It's hard to argue with Richard Dawkins. A zoologist, atheist and Charles Darwin's biggest supporter, he presents and proves controversial concepts with ease, and in such convincing fashion, that it really makes you second-guess the intelligence of his naysayers.
Maybe it's because of that pleasant, "What I say is incontrovertible"-sounding British accent.
Dawkins's opening statement on Tuesday evening in Houston was one similar to one of the final lines of his new book: "The fact of your own existence is the most astonishing fact you'll ever have to confront."
And he continued into his wizardry of understanding human existence in a way most human beings fail to comprehend. Especially 40 percent of Americans, which Dawkins identified and made back-handed comments about throughout the evening.
The 40 percent of Americans to which he referred are the ones who accept the Bible as fact. Whoa, whoa, whoa -- remember the friendly, all-knowing accent!
From what Hair Balls could tell, the sold-out Wortham Center didn't have many, if any, of the 40-percenters in attendance. Or even outside. We expected a few protesters. None. They were probably attending the
Applause and 'uh-huhs' were frequent throughout the evening. When Richard Morton, the president of Progressive Forum Houston, was introducing Dawkins he called his work an "acute attack" on the Texas State Board of Education, based on its attempts to implement curriculum that would undermine the facts of biology and evolution. Applause rung out.
Though most of Dawkins's talk was a chapter-by-chapter pseudo-synopsis of his most recent book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, no one seemed disappointed. Besides, everyone had received a copy upon entrance to the theatre, so it mostly whetted the desire to start reading.
The book title is a clear indication of the substance included, for instance, disarming the notion that gaps in history due to a lack of fossils indicates flaws in truth of evolution.
"Of course there are gaps!" Dawkins said. "We're lucky to have fossils at all."
He continued his humorous swipes at those who question evolution, as it regards Noah's Ark (which supposedly landed in the "Mountains of Ararat," which historians identified as Mount Judi in northwestern Iran) and the appearance of animals in certain parts of the world. Kangaroos in Australia: "Tell me, what route did they take?" Penguins in Antarctica: "That's a long way to waddle."
Near the close of his talk, he offered an apology: "Sorry to take a sledgehammer to so small and fragile a nut." He was speaking of the argument against evolution.
After a brief, informative Q&A with Morton, Dawkins was greeted with a standing ovation by those who remained, which was many. The rest must have stepped out early to get in line to have their book signed.
In the coming months Progressive Forum Houston will host paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey (Oct. 28) and former U.S. Supreme Court judge John Paul Stevens (Nov. 16).