Saturday, December 27, 2008

 

The Dawkins-Lennox debate in Oxford

Melanie Philips reports on the Dawkins-Lennox debate in Oxford this fall. (see this BBC article too)

On Tuesday evening I attended the debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox at Oxford’s Natural History Museum. This was the second public encounter between the two men, but it turned out to be very different from the first. Lennox is the Oxford mathematics professor whose book, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? is to my mind an excoriating demolition of Dawkins’s overreach from biology into religion as expressed in his book The God Delusion -- all the more devastating because Lennox attacks him on the basis of science itself. In the first debate, which can be seen on video on this website, Dawkins was badly caught off-balance by Lennox’s argument precisely because, possibly for the first time, he was being challenged on his own chosen scientific ground.

This week’s debate, however, was different because from the off Dawkins moved it onto safer territory– and at the very beginning made a most startling admission. He said:

A serious case could be made for a deistic God.

Anthony Flew, the celebrated philosopher and former high priest of atheism, spectacularly changed his mind and concluded -- as set out in his book There Is A God -- that life had indeed been created by a governing and purposeful intelligence, a change of mind that occurred because he followed where the scientific evidence led him. The conversion of Flew, whose book contains a cutting critique of Dawkins’s thinking, has been dismissed with unbridled scorn by Dawkins – who now says there is a serious case for the position that Flew now adopts!...

Even more jaw-droppingly, Dawkins told me that, rather than believing in God, he was more receptive to the theory that life on earth had indeed been created by a governing intelligence – but one which had resided on another planet. ...

... In the debate, under pressure from Lennox Dawkins was actually forced to retract his previous claim that Jesus had probably ‘never existed’. And in a revealing aside, when Lennox remarked that the Natural History Museum in which they were debating – in front of dinosaur skeletons -- had been founded for the glory of God, Dawkins scoffed that of course this was absolutely untrue.

But it was true. Construction of the museum was instigated between 1855 and 1860 by the Regius Professor of Medicine, Sir Henry Acland. According to Keith Thomson of the Sigma XI Scientific Research Society, the funds for the project came from the surplus in the University Press’s Bible account as this was deemed only appropriate for a building dedicated to science as a glorification of God’s works. Giving his reasons for building the museum, Acland himself said that it would provide the opportunity to obtain the

... knowledge of the great material design of which the Supreme Master-Worker has made us a constituent part... By the aid of physiological illustrations he begins to understand how hard to unravel are the complex mechanisms and prescient intentions of the Maker of all; and he slowly learns to appreciate what exquisite care is needed for discovering the real action of even an apparently comprehended machine.

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