It's been a strange few weeks in New Zealand history. Just when we were starting to process the results of the US elections we were hit with some very nasty earthquakes followed by gale force winds and flooding. And when we were certain that God was against us, the small country was rocked by an even stranger and more disturbing event—the inaugural Atheist Pride March in Dunedin.
Being Dunedin it was, of course, pouring with rain but this didn't stop 50 or so hardy primates from braving the elements to celebrate millions of years of evolution.
The brainchild of Waiheke Island scientist cum artist, Dr Craig Hilton (AKA Sahelanthropus tchadensis) it was more than a joke. Well, it was a very serious joke, and a funny one too.
Sahelanthropus was in Dunedin as part of the Scientific Communicators Association of New Zealand and rather than giving a traditional address at the conference at Otago Museum, he chose to blend religion and science into an almost Dadaist/Darwinian piece of street theatre—with his conference address on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral.
When they reached the Octagon, the march was challenged by an elderly semi-naked man hooting like a silverback and the march responded with a cacophony of loud primate noises. Sahelanthropus delivered a speech praising our ancestors for four million years of mostly successful evolution. Despite the antics during the march and the rather bizarre nature of Sahelanthropu's performance he ended on a sombre note declaring that our species annoying tendency to dominate all other species and habitats means that we may well be looking at a devastating mass-extinction event. Coming from a doctor and a scientist this was disturbing news indeed.