'Religion is redundant and irrelevant': Richard Dawkins takes on ex-Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams in Cambridge debate

 

Prominent atheist professor Richard Dawkins described religion as “redundant and irrelevant” as he took on the former Archbishop of Canterbury in a debate.

Speaking at the Cambridge Union debating society, Prof Dawkins argued that religion hindered scientific endeavour by "peddling false explanations".

Dr Rowan Williams offered a counter-argument, saying that religion undoubtedly had a place in the 21st century and that the issue was not whether it should exist, but what our attitude towards it should be.

He added that modern attitudes towards human rights had their foundations in religious traditions.

The pair were part of a debate last night on the proposition that "religion has no place in the 21st Century", in front of an audience of about 800, who packed the famous 200-year-old university debating club's chambers.

It was religion that turned out to be the winner - at the end of the debate, the house voted to reject the proposition, stating that it did believe religion had a place in the 21st century.

Early in his address, Prof Dawkins made a provocative comparison between Christian and Islamic traditions, describing himself as a "cultural Anglican".

"I'm grateful, by the way, to be a cultural Anglican when you think of the competition," he added.

"If I were a cultural Muslim, I would have something to say about that faith's appalling attitude to women and various other moral points."

Stressing that his central concern was simply whether religion was true, he summed up his argument by describing religion as a "cop-out".

"It is a betrayal of the intellect, a betrayal of all that's best about what makes us human," he said.

"It's a phony substitute for an explanation, which seems to answer the question until you examine it and realise that it does no such thing."

He added that in the scientific world, religion was a "pernicious charlatan".

"It peddles false explanations where real explanations could have been offered, false explanations that get in the way of the enterprise of discovering real explanations," he said.

In his address, Lord Williams said: "Religion has always been a matter of community building, a matter of building relations of compassion, fellow-feeling and, dare I say it, inclusion.

"The notion that religious commitment can be purely a private matter is one that runs against the grain of religious history."

Lord Williams added that respect for human life and equality was inherent in all organised religion.

"The very concept of human rights has profound religious roots," he added.

"The convention of human rights would not be what it is were it not for the history of philosophical religious debate."

Philosopher professor Tariq Ramadan, Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association and Douglas Murray, founder of the Centre for Social Cohesion, also took part.

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat