PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins in conversation

An event organised by the British Humanist Association with Professors Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers discussing… well, what you’d hope for: science and religion! Excitingly, there was also a protest against the New College of the Humanities, which Dawkins is involved in – you can see a video of the protesters occupying the stage as well as hear about how Richard Dawkins responded on Episode 88 of the Pod Delusion.

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22 thoughts on “PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins in conversation

  1. It seems obvious that the protesters are aggressively against any person/s right to provide a quality product and to charge an appropriate tuition fee. No-one is making it compulsory to attend the NHC and pay the fees. The greater the number of positions taken must therefore mean that the same number of places then become available in the pre-existing institutions. Why is it the responsibility of Grayling, Dawkins and co to provide a free education to all comers. The provision of 1 in 5 places initially then progressing to 1 in 3 students being recipients of support is laudable. Perhaps the protesters have no real understanding of the value of education whilst others are subsidizing it for them. A 50% subsidy from the public purse is obviously not enough for some.

  2. What a facile, flippant comment about the ‘elite podcast site’. Once and for all, THINGS COST MONEY.

  3. I resent that I have to pay so much for a Chelsea season ticket. Why is that only the rich are allowed to go to top-flight football matches but I have to suffer Bristol Rovers? It’s not fair that other people can afford things I can’t.

  4. I would be curious how often the ability to form multi-cellular bodies has evolved. Could we expect anything other than single cells to be found elsewhere in the universe?

  5. James O’Malley probably thought he was being funny, though his snide “elite podcast” remark smacks of naivety and ignorance.

    I’m often amazed by those who get offended when the life they think they deserve isn’t handed to them on a plate. Things like this cost money to set up and run, yet Grayling and Dawkins are being vilified as if they are pocketing every penny of the fee. As if the are no costs involved whatsoever in something like this.

    I want it all, I want it now, I want it for free. Waaaa.

  6. I’ve worked in FE and HE for over 20 years. I have to facepalm at some of the comments – private education is always going to cost; buckingham university has been the small-fry benchmark progenitor of this – But beyond that – why is it wrong to deny an education to the vast majority of young people in the country? To have only the financially well-off afford to pay to have their children get qualifications – as a tutor I have to add, no matter how thick as pigshit they are. I totally agree this protest was ignorant. Its entirely the Tory agenda at the moment to asset strip and education has been it’s first bodyblow to the future of the dismal UK – but as a country – we should be funding education second only to healthcare services as it is so fundamentally important. Just look at the current unelected government – Eton educated – yet utterly incapable of rational, humanitarian behaviour – without vomit-inducing falsehoods oozing from their sphincter/mouths.

  7. People should know their place. Some are just born into it, and some aren’t. That’s the way of the world. Live with it.

  8. Professors Grayling and Dawkins are entirely correct in setting up the proposed university, and the protesters are entirely correct in protesting the situation in the UK – it is unfortunate, counterproductive, and deeply misguided, however, that they are attacking the wrong target. It is like leftists in the U. S. who call President Obama “Bush III” – you may be right, but how wrong can you be?

  9. I hope Professor Dawkins can maintain some healthy skepticism at Tenerife when discussing exobiology with propagandists for the space program like Aldrin and Armstrong, especially in the light of the recent NASA scandal on false claims for arsenic-based life. PZ Meyers, on the other hand was among the first to spot the NASA fraud and also in his comments in this podcast showed a real understanding of the chemical fundamentals which must be applied to understanding exobiology. He pointed out that exobiology will probably be very similar since only the CHNOP element group has the requisite reactivity and stability to make biological molecules. Biochemistry is severely constrained by elementary chemical aspects of electronegativity and electronic bond stability. Another reason it would be similar is that we know that by the process of meteoritic impact Martian rock is found on Earth and so Earth rocks would be similarly distributed in the solar system, and that this rock contains a high density of geobacteria with which the solar system has been showered with for at least the last 3 billions years during which bacteria have populated the earth, and still constitute most of the biomass on the planet. The fact that the universe was already 10 billion years old when the Earth was created and by the first 4 billion years an abundance of the heavier elements (C, O, N) had been created by solar fusion, explosion and redistribution suggests life could have arisen at least 6 billion years earlier. It is often forgotten that 10 billion years ago, when life may have first arose in our galaxy, that the universe was also much smaller due to space-time acceleration, so diffusion of life-carrying particles would be over much smaller distances than now. It is also reasonable to expect that the geochemical conditions for evolution of RNA and protein are far more specific and rare than propagation of even the simplest bacteria, which make it even more likely that life propagated radially from a few scattered “Genesis” planets in the galaxy which then diffused to “Eden” planets. Such genesis planets may have possessed unusual gravitational and geologic compositions that may have been critical for genesis but not at all required for habitation and subsequent biological evolution. So PZ is quite justified in his proposed mockery of the “Star Trek” science fiction which is not at all useful for serious discussion of exobiology.

  10. I was there on the night and still cannot quite get my head around the inanity of the position of the protesters disrupting the meeting. It would seem that they prefer that no new university ever be established in the UK, if that university must fund itself by charging fees to students. Given that the reality of the present state of the economy and the position of ALL three major political parties on requiring student fees, this means that NO new university should ever be established “on principle”. I went up to one of the protesters to argue the point and his reply was that “education doesn’t matter, only the rights of the oppressed does”, and that “my father is a taxi driver”. I told him that my father was a grocery clerk, but I couldn’t see how any of this had any bearing on the matter.
    In the USA outstanding independent universities such as Stanford, Harvard, and Yale fuel the quality of research and progress of the general economy, and through their success in funding arrangements provide many many scholarships to deserving students…. yet it seems for reasons that relate basically to our state of class warfare, there is a strong movement of protest that will do anything to stop this from being the case in Britain.

  11. Education is not like a fast car or a Chelsea season ticket.
    From my basic understanding of free market economics, all consumers benefit from healthy competition. Whether you are rich or poor, if there are several different providers that want your business then in theory the quality is forced up and the price is forced down, and waste is minimised.

    It’s possible that this could happen in education too. But something else is happening in education as well. The consumers are competing against each other for life chances, and the better their education, the better the advantage they have in that competition.

    Now, many feel it should be the goal of a democracy to decrease inequality in a society. Others think that inequality doesn’t matter, as long people from any background have a fair chance at succeeding through ability and hard work. Perhaps some others still are entirely relaxed about the idea that the children of rich parents should have a much better chance of success, and children born poor are likely to stay poor. If you’re in that last group, you should have no problem with private education.

    If you’re in one of the first two groups, then you should have a problem with the idea that wealthy parents can purchase a better education for their children than the poorer parents can for theirs. It means wealth and poverty become entrenched, social mobility is decreased, and society becomes more polarised and less fair. Modern democracies have recognised this problem, and this is why they have socialised education to a greater or lesser extent.

    Grayling’s college will charge more for tuition, and pay more to its tutors, and provide more one-on-one time for its students than most of its competitors. Assuming it is successful, it will draw away talented teachers from state universities, where they are currently teaching able middle class students, and set them to work on wealthy students. End result: rich kids get even more advantages in the competition for life chances.

    Dawkins’ response seemed to be “I think everyone should get this education. But as they aren’t, we should at least let those who have parents who can pay for it do so”. If you’re main concern is excellence in education and academia, that might be a sensible decision. If you’re main concern is minimising injustice in society (which should be a concern of any humanist), then it probably isn’t. If you care about both those things, then the issue becomes complicated…

    I’m not saying education is a zero-sum game. But if economists say that there is a tension between social mobility and driving up the overall quality and cost-effectiveness of education, then it is perfectly legitimate to have a political view about where that balance is to be struck. And that is more of a value judgement than an economic argument.

  12. There really are some self-centered and unthinking individuals who give this page a rather unpleasant whiff.

    The Government is seeking to create an increasingly elitist society in which if your parents don’t have the money then YOU won’t get a decent education. This is pretty stupid, isn’t it? And when Rtambree wrote that people ‘should know their place’ I thought he was joking, and I was waiting for the punchline. Um, what planet are you from Rtambree? The planet BNP, perhaps??

    Yes, things cost money. But children don’t have tens of thousands to spend on their education. They are children. We need to encourage the children who are industrious and interested to learn well so that we all have a decent future. People paid for my education, now I am prepared to pay for the next generation’s education.

    I was teaching at Oxford a few days ago. The caretaker said his daughter was at the Uni there – she got there not because he was rich, but because she worked damned hard. People like her will lose out if we get what some of you want. That is foolish in the extreme.

  13. It seems a shame that on a forum on what should be about the excellent discussion with professor Dawkins and PZ Meyers should become about education costs, but here it goes, what the protesters do not seem to understand is that nothing is ever free their education is paid for by others through taxation often by those much poorer than themselves. The argument that I had a free education and therefore I should be prepared for next generation to have a free education is the case you are being asked to do when you reach a certain level of earnings you will pay for the next generation,the money collected is a tax by any other name, the same as N.I and road tax goes into the tax pot. Call me a cynic but I would be interested to know how many of protesters are in education for the purity of learning and how many are there to get a better job and there noses into the very trough they claim to despise. It strikes me as hypocrisy to complain about bankers etc living of the less well off when they expect their C.V to be financed by the same taxpayer.

  14. Alan Davidson. I think Rtambree was either being ironic or trolling. Not worth getting upset about in either case.

    Cucci, I can certainly understand the complaints of working people who don’t go to university. Through their taxes they subsidise a group of young people who, if they are not middle and upper class when they arrive, probably will be a few years after leaving. For that reason I’ve always been pretty open to the idea of a grad tax to fund universities – and the new loan system is effectively a capped and rather complex form of that. I do think we should be extremely cautious about selectively discouraging kids from poorer backgrounds though.

    But the specific point of the protest was not about the Government’s tuition fees policy. It was about AC Grayling setting up a private university with fees of £18 000, presumably payable up-front, and the potential for such a model of higher education to provide the best education to the rich at the expense of the poor. You don’t address this in your post.

  15. In reply I would not like people to think I am against free higher education I believe in it 100%. I am against the idea that every think in the current garden is rosy, like it or not we already have a higher education elite and the rich do buy the best university education simply look at the number of public school pupils in the Red brick universities. I believe that the problem that AC Grayling has identified is that for various political reasons the teaching of science in the UK is being compromised. Therefore the only answer they can see to continue a purely scientific teaching is to set up this college, and unfortunately this needs independent funding so as in every walk of life [unless the government of all colours is involved] the rich will subsidise the less well off. AC Grayling has stated that one in three places at the start rising to 50% will be bursary places. The effort to raise the standard of science education should be applauded.The protests should be against the waste of money teaching such subjects as David Beckham studies etc for political reasons [hitting the target of percentage of people reaching degree level education], and then hold AC Grayling to account if he does not deliver on his bursary promise.

  16. @Alan Davidson

    Hey Alan.

    I’m not hostile or anything – I’m coming at this from another country, so I’m highly ignorant of what’s going on over in the UK.

    My understanding of the new humanities university is going up in a time when the subsidies for tertiary humanities education is going down – and the fees have to come from *somewhere*.

    My understanding is that there are plans to allow for endowments that will provide for scholarships for skilled students.

    Now: To my naive reading, this looks like it’s a matter of doing the best they can to ensure that quality humanities education persists.

    I’ll grant that I didn’t much like Dawkin’s comparison of being able to afford quality tertiary education to being able to afford a nice car – that was a highly broken analogy to my mind.

    But again: I’m really, really ignorant, and I do consider myself center-left on the political scale.

    So help me out: What is it about my understanding that is wrong, or missing?

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