Sunday, March 18, 2012

Three Degrees of Separation

I became an armchair astronomer last week when I joined the local chapter of the Calgary Astronomy Meetup Group in the hopes of attending a talk called Building Aliens by renowned blogger, scientist, and humanist, Dr. PZ Myers.

In silent tribute to Brian May, I wore my News of the World (i.e., giant killer robot) t-shirt that night and felt at least a momentary kinship with Brian. 

But then I realized that Dr. Myers represents three degrees of separation between me and Dr. May. 

Myers routinely shares a stage with Richard Dawkins — the world’s most famous atheist — as their secular views and pursuit of rational thought have united them in similar causes over the years.

Dawkins and Brian May crossed paths in late June 2011 at the Starmus Festival in Tenerife, Spain. Both were on a panel discussing topics in which they are considered experts. As a biologist, Dawkins looked inward; as an astrophysicist, Brian looked outward.

In his interview with Sophie Shevardnadze at Tenerife during that festival, Brian offered insights into his opinion of the existence of God and religion in general (blog entry here) and how he disagreed with Richard Dawkins on the absolute absence of a higher being. Perhaps that explains why there are no photos of May and Dawkins together at the Starmus Festival! 

So who does one tend to believe in cases like this? Depending on the audience, there are good arguments either way. Brian, who’s own scholarly background gives him an awful lot of credibility in these otherworldly matters as Dawkins, obviously doesn’t share Dawkins’ absolute denial of an all-powerful god. Is the “dreamer” in Brian leaving that door open? Perhaps.

One thing that Myers and May have in common that Dawkins does not is that Brian and PZ each have an asteroid named after them:

153298 Paulmyers is an asteroid discovered on March 29, 2001 by David Healy at Junk Bond Observatory. It is named after biologist and prominent blogger PZ Myers. [1]  
Asteroid 52665 Brianmay was named in his honour on 18 June 2008 on the suggestion of Sir Patrick Moore (probably influenced by the asteroid's provisional designation of 1998 BM30). [2] .




  1. Dawkins doesn't absolutely deny the existence of a deity, does he? In his book I think he said he was 9 on a scale of 1-10. He leaves the door open too, just not as far as May given the complete absence of any evidence.

    Queen were brilliant though, I definitely agree with you there. :-)

  2. Good question, A. My assessment of Dawkins' position on the matter actually came from Brian's own words in his interview with Sophie Shevardnadze at the Starmus Festival. Even if Brian and Richard both left that door open, I still got the sense from Brian's interview that a wedge had been driven between them about something.