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One hundred attend launch of Oxford Cafe

The second Tuesday in November 2000 was an auspicious day for Oxford science. The town's new Cafe Scientifique was launched in Blackwells Bookshop to an enthusiastic reception, much of which was provoked by the first guest speaker.

This was Professor Richard Dawkins, the current Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. As the hundred-strong audience settled itself onto the chairs and sofas of Blackwells new first-floor cafe, sipping their wine, Dawkins took the floor.

An unassuming figure in a grey t-shirt, Dawkins immediately captivated the listeners as he began to talk about his favourite subject: "Evolution: the greatest show on Earth; the only game in town". It turned out that the t-shirt, featuring the title of his talk in large scrawled letters, had been the inspiration for this title, and he went on to explain why he agreed with its slogan.

Dawkins' brief introductory talk ranged from the breadth of the universe and the concept of "deliberate design" to the behaviour of molecules, skipping en route over birds, flying squirrels, and mice turning into elephants - with a couple of well-chosen smaller specimens courtesy of the University Museum. It was a beautifully-judged overview of how this crucial natural mechanism works, which also laid to rest some of the wilder myths. Then, after a refill of the wine glasses, the questions began, exploring the nature of and evidence for evolution.

A fascinating and absorbing evening had to come to an end by 9 pm, at which point Dawkins spent a while signing books.

The next Cafe Scientifique will be held on Tuesday 12th December at 7 pm, in Blackwells Main Bookshop, Broad Street, Oxford. Professor Susan Greenfield will be the guest speaker, and is combining this with a signing of her recent TV-series book, "The Private Life of the Brain".

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