Highlands & Islands

Richard Dawkins writes on reaction to Highland visits

Prof Richard Dawkins
Image caption Prof Richard Dawkins said he has great affection for the Highlands

Evolutionary scientist Prof Richard Dawkins said he "marvels" at the "blind panic" his visits to the Highlands seem to cause among some church groups.

Last week, the Lord's Day Observance Society said it was amazed Prof Dawkins had been invited to the belief-themed Faclan Hebridean Book Festival.

A public talk by the scientist in 2008 was criticised by a leading figure in the Free Church of Scotland.

Prof Dawkins said he has great affection for the Highlands.

Writing in the Press and Journal, he said he had been astonished at the reaction to his invitation to November's book festival in Stornoway.

Critics have included LDOS president, John Roberts.

Last week, he said he was amazed Prof Dawkins had been invited to "a place like the Western Isles, which is a stronghold Presbyterian area".

Mr Roberts added that much of what the scientist, a specialist in evolutionary biology, said could be "torn to pieces".

In Tuesday morning's edition of the Press and Journal, Prof Dawkins wrote: "I always marvel when I come up to the Highlands and encounter this kind of sheer, blind panic at the mere thought of my giving a talk.

"The region has a reputation for solid faith, but if that were really so, you might think it would be able to take a simple talk by an evolutionary scientist in its stride.

"I am left wondering how confident Mr Roberts and others really are, either in their own faith or their fellow islanders', if a mere talk at a book festival is enough to provoke so much of their sound and fury."

In 2008, author and pastor David Robertson said he was concerned that an event featuring Prof Dawkins, and hosted by the UHI Millennium Institution, would not be balanced.

Prof Dawkins spoke on the theme of Science and The God Delusion.

UHI - now the University of the Highlands and Islands - said at the time that separate talks would give alternative views to Prof Dawkins'.

The Free Church of Scotland said that following the announcement of the Faclan programme, it invited Prof Dawkins to a public debate during his visit to Lewis.

A spokesman added that no Free Church minister had called for a boycott of the book festival, and the church was disappointed the scientist had not accepted its invitation.

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