The reports of the debate by atheist Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, are long into the "viral" stage. You can read a brief description of the Oxford University debate that took place yesterday here.
I doubt anything new was discovered or achieved at the event. What interests me is how charitable Dawkins was to Williams. Williams, famously, is of the gentle and mild-mannered sort; Dawkins, on the other hand, is much more polemical in his speech and writing. In fact he is a scientific-materialist-positivist which makes it impossible for him to comprehend philosophical or theological language; metaphysics for him is bound by the material (though the idea itself is non-material...oops). Please do not take this as an ad hominem, it simply is the case and the reason why our languages fail to reach each other's ears. I can sing the praises for Williams though, he is able and ready to engage scientific language...as for the Church, now that is a different story. In short, our congregations fail to engage these important issues. As much as Dawkins deserves fault for not understanding theo/philo/etc. the church is at fault for ignoring science!
Back to my main point: this debate represents something better than the engagement of the past-
Check out this clip from a Dawkins documentary where he interviews Williams:
I am not saying that Dawkins is totally rude to Williams, but he seldom lets Williams finish a thought nor does he seem to comprehend what Williams is saying due to, perhaps, intellectual impatience. In the narrative voice-overs and in other places in the documentary, Dawkins is very successful at setting up straw-man arguments...I am glad that the Oxford event was a polite event on both sides, but I'd love to see a real dialogue between these two men. Ongoing and open discussion would be a fruitful affair, I think.
I've even heard that Conor Cunningham finally agreed to his BBC documentary "Did Darwin Kill God" only because of watching the above interview; he thought that Williams was neither heard nor allowed enough time to actually answer questions. I have also been told that Dawkins turned down the opportunity to be interviewed for the Cunningham video, but you can still see Cunningham engage Dawkins thought within his own documentary:
In addition to this documentary, Cunningham has published a very important book on the subject called "Darwin's Pious Idea: Why the Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists both get it Wrong." You can also read my interview with Conor on this blog in the series called "Contemporary Thinkers You Should Read. The interview and documentary present a helpful introduction to his large and important book.
I think I am digressing....the point that I want to high-light today is that yesterday's debate was not so much a debate as it was a conversation. For this, I am thankful. How can we ever get anywhere if we do not actually speak to one another. Too often, public discourse, is defined by stone throwing and talking points. We seem to be too prideful to listen or to scared to change our minds. This is not only a problem for Dawkins or atheists (agnostic actually, he clarified during the course of the debate), but it is a problem for Christians, theologians (Though Williams is quite good at listening), philosophers, politicians etc. Ah, but now I am on a soap box. Bottom Line: the debate represents something far more developed than the documentary interview! And while Cunningham's work is often polemical and filled with humor....it does actually engage, well....everybody! That is a good thing, to be sure.
IDK....just enjoy the links!