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October 8, 2009 at 9:43 AM

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Famous atheist Richard Dawkins recounts meeting with Susan Hutchison

Posted by Bob Young

Susan Hutchison, candidate for King County executive, and Richard Dawkins, famous atheist, agree about one thing: They had quite a disagreement several years ago at a Windsor Castle dinner.

Hutchison says it was over her mention of Jesus. Dawkins, in Seattle Thursday to promote his new book, insists the "heated argument" was about her support for George Bush.

Dawkins, a leading Darwinist and author of the best-seller "The God Delusion," figured prominently in a Governor's Prayer Breakfast speech in March by Hutchison, about a month before she announced her campaign for the county's top office.

The two met, she recalled, in 2004 at Windsor Castle outside London. The connection: former Microsoft executive Charles Simonyi.

Dawkins, a biologist, was the Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University until he recently retired. Hutchison, former KIRO-TV newscaster, is executive director of the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences.

So, Hutchison and Dawkins were seated next to each other at dinner, and having a lovely conversation. Then, Hutchison recounted at the prayer breakfast last March, she mentioned her faith and Jesus Christ. She said Dawkins became "unglued" and told her she became "so parochial, so base" when she uttered the word "Jesus."

But they eventually patched things up -- after she took his face in her hands and told Dawkins, known as "Darwin's Rottweiler," that the two would get along.

Hutchison went on say that a few years later the two were at Simonyi's wedding and Dawkins sang Amazing Grace -- in a church, every word, loud and clear.

Hutchison's point in telling the story was that God had "done a work" by bringing her and Dawkins together.

But Dawkins has a very different recollection. (First reported by Nina Shapiro at Seattle Weekly.)

"We had a blazing row when I discovered she voted for Bush," he said in an interview Tuesday. "I could not believe anybody I got along with voted for Bush...
In my view her memory is faulty. Somehow she let slip that she voted or supported Bush and my jaw dropped."

Dawkins also said he didn't sing Amazing Grace because he didn't know the words. If he did sing the words, he added, it would say "nothing about God." Dawkins said he sings Christmas carols and hymns when he goes to funerals. "If you're not religious, it's not a problem singing religious music. This means nothing whatever. It is not a work of God. Nothing is a work of God."

How to explain the radically different accounts?

"Memories are faulty. I wouldn't wish to say why two people remember things so different."

In any case, Dawkins said the two made up that night at Windsor Castle and "parted friendly and smiling." He has spent pleasant times with Hutchison, he added, and considers her "very charming."

Hutchison sticks by her story. She says the lyrics to Amazing Grace were written in the wedding program. And she maintains that their spat was over Jesus, not Bush. "I wrote it down afterwards. It's an amazing story and I always go back to my notes. I stand by my words."

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Jim Brunner
Covers politics.

Keith Ervin
Covers the Eastside.

Andrew Garber
Covers politics and state government from Olympia.

Emily Heffter
Covers local government.

Mike Lindblom
Covers transportation.

Kyung Song
Covers politics and regional issues from Washington, D.C.

Lynn Thompson
Covers Seattle City Hall.

Bob Young
Covers King County and urban affairs.