Tuesday 28 February 2012

Clash of the Titans

Again, this isn't strictly Forensic, but I would say it is broadly Anthropology. Last week, I was lucky enough to attend an Oxford Alumni Dialogue event, between Professor Richard Dawkins and Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. You can see a video of the event here. It was held in the Sheldonian Theatre in Broad Street, which filled me with nostalgia, as the last time I was there, I was dressed in a graduation gown. The theatre was packed with current students and alumni, as well as journalists and reporters desperate for a controversial sound-bite or two.
The dialogue was mediated by Dr Anthony Kenny, an agnostic and philosopher, who was clearly there to keep the peace and prevent metaphorical (or real) fisty-cuffs. Despite this, and the reporters gagging for a story, it was actually a very calm, genteel affair, more suited to a report in The Lady than to a tabloid. Richard and Rowan obviously have a great deal of respect for one another, and are probably good friends. They appeared to have tired of their audiences baying for blood, and offered gentle flattery and the lightest of teasing instead.
To give some structure to the proceedings, their dialogue was centred around four main points: the nature of humanity; the origin of humans as a species; the origin of the Earth; and finally; the ultimate origin of the Universe. Just enough to fill an hour and a half.
Now, I am a dyed-in-the-wool atheist, so I am probably biased, but I was expecting that Richard would be put through his paces, and be asked a difficult question or two; causing him to blush, get frustrated and even raise his voice. But I was disappointed. None of the gentle arguments posed by Rowan or Anthony even got his heart pumping. It wasn't an even match at all. Dawkins dealt with their comments in an indulgent, almost sympathetic way, but wasn't condescending. His convictions were left undisturbed, as were mine. He was as eloquent as ever, although I was a little perturbed by his use of the word 'lucky' to describe the chance happening of the origin of life on this planet, as I would have expected him to use a less value-laden, emotive word. It wasn't luck per se, just something that happened by accident. Other than that, he was brilliant! I'm going back to re-read The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion...

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