by Lekan Olanrewaju
“I am baffled by the way sophisticated theologians who know Adam and Eve never existed still keep talking about it.” -Professor Richard Dawkins
The Oxford University on Thursday held a debate between the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Professor Richard Dawkins on the subject of evolution.
The first of such debates was the historic one in which Thomas Henry Huxley, a man known as “Darwin’s bulldog”, said he had no shame in having monkeys as ancestors, but that he would be mortified to be associated with a man who used his intellectual powers for sophistry. This was in response to the Bishop of Winchester, Samuel Wilberforce, famously enquiring of the biologist whether it was through his grandmother or his grandfather that he traced his descent from a monkey.
The debate held Thursday saw the Archbishop confessing his belief in evolution, and agreeing with Dawkins that humans shared non-human ancestors. This was almost as shocking as Dawkins confessing that he was not an atheist, but rather agnostic, although he rated himself a 6.9 on what he called an “atheism scale” of one to seven.
Most notably, rather than arguing, Dawkins and Williams seemed intent on finding areas of agreement. It was less a debate, and both parties set aside lecterns, raised voices and slammed fists in favour of comfortable chairs and sipped water. They did, eventually, come to inevitable sparring, albeit gentle, over the origins of the universe. “The writers of the Bible, inspired as I believe they were, were not inspired to do 21st-century physics; they were inspired to pass on to their readers what God wanted them to know” Williams said. “In the first book of the Bible is the basic information – the universe depends on God, humanity has a very distinctive role in that universe, and humanity has made rather a mess of it.”
“I am baffled,” responded Dawkins, “by the way sophisticated theologians who know Adam and Eve never existed still keep talking about it.” God, he said, “cluttered up” his scientific worldview. “I don’t see clutter coming into it,” Williams replied. “I’m not thinking of God as an extra who has to be shoehorned into it.”
This debate joins several of such sparrings between people who share different views on matters such as Theology and Evolution including that between Martin Luther and Pope Leo X where Pope Leo’s offer of indulgences to those who rebuilt St Peter’s Basilica in Rome was seen as bargaining for salvation by Luther, whose refusal to withdraw his critical writings led to his excommunication in 1521, as well as Elizabeth Anscombe, who presented a paper disputing CS Lewis‘s writings on Christian theology in 1948, which reportedly left the Chronicles of Narnia author so humiliated that he instead turned to the more light-hearted world of children’s writing.