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Thursday, February 24, 2005
Peter Cuthbertson 1 Jehovah's Witnesses 0

I woke up on Monday at about 3pm, showered, dressed and went to a departmental colloquium on my campus, returned home and wasn't tired until about 7.30 Tuesday morning, when I went to bed.

I got up half an hour later for a day of lectures beginning at 9am, napped from 6.30pm to 7.20, and went to bed properly that evening at 9.30. I soon woke up Wednesday morning at 2.30am, had some supper/breakfast, then arrived very early on campus to finish off one short report and write another on Development, for the MEP I work for, and email them to him (I'd left the first on the campus network). I did this, went home for some lunch, then got the 1307 train from Wivenhoe to London Liverpool Street, napping for twenty minutes on the way. I did some shopping in the excellent bookshops around Tottenham Court Road and Leicester Square (in one of which I saw the great Simon Heffer, by the way), then went to the aforementioned MEP's London office to chat with some staff about the general election.

I arrived late to the event I'd actually gone to London for yesterday: Richard Dawkins addressing the LSE at 6pm on whether evolution is predictable. It was packed, but I waited around for twenty-five minutes and was let in about a third of the way through when someone left, freeing up a seat for me. He spoke well, and with an enthusiasm endearing to anyone with a heart. Dawkins is a real intellectual hero of mine, who has influenced my views on social issues to the core. I regularly recommend his Selfish Gene to people, and once bought a copy for a very religious friend who is training to become a Friar, in the hope of moving him away from Creationism. Knowing Dawkins' retirement to be imminent, I wanted to be able to say I saw him speak while he was still around.

I wasn't disappointed, and I was particularly heartened to hear him strongly urge people to read into "evolutionary psychology and human sociobiology" amongst other sciences that investigate evolution's impact on modern man, when sceptical (or PC) questions about the rights and wrongs of such research were raised by some in the audience.

That said, one thing about the lecture did deflate me: he spoke in an engaging way throughout, but he came alive most of all when he had the opportunity to describe his scheme to relabel athiests 'brights' - adding that he would leave what it meant to be the opposite to the audience's imagination. I deeply appreciate the intellectual value of the sort of militant atheism of which Dawkins is the exemplar, and I'll be very sad when in a few months those who make his case will have to make sure they stay within the bounds of the 'incitement to religious hatred' laws. But there was something tangibly cruel about those few minutes, and it did confirm for me what I suppose his career has long suggested: at heart, for all his brilliance as a populariser of evolution, Dawkins is happiest of all when explaining how those religious folk are really rather dim.

I got back from London just before 11.30pm and was in bed three hours later. I'd slept another twenty minutes at most on the way back.

Why such a data-heavy prelude to a post about a Richard Dawkins lecture? Well, the eagle-eyed will have noticed I got less than eight hours of sleep in that sixty hour period, and something had to give.

It did. I was woken up by the doorbell this morning not long after half past nine, and still thoroughly shattered. I appeared to be the only one in, so I stumbled downstairs to answer it. My eyes wouldn't stay open properly, I was naked but for a short dressing gown, and though I didn't check, by past experience my thick, unbrushed hair was probably a mixture of Medusa and Marge Simpson. Almost the moment I opened the door, it was obvious even given my fatigue that my callers were Jehovah's Witnesses. I tottered back and forth a little, holding the side of the doorway for support, vacantly trying to focus on one or other of them.

And then the wonderful part. After all the times I've struggled in vain to get rid of Jehovah's Witnesses by stressing a pre-existing commitment to another faith, by promising to read the tract they were handing out as soon as they left - by any honest means less rude than simply slamming the front door - this pair looked me up and down, swiftly handed me their leaflet, and couldn't get away fast enough. Success! If you have the same problem, you now know just what you have to do.

I ran back upstairs and slept until 4.10pm.

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