This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins takes on the ex-bishop

Reposted from:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2009/feb/13/dawkins-harries-debate

Battle of the Oxford heavyweights over evolution turns into a bit of a love-up. Adam Rutherford keeps score

It's not often you see two heavyweights limbering up for a prize fight among the dinosaurs of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Even rarer when the warm-up is set to the strains of Haydn.

Last night Richard Dawkins and Lord Harries of Pentregarth (formerly Bishop of Oxford) did just that. They revisited the great evolution debate between Thomas Huxley (who was representing a poorly Darwin) and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce in the same location in 1860. Both claimed victory, though the consensus is that Huxley won on points.

Huxley was known as Darwin's Bulldog, due, I presume, to his pugnacious defence of Darwin, rather than his pug-like appearance. Wilberforce fiercely opposed the science of evolution, and in the debate slung mud, asking if Huxley's ape ancestors were on his mother or father's side. Huxley cut back saying that he'd rather claim kindred with an ape than with a man who made such poor use of his intellect.

There was no such vitriol last night. Dawkins is more like Darwin's border collie: patient, intelligent and forcefully industrious. The discussion centred not on Darwin or evolution, but on unanswerable questions of religion. That was disappointing because what is really important about Darwin is that he gave us a watertight theory of evolution, and that idea is what we should celebrate. It took a member of the audience to remind the panel of that. Dawkins is now better known for being an atheist than for his outstanding record as an evolutionary biologist and a science communicator.

Dawkins refuses to engage with the creationists who cause those of a more rational disposition such ire. He's wisely following the maxim that suggests you should never argue with an idiot: the best possible outcome is that you win an argument with an idiot. Instead, in the debate, he conversed jovially with someone who agrees with him on every point about evolution. The referee, Jeremy Paxman, tried to inject some controversy into proceedings but soon gave up as the atmosphere remained congenial.

Harries is about as liberal as ex-bishops get, and an epochal distance from the biblical literalists with whom he shares a deity. And this was highlighted as a problem. Harries' views are aligned with Dawkins about the truth of evolution, but out of touch with a large proportion of his flock. It is not clear how Harries or the church plans to deal with that.

Before the big fight, Harries had tried to up the stakes with a little trash talking in the press, but it wasn't convincing. In fact, together they sound like two old pals having a warm ding-dong over a pint. As a result, it was a thoroughly pleasant evening of gentle sparring. Although science didn't feature much, the tone was much more in line with Darwin's humble disposition, and a far cry from the irritable mudslinging that so often characterises the clash of evolution and religion. For the record, Dawkins won. On points.

TAGGED: EVOLUTION, REVIEWS, RICHARD DAWKINS


RELATED CONTENT

Does this set a record for smug...

Richard Dawkins - RichardDawkins.net Comments

Does this set a record for smug nastiness?

Playboy Interview with Richard Dawkins

Chip Rowe - Playboy Comments

Playboy Interview with Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins gets it right. Sarah...

Eric MacDonald - Choice in Dying Comments

Richard Dawkins gets it right. Sarah Wollaston misunderstands.

[update to a previous article] Richard...

Hamish MacDonnell - The Independent Comments

Some church groups have expressed disappointment at the decision to invite leading atheist Richard Dawkins to speak at an island book festival.

Rats Manipulated to be Attracted to Cats

Richard Dawkins - RichardDawkins.net Comments

Rats Manipulated to be Attracted to Cats

WALK DARWIN’S TREE OF LIFE ~ 25 - 26...

- - Ancestors Trail Walk Comments

WALK DARWIN’S TREE OF LIFE ~ 26 AUGUST 2012 - event begins on Saturday 25 August

MORE

MORE BY ADAM RUTHERFORD

Ending the Wedge

Adam Rutherford - New Humanist Comments

A recognised creationist tactic involves scoring minor victories against the teaching of evolution, and recent controversies over free schools and the Giant’s Causeway suggest it is succeeding in the UK. It’s time the strategy was exposed

Synthetic biology and the rise of the...

Adam Rutherford - The Guardian 17 Comments


Adam Rutherford, left, and Randy Lewis
milk Freckles, the silk-producing goat.
Photograph: BBC

Science, atheism and ironed trousers

Adam Rutherford - guardian.co.uk 11 Comments

A dispensation to cause pain

Adam Rutherford - guardian.co.uk 202 Comments

MORE

Comments

Comment RSS Feed

Please sign in or register to comment