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Richard Dawkins vs, Rowan Williams - the debate


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#1 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 04 February 2013 - 06:49 AM

Via Cambridge News:

It was billed as the moral equivalent of an Ali v Foreman title fight. The world’s best known atheist arguing with the man who until a few weeks ago was the Archbishop of Canterbury. Last night, Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, took on Rowan Williams, the new master of Magdalene College, in a debate on religion at the Cambridge Union. And Williams emerged triumphant.
The motion for debate was big enough to attract the very best speakers to the Cambridge Union: Religion has no place in the 21st century.

But the key factor in persuading Professor Richard Dawkins to agree to take part in last night’s setpiece was something else – an admiration for his principal opponent.

“I normally turn down formal debates,” he said. “But the charming Rowan Williams was too good to miss.”

So, how did the debate go? Dawkins lost. Heavily:

The house decided that religion does indeed still have a place in society, with 138 voting for the motion, 324 against and 85 abstentions.

Another report of the debate notes:

I knew that Rowan would trounce Dawkins intellectually in their debate yesterday, but I wasn't sure how clearly the Cambridge Union attendees would recognise this. In the end it wasn't even close: Rowan defeated Dawkins by wit, erudtion, widsom, truth, vastly superior intellect and 324 votes to 136 - a ratio of over 2.3:1. In fact there were also 85 abstentions so the vote was 59% against, 25% for 16% abstain.

Rowan reportedly said "Religion has always been a matter of community building; a matter of building precisely those relations of compassion, fellow feeling and – I dare to use the word – inclusion, which would otherwise be absent from our societies." He agreed that religions deserved to be scrutinised and added, looking at his opponent: "That is why if I say I thank God for Professor Dawkins, you will understand what I do and I don't mean."

The only thing reportedly memorable about Dawkins' speech was a puerile penis joke.

A very distinguished scientist told me that he had been at the last debate and that, in his view "There were some absolute howlers from the Dawkins side."

Those who wish to make their own decision can watch the debate here:



Perhaps Dawkins should stick to his core competency of defending evolutionary biology and leave the philosophy and theology to the grown-ups.

Edited by Ken Gilmore, 07 February 2013 - 05:45 AM.

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

#2 Fortigurn

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Posted 04 February 2013 - 07:36 AM

Perhaps Dawkins should stick to his core competency of defending evolutionary biology and leave the philosophy and theology to the grown-ups.


Indeed. :D

#3 Ivastic

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Posted 04 February 2013 - 04:16 PM

Perhaps Dawkins should stick to his core competency of defending evolutionary biology and leave the philosophy and theology to the grown-ups.


Indeed. :D/>


Amen and Amen! - His lack of understanding of Christianity and his clear "obsession" with trying to lump all Christians into the "Fundamental" basket makes him just look like an incompetent fool. I love watching his documentaries on Evolution, but any time I have seen him debate Religion, Ethics, Philosophy - he just falls in a heap. (Except for against Cardinal George Pell, that was just laughable on pells part)
For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them Ephesian 2:8-10

The purpose of education is not to validate ignorance but to overcome it - Lawrence Krauss

#4 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 05:01 AM

(Except for against Cardinal George Pell, that was just laughable on pells part)

Pell is very much what we could call the low hanging fruit.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

#5 Hudders

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 06:25 AM

(Except for against Cardinal George Pell, that was just laughable on pells part)


Oh boy(s), yes. Dawkins thrashed him in that debate. Pell came across as being very out of touch with the modern world.

#6 Jan

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 07:31 PM

I agree that Rowan Williams is much better in these debates than Richard Dawkins, but the motion/proposition for this particular one was "This house believes religion has no place in the 21st century". The final speaker against was actually an atheist.(Douglas Murray). So it wasn't really a debate about the truth of religion and the result reflects the fact that the majority accepted that religion does have a place in the 21st century, but that is all.

I'm actually not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, if people feel that religion has a place in society even when they don't believe in it, that is good. But on the other hand, truth matters. (Which was actually part of Richard Dawkins' argument!)

What do other people think?

#7 Fortigurn

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 08:04 PM

I agree that Rowan Williams is much better in these debates than Richard Dawkins, but the motion/proposition for this particular one was "This house believes religion has no place in the 21st century". The final speaker against was actually an atheist.(Douglas Murray). So it wasn't really a debate about the truth of religion and the result reflects the fact that the majority accepted that religion does have a place in the 21st century, but that is all.


Yes that's correct, but you can only imagine the atheist reaction if the proposition had carried.

I'm actually not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, if people feel that religion has a place in society even when they don't believe in it, that is good. But on the other hand, truth matters. (Which was actually part of Richard Dawkins' argument!)

What do other people think?


Yes truth matters, and yes the proposition wasn't about the truth of religion. But it was an important response to the atheist claim that religion has no place in society. And that matters for a lot of religious people.

#8 Flappie

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Posted 05 February 2013 - 10:17 PM

From that introduction I expected something very different. It was interesting, but I wouldn't exactly call it "Williams defeating Dawkins", I would wager that Douglas Murray (being the last speaker without any response probably helped) did more to convince the fence sitters than Rowan Williams.

Edited by Flappie, 05 February 2013 - 10:20 PM.

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#9 Fortigurn

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 12:36 AM

From that introduction I expected something very different. It was interesting, but I wouldn't exactly call it "Williams defeating Dawkins", I would wager that Douglas Murray (being the last speaker without any response probably helped) did more to convince the fence sitters than Rowan Williams.


Yes apparently Murray was quite influential on the punters. Any idea what he said?

#10 Jeppo

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 01:39 AM

I agree that Rowan Williams is much better in these debates than Richard Dawkins, but the motion/proposition for this particular one was "This house believes religion has no place in the 21st century". The final speaker against was actually an atheist.(Douglas Murray). So it wasn't really a debate about the truth of religion and the result reflects the fact that the majority accepted that religion does have a place in the 21st century, but that is all.


Yes, the motion was distinctly anti-theist, and I certainly winced at the undertones of Stalinism in the proposition. Not one I'd subscribe to. My own view is that religion deserves to have a place in any society and not just because it's 'useful'. I think it goes deeper than that. As for whether it is true or not, it depends on what kind of truth people are prepared to have their beliefs measured by, and whether or not being able to 'measure' truth carries any value at all.

#11 Flappie

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 05:38 PM


From that introduction I expected something very different. It was interesting, but I wouldn't exactly call it "Williams defeating Dawkins", I would wager that Douglas Murray (being the last speaker without any response probably helped) did more to convince the fence sitters than Rowan Williams.


Yes apparently Murray was quite influential on the punters. Any idea what he said?


He's an atheist who disagrees with many things his side (in the debate that is) were saying, and agrees with many things that Dawkins and co. were saying. Even though he doesn't believe in any of the religions, he does think they have their place in society and that no rational person would say otherwise. According to him, religion is not literally true, but it does carry truth in a way that not many other things are capable of.

One of his main points was that religion offers a place to ask questions, which atheism does not answer in regards to death, tradegy and suffering. Atheism has very little to say to people who are looking for reconciliation, forgiveness or repentance. Even if religion is wrong in its origin, it does address those questions.

Also, churches provide people who having nothing in common outside of their religious beliefs with a form of common humanity which is missing in the modern age, and is community building.

He ended with offering a compromise, that religions give up their ability to dictate the lives of those who do not follow that religion, but that atheists don't dismiss or laugh at as meaningless something that seeks for meaning.
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#12 Fortigurn

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 05:57 PM

He's an atheist who disagrees with many things his side (in the debate that is) were saying, and agrees with many things that Dawkins and co. were saying. Even though he doesn't believe in any of the religions, he does think they have their place in society and that no rational person would say otherwise. According to him, religion is not literally true, but it does carry truth in a way that not many other things are capable of.

One of his main points was that religion offers a place to ask questions, which atheism does not answer in regards to death, tradegy and suffering. Atheism has very little to say to people who are looking for reconciliation, forgiveness or repentance. Even if religion is wrong in its origin, it does address those questions.

Also, churches provide people who having nothing in common outside of their religious beliefs with a form of common humanity which is missing in the modern age, and is community building.

He ended with offering a compromise, that religions give up their ability to dictate the lives of those who do not follow that religion, but that atheists don't dismiss or laugh at as meaningless something that seeks for meaning.


Thanks, sounds a lot like de Botton.

#13 Jan

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 06:15 PM

Thanks, sounds a lot like de Botton.


He was actually quoting de Botton on the point about community. He referred to him as having written a very bad book (Religion for Atheists) with some good points in it.

#14 Fortigurn

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Posted 06 February 2013 - 07:33 PM

He was actually quoting de Botton on the point about community. He referred to him as having written a very bad book (Religion for Atheists) with some good points in it.


:D

#15 Ivastic

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Posted 07 February 2013 - 04:10 AM

Gah, sit down to watch the debate tonight and its gone due to copyright claim by Cambridge.
For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them Ephesian 2:8-10

The purpose of education is not to validate ignorance but to overcome it - Lawrence Krauss

#16 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 07 February 2013 - 05:45 AM

Gah, sit down to watch the debate tonight and its gone due to copyright claim by Cambridge.

It's back again. Watch away.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

#17 Jan

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Posted 07 February 2013 - 09:06 AM

The BBC News Magazine had this article a few days ago: What happens at an atheist church? about an attempt to do what religion does without the actual religion.




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