High noon in Oxford: Richard Dawkins vs Archbishop Rowan Williams
In the blue corner, the leader of the Church of England. In the red corner, the world’s most prominent critic of religion.
It was the intellectual version of a world heavyweight title fight when Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams faced evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” on Thursday in a debate on the nature and ultimate origins of human beings.
Genetic pre-determination and the nature of consciousness were just some of the issues touched upon during an hour and a half of erudite jousting in the university town of Oxford.
The scholarly showdown came at a time of fierce controversy on the role of religion in Britain. Christian leaders and government ministers have been denouncing “aggressive secularism” since a February 10 court ruling that formal prayers at council meetings in a small English town were unlawful.
So the time was ripe for champions of the religious and secular camps to step into the ring – or in this case, the Sheldonian Theatre, a distinctive 17th century building where Oxford’s venerable university holds graduation ceremonies.
Despite their differences, the debate was courteous and calm. Dawkins admitted to being a “cultural Anglican” and Williams praised the scientist’s writing and noted he had once quoted him in a Christmas sermon.