rather than its victims as you have been doing all through this thread. Of course I could be wrong.

        Perhaps I’m wrong too about the whole religious indoctrination as child abuse meme (I hope I’m using that correctly). It occurs to me that we may not be being encouraged to feel for the victims at all. Maybe it’s like a Westboro Baptist Church thing. Those guys aren’t interested in saving people’s souls, they’re merely informing the rest of the world that we’re all going to Hell but nothing can be done about it, as sort of a public service. Similarly when New Atheist superstars say Muslims who indoctrinate their offspring in their own religion are guilty of inflicting psychological abuse, perhaps we aren’t being invited to sympathize with these victims, we’re just being dispassionately informed about the state of affairs.

        Therefore a five year old clutching onto his mother’s hand as she takes him to playgroup at the local Islamic community center is just as deserving of New Atheists’ contempt as the kids who walked out of Ms Blackmore’s lecture. I think I might be onto something here. It’s as good an explanation as any for these “pathetic, bigoted” remarks. The cut-off point where Muslim kids turn from being innocent victims into legitimate hate figures isn’t somewhere around the late teens as I originally imagined. No, they become the adversary the moment their parents decide to raise them in their own faith; which come to think of it can be while they’re in the womb or even before that.

        Wow, that tangent went on longer than I thought. Back on track.

        What really bugs me about the attitude of Dawkins, Harris, Blackmore and I have to say yourself, Alan (See what I did there? I lumped you in with some of your heroes, don’t say I never do anything nice for you, I bet you’re beaming) is that your decision to accept atheism and ideas such as evolution didn’t come with a price tag. It cost you nothing. Dawkins hurls nasty little epithets, “Silly little idiot; pathetic, bigoted; weedy little fool,” from the ivory tower—or perhaps that should be Versailles Palace as he has only ever been fed brain cake from the solid silver dessert trolley of knowledge unlike the vast majority of the planet who are forced to subsist on moldy bread baked several thousand years ago; don’t try to tell me a CofE religious upbringing is on the same scale as Southern Baptist or Iranian madrassa schooling—and doesn’t realize or care that for the girl in the American university he became so enraged at after making her cry, or the students from these 45 cultures who attended Blackmore’s lecture, it’s not as simple as that. For them, evolution can be a poisoned chalice.

        Some cultural sensitivity classes might be the order of the day for those who refuse to recognize this. If not, I suspect New Atheism will continue its rightward lurch until it becomes more of a laughing stock that it already is; a nutty Tea Party-like fringe group made up of bigots and outright loonies. I don’t want to see Richard turn into Sarah Palin.

        Best of luck with your duties next week. I have to say, and I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, that I’m glad you’re only invigilating these exams and not marking the exam papers. I’m not sure I’d hold out much hope for those kids with names such as Mohammed or Shiza if you were.

        I look forward, if it’s forthcoming, to your exclamation mark-strewn reply!!!

        :)

    • I tell you what… send me an invite next time Richard.. I’m confident about my beliefs and am happy to engage but are you? or as the commentator noted below these are kids not 40 something’s like myself… so easy targets given that they are by nature juveniles and so less confident…

  16. “I don’t know what these youngsters thought. From what I gather, the job of the Oxford Royale Academy is to acclimatize college leavers to University life; give them a taste of what to expect. A fresher week sort of thing involving tours of campuses, handing out of bus timetables and reading lists, and attending proper grownup lectures. It’s possible some of them were familiar with Professor Blackmore’s writings and knew what they were walking into, I guess.”

    I’m sure the students are not going to lectures where they are not familiar with the content or the Professor teaching.

    ‘It’s the twenty… (hang on a sec while I check)… the twenty-first century. The job of education is to create productive members of the capitalist mincing machine. The Aristotelian ideal of knowledge for its own sake is long gone.”

    I hope you haven’t given up hope and resigned to that thought.

    “Exposing yourself to alternate viewpoints means you’re more likely to become a rounded, tolerant person, but that isn’t essential to being a success in life. It may actually be a detriment to that goal.”

    Being a success in life isn’t about education. It’s about knowledge.
    Explain how alternate viewpoints could be detrimental?

    • Being a success in life isn’t about education. It’s about knowledge.
      Explain how alternate viewpoints could be detrimental?

      In a perfect world! We don’t live in a perfect world. People are tied to their beliefs! It’s part of their identity and they **feel ** insulted. It’s not very grown-up of them, but it’s how they feel.
      I would have surreptitiously slipped in a few references under the radar if possible.

      • They need to be instructed that beliefs are not a pillar of strength . Facts are. If what they believed was a proven fact i.e. god has been proven to exist as described in the books beyond a shadow of a doubt,then they would not be beliefs any more they would be facts. Until then, beliefs do not have any weight and could just as well be delusions…

        • Hi GFZ.

          . They need to be instructed that beliefs are not a pillar of strength . Facts are. If what they believed was a proven fact

          That’s the ultimate aim of the exercise but it sounds as if there’s an element of coercion in your proposed method of delivery. Experiments have shown that ‘in your face’ coercive methods have the opposite effect. Subjects become more firmly entrenched when they think they’re up against a common enemy.
          After 9/11 there was an UPTAKE of Muslim women wearing the hijab, not the expected decline. It became an us vs them scenario!

          In the fullness of time adherents of the particular ‘brands’ of religion at the lecture may have gradually come to question their religion. They’d take up professions, become affluent and eventually relegate their outmoded beliefs to the dustbin of history. They have now quite possibly clung onto their ridiculous beliefs with renewed vigour.

          The way people learn is often counter intuitive. Any learning has to come from within. It’s for this reason using bribes and threats to encourage the apathetic student is such a poor method. We are talking about people’s core beliefs here! The way they interpret reality is not going to be changed by a set of slides.

          • Hi back ,sorry I did not reply but I am not getting notified for some reason.

            If we talk about muslims specifically, the issue becomes more complex because Islam is not just a religion it is a way of life. You can’t change or eradicate the religion without changing the way of life. The political structure and patriarchal framework that keeps this together.

            The fact that few muslim women become academics or professionals in their countries of origin which are under sharia rule, shows that ignorance and maintaining people ignorant is key and necessary to maintain high levels of control and acceptance of sharia law. Because god/alah said so. You have no choice but to comply.

            Boys are taken to madrases and indoctrinated to be the controllers . Men have more rights and opportunities because they are the controllers. Women have no control or power in most cases and are chattel at most. In this 2014, still living in the middle ages…

            Precisely because they fear and hate the west, because of it’s freedom framework, they distrust any information whether scientific or philosophic that originates from the west. The only possible way to disassemble Islam, is from the inside. Muslims need to wake up and get out of that lifestyle. Something that is very hard and dangerous thing to do. It amounts to some kind of civil war among muslims such as what we see between the west bank palestinians and gaza Hamas. As well as in Iraq.

            Extremism is fueled by propaganda and misinformation. The capacity to be able to see things rationally is not there. Memes can be used as propaganda and as such can be offensive to some people. But if those people can’t tell the difference or can’t see what is obvious to everyone else about their lifestyle , they should not be offended they should be ashamed.

            Ignoran is as ignorant does….

          • Hi GFZ
            Luckily I was around when you made your post, as I would not have found it. ;) I’m in the process of taking a ‘tough’ line on the other thread and here I’m taking the soft line…humans eh?

            Let’s face it, we have no control in Islamic countries as they have the game pretty well sown up. We do hold the cards in western, multicultural societies however. The key is education! Eventually most of the population will be exposed to ideas that are not in keeping with their own narrow version of reality. I see the lecture as being deliberately provocative in its execution. I strongly suspect the resistance was orchestrated.

            Perhaps the term ‘meme’ is so closely associated with Richard Dawkins that the representatives of various faith groups knew what to expect and decided to destroy the lecture. That’s my guess, for what it’s worth.

            I’ve taught students from various belief systems. I find it better to stay absolutely quiet about the matter as a rule. By example, I try to push a rational agenda. It usually works but in some cases a deity is invoked at every opportunity. What can I say? My hope is with their children. Growing up surrounded by non-believers in our secular society they will probably drift away or at least modify their views. The Orthodox community of today is very different from that of the past.

  17. The lecturer should have stuck to the academic understanding of memes if that is what she advertised her lecture as. When she starts saying things like “people do strange things” and then as an example, shows a picture of “rows of Muslims bent over with their heads on the floor”, then she is no longer separating her emotions and biases from the subject matter.
    Even in her thought monologue of what she should have said to the muslim students, many of her adjectives show she is less concerned about pointing out the critical thinking issues to the students, and more concerned with voicing her own disgust with their religion.

  18. I applaud Ms. Blackmore’s courage. I keep thinking of what it might be like to approach an audience of 100 years ago with similar information. Or perhaps hundreds more years ago attempting to persuade people of things that may have been considered sorcery.

    This is important work. HARD work. Much more has to be done. Religion is an insidious parasite that’s infested millions (billions?) and removing it from our modern society will take a very, very long time, and require dedication from those passionate, intelligent and courageous enough to continue to take up the call.

    • How exactly did she display courage? I think courage would be to reply to the damning critiques of meme theory that I’ve posted here. That’s what a serious scientist would do. A media personality is just interested in pissing off a certain section of the audience and getting the people that agree with them fired up. In my mind Blackmore and even Dawkins these days are at about the same intellectual level as Kanye West or the Kardashians.

  19. I sympathize, Sue, but maybe it’s just a painful yet useful lesson in memetics? Surely it’s characteristic that anyone caught up in a meme (or even recently ‘recovering’ from one) is unlikely to be fully aware of this fact? And so, if it’s suddenly challenged, they’ll suffer from some level of cognitive dissonance and hence feel affronted and angry.

    That doesn’t excuse it, but I wouldn’t call it ignorance, exactly. None of us can see outside our heads, as you know very well. Everything we see is heavily filtered before we gain consciousness of it. I belong to a bunch of freethinkers here in the States, mostly apostates of one or another branch of Christianity, and despite their newfound atheistic fervor they still think surprisingly like religious people sometimes. It’s a powerful meme, which I imagine was your point. Looks like you just got unlucky and met a bunch of people not yet fully recovered (if indeed ANY of us are fully recovered). They just behaved the way people with cognitive dissonance always do. Perhaps when the reactive anger had subsided, one or two of them actually started to question their assumptions a bit. That’s the problem with unspoken assumptions – it’s hard to know that we have them.

    Which includes the common academic assumption that we can just present people with new information and they won’t see it as a threat! I gave a talk about AI to some people at the ICA once, and was completely taken aback when they started shouting about government conspiracies and getting all upset about what we evil scientists were doing. I had to go back a few weeks later and try again, because I’d clearly completely failed to grasp where they were likely to be coming from. (The second time I was luckier: Brian Eno was in the audience, and as soon as he started nodding enthusiastically, everyone’s attitude to me changed. I was instantly transformed from Dr. Evil into someone cool. It just goes to show…)

  20. Arguing that it could not be otherwise, cultural memes could never be eternally replicated without change, because:

    as far as our behaviour is an adaptation, it implies forcibly novelty. which is more than imitation;
    (and perhaps humans have the highest level of plasticity in behaviour, considering how cultural human behaviour is)

    At the same time, we learn in a social and cultural context, and we have predisposition to learn also in a social context and even “imitation” maybe complex to explain in humans.

    I didn t know my previous comment now edited was published, I touched the button without noticing)

  21. I have just Googles the institution. Apparently Sue Blackmore’s talk has been advertised since 1st March with this blurb:-

    Best known for her book ‘The Meme Machine’, Susan Blackmore will be speaking on the fascinating topic of memes: ideas, behaviours or styles that spread from person to person within a culture. Specifically, she will consider ‘temes’, which are memes that exist in technological artifacts instead of human minds, such as memes on the internet. She holds memes to be true evolutionary replicators, undergoing evolutionary change. She is also highly regarded within the skeptic movement.

    The summer school includes “Medical School Preparation”, and “UK University Preparation”.

    If a bunch of wannabe Uni. and Medical students also can’t Google Susan Blackmore and work out what she might be talking about from the blurb, and have the courtesy to listen, the world is in a sorry state.

    With a bit of luck the students who were left will apply to Oxford, and the hundred who were offended won’t.

    • God-fearing Atheist Aug 18, 2014 at 7:20 pm

      She holds memes to be true evolutionary replicators, undergoing evolutionary change.

      This was Oxford England, where the school National Curriculum includes the teaching of evolution (except in a few rogue and private establishments), so there is minimal excuse for any English educated students being ignorant of evolutionary processes, – except by wilful denial of the biology lessons, or de-education in creationist mosques or churches.

      Anyone unfit to understand university lectures, needs to go back to school and learn basic science before applying! – or do an induction course if they can gets their heads out of their creationist “core beliefs”!

      • Agreed,
        University should be a place to challenge your beliefs and preconceptions. If you cannot even hear a contrary point of view without walking out frankly you are in the wrong institution. If a degree is to mean anything at all I’d be expecting a certain percentage of attendance. I remember sitting through quite a few lectures that I passionately disagreed with. They motivated me to spend a large amount of time both discussing/politely arguing with my lecturer after and doing a lot of research to find supported evidence to present the contrary view in my assignment got a good mark too. So I’m not upset that the students bailed up the lecturer to disagree with her, what gets me is they bailed her up to complain that she had offended them.

  22. I hope I’m not re-stating something that has already been said. Sixty-nine comments are a lot to go through on the spur of the moment.
    This case represents the privileged status of religion in the hearts and minds of the community.This is the unfortunate reality of the situation, I’m afraid. We may wish it were not so, but it is. I’m surprised that it has come as a surprise. Believers of all stripes react emotionally. I would like to think that the audience would listen attentively and dispassionately but my experience of life tells me that this would not happen! There may come a day when a speaker can give such a lecture but I don’t think it will happen in the next few years.

  23. …These bright, but ignorant, young people must be among the more enlightened of their contemporaries since their parents have been able and willing to send them on this course to learn something new. If even they cannot face dissent, or think for themselves, what hope is there for the rest? And what can I do?

    Ooh, I missed this bit on the first reading. I’ve no doubt Professor Blackmore is more familiar with the workings of the Oxford Royale Academy than am I, but is parental funding the only way these kids could have ended up at her lecture? Aren’t there such things as student loans, scholarship aid, even corporate sponsorship of gifted students? Were I a cynical sort of person I might imagine she was trying to imply that far from being bright they were only there because their wealthy parents (Hey, if you open your corner shop on Christmas Day and other Christian holidays and have an enormous extended family as an unpaid workforce you’re going to be coining it in) ponied up the admission fees.

    I’ve just realized too that:

    These bright, but ignorant, young people must be among the more enlightened of their contemporaries since their parents have been able and willing to send them on this course to learn something new.

    doesn’t make a lick of sense. If these ‘bright but ignorant young people’ only rocked up at Ms Blackmore’s lecture because their parents paid for it, that doesn’t automatically make the children themselves more enlightened. Since when did a parent’s open-mindedness translate to having similarly open-minded offspring?

    Only parents with fu#king scary, antisocial kids pay to send the little psychos off to Awareness Camp.

  24. The summer school includes Med. school and Uni. preparation, and the lecture, lecturer and brief synopsis were posted on 1st March 2014. If the hundred represent the Googling/research skills and courtesy of the current generation of Oxbridge applicants than we are all fucked.

  25. Perhaps the fidelity needed to interpret sacred scriptures is not the same as calculating every steps of lading on Mars, some would never get there if they thought of dismissing scientific culture. But, I would never mind if part of scriptures are interpreted differently, it makes no difference whatsoever.

    • You miss the whole point of what Blackmore, Dawkins, etc. say they are doing. The whole point is that memes are like genes and so the deep science we know about how genes replicate may give us insight for studying how ideas percolate through culture. It doesn’t matter if the idea we are talking about is how to do the sign of the cross or how to design a compiler the whole point of the research initiative is founded on the idea of meme as a replicator for ideas as genes are replicators for DNA. If a meme is fundamentally different than a gene in that sense then the foundation for everything that might come after, e.g., everything in Blackmore’s book The Meme Machine is founded on sand, its like saying “well yeah there is no Id or Superego but the concepts still are useful analogies”. Yes, if what you want to do is bullshit in your dorm room that’s fine but if you want to get serious about studying human culture with the rigor we have for biology then you need to have a theory with a sound, testable foundation.

      It actually shows how even people who worship Dawkins don’t have much of an understanding of a lot of what he says. If you read what Dawkins has written about Memes (e.g., the Forward to Blackmore’s book) it’s absolutely undeniable that he understands that memes must be good replicators for the theory to be useful. In the one interaction I had with him he never denied that instead he posited arguments which I found completely unconvincing that the evidence Atran provides doesn’t prove that they aren’t good replicators.

      And notice that neither Blackmore nor Dawkins bothers to respond to my comments. They have time to prattle on about what fools the Muslims are but when someone tries to engage them in some serious discussion on what should be their area of expertise they can’t be bothered.

  26. Has anyone considered that this might have been a pre-organised group walk-out? They may have simply waited for the first person to send the signal to walk and then they followed. It seems to have been mostly Muslims. Perhaps they all attend the same mosque.

  27. This represents everything that’s wrong with the current trajectory among certain factions of atheists and liberals. I say this as a pretty hardline atheist and a pretty liberal liberal.

    Professor Blackmore has set herself up as the sympathetic victim from the start, describing her family in terms of its diversity (the ethnicity of her grandson seems to serve no function other than the “I have black friends” that precedes an off-color joke), and dropping some cute pop culture references that she included in her lecture (“Oh the kids will love this”). And then comes the first utterly disingenuous mention of the religious content of the lecture: “Well of course I have to mention religion, but how could I have known I’d cause such a hubbub!?”

    I’m a teacher, I should mention. A pretty good one, I like to think. I teach students to speak English, so my students are from everywhere: Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Turkey, China, Korea, Spain are some of the most prominent groups I’ve dealt with. I’m also the sort of teacher who, often controversially, shares my atheism and liberal views with my students when it’s pertinent. I say “controversially,” but I don’t really think it should be controversial to speak frankly and openly with my students about serious matters. The only reason there is any controversy about this is that “teachers” like Professor Blackmore exist. Teachers who care more about demonstrating their own intelligence than sharing knowledge.

    What, Professor Blackmore, did you think would be the response of these students when their beliefs were described as “ridiculous,” “a virus of the mind.” Were you hoping to stimulate some intelligent, civil conversation? Did you think that the use of such obviously inflammatory language would provoke introspection and inquiry? Measured debate? “I used stuffed animals and got chuckles, can’t you see how sincere my attempt to connect was?” Or did you do this simply to get a rise out of people, have something to post about, and have some atheist sheep clamor in support of the heinous injustice you’ve recently suffered?

    Yes, Professor, you are smarter than these students. Well done. That’s a prerequisite for your job.

    But this is not how we change minds. It’s most certainly not how we teach (in fact, I’d fire a teacher for such an awful pedagogy). Like Professor Dawkins, who I once idolized and now recognize as doing more harm than good for a good cause. You might be on the “right” side of the fight, but that rightness doesn’t trump sleazy tactics. We will “win” what there is to win. Generation after generation, there will be more rational skeptics, atheists, etc., and fewer zealots. But it will be because of the Sagans and the deGrasse Tysons. It will be because of humble teachers who value the learning of their students over the worship of their own egos.

    • Thanks Robert. I was in the same position as you until fairly recently and I don’t think there’s a payoff in alienating your audience. Although I hold quite strong anti-religious and pro-science views, I don’t think that there’s much to be gained by insulting people. At times discretion is called for. I think you’ve put you case very well. Thanks once again.

    • Dawkins has done more harm than good? Is this true? Did Dawkins–and I would assume you also lump in Harris, Hitchens, Dennett and maybe Krauss as well–really do harm to the advancement of rationality? Skepticism? Atheism? And by extension maybe he or they did harm to the general public scientific outlook?

      Is the fact that we’re on this site or that there exists a RDF evidence of that?

      • In general, yes, I tend to lump them in together. And when I say “more harm than good,” I mean to the advancement of atheism (inasmuch as it is something to advance) and the spreading of knowledge. Quite simply, these tactics don’t convince people that there is something wrong with their ideas. They further reinforce the stereotype that atheists are bitter and angry and want to deprive you of your faith for no reason other than their own satisfaction. It is that ill-spiritedness that i can smell just under the surface of Blackmore’s account.

        • I agree that there exists groups for which a “soft” approach is best. I’m not sure we can just dismiss the efforts, thoughts and careers of well-intentioned and cogent human beings because the political and social winds are at our backs. Is the primary goal to convince only the most religious among us that a rational life is the way to go? Is there no need for education or inspiration among atheists or agnostics?

          • Absolutely, you’ve got to gauge your audience and adjust your approach accordingly. And as you say, atheists should educate other atheists as well. Indeed, I went to see Dawkins speak a few years ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed him. He’s funny as hell when speaking to other atheists about the absurdities of religion. Bill Maher is another. I agree with him, so I find him funny sometimes. But as smart as Maher is in some ways, I find him profoundly stupid when he thinks that the same glib jokes he makes to his like-minded audience aren’t persuasive or engaging to believers.

            I think Dawkins is a little bit smarter in his approach, but he still talks about “awareness raising” and a book like The God Delusion is presented as a series of logical arguments. Well what good is it to raise awareness among the already aware? Making logical arguments to those who already believe in your conclusions is masturbatory and self-congratulatory. It’s the same approach that makes C.S. Lewis’ apologetics so impressive to Christians but silly to atheists: it’s not written to persuade, but to reassure the likeminded.

        • If people can’t handle the truth they should stay home or go back to their middle ages dwellings. Atheists are not bitter , we are tired of dealing with nonsense and bullshit. We are eager to wake up the rest from their delusional lives. We want progress that won’t be impeded by these religious road blocks.

          How do you think it feels to know that so many people are delusional and that they make decisions based on what a non existent god has told them? How do you think it feels to have to witness hypocrisy, abuse and murder in the name of a god?

          Yes it makes me angry and if it does not make them angry too then that is a real problem.

    • Robert Aug 18, 2014 at 9:22 pm

      This represents everything that’s wrong with the current trajectory among certain factions of atheists and liberals. I say this as a pretty hardline atheist and a pretty liberal liberal.

      There are “horses for courses”!

      I’m a teacher, I should mention. A pretty good one, I like to think. I teach students to speak English, so my students are from everywhere: Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Turkey, China, Korea, Spain are some of the most prominent groups I’ve dealt with.

      There is little doubt that you can teach English, to foreign students without touching on subjects they consider controversial. (I shall be running an examination next week, for a large group of foreign students, testing their English, prior to starting their university courses.)

      Those teaching about the sciences of evolution, anthropology and the memes of cultures or religions, do not have the option of ducking those issues, to avoid the bigoted and ignorant deciding to take offence.

      I’m also the sort of teacher who, often controversially, shares my atheism and liberal views with my students when it’s pertinent.

      You have the option of choosing if and when! That hardly justifies a “holier than thou” attitude, to those teaching subjects where these issues MUST be addressed.

      Lecturers can’t miss out the parts of the science courses that religious bigots don’t like!

      • It’s not really clear to me what you’re getting at. If you read my comments I am emphatically not saying that these topics should be avoided, certainly not by teachers in the sciences. My point (and I really think this is clear from my original post) is that the language and tactics that the professor employed in bringing up these issues is quite obviously inflammatory. Broach the difficult topics, by all means. Lead your students to question even their most deeply held faiths. But do so in a way that serves them, not your own ego.

        • Robert Aug 19, 2014 at 6:14 am

          It’s not really clear to me what you’re getting at. If you read my comments I am emphatically not saying that these topics should be avoided, certainly not by teachers in the sciences. My point (and I really think this is clear from my original post) is that the language and tactics that the professor employed in bringing up these issues is quite obviously inflammatory.

          I don’t think so. This organisation is NOT part of Oxford University, and is running summer-schools for pre-university students.

          Given that fundamentalist religions promote irrational “faith-thinking”, and try very hard to retard youngsters from maturing into rational abstract thinkers ([Piaget Formal operational stage[(http://psychology.about.com/od/piagetstheory/p/formaloperation.htm)), it is quite probable that those who walked out were below their chronological age at a mental level of a rebellious 13 year old know-it-all, who armed with indoctrinated “faith”, sincerely believed they knew better than teachers and professors.
          Some of the childish comments in this discussion, illustrate this inability to understand basic science, or grasp the content of the lecture!

          The course topic and the professor’s name were advertised well in advance, so while we might question the suitability of the introduction of university level subjects, to students who were too immature to benefit from the content, they should not have been signed up for the course.

          Broach the difficult topics, by all means. Lead your students to question even their most deeply held faiths. But do so in a way that serves them, not your own ego.

          This is quite comical!
          Ego??? Who is it that cannot recognise that a professor is more knowledgeable and mature than teen-age students?
          While educational establishments do try to help with induction and remedial courses, in the case large numbers in of one-off guest lectures, courses do not drop their standards to accommodate the lowest levels of ignorance and bigotry in attending students, – to the detriment of those who do wish to learn.

          In higher education, students do absent themselves from lectures – and consequently fail the courses, have to work hard to do re-sit exams, or simply lose their chances to acquire the qualifications they sought.
          There is a priced to pay for asserted ignorance, lack of effort, or science denial, in the hard world of reality!

          • You seem to have a difficult time following my point and addressing it directly. You are making some really broad generalizations and making some flimsy assumptions. We don’t know anything about the particular students in the program, their educational backgrounds, or their motives for leaving.

            You’re right that the students probably didn’t understand what the professor was getting at and that’s too bad. But, looking at her account of what happened, I don’t see any sincere effort to help the students understand. I see deliberate antagonism and language that anyone with common-sense can see is alienating and inflammatory. This is not how we teach, and it’s certainly not taking the high road that we have earned the privilege to take at this point.

            As I have said, if you care to read, the professor surely is more knowledgeable than her students. But I hope you wouldn’t expect a rational skeptical teacher to have her students trust what she says on authority alone. That smacks uncomfortably of faith. But moreover it’s bad pedagogy. Teachers should show, not tell. Encourage discourse and discovery.

          • Robert Aug 19, 2014 at 9:36 am

            You’re right that the students probably didn’t understand what the professor was getting at and that’s too bad. But, looking at her account of what happened,

            If this was one of the type of lecture theatres I am familiar with it could well have held 250 or 300 students.

            I don’t see any sincere effort to help the students understand.

            She asked those walking out to explain their problem (It would appear to be fundamentaist evolution denial if the comment leeches is typical)
            We could hardly expect more when other students were listening to the lecture. This was a guest lecture – not a small tutorial group.

            I see deliberate antagonism and language that anyone with common-sense can see is alienating and inflammatory.

            Telling the assertive ignorant that they are wrong is usually seen as inflammatory. They need to get over it or they will remain ignorant – as those before them who indoctrinated them clearly were.

            This is not how we teach, and it’s certainly not taking the high road that we have earned the privilege to take at this point.

            As I said, – teaching small tutorial groups and making presentations in large lecture theatres are vary different formats. Those who don’t know the difference are in no position to give advice on the subject.

            But I hope you wouldn’t expect a rational skeptical teacher to have her students trust what she says on authority alone. That smacks uncomfortably of faith.

            There is a big difference between the authority of expertise and faith. One cannot expect uneducated students to be capable of deciding if the professor is right – especially if they ask no questions, or cover their ears and walk out before she has finished!

            You simply cannot educate an ignorant minority of evolution deniers on the basics of evolution, during a memetics lecture to large numbers.
            The problem was with the lack of education and bigoted mind-set of a minority of students who lacked the basic grasp of evolution, to understand what the lecture was about.
            There are demonstrations of that lack, in blustering posts on this thread.

    • This is an original piece. Therefore I think when Ms. Blackmore’s “victimhood” is represented here in a, let’s be honest, modestly travelled atheist/skeptic website, there’s a good chance it will get a sympathetic response. But I can appreciate your point. However when you pose the question “What, Professor Blackmore, did you think would be the response of these students when their beliefs were described as “ridiculous,” “a virus of the mind.” my first thought, if I put myself in the position of these kids is that it would definitely inflame me, but moreover it would personally motivate me to want to rebut the offending position.

      As a student I’ve been in bad lectures. I’ve been in lectures I didn’t agree with. I’ve run the gamut lecture wise. I couldn’t imagine walking out on a lecture or disrespecting a lecturer. As I stated previously, it’s simple courtesy particularly in a teaching/university environment. Moreover it’s part of growing up.

      • Hi Steven,

        Thanks for your response. Lots of people seem to be shaken by the notion that students walked out of a lecture. I think someone even described the “violence” of the act. I honestly don’t see this as a particularly outlandish thing for students to do under the circumstances. I’m not at all sympathetic to their belief systems, but I am quite sympathetic to what I see as a very inappropriate situation that they were put in by this professor.

        Maybe it’s easier for me to put myself in their shoes given that I am an atheist who was educated at a Catholic college. Many of my professors were Catholic, some even priests. When they made mention of their religion, and perhaps how it informed their ideas, I took no offense. But never did my professors dismiss and insult my belief system (or Judaism or Islam or Hinduism, for that matter). If any of them had dismissed atheism as “ridiculous” or treated my beliefs as flippantly as Professor Blackmore does her students’, I would either have walked out or responded to her with the same level of disrespect she was showing me.

        A lot of people are framing this in terms of the “closed-mindedness” of the students and their unwillingness or incapacity to understand evolution. But that is quite clearly not the point of contention here. We may not know exactly what was going on inside their heads, but from Professor Blackmore’s account, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to assume that it related not to the content of her lecture but the condescending tone in which it was delivered.

        It is clear to me that this professor had no respect for her students. And again, it is important to distinguish between respect for the individual and respect for ideas that they may hold. She spoke to them disrespectfully and thus lost her right to their respect as speaker. They walked peacefully out and I don’t blame them. If they’d like to come to my class, I’d be happy to respectfully challenge them to rethink some of their ideas about the world.

        • Hi Robert. Fair enough. Again, I agree with much you say. Where we differ seems to be colored by my experience in college. When I was in college the most profound lessons I learned were the ones where I was made uncomfortable in some respect. Taken way out of my comfort zone. This is when, personally, I had to challenge myself (usually because I disagreed with something or found something distasteful for some reason) to pay particularly close attention so that I could mount my defense. I loved debating my professors. I loved being “right”. But I also loved it when my position could be proven false. Ok, perhaps love is a bit strong, particularly at that age, but I respected the professor who could lead me to their side of an issue. I can tell you it did not happen often, which made it even more profound.

          It is in this vein that I read Ms. Blackmore’s piece. As I stated previously I could imagine my ire being raised which is what always fueled my debate mechanism and really got me focused. Of course not everyone is the same. Where I get focused some tune out for whatever reason. I suppose I’m narrowing the scope of this whole thing. But it seems to me that if a group just got up and walked out they really didn’t put a lot of thought into it. Certainly they weren’t interested I rebutting her, save for their eye rolling leech speech after the debate. And again, if they can’t handle this gentle prodding and manipulation how are they going to handle half their classes? But as you allude to near the end of your reply, perhaps she’ll rethink her strategy next time. It wouldn’t be too hard to figure out a way to frame her argument in a slippery fashion for the sake of soothing fragile souls. Or she can maintain her tactics and point these fragile souls into subjects more appropriate for their lack of critical thinking.

          • I agree completely. Particularly what you say about the best learning taking place outside of your comfort zone. I actually had a fantastic professor who did perhaps what it is that Professor Blackmore hoped to do (that is, if we are to take what she says at face value, and I still doubt her sincerity). He taught philosophy and each class would take on the beliefs of the thinker we were studying. When we studied Plato, he interrogated us as Plato would. Later he was Kant, then Heidegger. And his interrogations were intense; on the spot you were anxious, thinking on your feet. But the key difference was that he let us in on the game. He took on the mask of perpetual devil’s advocate, but we all understood that he was on our side, challenging us for the sake of the thought that it inspired. When appropriate, I have tried to emulate his style of teaching, with mixed success. But the entire venture would have failed if he had simply taken our beliefs and ridiculed them from the outset, if the game was all for his pleasure and we were outsiders.

            Of course, there are people who thrive on debate in general, be it personal or merely formal. I am one of those people, and I gather from your description of yourself that you are as well. But a teacher can’t assume he’s got a roomful of students who already embrace debate. You’ve got to frame it such that the others are engaged and interested. Otherwise the affective filter goes up and no new thinking happens. And this isnt merely teaching to the lowest common denominator; it’s teaching to those most in need of what it is you have to teach.

            I think your last point is what irks me so much: it’s just so easy to frame this in a less offensive, more pedagogically effective way. You’d have to be either really stupid or really mean-spirited to approach it as Professor Blackmore has.

    • So many opinions…so little time to absorb and process them all, but out of the crowd yours stands out Robert because you attempt to provide a view of the lecture outcome that stays on point – not distracted by arguments of religion versus non-religion.

      I too am a liberal Liberal – perhaps that is the bias within me that finds your approach appealing.
      The issue, for me, here for is about communication skills – the ability of the presenter to design a lecture that anticipates its audience and therefore manages the various modes of reception likely to be encountered.

      Why did she allow herself to be distracted from the core subject, Memes, by religion? Why did she feel it necessary to introduce some of the most highly charged subject matter on the planet into a lecture given to 17 and 18 year olds, and what did she truly believe their reaction would be? At the age of many (all?) in her audience emotion rises to the surface quickly and a lecture that could be interpreted as disrespectful to one’s core beliefs (no matter what their basis is in fact or fiction) is, I think, guaranteed to receive an emotive response. If I was talking directly to Professor Blackmore I would say “welcome to reality” and I would probably enquire after the health and well being of her sense of purpose in life.

      Could she not have used examples from language or jokes or food etc etc to make her points – subjects less emotionally charged and far less confrontational, and also often very entertaining?

      Based on what I have read here the lecturer is an intelligent and learned individual…but on this occasion she did not show a great appreciation or, I venture, respect, for her audience.

      As a footnote, please be clear I am not a believer of the religions cited and discussed or condemned in this discussion. I do believe, but not in the dribble spouted by the Abrahamic tradition. I simply believe there is more to this existence than is currently explained by science.

  28. Two thought here-

    First, if my goal were to pass through life avoiding both opinions and facts that contradicted my religious beliefs and thereby hurting my feelings, the last place you’d ever find me would be a university lecture hall. And try to imagine a lecture hall filled with professors whose main goal was not to offend. That would be reorganizing the village to suit the idiot.

    Second, I recall a day in college when I flubbed a golf ball into a small pond in front of a green. I took off the spikes and socks, rolled up my pants legs and waded in to retrieve it. I got mine and feeling around with my toes I found several others so my round could continue! Upon wading back out I looked down in horror at the leeches on my feet and ankles. Not once did it occur to me to find comfort by saying, “Ah, perhaps they’re only embryos.”

  29. I have affection for Sue Blackmore, whom I have never met but whose book on consciousness I’ve read, and “career” I have followed. I’m sorry this lecture, all the work and effort put into it, turned out so bizarrely.
    Smart as she is, I’m sure she’s distressed about two things, at least, the first very conscious, the second, perhaps not so much:
    1) The violence of young people walking out on her for reasons of religious dogmatism. It is simply chilling, but not surprising (I was once one of them). But dogmatism is often reversible through education, maturation, experience, so there is hope for these young minds. There is hope!
    2) A perhaps obscure, but nagging regret at her own lack of judgement and sensitivity: “but I wasn’t going to avoid the topic of religious memes” she justifies. Rationalization, say I.
    Respectfully, I believe you should and could have explained memetics without getting into religion, or perhaps just “in passing” (certainly no diatribe or sarcasm) with the result that nobody would have left. Dear Susan, you are obviously smarter than that. Think about it. If you were to deliver this lecture again, what would you change? I hope you won’t think: “nothing”.
    This has nothing to do with giving in to religious dogmatism. This has to do with being smarter and more sensitive than your audience. After all, you are the lecturer. This has to do with not succumbing to the somewhat unnecessary and a immature pleasure (and easy laughs) one sometimes derives from religion-bashing.
    This has to do with smartly and diplomatically conveying the topic at hand, delicately seeding the seeds of critical thinking in smart, but for a time, indoctrinated, young minds (by religion, politics, or otherwise).
    Just my 2 cents.
    Cheers, dear Sue!

    • I’m more cynical than you are. I think she most likely realized this would be the result of her lecture and was all for it. It gives her something to write about that is more interesting to most people (not me) than discussing memetics. I honestly don’t think she’s really even serious about memes any more. She hasn’t written anything new on the topic in a while and notice that she ignores my actual question about memes. I think she just wanted to take yet another New Atheist swipe at the ignorant Muslims. And yes I agree the people who walked out were ignorant of the most basic issues related to academic freedom. I’m just bored with the never ending rhetoric from Dawkins, Harris, etc. about how stupid Islam is and how “religion poisons everything”. They are a one trick pony and I’m bored with it, an actual discussion of memes would be much more interesting but I don’t expect to find it here.

  30. This is text book Predator / Prey interaction. If you want to catch the Prey, you need to adopt strategies that will maximize your return. If you jump out of the bushes and scare the Prey, they will all run away. The Prey that got away in this attack are the prime targets for the instillation of a tiny drop of rational thinking. The offended are the future radicals. If the Predator on this occasion, managed to reach 10% of the walk outs in such a way that they stopped for a just a pico second and thought, “What if?” That would have been a good hunt.

    If the role of rational thinkers around the world is to nudge the world towards evidence based decision making and away from superstition, then this will be a very slow process. Yes, by all means go to the barricades when the American Taliban try to pull one of their crazy stunts, but you have to know your Prey, or you are going to starve.

    Slowly, slowly catchee christian.

    • That thought occurred to me, too. The fact that these students are entering with world of academia is surely proof that they are able to think well, and are able to take on new ideas.

      What an opportunity wasted! I think the phrase ‘using a sledgehammer to crack a nut’ is apt – much more could have been achieved with a more subtle approach. You only hope that these students have not been turned off critical thought and sceptical approaches for good.

      However, I do agree that it is a little bit sad and worrying that they were not able to stay and listen to the whole lecture, no matter how wholeheartedly they disagreed with it.

  31. In reply to nothink, comment number prrfft, God knows. No reply button anyway.

    @Katy
    Your level of sarcasm is far beyond my reach, so I am skeptical that I understand your true position. But if you really think it might be an imposter, then I would say that even if this imposter didn’t have the devious intentions you hinted at, his lack of critical thinking makes every comment of his potentially dangerous to the impressionable new thinker that idolizes the professor.

    I do wish people would learn the difference between sarcasm and irony.

    Look, it’s definitely the real Richard. I thought you got that and were trolling or being super-satirical. I thought you were a dick when I thought you were trolling but I admired you when I thought you were being satirical.

    I loathe the fact that New Atheism, under Richard’s stewardship, has elected to take a lurch to the right. It sickens me to be involved, however peripherally, with a movement that gives Pat Condell and his ilk the time of day.

    I cringe whenever Richard tweets in defence of people like Geert Wilders or dickheads who deface mosques, or retweets something some far-right douche tweeted. This awesome Mitchell and Webb sketch (I shan’t attempt a proper hyperlink as I want this comment to show up in my lifetime) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToKcmnrE5oY pretty much sums it up for me. I don’t want to be a baddy, nothink.

    So yeah, and with no irony or sarcasm whatsoever, I don’t always rate your man’s critical thinking skills neither.

    P.S. Like you, and until Spellcheck informed me otherwise, I thought ‘impostor’ ended with an er not an or. You live and learn.

        • Sarcasm and irony are synonymous. I’m surprised that wasn’t pointed out long ago. Now perhaps Katy’s preferred definition of sarcasm doesn’t jibe with her preferred definition of irony, but in most dictionaries they are indeed synonymous. Even in Outlook if you write the word “sarcasm” and do a right click for formatting and look for synonyms, irony is the first word that pops up. Perhaps it’s a King’s English thing.

    • In your earlier comment you wrote:
      “That comment was clearly a fake; the genuine article would never say something as vile as that about a teenage girl. I still think the Richard on this and other recent threads is the real deal. You are beginning to win me round though.”

      What reasonable person wouldn’t take that to mean that the evidence had at least given you pause to think. But I was right to suspect you of nebulous intentions because now you write.

      “Look, it’s definitely the real Richard. I thought you got that and were trolling or being super-satirical. I thought you were a dick when I thought you were trolling but I admired you when I thought you were being satirical.”

      In your first comment you sounded as if in your mind there was a battle going on between accepting the evident truth with having to admit you were wrong. But at least I thought you were beginning to examine the evidence. Clearly one can only investigate the evidence up to the level of their own critical thinking so no one should be faulted for technical lapses, but it is sad that you have chosen to turn away from the challenge completely.

      Why would you express the sentiment “I still think…but” Sounds like a genuine admission of conflicting thoughts in your head to me. Or would you rather chalk that up as an act; part of your insightful irony or sarcasm or whatever it is you think you are so witty at.

      • It is only because I truly wish you all the best that I am sad you have chosen not to defend your thinking.
        My sincere passion is to encourage reason and critical thinking because these are essential qualities to communication, and their importance must truly be understood and thus championed if we want to progress towards world peace. That is why I only challenge the factual and logical merits of other people’s arguments.
        I challenge you, in future discussions, not to resort to name calling or personal attacks, but to respond purely on the merits of the argument and evidence presented. This will only help you have a clearer understanding on any debated issue.

  32. My view is that atheism and science are also religions. So, what you have are members of one religion trying to discredit or mock belivers in another religion. I believe this is the crux of the article. Ms. Blackmore clearly mocked acknowledged religions, while purporting the superiority of her own. And she wonders why people walked out? That was the most respectful thing they could do, in the face of her offence.

    If I attended a lecture, that was supposed to be about some interesting sociological phenonomenon and Louis Farrakhan stood up and started preaching about hate, I’d walk out too. Oh, I believe that he and Ms. Blackmore have a right to expouse their beliefs, but I also believe that each of us, respectful of our own beliefs, may choose to vote with our feet. That is hardly a reason to be labled ignorant. Ms. Blackmore lost all credibility when she resorted to such an epithet.

    For what it is worth, I agreed with everything I skimmed of Mosses’ replys.

    • My view is that atheism and science are also religions.

      This must be a meme being circulated around the evangelical pulpits. Science, by the scientific method can never be a religion. But to know that, you need to know the scientific method. Thus, Michael, you will forever be condemned to perpetuate a meme, as described by Blackmore. Sad really.

    • Michael Aug 18, 2014 at 11:18 pm

      My view is that atheism and science are also religions.

      I am sorry to break it to you, but this is the view of a scientific illiterate, who knows nothing about atheism.

      Science is a rational methodology for producing evidence of how things work in the real world. It has NOTHING to do with uncritical acceptance of ideas based on “faith” passed on as memes by other believers, – who have earlier uncritically accepted the same ideas on “faith”!

      Atheism is an understanding of the improbability of god claims, – ALL gods, NOT the singular denial of one particular god or version of a god.

      So, what you have are members of one religion trying to discredit or mock belivers in another religion.

      Nope! Science has no resemblance to a religion, as anyone with ANY understanding of science knows.

      I believe this is the crux of the article.

      That is because you view it through the narrow tunnel-vision of a biased view using faith-blinkers, rather than from the wider perspective of scientific understanding and multicultural education.

      Ms. Blackmore clearly mocked acknowledged religions, while purporting the superiority of her own.

      Silly superstitions which cause damaging denials of reality, and promote irrational thinking, deserve mocking. – As your ludicrously false claims that the thinking of science and religion are equivalent processes, clearly show.

      And she wonders why people walked out? That was the most respectful thing they could do, in the face of her offence.

      Perhaps they could eschew education altogether, and go back to their backwaters of ignorance, if they do not want to learn.
      People who take the huff at scientific explanations and find facts offensive, learn nothing other than how to block their ears and bury their heads in the sand!

      Memes describe the workings of religion s (including those of some present) and analysis of how they are passed on to other people.
      Those who understand nothing of this, deserve mocking, if they show the stupidity of going to an educational establishment, determined not to learn!

    • ” My view is that atheism and science are also religions. ”

      That science could be seen as a religion is just silly. Atheism a religion? Is bald a hair style, off a TV channel. Atheism is non stamp collecting.

      Some of us spice up our lives with anti theism, but that is something else entirely.

  33. I am surprised you are surprised about the outcome of your lecture.
    At the core of faith lies the message: You have to believe without reason!
    That I was told by christian teachers, is the biggest achievement of a believer.
    It`s even worse with muslims. They all learn early on in their live that to question an religious teacher is a terrible thing. You are only alowed to confront him with questions that ask for interpretation but not for validity.
    I questioned my teachers at school (I am from Germany and religious teachers here sadly get employed by public schools.) all the time about the inconsitencies and lies in the bible. What I got were nasty and/or condescending comments. Religion is a group think thing. To believe this nonsens shows that you are able to adhere to the group no matter what. This seems to me it’s main function. wkr

    • I should have added this

      “Oxford Royale Academy is a part of Oxford Programs Limited, UK company number 6045196. The company contracts with institutions including Oxford University for the use of their facilities and also contracts with tutors from those institutions but does not operate under the aegis of Oxford University.”

      Her talk is advertised here

      Best known for her book ‘The Meme Machine’, Susan Blackmore will be speaking on the fascinating topic of memes: ideas, behaviours or styles that spread from person to person within a culture. Specifically, she will consider ‘temes’, which are memes that exist in technological artifacts instead of human minds, such as memes on the internet. She holds memes to be true evolutionary replicators, undergoing evolutionary change. She is also highly regarded within the skeptic movement.

      http://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/news/dr-susan-blackmore-confirmed-guest-speaker-summer-2014.html

  34. Just making no sense:

    Considering Prof Dawkins vocabulary, there is a selection of ideas going on (analogue to natural selection this time, not genetic transcription).

    I confess I have never read this book I used to see in the selves of my learning Institution.see the cover of the book-, and I have never have been near this author as student, but only from the selves, I always found this book cover amazing and imaginative (what I really enjoyed about learning there would be to have the author himself teaching his own ideas (reading alone is more susceptible to errors of interpretation of the author s thought I thought in my laziness):

    I just can quote an interesting sentence from there: “don’t come up with ideas that have already being invented” (which means perhaps, don t be ignorant of ideas before you only because they have a new vocabulary. Even if the vocabulary of Dawkins is his own, the only thing until know which I agree with Plato himself- I dislike Plato, as far as Nietzsche did- is the idea that things we talk about exist, no matter the vocabulary (contrary to the “superstructure” which Umberto Eco would precludes, we need “new” vocabulary to think new ideas ? and language is a superstructure rather than an infrastructure? perhaps a linguist would need to correct me if I am wrong).

    Sorry for my nonsense comment out of the blue.

  35. I should apologize but I never got the memo about freethinkers deciding who you can and can’t mock. Reading the above comments it seems the rule is now to ask permission to speak ones mind in front of an audience who had a choice to be there or not.

    I rarely get offended but looking through some of the above comments I am reminded I do at least get exasperated at how weak and maliable humans are so now we have the outer layers of Sam Harris’s concentric circles being supported by accomodationaist atheists.

    I’ve seen people complain about “race”. I never saw anything in the article referring to race. The word “minorities” was used yet the only one who reported feeling alienated and threatened was the author. “Minority” is a great word for justifying the bullying behaviour of the majority.

    I see the word “debate” being used incorrectly about a lecture, where the lecturer gave the leavers oppourtunity to voice their disagreement. those who left chose to wait until she was outside and not in the public forum of a lecture theatre where they could get close to her, and were supported in their outrage by the christian chair.

    Freedom of expression is freedom to mock, and freedom of the mocked to respond. what I’ve read about which made me sad, was the choice to use ignorance supported by volume in response to a challenge, followed by exactly the same thing in these comments.

    The author has learned a lesson. in 21st century Oxford you may not make light of religion. This lesson has been enforced by commentors without the empathy to realise there’s no need to line up behind ignorant relgious beliefs and cry “racist!”

    Kick a woman while she’s down yeah?

    (NB This is not aimed at all the comments, can still rely on the good ones, I’m sure you know who you are)

    • Freedom of expression is freedom to mock

      It is, and I believe that Sue had every right to say exactly what she thought in whatever way she saw fit. The moment someone in this position has to stop and doubt their freedom to be honest is the moment when they are being censored by religion. We surely don’t want that and we’ve seen where it can lead.

      The many comments on here condemning Sue for being quite so explicit are in the same vein as those cautioning Richard on his ‘unwise’ decision to use rape as an example of a ‘no-go area’. The people taking offence (resulting in either ranting nonsense or walking out of a lecture) have to take ownership of that offence and stop to wonder why they feel so offended. Is their faith really so fragile that a lecturer mocking religion (all religion) can shake the foundations of their belief system? If so, then Sue has achieved something. If not, then they have a choice to listen to another point of view and respond accordingly. Either way, it’s their choice – just as it is Sue’s choice to speak her mind.

      I don’t completely understand memeplexes but I know enough about them to see that religious belief is a perfect example of one and there is no reason at all why Sue should have to ‘tread carefully’ just in case there might a religious person in the audience. The fact that there were quite so many in this particular instance is either very unlucky or perhaps deliberately planned. Either way, you speak your mind Sue – it’s refreshing and informative!

  36. I’m surprised Oxford invited Blackmore to give a lecture about memes, especially to provide an “Oxfordian experience”. It seems a peculiar choice of topic, given that memetic theory is highly speculative and controversial compared with most other subjects they could have rolled with. Maybe if it was one among many lectures for a general audience at a fair or something, where ideas can just be exchanged or given a public hearing, but it seems ill-suited as a taster for life at Oxford.

    Also, as much as I’m all for the challenging of religious untouchability and for abolishing religious “offence” as anything valid, some degree of tact wouldn’t have been amiss on Blackmore’s part, either. If you’re speaking to an audience of multiple backgrounds in an academic setting, many of whom are going to be religious, putting up a cartoon lampooning religious terrorism is going to come across as needlessly accusatory, whether or not you intended it that way. At least pick your battles with a bit more care, Blackmore.

    I won’t go so far as to say Blackmore’s choices were a deliberate ploy at self-victimization, which seems needlessly cynical and accusatory in turn, and more than a little one-sidedly so. However, she could have put a lot more thought into how and when she conveyed the principles she wanted to espouse (facing alternate viewpoints, being free to criticize religion, etc.), whether or not her lecture was the best platform for them, and whether her tactics and methods would have attracted more attention for being (perceived as) hostile, rather than her lecture being remembered as one that successfully got its subject matter across.

    • What do you mean by “Oxford”. It’s an organisation based in Oxford offering summer schools.

      Oxford Royale Academy is a part of Oxford Programs Limited, UK company number 6045196. The company contracts with institutions including Oxford University for the use of their facilities and also contracts with tutors from those institutions but does not operate under the aegis of Oxford University.

      http://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/courses

      Sue Blackmore’s talk is advertised here

      http://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/news/dr-susan-blackmore-confirmed-guest-speaker-summer-2014.html

      • I was referring to this bit:

        I was invited to give a lecture on memes by the “Oxford Royale Academy”, an institution that has nothing to do with the University of Oxford but hosts groups of several hundred 17-18 year-olds for two weeks of classes and, I guess, some kind of simulation of an ‘Oxford experience’

        It was the “simulation of an ‘Oxford experience'” I was trying to get at when I said what an odd choice of topic it was for a lecture. Honestly, though, I fell into the trap of thinking “Oxford University”, if not in name then at least in my understanding of what they were trying to simulate.

        Thanks for asking, and for the link.

        If anything, though, I’m now more confused over what a company for summer classes is doing by hosting a lecture on memetics.

        EDIT: This comment was a reply to a comment mmurray made, which seems to have disappeared. And now my comment is down here, at the bottom of the page as of typing. What is going on?

  37. These religious folks just don’t seem to be the forgiving kind do they? If only someone had written a book detailing precisely what they should do when they felt hurt, humiliated, slighted or sinned against.

    Honestly Professor Blackmore, look at the silver linings rather than the clouds. Not so long ago, 90% of the crowd would have walked out and the rest would have tied you to a ducking stool. Any atheist in the crowd would have stayed as silent as a 1940’s homosexual. At least half of the people who attended, whether atheist or devoutly religious, stayed to hear what you had to say. We might not be moving at a fast enough pace, but at least it’s better than total inertia.

  38. I’m sorry to say that there are still a great number of idiots in the world; some idiot savants: as Mr Dawkins pointed out with his comments about some medical students and others that mar their children by teaching them outdated dogma out of a sense of ritual. It’s not a madness spotting competition though as where would be the gain in that? We know these people are out there and all I can say is to try to act with compassion and understand that they are truly delusional.

    I am truly sorry that you, Sue, experienced this, but you are not alone. Times are changing and people are changing too, this extreme behavior is to address that these institutions and beliefs are just not relevant anymore. More and more people are waking up to the fact that these man made stories dont have any real baring on the reality we share.

    Just carry on regardless and although it is important to share, try not to give these idiots the satisfaction of knowing they have upset you. It’s not frightening that people think and act like this, its just the end for them, they see it but they cannot face it as in a sense it means the end of their world.

    I wish you all the best and thank you.

    Steve

  39. BTW, if Mario Mello is still reading I also think that quote addresses the reply that memes aren’t meant to be anything more than an analogy as well. Dawkins clearly thinks that “the analogy between genes and memes is persuasive” and that “it [can] lead us to powerful new theories that actually explain [things]”

    There is no doubt for me that all analogies and metaphors (=a comparison/analogy without the comparative term as in analogy) coming from a scientist means to make understanding clear- not for instance religious metaphors like turning wine into blood for instance- that serve comphreension.
    Not me, I would NEVER doubt that the analogy used by Prof Dawkins is useful.

  40. I had a Professor that used to give such interesting lectures, considering the interest of students to attend it, and he used to joke about the fact that if he would be teaching in USA instead, he would earn more considering the number of people attending to his classes (or his assistant Professor, which was also the most interesting classes I ever attended), contrary to his former Professor that dreamed of creating “an American like” university, when he had sometimes only two students attending his lecture (me and a colleague, but I cannot say I have learn something very interesting from him too, I really did).

  41. As a lifelong atheist and trained Cell Biologist I have no problem with the content of Prof. Blackmore’s lecture and I’m sure I’d have found it amusing and enlightening. But as someone who has taught in many contexts and developed professional strategies for teachers a great deal I have some humble comments about pedagogy that I present as a genuine attempt to help with her final question, “And what can I do?”

    Let’s put aside the discussion of who is right and who is wrong for a moment. Let’s think instead about pedagogical strategy. If you know that people will not listen when your point is made in a certain way then your challenge as a teacher is to find another way of making your point. Calling your students ignorant or closed-minded is not a good pedagogical strategy even (especially?) if they are. Repeating your point again more stridently and vehemently probably won’t help either. So what works?

    Humility and leading by example usually helps. Instead of immediately and directly challenging the student’s core beliefs with the concept of memes perhaps you could begin by demonstrating how you use the the concept of memes to challenge your own core beliefs. Perhaps you could show them how scientific ideas are an example of a meme. How the concept of “the scientific method” is itself a memeplex. Show rather than tell. Show them how you challenge your own preconceptions before you insist on challenging theirs.

    Another suggestion. Spend less energy trying to be funny and entertaining (you can do that already) and more time thinking about the learner context. Study some pedagogical theory and consider the strategies of student-centered teaching and learning.

    Rather than thinking of ideas as something that are merely delivered take a good look at, for example, the outdated hypodermic needle model of the Frankfurt School vs. The Uses and Values of Literacy by Richard Hoggart. Consider how this applies to teaching & learning as well as to media “consumption”. It all has implications for the concept of memes anyway so it’s worth knowing this stuff.

    Take a look at George Lakoff’s work on metaphors and frames to understand why it is so hard to win an argument just by using facts. Understand the frames of those whose minds you are trying to change. Respect them first, it makes it easier to challenge them later. Consider your own frames and ask why some people find them disrespectful and hurtful. It’s as much about frames as ideas.

    I hope these suggestions help and are taken, as they are intended, as mere suggestions based on hard-won experience. Being a good teacher is very different to being a good lecturer. It’s often more about them and their beliefs than about you and the ideas. That can be very frustrating for a lover of ideas. It’s hard work but extremely rewarding and I wish you luck with it – in a totally non-superstitious way of course ;)

    • Stuart,
      I wholeheartedly agree with your comments. Some years ago, just after I gave a TED talk on “The Inner life of the Cell’, biologist Alan Kay came up to me nearly screaming, his spittle in my face, telling me that my talk had been “intellectually dishonest” because I ‘neglected to label and explain each and every biological reaction we were depicting in our animation as a function of specific physics and chemistry, lest those who were convinced that God’s finger stirred the mix hijack the video and put their own twisted spin on it’. I was not only shocked at the verbal assault, but by its unbridled vehemence, as if I had called Kay out personally. I was even more shocked when, the next day, Kay used up a precious five minutes of his TED-time to publicly excoriate me and repeat to the TED audience his displeasure with my lack of academic prudence and veracity. I declined Chris Andersen’s offer to publicly rebut Kay’s remarks. I declined, because this was my first TED and I did not want it to be about that. The more startling thing that emerged later was that a ‘gentleman’ representing a small religious college actually brought Kay’s prediction to life by downloading ‘Inner Life’, editing out our credits and putting his own voice over ‘his’ animation. He received $5-10 thousand dollars a pop to promote his view of Creationism thru ‘his’ film on the campuses of religious colleges around the country. Worse, he became an adviser to the Creationist feature movie “Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed”. Once he was put on notice that he could no longer use the original ‘Inner Life’, (his plans to put it into Expelled dashed), he and the producers hired a fellow in North Carolina who did wedding videos and some animation on the side to replicate enough scenes from ‘Inner Life’ to make their point. I filed a cease and desist and they had to remove all of their purloined scenes from over a thousand copies of the movie a week before theatrical release. Then they sued me in Federal Court in Dallas. Long story short, I won. The producers had to pay all court and legal fees and eventually went out of business. The lesson was learned and in projects I have brewing for the novice educational audiences, I have a sidebar on how physics and chemistry orchestrate the cellular ballet. What is true in any belief system, religious or scientific, is that there are Taliban-like fanatics whose uncompromising approach to their particular faith renounces nuance, simplification and compromise. Given human nature, I guess this will always be so. I am relieved that I was not subject, back at TED 2007, to summary execution for my apostasy…

      • Kay may have had a point, but calling you “intellectually dishonest” and going off-topic to attack you in his own talk are hardly professional ways for someone like that to conduct himself. If your account of what happened is not exaggerated, that’s very worrying behaviour.

        • Other aspects of my life are far less probable and much more scintillating, so no need to exaggerate. From colleagues of mine who know Kay better than I do, he was not at all off his usual behavior, to which he has treated many other people. Besides, I have a ton of witnesses, including Chris Andersen. Fact is, there was a lesson to be learned, and I am not so pedantic as to ignore learning something where it is beneficial. The most amazing things happen on this earth, and though I am trained in science and an agnostic, there are any number of things that happen that need explanation beyond what is commonly available. This whole TED thing led to my being asked to make a similar presentation in China the following year (2008), where I met a young girl on a bus asking for permission to practice her English. She also very badly needed a rescue. Long story short, this morning I just dropped my daughter Shuangyi (that very same girl, now a young woman and one of the most amazing people I have ever met) at the airport to begin her senior year in college…
          With stories like hers, there is no need to exaggerate anything else;))

          • @David.
            I think your short film was featured on this site a while ago! I’ve seen it somewhere; perhaps You Tube?
            I’ll have check out the other fellow, Alan Kay. Not relevant to the Blackmore fiasco, nonetheless very interesting.
            Film greatly entertaining by the way. Well done.

    • Stuart – thanks for the helpful suggestions. I think a lot of the problem is that I was invited as a one-off lecturer to deliver a talk on a specific topic. I knew nothing about the students (despite asking for more information) other than that they were international, had come to Oxford for 2 weeks of classes and two invited lectures (mine and one other), and were aged 16-17. This is very unlike teaching students whom you get to know and can relate to in their own terms. Having given many such lectures to 6th formers here, and learned what kinds of presentation they seem to enjoy and learn from, I thought this would be quite easy. I was wrong!

      I know some of the ideas you mention here, and in the lecture I said that scientific theories are memeplexes too, but I will take up your idea of describing how memetics has helped me challenge my own preconceptions.

  42. I remember once I was having a class on Roman Law, and the professor took his time to say that, in his opinion, he didn’t believe in people saying they were atheists, unless they were also murderers and thieves; according to him, it was “incoherent” to be an atheist but to abide by law, or common sence, or simple etiquette.

    I walked out of his class.

    And I think I had all the right of doing it. And if I think I had the right of doing it, I think that people have the right to walk out of classes, or lectures, or debates, when they see fit, regardless of their religion or lack thereof.

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  44. I am very sorry this happened to Dr. Blackmore, she offers them knowledge that they are not going to easily find elsewhere. Patterns with autocatalytic properties is the general category of which both genes and cultural memes are the subcategories. I am happy to let “meme” be the general form that covers instantiations as genes and computer viruses or specifically as cultural memes. Requirements for the window of replication fidelity are different for each because each context has different sensitivities for the need of mutation to track changes in environment. The hand axe meme replicated among our ancestors for hundreds of thousands of years with very high fidelity. Digital cat videos now replicate by the millions with near 100% fidelity (except for the inserted commercials), whereas some memes are in environments where novelty is so critical that exact replications are shunned.

    Of course religion as memeplex is going to be problematic because it provides an explanation for why we have religion that is independent of any claims of truth. When you think about it, there has to be something like that going on because we have so many religions that can’t be simultaneously true. This message may be too difficult to sit still for re an audience of young people who are making the transition from a religious family context into the wider educational context expected to be found at university.

  45. You were told to talk about memes, not about religion vs religion. What else did you expect?

    Discussing and correcting religion is a touchy subject and people get angry when you challenge their beliefs. Muslims take it far more seriously, although I am highly offended when Muslims say Jesus isn’t God made man and that Christianity is a lie and misguidance and then they go and make fun of Jesus in cartoons. Do the same about Allah or Muhammed and they throw a massive fit and talk about starting a jidah.

    Anyways, about your religious slander, I am a Christian and I believe in what I want to believe in. Nobody has the rights to tell me otherwise. Do I believe the world was made in 7 days? No. Do I believe that Adam and Eve were just created out of dust in some magical garden with talking snakes? Absolutely not! I believe in evolution because the evidence is there, you can’t deny evidence and say it’s a lie because some ancient book says so.

    The fact is all early texts state the same thing, some from a different point of view so that they have different idealisms, testimonies, and opinions of what happened in the past or simplified stories for the not so intellectual to understand. Some have been worded to fit in with the beliefs both at the time it was written and at the time it was revised. No religious book is a true testament to what happened thousands of years ago and that’s a fact.

    Religion is what you or someone else makes it, that’s why there’s so many branches of Catholics, Christians, Jews, Muslims and so many revisions of religious books etc. There’s only a few texts now that remain as applicable today as they did in the past, to love and respect your God and each other, if you do or say something that offends someone else then stop doing it, and do your best to not hurt others or yourself through sinful actions. A lot of people think that the 10 commandments are no longer necessary to follow because we’ve been told we’ve been redeemed, that doesn’t mean we don’t have to follow them because each commandment is a means of living without upsetting others or ourselves and being respectful to everyone, and we should at least try to follow them.

    • Actually what I said about not believing what some ancient book said years ago could be a little misinterpreted. By this I mean that the tale of Creation has been written in a way for simple minded people to understand, but if you were to read between the lines you would see a certain comparison to today’s science.

      • Melanie Aug 19, 2014 at 1:21 pm

        By this I mean that the tale of Creation has been written in a way for simple minded people to understand, but if you were to read between the lines you would see a certain comparison to today’s science.

        Well between the lines you can see plain paper, – but apart from that any biblical resemblance to today’s published science is purely coincidental.

  46. The funny thing is that if someone starts talking about their religious beliefs or mocking Atheists in front of me I will listen first, I wouldn’t walk away because I don’t want to hear what they have to say. After listening I may have a few things to say, but that’s a good thing! This just shows their ignorance.

    • I totally agree with you. Walking out during a lecture because you were offended isn’t the best way to deal with it. That means you have a closed mind and you shouldn’t even be studying if you can’t open your mind and listen to other peoples’ opinions without it damaging yours. At the same time they should’ve spoken up and said “we came here to discuss memes, not a debate about religion, your lecture is crossing borders on something that we believe has nothing to do with what we signed up for.”

    • Mr DArcy asks , “How big was the audience?”. I did not count but I guess it was about 250 and roughly half walked out – but honestly I was concentrating too hard on giving the lecture to be precise about numbers. Even so – yes – plenty stayed to listen, several asked good and interesting questions at the end, and 20 or so crowded round me afterwards to discuss things more deeply – both religious and non-religious ones. I wanted to stay longer and encourage them to continue their discussions with each other but we were all thrown out by the technical staff at 6 p.m.

  47. Susan,

    What happened to you is indeed lamentable; I too would have thought that Oxford—and especially young Oxford-inclined students—would have been better able to listen to your religious provocations. When you take yourself too seriously you undermine your own ability to analyze your position and to hear out attacks against it, which may cause you to rethink some things you believe.

    I’m afraid I have to share your disillusionment; it’s not wholly these student’s fault, of course, that they reacted in this way, but rather the institutions and familial traditions in which they were educated that should be blamed. There’s still a sense in which one’s religious belief is supposed to be inviolable; where it is held as perfectly reasonable to assert that you “are” a religious tradition, and that others should not question that, as well as to vilify as intolerant those who do. The sooner this ends the better; there is incredible freedom in forming an identity apart from religion.

    All the same, while you (inevitably) have our support in this matter, I can’t help but wonder if something shouldn’t be learned from this. Perhaps, on the basis of this experience, you should provoke less severely next time—given the lowered tolerance for religious criticism. I noticed for instance that you only mentioned the negative aspects of religions, and not the positives. You may want to mention that memetic spread doesn’t of necessity preclude the truth of a memetic idea, as well as avoid slides which use words like “ridiculous”.

    I think simply seeing how memes work and getting exposed to multiple religions is enough to raise questions and spark personal inquiry. Unfortunately, no matter how valid your arguments may be, the essentially irrational structure of the human mind ensures that it will close completely in response to any perceived major threat to its worldview. Like a clam, it will only remain open if the water around it is lightly stirred, one slow movement at a time; otherwise it will clamp shut, and any pearls of wisdom that it might possess will be securely fortressed by its hard, impenetrable exterior.

    Best

    • I have certainly learned a lot but please note that no slide of mine included the word “ridiculous” and the section on religions as memes was a tiny part of the whole 45-50 minute lecture. Of course it is the part that caused all the trouble, but I certainly did point out that religions have benefits too. I described memes as succeeding for a variety of reasons ranging from their true value to humans to using viral tricks. Sadly, some of the audience began reacting badly at the mere mention of evolution.

  48. I think that she is missing something somewhat important in her description of religions as viruses.

    This may be easier to understand in the context of very complex computer viruses or other malicious software. While they are known for simply compromising security and causing all manner of problems, very sophisticated programs actually mask themselves by improving general performance of the system they are installed into.

    Not only does this mask suspicion of the program’s presence, but it also facilitates exploitation.

    Consider the evolution of religions in similar fashion by stark contrast of Christianity and Islam. Asthetics aside, the major difference is that one has been forced to adapt to the changing values of a progressing society while the other has not.

  49. As a new, and Buddhist, member of this site, I think both the author and the commenters should take some time to think about the following quotation:

    “People will forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel” ~Maya Angelou

    As with many atheists I encounter, what I find missing here is an understanding that religion clearly has a function in men and women as social beings. As someone convinced of the relative truth of natural selection, it seems to me perfectly clear that, whatever that function, is it has favored our survival as a species. If it hadn’t, either we or religion wouldn’t be here at all. If atheism were truly “scientific”, there would be more curiosity about why men and women believe and less hostility to the fact that they believe.

    This lack of understanding that parts of us that are not “rational”, not “scientific”, and not “progressive” (and remain so come what may) that makes what we call Atheism beside the point, both in this discussion and in most public encounters of the atheist with the religious. Indeed, Atheism would generally be better described as anti-theism, an explicit and direct denial that religion meets primal human needs. This is more than just lack of belief in a God, more than just paladinhood on the side of reason, it is the denial of the existence of an essential part of being human.

    Indeed, no one here lacks the human emotional need that religion fulfills, so this denial is essentially a pretense of being more “rational”, more “scientific”, and more “progressive” than is genuinely possible for us. The fight against belief is not only a conflict with believers, it is also a conflict with an emotional and long term component in mankind which we all share.

    If you will permit a little exaggeration, I am the “other” who sees you as “others see us”. And the conflict of the usual atheist with themselves is plainly displayed throughout this discussion. Until you understand the component in you that might believe, and this by understanding of why believers do believe (yes, even at Oxford in the 21st Century), you will never understand why people walk out of your lectures.

    • Karmakshanti Aug 19, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      As with many atheists I encounter, what I find missing here is an understanding that religion clearly has a function in men and women as social beings.

      Missing??? – Wasn’t that the psychology and sociology of religious memes which was part of the topic of the lecture?

      Indeed, no one here lacks the human emotional need that religion fulfills,

      The mistake in this claim, is that of pretending religion has some monopoly in providing emotional fulfilment. In most cases it provides a very limited and poor service .

      so this denial is essentially a pretense of being more “rational”, more “scientific”, and more “progressive” than is genuinely possible for us.

      While humans certainly are subject to emotional responses and biases, the irrationality of many religious beliefs and thought processes is real, as is the false assertion that others cannot be more rational and scientific than the in-group of those believers.

      The fight against belief is not only a conflict with believers, it is also a conflict with an emotional and long term component in mankind which we all share.

      Not at all! Believers have strong emotional attachments to their irrational beliefs, which are mistakenly claimed to be properties of “mankind”.
      Unfortunately “believers” cannot see the more emotionally balanced and rational view from inside their internally reflective belief-bubble, on which they have been made dependent by indoctrination.
      It’s like those who have been dependent on crutches for walking, who cannot understand how athletes run without falling over when they have no props!

      • Religion has no monopoly on fulfilling our emotional needs or anything else. But the emotional needs remain nonetheless and they really have little to do with any standard of “absolute truth” whether religious or scientific . I personally have some degree of skepticism about the use of the words “reason” and “rational” over here. As I remarked in a comment on another post, it is fair for the layman to presume science is true (which I do) but it is not persuasive enough for the layman to justify believing that science is true based on what is essentially a circular argument from authority, of the form “scientists know better than you do.”

        “Reason.” Is not a synonym of “intelligence” and “irrational” is not a synonym for “stupid”. I’m fairly certain that the people who walked out did so because the lecturer seemed to equate these in her lecture to their own discredit. And I’m quite certain that the lecturer, as well as most here, think that these are synonyms, to the discredit of anyone else who thinks otherwise. It is likely that she did make that quite clear to the audience.

        The Vision of Ezekiel is not “rational” any more than anything in our primary experience (the taste of sugar, say) is “rational”. But it is real, something that humans in all times places and cultures have accessed. We may think we have a more “reasonable” explanation for the vision than the visionary does, but it does not alter the human experience of the vision one jot, nor does it alter the visionary’s emotional need to go into the wilderness to have one. From the vantage point of having the vision, “reason” is simply irrelevant. It comes into play only afterwards when we try to explain it.

  50. Hi Sue! So sorry about your experience… Your lecture sounds like it would have been interesting to listen to. If you have a recording that we can listen to, I would love to hear(watch?) it. Otherwise, if you’re ever in South Africa and decide to give a lecture here, I’ll be sure to attend. Keep well! :)

  51. You should try teaching at an international school in Saudi Arabia, and not at an expat school, one with majority Saudis and no non-Muslims within the student body. We use the American curriculum which obviously contains American literature, some of which is myth-based. I’ve had students leave when I’ve tried to convince them that hurricanes and floods are a result of meteorology and geodynamics. There’s nothing you can do about it, there’s no rationalising with these people.

    It’s not just the students either, our science teacher is an American Muslim convert who refuses to teach evolution without integrating Allah into lessons and exams. He’s an absolute disgrace, but unfortunately there’s nothing that even our Principle can do.

  52. The last thing you should feel is upset. You did nothing wrong. If they can’t sit through a presentation of ideas that differ from their own then it’s their problem and is detrimental only to them. Keep up the good work. If anything feel sad, sad that these kids are so close-minded and brainwashed.

  53. I am conflicted. On the one hand, the analysis of religion as a collection of memes sounds fascinating. I for one would like to understand how religion works as a social construct and would not find that threatening to my faith. I also recognize that religious people who reject science in favor of dogma might find that discussion difficult to process.

    On the other hand, just because I’m a christian does not make it ok for me to salt my lectures with examples from the bible, or suggest in my classes that atheists are stupid and that their ideas are defective. Ms. Blackmore (who self-describes as a “vociferous atheist”) has effectively done just that. It is true that religions can be applicable examples of memes. That does not mean they are the only, or best, examples that she could choose. Her examples of relgion were consistently negative. It didn’t matter that she spread the criticisms around and didn’t exclusively focus on one specific faith. Her message was clear: religion is for people who don’t think as well as she does.

    Frankly, it stands as a testament to the manners and character of her audience that they simply left without comment, rather than interrupting her lecture with angry objections. For Ms. Blackmore to be surporised or offended at their behavior really says more about her faith in her intellectual superiority than anything else.

    • Daniel Aug 19, 2014 at 4:10 pm

      It didn’t matter that she spread the criticisms around and didn’t exclusively focus on one specific faith. Her message was clear: religion is for people who don’t think as well as she does.

      Her message is correct! Faith thinking consistently fails to give any reliable results in the real world, and is vastly flawed in comparison with results from evidenced scientific reasoning!

      Perhaps you should have read the clear example in this post which was only slightly earlier than your own.
      https://richarddawkins.net/2014/08/a-hundred-walked-out-of-my-lecture/#li-comment-152223

    • On the one hand, the analysis of religion as a collection of memes
      sounds fascinating. I for one would like to understand how religion
      works as a social construct and would not find that threatening to my
      faith.

      I have the impression that the concepts of “meme” and “social construct” are mutually exclusive. If something is a “meme”, then it is not a social construct; if it is a social construct, then it is not a “meme”.

      On the other hand, just because I’m a christian does not make it ok
      for me to salt my lectures with examples from the bible, or suggest in
      my classes that atheists are stupid and that their ideas are
      defective. Ms. Blackmore (who self-describes as a “vociferous
      atheist”) has effectively done just that. It is true that religions
      can be applicable examples of memes. That does not mean they are the
      only, or best, examples that she could choose. Her examples of relgion
      were consistently negative. It didn’t matter that she spread the
      criticisms around and didn’t exclusively focus on one specific faith.
      Her message was clear: religion is for people who don’t think as well
      as she does.

      There is an inherent contradiction in the ideology of “memetics”:

      If “memes” help us survive, then people who don’t carry “memes” would be out-evolved by people who carry them. This means that the criticism of “memes” is a deus ex machina: something that is completely external to the theory and cannot be explained by it. Consequently, to “memeticists”, there are two different orders of ideas: “memes”, which spread and reproduce regardless of having any relation to reality, as a function of how well they help people reproduce (or is it how well they reproduce themselves?); and “memeticists” own ideas, that spread and reproduce regardless of how well they reproduce or help people reproduce, as a function of how well they depict/represent/interpret reality.

      This inconsistency, I fear, cannot be avoided, and exposes the whole field as one more avatar of pseudoscience.

      Frankly, it stands as a testament to the manners and character of her
      audience that they simply left without comment, rather than
      interrupting her lecture with angry objections. For Ms. Blackmore to
      be surporised or offended at their behavior really says more about her
      faith in her intellectual superiority than anything else.

      Christians at the time of their persecution by Pagans at least understood clearly why they were persecuted…

      If people seriously want to confront religion in its own terms, then they have little right to be surprised by the emotional intensity of the response. If someone destroy Caesar’s statues, it should be little surprise that Caesarists will come down on them, violently. If one derides Christian tenets, one should be glad that they merely walk out from their presence. And if one calls “memetics” a pseudoscience, it is little wonder that one will be attacked by the faithful…

      • Luis Henrique Aug 20, 2014 at 10:10 am

        Consequently, to “memeticists”, there are two different orders of ideas: “memes”, which spread and reproduce regardless of having any relation to reality, as a function of how well they help people reproduce (or is it how well they reproduce themselves?); and “memeticists” own ideas, that spread and reproduce regardless of how well they reproduce or help people reproduce, as a function of how well they depict/represent/interpret reality.

        You seem to have missed the point that memes (viruses of the mind) spread through population – well – like viruses – independently of biological genetic reproduction of their hosts! They may well be destructive, but like viruses, they will persist unless they ravage their hosts to extinction and run out of new populations to infect.

        This inconsistency, I fear, cannot be avoided, and exposes the whole field as one more avatar of pseudoscience.

        Oh dear! Pseudo-understanding does convert objective observations into pseudo-science!

        Those irrational “faith-thinkers” really do believe they are “purifying” some imaginary aspect of themselves, by bathing in sewage, dysentery, cholera, and toxic chemical discharges, in the Ganges! There is nothing “pseudo” in the pathology, microbiology, chemistry, or psychological analysis involved!

    • Daniel – I would prefer them to have interrupted (though politely and not angrily if possible) and challenge what I was saying. This is what teaching and learning are about. Had they done so I could have responded and opened a discussion. As I have explained – it was the fact that they could not even endure listening to something they disagreed with that I found so sad.

  54. I was born to a Muslim family, and to be honest I found my way around a secular way of life, lead by no one but science and critical thinking and reasoning. (that’s my own name BTW, has never been changed ;) ).
    Quite frankly, by leaving this comment, I might just have put my life in danger so I think I know how hard and frustrating it can be to talk and reason to religious people from devoted Muslims and Christians to believers in a Deity named “Universe“.
    As an Atheist and a former Muslim, I find it an excruciating task to be part of a western academic institution, while I know hundreds of thousands of Muslims (many devoted and at high risk of becoming a jihadist) are working and studying there, and many are even financially supported by the host government or University. It is just something that I find hard to digest, if you do not believe me on how many of them live among you check out the news on jihadists who have been citizens of a European or North American country (most recently among ISIS members).
    I’ve seen them trashing Westerners and “hating America”, and wishing for Jews to be all dead, while having a European Passport in their pocket, and if not having a high chance of getting a tourist visa for months.
    I think there is something wrong going on out there in your countries, and especially among the academicians, how you can accept someone to work in with you in your lab a field of, let’s say say biology, who does not even understand evolution, let alone believing in it? sometimes it’s for money, “ARABS ARE RICH”, but what about those who you choose and pay for?
    If today I go to any Embassy and ask for a Visa I will be rejected almost certainly even if I say my life is in IMMINENT danger because of my beliefs…The whole story is funny and sad at the same time.

  55. I don’t think open mindedness is the problem here. Evolution certainly clashes with faith based religions and clearly there are those who choose to reject it. This does not mean that their minds are necessarily ‘closed’, if one looks at what evolution offers as a theory. Certainly it provides a consistent view within its intended domain of the sciences, but I wonder of this view is as comprehensive and satisfying as it could be objectively?

    Why is there a need to sell evolution, to still demonstrate it? How much efficacy does the theory of evolution receive from the extent of its application? Its a brilliant theory in terms of what it explains and how it explains it but how much credence can its uniqueness really gather in the broader aspect of life?

    I like to think that your young objectors, were not being closed minded, I think they were responding to evolution rather in a similar manner than they would to dogma in their own religions…. The theory of evolution is looking a bit tired, it needs updating, perhaps that it what you saw.

    • Paul Aug 19, 2014 at 4:26 pm

      I like to think that your young objectors, were not being closed minded,

      You can’t get much more closed-minded than denying scientific evidence which is readily available in standard text-books!

      I think they were responding to evolution rather in a similar manner than they would to dogma in their own religions….

      They probably were following that meme! It is a much preached false equivalence and falsehood, that science is (allegedly) just another religion or opinion.

      The theory of evolution is looking a bit tired, it needs updating, perhaps that it what you saw.

      Evolution is a fact! The details of the theory are being constantly expanded and updated in all the experimental work on biology and genetics.

      Only the bigoted ignorant and scientifically illiterate dispute this.

      • Evolution is a fact! The details of the theory are being constantly expanded and updated in all the experimental work on biology and genetics.

        Only the bigoted ignorant and scientifically illiterate dispute this.

        I am pretty scientifically illiterate, I must admit (I don’t think that necessarily makes me a bad person). I thought that philosophically or even scientifically speaking there were no facts. Wasn’t there some business a few months ago which seemed to cast a shadow on Einstein’s body of work? As I recall it turned out to be bogus, another bit of sandwich clogging up the Large Hadron Collider or something.

        The point is if it had turned out to be true, the scientific community wouldn’t have had a hissy fit; they wouldn’t have had to backtrack and try to trash Einstein and claim he was a hack, because they never definitively asserted that e=mc2 is scientific fact. I actually think the term ‘scientific fact’ might be an oxymoron.

        Maybe we should leave unequivocal statements that insist such-and-such is a fact(!) to our religious friends. We don’t have the luxury of knowing absolute truth like those lucky devils.

      • Evolution is a fact! The details of the theory are being constantly
        expanded and updated in all the experimental work on biology and
        genetics.

        Only the bigoted ignorant and scientifically illiterate dispute this.

        Well, evolution is a theory; as it happens, it is the theory that best explains the available facts.

        But, unhappily, what is propagated as “evolution” often has little to do with such theory. The amount of confusion about the meaning of the word “fittest” is amazing; people seem to think it means “more intelligent” or “more complex”. However, the vast majority of living organisms at the moment I write are bacteria, which are remarkably stupid and, when compared with other forms of life, relatively very simple.

        “Evolution” is not a teleogical tale of how mankind was created; it is not an alternate religion. Evolution could easily have lead to a planet Earth without human life or without intelligent life at all. Part (even though probably a small part) of the conflict between religion and “evolution” probably resides in the misunderstanding, by those who “believe in evolution” of evolution as a kind of imanent logos that resulted necessarily in Homo sapiens as the pinnacle of a closed process. Because, if understood as such, “evolution” is little less than an alternate mythology. And we know well how adherents of a mythology deal with adherents of different mythologies (and if we don’t, we can open the Bible and read what it tells about the genocides of Ai or Jericho).

      • that is exactly what my quoted comment says! That evolution is happening – is a fact!

        Asserting that something is a fact, does not make it a fact – even if you append it with an exclamation mark!

        Proposing a theory of evolution, (such as Lamarck’s, Darwin’s etc) might or might not provide a satisfactory explanation of the facts – e.g. the fact that there are dinosaur bones. The theories do not make evolution a fact. Rather they present various perspectives on the concept of evolution, as explanations of facts.
        The point I myself, and I think others, are making is that you don’t seem to be clear on the distinction between theories, hypotheses, facts and evidence.

  56. I suppose the most important thing you can take from this experience is that there are still many who are completely brainwashed and/or uneducated, so please don’t stop trying to open the eyes of these poor, poor fools.

  57. Don’t you dare apologize! You have absolutely nothing to be sorry for. The abject hypocrisy and arrogance of the religious mind seldom fails to astonish me. Those who walked out of your lecture are offended? Cry me an ocean. These individuals hold up books that are the inerrant word of god(s) only by virtue of the fact they declare them to be so. These individuals have taken what are their subjective feelings, dignified them with the term faith and hold this up as a superior means of discerning truth than getting off their lazy arrogant backsides to find out. If faith was a superior or even viable means of discerning truth there would not be so many different faiths. Belief in an inerrant god does not make your personal opinions inerrant and infallible, conflating the inerrancy of ones chosen deity with ones personal opinion is about as obscenely arrogant as it is possible to get. Nor does it seem to occur to these people that their chosen religions offend everyone from women, to gays, to anyone with two brain cells to rub together who has the audacity to want to use them. It seems ok if THEY offend and not just offend but oppress but as soon as someone like yourself so much as whimpers a criticism that tantrums start as though the all powerful author of creation is somehow not capable of defending himself. Their actions only reinforce the complete vacuousness of their beliefs. I both despise and pity these individuals. Despise because they must work very hard to ignore the fact people using faith have reached radically different conclusions about the nature of the divine and pity because they are merely regurgitating the sick religious fantasies crammed down their throats from the moment they fell out of the womb. What chance did these poor indoctrinated brainwashed kids have? Still this explains their actions it does not excuse them. I cannot help thinking that if these individuals were more humble about what they know and how they know it the world would be a happier, more peaceful place.

  58. This is so dissapointing to hear. I actually beleived (wanted to believe?) that the narrow-minded Islamists, like the narrow-minded Christians, were the ignorant and uneducated; that the majority and educated were more open-minded. For this audience to respond it this way – is frightening!

  59. Is it safe to state that simply demanding open-mindedness—even in an academic forum which normally encourages debate—does not work?

    Some of the ideas that have been offered here as to how Ms. Blackmore could have captured a larger percentage of her audience sound interesting… but they seem to ask for a compromise of the debative standard to “handhold” the audience.

    Is going out of one’s way to placate one’s audience in order to make one’s point better heard a successful strategy? Could it lead to any long-term negative effects—say, the erosion of one’s freedom (while in Oxford) to express and critique ideas?

    In the working world where people are required to collaborate that I live in—even in the field of computing— the answer is pretty clear: you must, unfortunately, appease the ego… But academic discussions seem to insist on thicker skin. Is this reasonable?

    • Duse,

      I do get what you are saying and the tone police seem out in force on this tread. These are young adults, young adults should be capable of of hearing a contrary point of view. In what other field would we expect the teacher to not only have to communicate the idea (as a teach I can tell you hard enough to begin with) but to try to have to woo them into listening and step around every possible political or religious sensitivity out there? Would we think it acceptable for say geology students to walk out of a lecture because the lecturer dared to tell the students that the Earth was over 6000 years old? Would we think it okay if trainee doctors walk out on lectures about evolution because it contradicts and offends their beliefs? What next airline pilots who think it is okay to ignore salient facts about stall speeds, engineering students or electricians who refuse to learn OHM’s law? Yes I know this is taking the analogy a bit far but I think the principle stands.

      Her job is to teach about in this case memes, from what I understand about it I’d say religion is entirely relevant to the subject at hand.

      Universities will present you with information from qualified staff, unless there is anything she said that is wrong, they should get a helmet and grow up and engage in learning.

      • I think you are entirely correct on the matter of tone policing and the fact that these are young adults at the peak of their sophisticated learning experience, the one where they must stop trusting adults implicitly and start making their own choices.

        Sue Blackmore did screw up a bit in her presentation, from her own account, by under illustrating examples of irrational behaviour (my own favourite irrational behaviour illustration would be that of a child kneeling at a bedside hands together eyes closed) and properly inserting perhapses and maybes.

        Memes, I suspect, will become science in one form or another, but probably as a cluster of related entities some of which can properly be described as evolving. Until then thy are pre-science and should be presented as such.

        Is this a subject suitable to presentation to future, potential scientists? Absolutely. Here is a newly exposed rockface. It has these as yet unproven potentials.

        I think Sue Blackmore could cultivate more excitement for her field by showing its nascent and still tractable state, ripe for the attention of young, fresh thinking.

  60. The first comment I would like to make is that the fact that this happened in the city of Oxford has nothing to do with anything and is neither a reflection on the place or the university. It is however, I think, a sad and worrying reflection on our educational system. Walking out if you disagree is not an educated response.
    Reasoned argument and the weighing up of evidence and the veracity of that evidence is.
    Personally this event, is a call for a long hard look at how we are educating some young people.

    • David Aug 19, 2014 at 5:01 pm

      It is however, I think, a sad and worrying reflection on our educational system. Walking out if you disagree is not an educated response.
      Reasoned argument and the weighing up of evidence and the veracity of that evidence is.

      You are quite right to pick out this issue.

      However it is quite noteworthy, that a proportion of those who walked out were overseas students who were prospective UK university candidates.

      In many religiously dominated countries, they are taught pseudo-science and pseudo-history in keeping with religious texts – some of which have been the basis of comments on this thread.

      Personally this event, is a call for a long hard look at how we are educating some young people.

      It would be interesting to know what percentage of the “walk-outs” were UK educated!
      It looks like many were from overseas – as are large numbers of UK university students are these days.
      It is worth remembering, that this was at a pre-university, independently run, summer-school, so those students probably had no guarantee of a UK university place, and may well have lacked the capability to make use of one.

  61. Dear Sue, "I'm still shaken" is the part of your article that jumped out at me, and I understand. You gave of yourself fully and honestly, without guile. Yes you used humor, but that was part of your point; there was no mocking. The information you have is critical education! It's not just opinion, and you rightly thought you were in a place where you could present and discuss safely, if not delightfully with people who would appreciate new ideas even if they were challenging. So GOOD FOR YOU. You are greatly needed. You did nothing wrong. Corny as it may sound, I wish I could hug you. I had a slightly similar experience of feeling shaken after giving a talk to a group of hospital chaplains who wanted to know more about Christian fundamentalism because they are among the dying patients they counsel. I had said to the director of the school that I could only describe it and talk about the psychological harm because my work is helping people recover. I did not want to talk about or be asked about the positives in the religion or give advice about how to counsel dying fundamentalists. She promised to pass this on. She also stressed what a sensitive subject it was for them, and would not let me videotape the talk. When I gave the talk, I shared that I grew up fundamentalist and had to recover myself, and that was why I could easily understand the stories of clients that sound like emotional and mental child abuse. Well. . . very soon they wanted to know "But there must have been some good parts too. What do you think you and others gained from your religion?" I was stunned and the director said nothing. There was no sensitivity to the idea that if I had been talking about physical or sexual abuse, such a question would have been absurd and "rewounding." Then they wanted to know how to be most helpful to fundamentalists on their death bed. Again, no word from the director and I could only say 'I don't know, it's not my area." I left feeling foolish and about six years old. It took me weeks to settle down and not feel like a failure. Someone else had to tell me the director was wrong in not preparing the audience and then intervening at the talk. They never invited me back. The majority of the commentators on here, in my opinion, are way out of line — disrespectful to you, irrational, and lacking emotional intelligence. I hope you have an enormous pile of salt to take grains from as you read them. The meme complex idea is a perfect one for religion, and getting passed on by generations is an idea that my clients find very helpful. And there are so many memes that are tacit, some with religious roots and some we can understand with neuroscience. For example, people have a habit of judging quickly, using black and white thinking, resisting new things, and needing to be right. All of those were in play at your lecture. And by the way, you are a woman! I'm convinced you would have been treated differently if you were male, at least partly. Unfortunately the general zeitgeist is still not fully ready to embrace your findings. As well, the field of mental health has yet to accept that religion can cause psychological harm. (But people that have been through it understand completely what I have named Religious Trauma Syndrome). All of western civilization still has one foot in the Dark Ages. But lets work together, step by step to change that, shall we? Please don't stop what you do. "Illegitimi non carborundum" Marlene Winell, Ph.D.. Sue, where can I listen to your talk?

  62. Sue, you are like many prophets in the history – first you were rejected and then you will be worshiped. Just a human nature – that is how we react to a novel view of the world around us. Have a glass of wine and chill for a few days, you have done your work well.

  63. Well, what you can do is take it like a champ and keep on going. If talking about successes, at the very least you planted the seed of doubt. Whether it will germinate into full on refusal to continue under the yoke of religion remains to be seen. And at most you entertained people that were willing to learn about memes, their evolution and spreading. If people choose to be ignorant, that’s their prerogative and they can take a hike. If they were able to attend such a lecture, then they have the means to obtain information. In this day and age, ignorance is a choice. So they can take a hike.

  64. Why are we apologising for being ruthless? In the end when these ‘students’ cuddle up in bed or take a poo, take a shower or eat their two minute noodles alone they will think about what Prof Sue tried to communicate. Not all of them are going to turn into atheists overnight, but maybe one of them will start their journey of liberation. Chin up Sue, fighting indoctrination with reason is a slow, long and daunting process.

  65. I agree with Steve . Accept it as a lesson and superb example of the power of memes . You’ve been lulled in the comfort zone of academia, Sue . You just had the misfortune to address a largely untrained in academic methods audience.

  66. It bothers me that this happened to you. Religious people should see themselves being part of collective behavior that takes a given form as a response to natural selection. To do so should not adversely affect their religious belief. Should the case be that one’s faith is challenged, a novel opportunity is presented: the believer may either change the behavior, or not (either of which would have a direct effect on the collective behavior’s persistence through time, albeit a relatively small effect at the scale of one individual). There ain’t no reason to get mad.

  67. Dear Professor Blackmore, the behavior of those attendees who ran from true open mindedness reflect their cowardice and irrationality, not yours. However, do expect that kind of reaction from many suffering from that “virus of the mind.” It is part of its insidiousness.

  68. You caught them by surprise and they reacted with the standard flight/fight/freeze response.

    To believers of such nonsense (streets of gold, raising of the dead, etc) the single greatest hope they have adopted, and hold so dearly – eternal life – was suddenly challenged in a public forum.

    Their response is not surprising. It’s human nature, as dictated by evolution. Your logic threatens their security blanket – the promise of eternal life. These are people who refuse to willingly face the inevitable – death. The turning off of the lights while the party continues, to paraphrase a great man.

    Survivability – it’s the driving factor of evolution, no? Your logic threatens their beliefs, and their sense of security.

    Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt? How true it is.

  69. I don’t really see a problem here! They didn’t threaten you, they didn’t command you to stop. They were offended and quietly left – this seems like one of the more reasonable scenarios that could have played out.

    We are told repeatedly that if you don’t like nudity on TV, then change the channel. If you don’t like swearing in music, then don’t listen to it. It is a reasonable argument that self-censorship is more reasonable than censorship. So, it follows then that self-prohibition is preferable to demanding it stop for everyone.

    More broadly, the fact that this is at Oxford is terrible, I understand the sentiments that people there should be more open minded and accepting of diverse opinion. However, I don’t think it is true.

  70. Do you think for one moment that, if they will not listen to facts, they will listen to opinions like, for example, homosexuals should not be killed?
    These are probably the cream of the crop among Muslims in terms of education but for every one of them there are a hundred who would not merely refuse to listen but actively seek to silence both facts and opinions which do not accord with the teachings of their blood drenched, pedophile warlord of a spiritual leader. Tolerance of the intolerant is intolerable.

  71. Walking miserably up the High Street I felt profoundly depressed at the state of the world… If even they cannot face dissent, or think for themselves, what hope is there for the rest? And what can I do?

    You, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, and the many brave like you in your positions – you are the hope by continuing to do what you do, so keep doing what you are doing. I stumbled upon the many like you via the internet only a couple of years ago and it changed my life to one I finally wanted to live because you showed it was okay for me to think for myself. The many like you gave me courage and set me free to live in truth and reality, that led to set my adult children free to live in truth and reality, who in turn are setting their children free to live in truth and reality. Not everyone you teach is in a lecture hall or classroom.

  72. Not surprised. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a problem among spiritual-ideologue groups (e.g. the religious). Secular-ideologue groups have the same issue. Case and point: when the Canadian Association for Equality at the University of Toronto has had evidence-based talks centered on men’s rights issues (e.g. disposablity, health, education, reproduction, marriage/divorce, etc), a certain very loud segment of the population [self identifying as feminists] not only walked out of the presentations, but they pulled fire alarms, chanted to the point where the speakers could not be heard, taunted attendees, and so on. This too was at a so-called seat of higher learning.

    What’s the famous Tyrion Lannister [from Game of Thrones] quote: “When you cut out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”

    Using the “heckler’s veto” is something that ideologues do in order to demonstrate their intransigence and inability to process new data/evidence.

  73. I am sorry that you felt you were not heard. But I feel more sorry that you think more education means less faith in God. I believe I can see the point you were trying to make but it didn’t sound like you were approaching the topic with evidence as much as you were with speculation. In this way you may have come off as pointlessly attacking the topic. Just my perspective at least.

  74. It’s like when you mention to an older doctor a new treatment, suggest a referral and they clearly aren’t up to date on some developments they can get a bit shirty and brush it off as nonsense. I guess they can’t keep abreast of it all and it’s a little awkward that they haven’t heard of what you, the unqualified person, is asking them about. Especially if it contradicts the treatment they have already suggested to you. I think it’s similar when you tell someone their lifelong beliefs are wrong, foolish and humorous. It’s an affront. All that time invested and it’s wrong? If you dismiss what the other person is saying, brush it off, like the doctor to the patient or the religious person to the scientist they don’t have to deal with it, they don’t have to face the facts.

  75. Some people here seem to be misunderstanding the situation. Blackmore didn’t attack anyone’s beliefs, she merely delivered a lecture on memetic theory that utilised probably THE most salient and relevant example of a memeplex – religion – to help facillitate conceptual understanding. The people that left were offended at the implications that THEY THEMSELVES draw between the ideas presented and the integrity of religious belief. Indeed, it’s perfectly possible for all religions to work as elaborate memeplexes AND for one of them to be true. Perhaps God made us susceptible to meme transmission in order that we should know him better? Isn’t that the sort of sophistry “sophisticated” theists regularly employ to reconcile reality with their apriori faith-based beliefs? Blackmore’s only mistake here was to over-optimistically expect her audience to contemplate ideas that they MIGHT not, on first hearing, find perfectly congenial, as opposed to sticking their fingers into their ears and throwing a tantrum.

    I find it profoundly depressing that this expectation should ever be called optimistic, and that anyone should be excoriated for having it!

  76. Memes are very much a work in progress. They may not evolve into a firm scientific theory without quite a lot of further change, but they are a productive way of thinking about culture if we are careful to remember their pre-science status. Coined by Dawkins in 1976 as a term for a unit of cultural exchange and to be used as an illustration of a possible replicator prone to mutation and therefore the effects of an evolutionary blossoming, change and possible dying out like tulipomania.

    Red Dog’s link to Scott Atran’s critique of the idea of meme as gene with simple genetic attributes is a good corrective to such simple minded models. Cultural copying has huge mutation rates and using the simulations of the geneticist functionality should be lost very rapidly. Quine though posts a useful reminder that the context in which the copying is happening is crucial in understanding the success or otherwise of the process. Indeed we already know from the work of Victoria Horner that very low mutation rate copying is available between adult and child (at least) and that these cultural exchanges go to hardwire later behaviours.

    Further, copying by casual observation and copying through formal training sit upon a continuum allowing directed re-inforcement. Clearly such early cultural copying may not be that sophisticated, but in its reliability (low mutation rate) it is possible to see it as a reliable value forming substrate for more sophisticated (complex) cultural units. Many such scenarios can be developed along these lines.

    Memes, therefore, might be better described, not in terms of genetic DNA dynamics but rather that fuzzier and less stable world of evolution, RNA World. Here mutation rates are more than a thousand fold higher, but simulations show stability of sorts are netted, for instance, by the creation of helper entities (not viable in themselves but harm reducing of the reproduced entity of interest by creating less lethal environment to otherwise harmful mutations.) It is tempting to see the cultural parallels here.

    I suspect memes and memeplexes will need quite a few other terms before a full scientific hypothesis can be formed and properly tested.

    (One disappointment with the Atran critique is the idea that conscious thought denies evolutionary processes. This seems quaint now. People do fight the idea that inferences acted upon are themselves the result of an evolutionary process within the brain.)

    Finally, it would be nice to see Sue Blackmore do more work in this area of trying to form a fuller hypothesis.

    There are a few to be had…but which to choose?

    • I just saw your comment. I really have to stop even trying to comment here, it’s so fucking frustrating compared to the old site. But I had to reply to this:

      One disappointment with the Atran critique is the idea that conscious thought denies evolutionary processes.

      Atran absolutely does not think this. Read his excellent look at religion In Gods We Trust. Trying to show how cognition can be understood in light of evolution is a fundamental part of his work. Actually, it depends what you mean, if you mean that conscious thought doesn’t necessarily follow the same laws that steer evolution that’s probably a valid way to summarize Atran’s critique of memes but if you mean that cognition somehow can or should be understood with no consideration of evolution that isn’t what Atran thinks.

      What really makes me crazy about Blackmore and Dawkins latest work is that I think there is so much potential, so much interesting work to be done on cognition and how it ties in with evolution and biology. For so long the humanities people and the behaviorists tried to partition cognition into some separate bucket divorced from the rest of the sciences. Chomsky realized that was bullshit and finally others are realizing he was right. So let’s TALK ABOUT THAT! I’m so insanely bored with the endless “look at the latest stupid thing the Muslims said!!” posts and I’m amazed that Dawkins can’t do much more than that lately.

      • Red! Glad you found this. Amazed you did though. (We share the despair over this site’s ability to support real argument.)

        My comment was perhaps over compressed. The evolutionary process I intended to point to was the mooted idea that inferences are “perfected” in brains by an unconscious neural evolution of increasingly fit mutated inferences within brains becoming conscious when a mutation is fit enough . This is evolution over time scales of seconds, and something of a contentious idea. It is attractive, though, as it removes the need for directed refinement.

        I fully accept that Atran (perhaps more readily than Chomsky) understands cognition as an entirely biologically evolved capacity. He, though, suggests that cultural exchanges cease any evolutionary attribute when managed by conscious thought, that culture becomes consciously directed. I contend that by the above.

        Atran is eager to use the Chomsky defence and that, like language, cultural copying cannot bootstrap itself from nothing. But culture is multi-modal. Brains, particularly youthful ones before too much neural pruning of the cross coupled has happened, are substantially metaphorical and the high fidelity copying of the youth, parent/in loco parentiis relationship can pump prime very happily thank you. Fold the paper in the middle is no such thing at the start. It is- align the corners and flatten. Middle-ness is discovered when the paper and its fold are rotated without effect.

        This whole thing needs substantial argumentation and I apologise not to give it here now. I fully accept that memes are pre-scientific. I have always believed they can become scientific. I don’t believe RD sees it as his job to make them so at all. I don’t believe SB has the wherewithall to do this either. I think she sees herself as a populariser too. I’ve talked to a couple of people who might be up to the job. The wait is not harmful though. I think I discern quite a lot of evidence falling into place in the mean time.

        I have taken ages to re-find your post after the site suspension earlier. Normally I would have searched your posts and clicked….I despair for this site…

        • Phil, could you please explain further what you mean by the “scientific” v. “pre-scientific” distinction you are making? We see countless examples of memes and memeplexes all around us every day, and can study them just as we would any other influence on human behavior. Are you talking about the different methods that different folks use to studying them?

          • Hi Q.

            I don’t mean to imply that they are not worthy of the attention of scientists. They very much are. I only intend that they are at the exciting stage where a good refutable hypothesis/hypotheses has yet to be formed concerning them. The terms are insufficiently defined and I suspect the varieties of terms nowhere near fully populated. For all manner of reasons they fail at a simple “just like genes” description (though this is not a jibe at RD. He was illustrating a point, successfully, about all replicators, more fulsomely made in Dennett’s “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.”) But culture clearly evolves. At a fundamental level the idea of memes is correct.

            The subject surface is just being scratched at the moment and I have proposed in earlier threads that progress could be better made if the term “memes” were perhaps limited to the copying of mechanical actions, body language and facial expressions. This is the stuff in part of parent-child interactions, which I contend have good causal evidence for their observed high fidelity copying, with good identified mechanisms for doing so in the notable abundance of mirror neurons and the notably unwired neotenous brains of the human ape compared to others. I would reserve another memey word for what people are mostly calling memes at present, one that acknowledges, their frangibility and there dependence on this or that value forming substrate for error limitation or correction (mechanical habits, cultural algorithms etc.)

            “Hands together, eyes closed, talk to God”, is a powerful mechanical routine to give a young child. The forms grown upon such a value-forming habit will constrain their variety.

          • Also let me put here a small apology to Sue Blackmore for implying some passivity on this issue. I have just pulled out my 1999 copy of The Meme Machine and re-read her section entitled “Three Problems with Memes”. It is an excellent discussion of the definitions and terminology of the idea. What the genotype? What the phenotype? There are lots of caveats in there and she concludes by observing-

            “…genes and memes are both replicators but otherwise they are different. The analogy between genes and memes has led many people astray and will continue to do so for a long time to come.”

            I think I will re-read the book. Its been a while.

          • Yes, Phil, I agree that there is a great need for specific terms to be coined for patterns with autocatalytic properties in specific contexts, such as those outside language (or conscious action) that you mention. The term “gene” was pretty well nailed down as a unit of replication in 1976 when Richard published, but now we are looking at pieces of RNA back before there was DNA, and vesicles of proteins with autocatalytic properties to answer questions of abiogenesis before even that. Personally, I like “meme” for the general case, and would call all three of the cases above out as memes in biochemical context. That would make all genes be memes whereas not all memes are genes. (I don’t expect a majority to go with me on that, and it would make Atran’s head explode.)

            Then, every time you used “meme” you would have to be sure the context was understood, or you would have to add some specifier word such as saying “language meme.” The way I see it, Richard did not spot an analogy, but actually, a generalization that is so much bigger in meaning. If he would like to give us a new word for “patterns with autocatalytic properties” I would be happy to adopt whatever that was for the general case, and let “meme” stick to imitated patterns of behavior.

          • Excellent argument, Q. Meme is such a good term and quite suited to your catch-all definition. I shall amend future arguments thus.

            patterns with autocatalytic properties-

            automeme?

          • Thanks Phil. Another closely interacting concept is “pattern integrity,” which I first ran into when I had Gregory Bateson for a teacher forty years ago. You can lose pattern integrity by poor copy fidelity and by environmental degradation. Things with strong pattern integrity tend to stick around enough to make a reality that you notice. Protons have really strong pattern integrity (even though they don’t replicate) whereas your tau leptons don’t. Memes carved on tomb walls need less copy fidelity than those written on wax tablets at the same time. Some memes make up for poor pattern integrity by more rapid replication that floods the context with so many copies that some subset preserve the pattern more by chance than by high copy fidelity. It is a fascinating subject. :-)

          • Meme is such a good term but not suited to your catch-all requirement.

            Mr Margaret Mead! Fascinating. More of this when you have time…

            I’ve been trying to find the paper on simulating RNA copying behaviours. I fear it was two laptops ago…. It was hugely revealing of the species formed including helper species that aided the reproduced species. This suddenly changed my view of the risks of simple modelling.

            The varieties of ideas that may be implicated is enormous. I have been contemplating how boxcar detectors and phase sensitive detectors might relate to ritual or rythmical memes, how the envelope allows us to navigate a meme and analyse and save the content over a period of time even in the presence of great noise.

            This dispersed and segmented approach to apprehension reminds me of my daughter when 3 years old. She was/is very bright but was very slow to talk. She could without using a single word achieve the most wonderful parody of her mother on the telephone, the whole range of tones of voice and emotional content in gobbledy gook. Overly polite answer followed by chuckling familiarity, bland banter silence, shock horror, shock horror, silence, shock horror, conspiritorial, etc., cheery, bye, bye. These all had the appropriate facial expressions and body language. Very little extra information seemed needed. But the sequence of the content I found earwigging a few real calls myself, generally had this format. Emotional pattern detection may precede content proper., allowing a navigation of salience.

            Memetic failure might be an interesting tool of analysis. Dave Allen observing his uncle’s coffin at a funeral hears, “In the name of the Father the Son and into the hole he goes….”

            Fascinating as you say. If I could go back to university to do some research this would be the topic of choice.

          • Yes Phil, the varieties of ideas is indeed enormous. Patterns with autocatalytic properties can roll around in a fitness feedback phase space like animal bodies tracking climate changes or a phase locked loop pulling modulated signal out of the “grass” of background noise. Both of those intersect memetics and the chaos theory of “strange attractors.” I need to stop, now, as thinking about these things is sure to derail all the projects I need to get done in my physical life, today. I just feel sorry for all those ‘students’ who walked out on Dr Blackmore; they have little hope of ever experiencing the grandeur of thought this subject would gladly gift them.

        • It’s almost impossible to have a real discussion here anymore and I’ve pretty much given up. Which is too bad, one of the things I used to like about this site is to prove people wrong (or occasionally realize that I was wrong, I think that happened,… once) I would go and read or re-read something interesting. That happened with this article. Haven’ t read the meme machine in many years and when I read it I hadn’t even read The Selfish Gene yet so I really had no clue about most of what it was saying. I’m still re-reading it now but it’s actually more interesting than I remembered.

          Anyway, just to clarify, Chomsky definitely agrees with Atran (and Dawkins I’m sure) that cognition has to be explained as a biological system that is consistent with evolution. His claim, actually it’s not even a claim it’s just (as he often does) Chomsky voicing skepticism about something that many of his colleagues who study language and philosophy take for granted, and his skepticism, he never says positively he thinks it can’t be true, but he thinks it’s not obvious that language would be an adaptation that would have value for reproductive success. I think he’s probably wrong about that,… Actually that’s a big topic all on it’s own, it’s why I wish we still had discussions, I would like to post something like that, but I realize it’s off topic for memes so will end there for now and perhaps reply to other things in your reply.

          • Red, I think anything about the interaction of language with selection of genes does apply to this thread, so I would encourage you to go ahead with it. :-)

  77. don’t worry those muslims you’ve seen are just rich families’ kids and considering education something they can show off with among the other muslims in their home countries’ communities. i am a vociferous atheist of muslim parents with 9 other muslim siblings, i work as a teacher and trainer and i never denied the fact that religous people are lazy to think or seeking mental comfort and paying no attention to what is real and what is mere stupidity.
    never judge basing on a personal experiance.
    i am trying to provoke people to think and will die doing it.

  78. Oh Susan. I love you. And you are no “vociferous atheist.” I’m more of a “vociferous atheist” than you are. And I’m provisionally Christian (as soon as I awake in heaven with Christopher Hitchens pouring me a shot of Johnny Walker I will no longer be “provisional.”) What you need to do is somehow get Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Dan Dennett to refuse to address atheist conferences without your presence. Since no one is more qualified to do so (accept for perhaps Dennett and Dawkins), this request should quickly be granted. Since they’ll say “Where’s your book?” You say THE MEME MACHINE, Tom Youngjohn says none of YOUR books are quite as important (though THE SELFISH GENE was quite the page turner.)

  79. It’s been quite some time since I attended a college lecture, but one thing I do remember about the lectures that were about the larger questions that we ask ourselves is that they challenged my beliefs and they held them up to the light. I would argue that, in an institution of higher learning, the forum is there for those kinds of debates and discussions that get a genuine dialogue going.

    I find that highly religious people who are satisfied with their version of events don’t care to be challenged in such a way. They are bolted down in one direction and they are satisfied with it. The same could be said of someone who is homophobic or racist or sexist in that it’s going to take more than a lecture or a conversation to change the way they feel about something.

    I don’t know if Professor Blackmore’s goal was to change minds or just to ask the wider question “why is it that we believe what we believe and why, when those beliefs are challenged, are we so uncomfortable?” Perhaps that would have been a good place to start with a crowd that may not have seen it coming. Or perhaps the tone of the room felt more like an attack and less like a discussion. I can’t say because I wasn’t there.

    If this were a Geology lecture and the professor held up a rock to say that it was more than a billion years old and that statement offended someone who believes the Bible to be literally true, then there isn’t really anything to be done about that. You can’t change facts because some people don’t find them emotionally easy to swallow. College is meant to push your boundaries, expand your thinking and get you to see things in a different light. You may not agree. You may even find it offensive. But isn’t part of a higher educational curriculum about learning how other people think and adapting to that in a peaceful way? If education is the silver bullet that will rid us of all of the ignorance, hatred, confusion, stupidity and callousness that we find in people because they just don’t get it…then we need to force ourselves to be uncomfortable, to see how others think and how they believe so that we can understand them. We can disagree and debate and discuss, but walking out so that you can feel right and morally superior rather than stay and state your case, isn’t going to do anybody any good.

  80. I’m an open minded person, however you appear to have attempted to force your beliefs on others who do not share yours and got confused when they left. How is this any difference to me, and many others, slamming the door in the face of Jehovah doorknockers? I have every right not to listen to the bible being forced down my throat as they do to not listen to your tactless attack on religion. It’s wonderful that you feel so strongly about something but no one appreciates being belittled and being told your life is all a big bullshit lie your stupid parents brainwashed you with. I am always happy to learn about other peoples religions or lack thereof and their reasons for this, but you need to be respectful about it or you will certainly not receive a respectful response. This is applicable to all parts of life. Respect each other and you are far more likely to gain trust, respect and valued opinions from others, including those who don’t share your beliefs. I have a good friend who is Muslim, she’s an amazing person , very open minded and tries to abide by the Quran as best she can. I was horrified that she couldn’t come play with my new puppy because they deem dogs very dirty and must go through a ritual to cleanse their hands with soil, that makes no sense to me. I tried up convince her that that may have been the case 1000 years ago when they prob carried the plague, but not any more. She was still reluctant and just couldn’t bring herself to change because she believes in the Quran and it’s important to her. I respect that and she respects I think it’s silly. The point of all that is you can’t expect people to be happy and just believe you because you’re treating them like idiots in a highly insensitive fashion with stereotypes, eg terroris m. True Muslims are peaceful loving people, not the monsters who you see on tv doing horrible deeds in the name of Islam.

  81. Lecturing to several different religions with an Atheist theme almost, is not very professional or intelligent. What was the point of the lecture? To hail Atheism as real and Religion as just a fad of imagination. If I didn’t know better, I would say it almost borders on bigotry. Atheist are empowered by the fact that religion exists and all atheist are arrogant enough to make even religious fundamentalism look tame. Prof. Blackmore should know better as a renowned author and speaker, not to make religion appear as something of a joke or as a non-sense. I disagree somewhat with the walkout as I would have argued the case and my sympathy does go the speaker but I also respect those who walked out as this is a very powerful communication of disapproval of what is being lectured. The freedom of speech is not in question here but rather the freedom to ridicule another’s belief as it is a very precious gift. Professor Blackmore has the right to lecture on wherever she feels she believes in but with the realisation that her audience has a right to disagree during the lecture even with their feet if necessary. Her article here describes the Koran and the Bible with negative overtones and with a very closed mind on religion in general; the only thing I can say about this that there are many scientists who do believe in Evolution and Darwin and the big bang and also in God and religion. If there were only atheists in the world and no religion, then what? What is her message then. Is that her point of the lecture? Being a lecturer has responsibility in as much as what the lecturer says should not preach, nor try to ridicule the audience, but rather deliver a balanced and intelligible source of information that is based on fact. Atheism is not based on fact, its just another form of a religion that has a many flaws and truth’s as any religion has. Jourz

    • Jourz Aug 19, 2014 at 8:22 pm

      Lecturing to several different religions with an Atheist theme almost, is not very professional or intelligent.

      Since when was the study of behavioural psychology “an atheist theme”?

      What was the point of the lecture?

      You seem to have missed that entirely, in your knee-jerk reaction to defend some religions.

      To hail Atheism as real and Religion as just a fad of imagination.

      Oh dear! Another poster who does not know what atheism is, or understand the difference between evidenced science and imagined god-delusions!

      Just give an honest answer to this question.:-
      HOW MANY OF THE THOUSANDS OF CONTRADICTORY RELIGIONS DO YOU THINK DESCRIBE THE REAL WORLD?

      https://richarddawkins.net/2014/08/a-hundred-walked-out-of-my-lecture/#li-comment-152593

      https://richarddawkins.net/2014/08/a-hundred-walked-out-of-my-lecture/#li-comment-152845

      If I didn’t know better,

      The religious meme of “knowing better” than scientific experts is well known!

      I would say it almost borders on bigotry. Atheist are empowered by the fact that religion exists and all atheist are arrogant enough to make even religious fundamentalism look tame.

      To the bigoted ignorant, all evidenced scientific knowledge – (especially that which refutes their indoctrinated preconceptions), – looks “arrogant”!

      Prof. Blackmore should know better as a renowned author and speaker, not to make religion appear as something of a joke or as a non-sense.

      But numerous religious claims and behaviours, actually are nonsensical jokes! Perhaps your views are based on a narrow view of one religion to the neglect of the wider perspective of those who have bothered to study the subject!

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_creation_myths

  82. While I would have rather enjoyed Sue’s lecture, I don’t think it matched the audience.

    Sue was addressing young adults aspiring to take on university life. I’d imagine that they have not had sufficient education in critical thinking and empiricism nor fully understand the nature of academic discourse that occurs in universities. Many have come with their popular sense that it fashionable to be offended in this youth zeitgeist (perhaps a meme worth investigating). Others have been indoctrinated by their religious upbringing. The result might even be the culmination of the two.

    Sue’s lecture would probably have been the first time that their opinions have seriously been confronted. Cognitive dissonance ensues and all the reactionary coping mechanisms follow. Many of these kids wouldn’t know what cognitive dissonance is let alone how to deal with it in an academic institute. Added to this is the spiritedness of youth and I am surprise Sue was not shouted out of the lecture hall. These coping skills come during your first year at university as you are eased into it.

    Perhaps, like others have mentioned above, the lecturer could have taken a more tactical approach to educating people on memes, thus planting the seed for critical thinking and offering the audience the chance to self evaluate in their own time.

    Might I also suggest that Sue may have been suffering from some of the same cognitive dissonance that her audience was suffering when her lecture did not go quite as planned.

    Another commenter pointed out that many of us atheists have sat patiently through religious events without walking out or getting angry. I would imagine our behaviour is as much of a result of our religious deprogramming and/or fear of consequences that allows us to sit patiently through these events. A lecture holds no such fear and those not accustomed to university life will not treat it with the same respect as their places of worship.

    Sue also missed out on a chance to highlight the power of memes by seeing a powerful one occur in her own lecture, the walk out (I am reminded of the symbolism of shoe throwing in the Middle East).

    Finally, I think this would have been a more successful lecture had it been given to students at the end of their first year at university. They have had at least some of the training on critical thinking and have learned some techniques on how quell their cognitive dissonance and turn it towards enquiry.

    It is a good message to educators to look at their audience demographic empirically and educate accordingly.

  83. I would expect this from people in the U.S., but in the U.K., and Oxford!?! Unreal! The U.K. has some of the lowest rates of religious people in the world. I always thought they led the way in the advancement of science and free-thought. This is rather disturbing!

    • It is not disturbing when you consider the lecturer’s approach. It is almost as if she planned to make some people walk out by demonstrating at the start that the lecture would be a rant and not about the transmission of any useful or trustworthy information.

      • Peter Aug 22, 2014 at 10:42 am

        It is not disturbing when you consider the lecturer’s approach. It is almost as if she planned to make some people walk out by demonstrating at the start that the lecture would be a rant and not about the transmission of any useful or trustworthy information.

        Memetics is about the transmission of cultural behaviours, views, and information – trustworthy or otherwise.
        It unfortunate when some prospective university students are too narrow minded and immature to even listen differing cultural views as explained in courses they are contemplating studying.

  84. I’m a Christian and I take no issue with your stance on religion and open criticism of it. I just can’t believe that you’re actually shocked (and apparently despondent) over people’s reactions. People generally don’t respond well to mockery of any form, not just when religion is the target.

    I know you’re a smart woman who could’ve intelligently torn apart specific religious doctrines and made a lasting impression, but you instead told a room full of awkward teenagers that they look silly when they pray.

  85. “You are offending us. We will not listen,’ and they left. ”

    Closed minds are small minds.

    Enraging how it never occurs to these types that their religious dogma and it’s effects on ALL of society are offensive…they do not care for anything other than their own beliefs, they do not listen to any other perspectives other than what they have been indoctrinated with.

    Thankfully, their numbers are dwindling daily, thanks to the information that is available on the internet, but it is disheartening to learn that these small minded sorts actually exist within an institution of higher learning such as Oxford…

  86. This is my opinion:
    1. Prof Blackmore presentation was about memes, not about religions. If she wanted to talk about religions, then she could have announced that topic instead (and use a different, less offensive approach) and she may have had different attendees and may or may not have been invited to speak (I am not sure what was the background of this particular presentation, and I’m not saying you can’t talk about religions or the lack of them, just that you wouldn’t talk about industrial chicken farms in a vegan/organic conference…)
    2. Being religious doesn’t equal (automatically) being ignorant as being atheist doesn’t equal being well informed and able of critical thinking. There are both very bright and well informed religious people as well as very ignorant and non-educated atheists.
    3. There are many religious as well as non religious and atheist people who are not only intelligent and well informed, but also very caring, ethical, open minded and active about other things in this world that matter much more than whether we are (or not) religious, atheists or believers, for example, things that are already putting not only humans but every specie in danger or stress by abuse of finite resources and the resulting climate change.
    4. There are (unfortunately) many others, both religious/believers and atheists that carry very destructive and unethical lives or that hurt or ever kill others in the name of their religion, beliefs or the lack of them.
    5. One of our problems as a society and as educators is how to change minds so they become true critical thinkers, and not only that, but also systems thinkers who can clearly see the connections between elements inside and outside systems and how each behaviour and choice affects others. More than critical and system thinkers, we also need ethical thinkers: people able to make from everyday to big decisions considering the impacts to local communities and around the world, considering also the impacts on future generations…however, we have unsuccessfully tried to change those minds by bombarding them with facts or mocking them. As a result, we have more engineers and scientists than ever…who happen to behave as if climate change (the worst threat to our societies and supporting ecosystems) is not real…or doctors who happen to ignore the fact that their patients are getting sick from all the garbage we are adding to food, water, soil, air, etc., and so on…
    6. The problem, Prof Blackmore, is that we can’t change mentalities, beliefs or behaviours with facts nor attacking or mocking people…they were created through emotions and they have a reason to be: the same reason 90% of us persist on living in denial of the mess we have supported all these decades, denial that we are all going to have a really ugly future and much more our children…I wonder what’s more important right now: to make sure everybody challenges their own beliefs or to make sure everyone acts as part of a coordinated system to create a better and more ethical and responsible future for all?
    7. If the above presentation was in fact about religions as memes, I would have been more compassionate and open minded (or open hearted?) and use questions (without unnecessarily offending or attacking) to put them to think: more than factual questions (remember, religions and beliefs are emotional) I would have asked more emotional questions: tell me why an all-loving and all-powerful god would allow babies to be raped? Tell me why a superior god would allow any horror to happen to anybody, especially those who cannot be seen as guilty of anything yet? Tell me what is the purpose of that all-powerful god to be so mean with his children? If god is the last answer to all questions, what was before him? Why was the world created? Why do we have to obey and live according to certain rules and no others? Where are the ethics behind those rules? What is the actual purpose of bending, praying, fasting, covering certain parts of our bodies and no others? Why is that this particular god (or gods) seem to like, rule and protect some people and no others? Why is a god better than the god of your neighbours? And I could continue on and on…debating with something that has a reason to be there (emotional reason) needs to come from the same place: touch their souls (no pun intended) showing care, compassion and true ethics and you will be able to discuss almost anything…

    • SeattlePoppy Aug 19, 2014 at 10:41 pm

      Might someone direct me to an explanation of the leech/fetus remark?

      It is some strange creationist ignorant claim that this somehow proves evolution wrong.

      @Opening Paragraph – Outside, some young Muslims were waiting for me. I was angrily told that I’d made them feel ignorant. They asked whether I’ve read the Koran – at least I could say that I’ve read an English translation (of the whole horrible book). I was asked whether a leech looks like an embryo. (What ???) ‘A little bit,’ I agreed, ‘and there are good biological reasons why animal shapes are … ‘There you are then, that’s why I believe the Koran is the word of God.

      The assertive arrogant ignorant being angry about their erroneous ignorance being exposed! – Nothing new there!

  87. I’m not going to tell you how to do your job, Ms Blackmore, but if people’s education is your primary focus, then your method might be… misguided. You must first build a bridge between you and your audience before trying to bring them on “your side” of reality. In order to do so, you must first understand their reality, their dramas and their upbringing. Most of these people have been raised in a specific way (some in an authoritarian manner) that has literally shaped their characters. 20-60 minutes of fun and games won’t turn a “reality” built in 8-10 years, a reality that has you, the science educator, as an enemy. You must first make them acknowledge that you are not the enemy, but their friend.
    Anyway, I’m sure you already know this…

  88. Telling people they are stupid for believing stupid things is not an effective teaching approach, regardless of how stupid or smart they are. If reason were more effective than emotion, we’d have transcended scenes like the one described here, but because emotion is more powerful than reason, one has to consider the emotional impact of one’s statements as well as their rational strength. Expressing contempt for another person’s beliefs is sure to sabotage one’s efforts to persuade others. Sue should work on her bedside manner if she wants to convince people who don’t already agree with her to change their minds. And besides, how can any human be absolutely sure of any belief. We aren’t that intelligent.

    • Peer Aug 19, 2014 at 10:43 pm

      Telling people they are stupid for believing stupid things is not an effective teaching approach, regardless of how stupid or smart they are.

      This assumes that lecturers speaking to large audiences, are going to pander to ignorant reactionary minorities.

      If reason were more effective than emotion, we’d have transcended scenes like the one described here, but because emotion is more powerful than reason, one has to consider the emotional impact of one’s statements as well as their rational strength. Expressing contempt for another person’s beliefs is sure to sabotage one’s efforts to persuade others.

      No!
      It is only going to fail to persuade the dogmatic ignorant, who were not open to persuasion by evidence or reasoning anyway.
      It probably will persuade the majority of the audience who have come to the lecture to learn by exercising their reasoning abilities.

      As with university lectures on evolutionary biology, lecturers do not fudge the facts because some minority of ignorant Young Earth Creationists have turned up to choose to be offended! The lectures cover the mainstream educational syllabus based on scientific evidence, and the ignorant minority, can either go to remedial lessons to learn the basics, or fail the course.

      Those with primitive closed minds, will be incapable of learning, so will be wasting everyone’s time.
      Universities are about maximising the potential of those WHO ARE CAPABLE AND WILLING TO LEARN, not about scraping the barrel to admit the disruptive ineducable!

      Perhaps what is most notably missing from this thread, is what the students who remained in the lecture theatre to the end, learned from witnessing these events!

    • …but because emotion is more powerful than reason, one has to consider the emotional impact of one’s statements as well as their rational strength. Expressing contempt for another person’s beliefs is sure to sabotage one’s efforts to persuade others. Sue should work on her bedside manner if she wants to convince people who don’t already agree with her to change their minds. And besides, how can any human be absolutely sure of any belief. We aren’t that intelligent.

      Hi Peer,

      I think you are making a couple of assumptions about her role. Her role as expert in a field (and I’m agnostic in this case as too how well the actual case has been made for memes – that is she could be an expert and completely wrong for all it matters here) and a visiting lecture is to give a lecture on the topic at hand and to try to make it clear how this works within the context of the subject. In the case of memes – cultural transfer of information and judging which memes are likely to survive and why I would argue that not using religion as a striking example would be bizarre. Being challenged is part of what makes University a powerful learning experience.

      I had at Uni many lectures who taught me things I was not at all comfortable with, I had to challenge my biases, now is many cases I still think I was right and they were wrong for example I was doing education some lectures where still wedded to tabular rasa – blank slate I still think that was ridiculous to push this exclusively and not at least acknowledge some nature, genes etc. at play here, but having them push their point of view at me forced me to back up my own assumptions with knowledge – and that was the whole point.

      Part of an healthy university experience IMO is to have all your buttons pushed and your views challenged both by lectures and peers alike. Why are there so many people concerned about offence being caused? The real concern is a culture where we are afraid to cause offence. A lectures job is not to try to convince it is to clearly explain and communicate the information, it is the job of the student to decide which path to follow or which information to believe. And you can’t do that standing outside a lecture theatre.

      I think many on this site being in love with science as we are, are used to dealing with issues that are based on as near as we can get to fact say-evolution. But having studied education at University I can tell you there was a great many lectures and fields of study that are far from settled, almost all in fact education had miles of contradictory research in almost every area and being essentially about human nature and the brain is not well understood. However we have to decide how to go out and teach, so you are presented with many contradictory models rather than being told this is how you do it. All they can appropriately do is give you exposure to different models of behaviour management for example or learning styles, present you with what data may exist and have you argue, research, bicker, research some more and hopefully come to some conclusion based upon whatever data you can get.

      If a student is not prepared to have their beliefs challenged then a) they need to take on a trade in which their qualifications do not require them to think or challenge themselves b) we as a society should not trust them to work in fields where they have to make any sort of judgement. In short if a university course at sometime does not offend you -It is not doing its job. If you as a student are never offended at university you are either going to a crap university or IMO you don’t care sufficiently about the topic. Just my opinion mind but there you go.

  89. The result of this lecture is unsurprising. In the mind I believe religious belief is always seated below the rational faculty we all possess (I hope). When one points at the sacred irrational things believers hold dear, the rational mind simply cannot square the irrational belief in the face of rational analysis and evidence.

    So… the mind has to reject one and for many believers they must reject the rational for rational reasons. Their families and communities tend ot be defined by their communal affirmation of a faith… not even that they be practicing but that they simply are . To accept rational analysis of their faith(s) would be to irrationally discard the solidarity with their community and all its benefits to satisfy a personal inborn need to understand the world.

    Weighing the benefits, I cannot blame them for following their community. Until the rational community is more widespread and easier to access outside of university or intellectual settings I cannot see believer’s letting go.

    Now their “moderate” community leaders that show no qualms about compromising their faith to remain relevant or using the fruits of rationalism to proselytize such as TV, internet, ect. should be held accountable by the rational world in every place where faith and rationalism meet; every debate, every protest, every time. The “hardliners” are the true faithful, the ones that blow up other faith’s churches, that kill the children of their enemies. Not many would be faithless or without a chosen religion and join a group killing children. Far easier to prop up “good” bits and bring them in in droves then the hardliners can select the most gullible to blow themselves up.

  90. Like I say to all atheists I meet.

    If you have a problem with religions, go and debate your case with the heads of that religion, not their followers.

    Atheists love to attack easy targets without thinking about the psychological implications their comments/attitudes have on the ones being attacked.

    Therefore, arrange an interview with those that wield their influence over the masses and not the followers…see how far you get that way.

    In my opinion, Sue is lucky she only had students walk out on her lecture. It could have been a lot worse for her. As an educated person, she definitely needs some classroom management skills and to choose her words carefully in future.