Christian Long

Richard Dawkins: Growing Up in the Universe

In TED Talks on May 23, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Reflection by KYLE M.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Richard Dawkins:  Growing Up in the Universe

Be it through sheer coincidence or the will of some abstract deity, life often comes full circle in the most splendid ways.

By no intention or design of my own, the first TED video I analyzed turned out to represent the (in my humble opinion, of course) darkest side of one of the people I reserve the utmost respect for in this world: Richard Dawkins.

Though I suspect a die-hard naturalist such as him would frown at me for using such an expression, it would appear to be almost divinely serendipitous that the final presentation I observed would showcase the same man at his absolute finest.

Of course, Dawkins is always in excellent form when discussing science (especially its evolutionary branch, which is thankfully his primary focus here), but what makes this particular speech so special is the immediate target audience is caters to: children.

Dawkins must be commended on two fronts in this regard. For one, the method in which he conducts himself is nothing short of exceptional: namely, he engages with the audience constantly, be it through asking certain individuals to join him on stage, or by asking a question addressed to everyone in the entire room. When dealing with anyone, especially those with the attention span of children, such interaction is fundamental, and anyone whose interest is piqued by public speaking would be wise to take note.

Further, Dawkins is able to bring complex scientific concepts down to a readily digestible level with ease. The beginning of the talk serves as a prime example of this: after being brought to the stage with a rather lengthy introduction (the TED website cleverly set it up so that the video starts two minutes in; a sound decision, no doubt), Dawkins asks his youth-populated audience to bring their hands to their heads. He then proceeds to explain to them how that action is demonstrable of the supreme complexity of their body, as it would be immensely costly for someone to construct a machine with the identical capabilities.

By forcing his viewers to participate (and drawing an analogy to something all children are aware of: technology), I harbor no doubt that Dawkins left a lasting impression in their minds; so much so, in fact, that I’d go so far as to suggest that this video be required viewing for any aspiring science teacher, but that’s a battle for another day.

The actual content that occupies the remainder of Dawkins’ speech is by and large nothing to write home about; to anyone familiar with evolution and its related fields, Dawkins offers nothing that he has not said before. But, again, that I was nonetheless compelled to watch it in its entirety is a testament to Dawkins’ magnificent power as a speaker.

Notice, however, that I said “by and large.” As much as I adore how Dawkins comes across in the presentation, I do hold one qualm with what he often chooses to bring up in the video: his views on religion.

Don’t get me wrong: on the whole, I agree with how Dawkins perceives religious institutions and what their in society is, and I think that science is the closest humans can find to broadening the peephole we refer to as reality. And while I do not see eye to eye with the tone he tends to adopt on the subject, I do encourage Dawkins to make his views known to the world.

Still, the fact of the matter is that they are HIS views, and there are appropriate and inappropriate times for those to be brought up…and a speech catering to children, I’d surmise, falls into the “inappropriate” category. Actually, it’s almost hypocritical of Dawkins, as he has always been a profound proponent of the notion that children should be taught HOW to think, not what. For him to inject impressionable minds with his subjective stance on the topic dangerously resembles the tactics of the fundamentalists he despises; I’d have much preferred if he simply presented the facts and let his audience process it and draw their own conclusions.

I don’t want such negativity to color the ending of my write-up, so I’ll reiterate: Dawkins is largely magnificent here, and any school would do well to present this video as a lesson to both students and teachers alike; the former could learn from the content, while latter group would benefit from absorbing his presentation skills.

If only Dawkins biases didn’t show through, this would undoubtedly be the best TED talk I’ve ever seen. Alas, such is a useless hypothetical, as they’re still here to a substantial extent. Next time, Mr. Dawkins, keep to the facts, please!

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