Sir Richard Dawkins, perhaps the world's most famous atheist in addition to one of the leading popularizers of evolutionary thinking, spoke at the University of Oklahoma on March 6, 2009.
Oklahoma is famous for anti-evolution. Indeed, just the day before Dawkins's arrival, a state representative introduced two resolutions condemning the University for inviting Dawkins as a speaker. One might have expected the worst. (Well, not the very worst; security was tight.) But the vast majority of the crowd was openly enthusiastic, and gave him a standing ovation just for walking in. There was only one creationist disruption: a man started yelling (to me, incoherently) during the question-and-answer session, but he left peacefully just before being escorted out. Sir Richard handled it gracefully, saying it was too bad, because he should like to have heard what the man had to say.
Sir Richard did not come to Oklahoma to insult religious people. He addressed a clear and simple topic: how natural selection can produce adaptations that look like deliberate and conscious designs, but are not; and how these adaptations can subsequently be used in ways that were not part of the original adaptation. During his presentation, he did have some scathing things to say about particularly outrageous statements by creationists. But he did not come to try to convert people into being atheists.
I hope both he and the audience were impressed with this aspect of the Oklahoma psyche that is not often seen: an openness to the ideas of others. Indeed, the prevailing sentiment among the attendees, which included faculty and students from several universities as far away as Texas, was a feeling of mental liberation--not from God so much as from oppressive and abusive religious authority that had been used to promote political and financial interests of conservatives.
See photos of the visit of Sir Richard Dawkins to Oklahoma.