So, how did the debate go? Dawkins lost. Heavily:
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.”
Another report of the debate notes:
The house decided that religion does indeed still have a place in society, with 138 voting for the motion, 324 against and 85 abstentions.
Those who wish to make their own decision can watch the debate here:
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."
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.