The drive from Cleveland to Columbus was punctuated frequently by heavy rains, which made the trip something less than enjoyable, though the 120 miles passed without incident. Approaching the Wexner Center, there was a considerable queue of people in front of the building, waiting for the doors to open (it was over an hour to show time). I secured my car in a nearby garage and joined the line, and we chatted a bit before 6 PM arrived and we were admitted to the auditorium. I quickly learned that my sojourn was one of the shorter ones among the attendees. A mustachioed gentleman who had stood behind me had seen this same program in Chicago. Two young men who sat to my left had come from Iowa, and the woman and her party to my right had flown in from Dallas! There could be no doubt that the magnetic pull of the two men who were the foci of the evening had a very long reach indeed.
Finally it was 7 o’clock and the leader of the local Students Secular Alliance stepped to the podium to introduce The Unbelievers. For those of us who have gotten to know Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss through YouTube and other presentations, this film is really nothing new, though there were moments which interested and sometimes fascinated me. Krauss walking to a lecture he was to give to a mostly Muslim group and seeing a clutch of them on the lawn, bending toward Mecca in prayer (“Hmm, that may be my audience!”), Dawkins’ astonished reaction to Cardinal Pell’s assertion that Homo sapiens likely descended from Neanderthals on the television program, Q&A, Krauss’ effusive statement to a radio interviewer that “No one should be intimidated by science!”, a quiet scene in a hotel room where Dawkins is participating in a phone interview, mostly silent, then punctuated by statements like: “That’s the most horrible idea I’ve ever heard!”, these were snippets, fragments of the quest taken on by two very brave and ambitious men.
The high point of the film for me was less the Reason Rally, which still stood a close second, than it was the Global Atheist Convention, a “Celebration of Reason” held in Melbourne, Australia, two years ago this month. The hall was enormous, as were the crowds attending, and the featured guests no less so, from Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Ayaan Hirsi Ali to our friends, Lawrence and Richard. To hear each of them speak, put their ideas in the atmosphere and to feel those in attendance respond, both on the screen and in the hall, there could be no doubt but that We HAVE Something here, something essential, powerful, and important. It’s not very often that this old curmudgeon can say he was moved by something, but in that place and at that time, I was.
Credits roll, Cameron Diaz, Woody Allen, Bill Pullman and Tim Minchen among others give their own take on what atheism means to them, the lights in the theater come up and There They Are.
Immediate, instantaneous standing ovation, accompanied by applause and cheers which should have shook the building. This is the real treat, to see these men we so admire, to talk to them and listen to their answers in a spontaneous environment. A teenage girl from southeast Ohio asks about how to deal with her largely theistic companions. “Start conversations,” offers Krauss. A high school biology teacher faces students who want to talk about Answers in Genesis rather than evolution. “Cut them off,” Dawkins asserts, “They’re wasting your time and that of the rest of the class,” with an addenda from Lawrence that we need to teach science more as a PROCESS than just FACTS. A young woman asks how to deal with depression in the face of the insignificance we represent by comparison with the whole of creation. Krauss initially demurs at the question (“I don’t wanna sound like Dr. Phil!”), but suggests that embracing our own lives and creating our own purpose can be a counteragent to that depression, though clinical depression wants the attention of a specialist.
The last question was good, the last answer even better. A gentleman talked about the future, the possibility of a coming “singularity,” Artificial Intelligence and machines that may be come conscious and evolve past man, and asked Dr. Dawkins for his impressions. Richard acknowledged the possibility of such a development, though he doubts the likelihood of the “singularity” and noted that with current technology, duplicating the human brain, which requires a mere 10 watts to operate, would entail a system which would consume 10 terawatts! Still, one day it might happen, Richard mused, and it may be that humankind would be overrun. And then, perhaps a few thousands of years from now, some cyber-creatures in exploring their history would stumble onto records of a race of odd, “wet” beings who came before them, who supposedly designed and built the precursors which gave rise to them, to which they respond with disgust and dismay:
I didn’t come from THAT!!!