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Williams vs. Dawkins: A Discussion on Evolution, Human Life, and the Universe

A new theological and philosophical video is now available on youtube: the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Richard Dawkins, well-known scientist, writer, and agnostic-atheist.

It's an interesting discussion, moderated by the agnostic philosopher Anthony Kenny (this itself seems appropriate – philosophy moderates between theology and scientism). The discussion revolves more around the nature of the universe and human beings, and the origin of humanity and life, than direct issues around atheism and theism.

A few observations on the conversation:

  • Williams is quite pithy in his speech, especially in comparison to Dawkins (I rather wished Williams had said more, in fact);
  • Dawkins is quite used to straw men, and not to a subtle theological thinker like Williams; he invokes such a straw man at 49:31;
  • The conversation is quite cordial, and there are many points of agreement between the two (in a real sense, Williams can agree with much of Dawkins, but the reverse is not quite true);
  • Some questions, such as suffering, flaws in design, Biblical authority, and original sin, are more difficult for Williams;
  • Other questions are particularly difficult for Dawkins, such as free will, consciousness, the development of language, the development of DNA,
  • Williams is more familiar with Dawkins' writings and world than the reverse, which is a common critique of Dawkins by theologians;
  • They have a rather obvious disagreement over the definition of God, which revolves around God as a "God of the gaps" who is inserted into science and makes things messy (Dawkins), versus a God who undergirds all creation (Williams);

Let's hope such an interesting, cordial, and enlightening discussion can lead to many, many others.

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