Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams did what he does best when he met Richard Dawkins Clarendon House at Oxford University for a debate about the existence of God that turned into a discussion about the efficacy of belief in God.
No sparks flew and the discussion never got very heated but it was instructive, particularly to those who assume that Christians must take the Bible literally and will fight to the death over the idea that God created in the world in six 24 hour days. What may surprise some people–but not most Anglicans–is not how much they differed but how much the two men shared. In short, if you were looking for a science-verus-faith contest, you came to wrong debate because Williams find beauty–and from there God–in the science.
John Bingham at the Telegraph wrote:
For much of the discussion the Archbishop sat quietly listening to Prof Dawkins’s explanations of human evolution.
At one point he told the professor that he was “inspired” by “elegance” of the professor’s explanation for the origins of life – and agreed with much of it.
Prof Dawkins told him: “What I can’t understand is why you can’t see the extraordinary beauty of the idea that life started from nothing – that is such a staggering, elegant, beautiful thing, why would you want to clutter it up with something so messy as a God?”
Dr Williams replied that he “entirely agreed” with the “beauty” of Prof Dawkins’s argument but added: “I’m not talking about God as an extra who you shoehorn on to that.”
The other surprise, at least to Bingham and to those who assume that all atheists are as rigid, literalistic and fundementalist as any theist is that Dawkins could not, when questioned, rule out entirely the existence of God. If he can’t prove that God exists, he also cannot prove that God doesn’t exist.
There was surprise when Prof Dawkins acknowledged that he was less than 100 per cent certain of his conviction that there is no creator.
The philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny, who chaired the discussion, interjected: “Why don’t you call yourself an agnostic?” Prof Dawkins answered that he did.
An incredulous Sir Anthony replied: “You are described as the world’s most famous atheist.”
Prof Dawkins said that he was “6.9 out of seven” sure of his beliefs.
“I think the probability of a supernatural creator existing is very very low,” he added.
The consensus was Williams won the debate on points. As with his conversation with Giles Frasier last week, we find that Dawkins, while eloquent is strongest when it comes to the science and Williams on philosophy and theology.