Saturday, 12 May 2007

mate vs mate - the sequel

When I posted about Richard Dawkins and Alister McGrath on April 5, I said that "I'm only aware of one occasion when the two have discussed their very different views". But now, the sequel!

I have become aware of another recent discussion at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival on March 26 this year, and available for download as two MP3 files from TimesOnline.

In a moderated discussion that was very much controlled, the two were able to exchange only brief comments. To begin, Dawkins outlined his views that the existence of God is very much a scientific question, that it is highly unlikely that God exists, and that religion has done a lot of harm. McGrath countered with some brief criticisms and a quote from US sceptic Michael Shermer to the effect that for every evil committed by religion there are 10,000 acts of kindness, and that much good is done in the name of religion. Dawkins agreed, surprisingly in light of his previous statements.

The ensuing discussion covered whether religion can answer any questions better than science, where we get our ethics from, reasons for belief, miracles and different religions. I can't say I found it all that enlightening - it was too short - but it was interesting to hear them speak. Dawkins pressed his points more, whereas McGrath tended to speak more generally

Who was the winner? Well it wasn't a debate, but Dawkins came over better - he was polite, more succinct and direct, and mostly knew what he wanted to say. McGrath was also polite, but sometimes wordy and indirect. The format didn't allow many matters to be contested, so Dawkins got away with a common but fallacious definition of faith and some broad, unsupported statements about religion not having any answers. McGrath avoided making such bald statements, but at the cost of taking longer to say less. I still think McGrath is one of Dawkins' most effective critics, but this "debate" did not illustrate that.

Listen for yourself by downloading both MP3 files. But probably reading their comments on the internet will be more informative - e.g. Dawkins and McGrath.

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