Dawkins converses with Archbishop

first_imgProfessor Richard Dawkins and Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams discussed ‘the nature of human beings and the question of their ultimate origin’ in front of a packed Sheldonian theatre on Thursday.Hosted by Sophia Europa, the discussion was chaired by philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny and livestreamed online and in two Oxford lecture theatres. The discussion began with the three figures agreeing mutual belief in truth, logic and science. Kenny then directed the speakers from the origin of humanity to the beginnings of the universe, pushing both sides towards clarity despite claiming to laughs at the beginning that he had been invited as ‘the representative of ignorance.’Although the event had been expected as a clash of two strongly opinionated and opposing figures, in reality they showed far more agreement than difference.Dawkins conceded that self-reflexive consciousness which seems only to be present in humanity was ‘deeply mysterious’, whilst the Archbishop accepted that there had been a gradual evolution of human beings, rather than a sudden incident when the new species was created.Indeed it was left to Dawkins to suggest points where a sudden leap of ‘conscience’ could have been, such as the introduction of language (although both figures did question who the first linguists would have spoken to.)Williams conceded that he was unclear as to the nature of the soul after Dawkins had questioned its existence, stating, ‘A soul is something that does not cease with death, but what it is I have no idea.’ The scientist also questioned the Archbishop on his understanding of the world, asking, ‘Why don’t you see the extraordinary beauty of the idea that we can explain the world from nothing? Why do you want to clutter up your world view with something so messy as a god?’However Williams responded, ‘When I want to solve problems of 21st century science I use the methods of 21st century science. When I want to understand my place in the universe, I reserve the right to go back to Genesis.’ He suggested that the creation narratives were not literal accounts but rather what God had wanted men to know three centuries ago. Meanwhile Dawkins told the audience that he was not an atheist but an agnostic who was dealing with God on the basis of probability.Lincoln student Patrick Reid, who attended the debate, told Cherwell, ‘I think both sides did well but I felt that Dawkins argued his corner more. Williams was a bit more conciliatory, which I found surprising.’Reid added, ‘The topics discussed certainly went over interesting ground, such as the nature of consciousness and the true origin of life. I thought this made it a much more interesting discussion than a simple debate of the existence of God, as some people may have been expecting.’However another student commented, ‘It was interesting that the Archbishop was prepared to give up so much ground, especially suggesting that Genesis was not factually correct. I’m disappointed that Dawkins didn’t push him more on this issue and ask where in the bible was historically reliable.’Theology D.Phil student James Patrick stated, ‘I think Dawkins appealed to ‘science of the gaps’ far too often, that the archbishop ought to have had a better response to suffering, and that Sir Anthony outshone his interlocutors as an honest agnostic in search of evidence.’Dawkins had previously caused controversy the Monday before at an Oxford Think Week event. He described the burqa as a ‘binbag’ and stated that no creationists should be allowed to study at the university, arguing, ‘With such a warped view of the world they are not qualified to be accepted to Oxford at all.’ These comments were challenged by members of the audience, leading to Dawkins retracting his ‘binbag’  joke and emphasising that he did not consider himself as a spokesperson for atheism, as many people considered him to be.Professor Richard Dawkins and Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams discussed ‘the nature of human beings and the question of their ultimate origin’ in front of a packed Sheldonian theatre on Thursday.Hosted by Sophia Europa, the discussion was chaired by philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny and livestreamed online and in two Oxford lecture theatres. The discussion began with the three figures agreeing mutual belief in truth, logic and science. Kenny then directed the speakers from the origin of humanity to the beginnings of the universe, pushing both sides towards clarity despite claiming to laughs at the beginning that he had been invited as ‘the representative of ignorance.’Although the event had been expected as a clash of two strongly opinionated and opposing figures, in reality they showed far more agreement than difference.Dawkins conceded that self-reflexive consciousness which seems only to be present in humanity was ‘deeply mysterious’, whilst the Archbishop accepted that there had been a gradual evolution of human beings, rather than a sudden incident when the new species was created.Indeed it was left to Dawkins to suggest points where a sudden leap of ‘conscience’ could have been, such as the introduction of language (although both figures did question who the first linguists would have spoken to.)Williams conceded that he was unclear as to the nature of the soul after Dawkins had questioned its existence, stating, ‘A soul is something that does not cease with death, but what it is I have no idea.’ The scientist also questioned the Archbishop on his understanding of the world, asking, ‘Why don’t you see the extraordinary beauty of the idea that we can explain the world from nothing? Why do you want to clutter up your world view with something so messy as a god?’ However Williams responded, ‘When I want to solve problems of 21st century science I use the methods of 21st century science. When I want to understand my place in the universe, I reserve the right to go back to Genesis.’ He suggested that the creation narratives were not literal accounts but rather what God had wanted men to know three centuries ago. Meanwhile Dawkins told the audience that he was not an atheist but an agnostic who was dealing with God on the basis of probability.Lincoln student Patrick Reid, who attended the debate, told Cherwell, ‘I think both sides did well but I felt that Dawkins argued his corner more. Williams was a bit more conciliatory, which I found surprising.’Reid added, ‘The topics discussed certainly went over interesting ground, such as the nature of consciousness and the true origin of life. I thought this made it a much more interesting discussion than a simple debate of the existence of God, as some people may have been expecting.’However another student commented, ‘It was interesting that the Archbishop was prepared to give up so much ground, especially suggesting that Genesis was not factually correct. I’m disappointed that Dawkins didn’t push him more on this issue and ask where in the bible was historically reliable.’Theology D.Phil student James Patrick stated, ‘I think Dawkins appealed to ‘science of the gaps’ far too often, that the archbishop ought to have had a better response to suffering, and that Sir Anthony outshone his interlocutors as an honest agnostic in search of evidence.’Dawkins had previously caused controversy the Monday before at an Oxford Think Week event. He described the burqa as a ‘binbag’ and stated that no creationists should be allowed to study at the university, arguing, ‘With such a warped view of the world they are not qualified to be accepted to Oxford at all.’ These comments were challenged by members of the audience, leading to Dawkins retracting his ‘binbag’ joke and emphasising that he did not consider himself as a spokesperson for atheism, as many people considered him to be.last_img read more