On 23 Feb there’s going to be a webcast of a debate between Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury:
Dialogue with Archbishop Rowan Williams and Professor Richard Dawkins
Philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny will chair a dialogue between the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and Professor Richard Dawkins on the subject of “The nature of human beings and the question of their ultimate origin.” The event will be held in the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford University, and will be hosted by the Sofia Europa Group of the Theology Faculty.
A webcast of the discussion will be screened live on the homepage of this website http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org on Thursday 23rd February 16:00-17:30, and will also be available after the event.
Sounds a bit like Sonny Liston v. Cassius Clay. I’ll have to get some popcorn.
I suppose that my views on evolution go roughly like this: I completely accept the idea of evolution, and have done so ever since I first heard of it at age 10 (I was born 64 years ago exactly today). It seemed blindingly obvious. However, Darwinism (which I regard as slightly different from the theory of evolution) seems to me to be Darwin’s particular version of the theory, and it’s a rather bloody and brutal version – a veritable “war of nature”, with everything against everything else -. I think this was maybe just Darwin’s dramatisation of the process of evolution, but it seems to have been his lasting legacy, and I personally find it slightly nasty. It’s from Darwin’s “war of nature” that we get the idea of dinosaurs attacking on sight (as in Jurassic Park). Yet Darwinists always venerate Darwin almost as a secular saint or prophet, and regard him as a genius on a par with Newton or Einstein. They won’t hear a word of criticism of him. And Richard Dawkins is a Darwinist of just this sort.
And for Richard Dawkins Darwinism does indeed seem to have become a religion. And this is why he goes round attacking all other religions, and this is what I find slightly nasty about him. For I tend to see religions as being the source of morality and codes of conduct. And I don’t find any moral code at all in Darwinism, apart from a sort of brutal competition. Nor do I know of any set of moral precepts that Richard Dawkins has developed from his Darwinism.
Not everyone agrees with me about this. A lot of people seem to think that morality doesn’t need to be taught, and that “everyone knows” what’s right and what’s wrong, and it’s all perfectly obvious. I wish I could agree, but I can’t. For example, throughout antiquity slavery was accepted as normal, yet nowadays it’s regarded as utterly abhorrent. Somehow or other, what “everybody knows” now isn’t the same as what everybody knew a couple of thousand years ago. The same applies to the status of women, animals, and so on. There are lots of things that were once wrong which have become right. And vice versa.
For example, the smoking ban has always seemed to me to be profoundly morally repugnant (and also unforgivable) for a whole raft of reasons. But other people clearly disagree, and have no qualms at all about, say, evicting 97-year-old smokers from their homes. This is another example of what “everybody knows” varying from one person to another, and from one time to the next.
Some people might say that we don’t need “religion” as such for moral education. But what other sources are there? It’s true that there have been a variety of moral teachings arising from secular sources – e.g. Utilitarianism -, but none of them seem to have achieved the universality of Christian ethical teachings. It’s not that I don’t think that a rational ethical code cannot be constructed: it’s just that I don’t think we’ve got one yet.
Richard Dawkins was raised as an Anglican, and was no doubt imbued with the Anglican variant of Christian morality (as was Darwin before him), and probably retains that set of values to this day. But when fewer and fewer people are raised in such a Christian tradition in our increasingly post-Christian world, who is to know what their ideas of right and wrong will be, or whether they will agree with anybody else’s?
It’s for this reason that I’ll be supporting the Archbishop on Thursday, and hoping he lands a knockout punch in round one. But I suspect it’s more likely to go the other way, and Richard Dawkins will continue the gradual demolition of Christian civilisation, while having absolutely nothing to replace it with. Which strikes me as sheer vandalism, and rather like demolishing Canterbury Cathedral and building a multi-storey car park over it – except far worse.
Christianity provided a shared culture and set of values. When it’s gone, we will no longer have a shared culture or a shared set of values. Because we have nothing to put in its place. All we have are a variety of rival cults – Environmentalism is just one example, Healthism another – being advanced by ferocious zealots. I often think that rising Muslim fundamentalism simply mirrors growing zealotry in the Western world, and our zealots breed their zealots.
I hope that in their debate they’ll raise one or two of the issues I’ve just raised, but I don’t expect they will.
Postscript: Richard Dawkins was on his best behaviour, and there were no fireworks. They just gently kicked around a few ideas about consciousness and stuff.