home books e-books audio books recent titles with blogs
Rowan Williams and Richard Dawkins at Oxford

Posted on 22 May 2013, 13:10

I have been watching a video of the debate between the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (below) and noted biologist Richard Dawkins at the Sheldonean Theatre, Oxford on February 23, 2012. The topic of the debate was, “On Human Nature and Ultimate Origins.” The moderator was Matthew Kenny. What happened between the two protagonists led me to think how urgent it is that there should be a general understanding of what science actually is, and what it is not.  Despite his own great learning, the Archbishop had little to say to counter the aggressive philosophical materialism of Richard Dawkins. He seemed to defer to him as the expert.


(In writing what follows I am not commenting on whatever Dawkins or Williams have to say about theology, important though this may be, but rather I am discussing their attitudes to scientific endeavour.)

Scientific endeavour is based on the use of a series of investigatory tools that are used by scientists of all nationalities, religions, and philosophical beliefs. Properly used these tools can be used to test theories and establish matters of likely fact, regardless of the beliefs and ethnicity of the scientist. Describe any class of such tools as “Atheist” mathematics, “Presbyterian” Chemistry, or “Chinese” physics, and we see the silliness of describing the collection of the tools called science with any such word.

Richard Dawkins (below) was University of Oxford’s Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008.  As such we would expect him to be aware that in the Western world a large minority of scientists are not philosophical materialists.  We would have expected him to be aware that there are leading Nobel prize-winning QM physicists, who would profoundly disagree with his materialistic interpretation of reality. I am surprised that the Archbishop did not refer to this.


If Dawkins was acting as a responsible scientist, he should have let on that he was aware of the work of these scientists. In not doing so he showed himself to be acting here not as a serious scientist but as a closed minded pseudo-sceptic, even though in his own sphere of biology he has earned considerable respect.

Dawkins is a passionate advocate of a materialist interpretation of reality. Spirituality and religion presuppose a non-materialist interpretation.  Materialism and non-materialism were the whole point of the debate.  So why was Dawkins not challenged to disprove the validity of the theories held in common by a large number of quantum physicists, or at least to provide strong arguments why they were wrong?

Whoever challenges Dawkins on this issue does not need advanced scientific education: it is up to biologist Dawkins to present a reasonable case for the wrongness of the physical theories of these Nobel Prize winners.

If he had been challenged, neither Richard Dawkins nor Rowan Williams might have won the debate in the 90 minutes allowed, but at least viewers around the world would have had a clearer idea of the actual issue at stake, materialism versus non-materialism, instead of viewing a closed-minded sceptic poking fun at Bible stories.

The Archbishop did not have to be an expert scientist to know that scientists frequently disagree with each other. I believe biologist Dawkins should have been asked to defend his materialist standpoint against the non-materialist views of such pivotal thinkers as the quantum physicists Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, David Bohm, and Brian Josephson. (below)


The moderator, Anthony Kenny asked the protagonists whether they “believed in science”, “believed in the importance of logic” and that “the laws of physics are never disobeyed.” Dawkins and Williams both agreed that they did in all cases. Dawkins said that he liked the first lines of a certain hymn, “It is a thing most wonderful, Almost too wonderful to be.” But he introduced his own words to follow: “that the laws of physics through the process of evolution produced us.”

Do biologist Dawkins and theologian Williams know what these supposed laws are? Do those QM physicists that Dawkins presumably disagrees with, not understand these laws when they theorise about consciousness, write learned books on extra-sensory perception, telepathy, clairvoyance, synchronicity, and even afterlife? CERN physicist John Bell has his Theorem, which at root denies local causation. There is also the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen experiment that inadvertently demonstrated action at a distance. While neither Bell’s Theorem nor the EPR effect confirm the reality of the paranormal, they do rule out simplistic interpretations of laws of physics.

As for believing in Science! Do I believe in the library of the British Museum? Science is much of everything: the varying scientific disciplines have of course immeasurably enlarged humanity’s understanding of the world, and of the universe. But scientific activities are always work in progress, with much infighting amongst scientists, usually jostling for research funds from commercial sponsors. One cannot believe in Science in the way suggested by the moderator. What he seems to be inviting us to believe in is Scientism.

Similarly in the case of believing in logic: being logical and thinking clearly is plainly important, and computers work on the principles of logic. But there is a dictum used by computer buffs, “rubbish in, and rubbish out.” Start with rubbishy presuppositions, then however good the logic, one gets rubbishy answers.

With regard to being Oxford’s former Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, Dawkins does not at all help the public to understand science. He is simply a popular affirmer of Materialist dogma. And I doubt that he would disagree with that.

Why Dawkins got away with his rubbish, during the debate, is ultimately not the fault of the former Archbishop Williams, but it is the deeper matter of a materialist culture, and more especially materialist academia. In academia, the scientists who are materialists usually hold the power in university politics, and deny non-materialist scientists funding, jobs, access to the learned journals, and often try to make sure that they are publically discredited. This is probably how Dawkins was appointed to his former office of Professor of Public Understanding of Science in the first place.

(Scientific dogmatists like Dawkins do a great disservice to open-minded science, that priceless collection of investigatory tools that humanity has developed to understand the nature of things. That must be true. But equally true is the huge disservice rendered by religious dogmatists of all kinds, in all countries. Open-minded scientific and other methods of investigation are vital defences against dogmatists of all kinds.)

In a lecture that Nobel Prize winning QM physicist Brian Josephson (professor of physics at Cambridge between 1987 and 2004) gave to a number of other Nobel winners, he outlined the unethical tactics used by materialists to try and discredit non-materialists. [see link below.]

[Wikipedia: “Brian David Josephson, FRS (born 4 January 1940) is a Welsh physicist. He became a Nobel Prize laureate in 1973 for the prediction of the eponymous Josephson effect.

As of late 2007, he was a retired professor at the University of Cambridge, where he is the head of the Mind–Matter Unification Project in the Theory of Condensed Matter (TCM) research group. He is also a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.”]

Not stated in the Oxford debate is the fact that Richard Dawkins will deny the existence of any valid evidence collected by psychic researchers over the past 150 years, despite the calibre and trustworthiness of the scientists involved.  He must do this: one undoubted case of telepathy, truly premonitory dream, or whatever, is sufficient to call the dogma of materialism into question.

Wikipedia on Rowan Williams
Wikipedia on Richard Dawkins
Wikipedia on Josephson
Josephson’s Home Page:

The video of the debate at Oxford

Department of Physics, University of Cambridge: [Josephson’s]  Lecture given at the Nobel Laureates’ meeting Lindau, June 30th., 2004 © B D Josephson 2004 Edited version of presentation (rev ised Aug. 20th., 2004

Rupert Sheldrake recounts another example of lack of scientific integrity in Richard Dawkins.

A review of the Dawkins-Williams debate

News Independent on the debate

The Cambridge debate between Dawkins and Williams: “That with this house believes that Religion has no place in the 21st century”

Michael Cocks edits the journal, Ground of Faith.

Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr by Michael Cocks is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.

Paperback               Kindle

Afterlife Teaching from Stephen the Martyr - Michael Cocks


Thanks for those comments. An argument could be made though that primitive humans were animistic, and saw the influence of spirits everywhere. For science we have partly to thank the ancient Greeks,some of whose thought formed a basis for Christian theology; to thank Jewish and Christian monotheism for the scientific understanding of reality as one coherent system; to thank the Arabs for the preservation of Roman and Greek thought through the Dark Ages, making possible the Renaissance. We could blame Descartes for splitting reality into Spiritual and Physical reserving scientific endeavour to the physical.

Michael Cocks, Mon 3 Jun, 15:43

It seems to me that setting materialist and non-materialist understandings against each other is not quite right. We are all materialists. None of us are “non-materialists.” but some of us add a further dimension, another way of understanding, which might be called the spiritual, the religious, the numinous, the mystical - or whatever. This capacity for spiritual understanding is a gift of the last hundred thousand years of evolution, and as such confers real benefit to those who accept and devlop it - else it would have disappeared from human culture aeons ago.

In the 17th Century Enlightenment, the emergent scientific way of knowing seemed so sucessful that it eclipsed all others, as Karen Armstrong has pointed out (“A History of God). The Newtonian mechanical universe needed no divine prime mover.

But all that is changing now, as Einstinian relativity and quantum uncertainty symbolise a new humility among scientists, and an open-ness to other ways of knowing. Many scientific breakthroughs come via the mystical or even spiritual experience: the “aha” moment when a new understanding suddenly and often unexpectedly arrives. I think Richard Dawkins needs to keep up, and cease tilting at superficial fundamentalism, using a similarly superficial approach.

A final point. Science itself only arose in the Christian west. The universe must have coherence and order for science to work, and only Judaism and Christianity delivered that. Other gods were unpredictable, capricious,and grudging. The church spread across many time zones in the Roman empire, and being able to predict, and so prepare for, Easter a couple of years ahead needed… astronomers! The church sponsored science, and with Roger Bacon the scientific method began to emerge more fully. I don’t think Richard Dawkins grasped this connection. But it is very much part of the Archbishop’s understanding and theology.

Ian.Crumpton, Sun 2 Jun, 16:41

Thank you Elene, and of course I agree with every word.
A colleague has written suggesting that I should give more examples of Materialist academic discrimination against those who disagree with them. This would take too many words here. But I do urge readers to study the above link to Brian Josephson’s lecture to other Nobel Prize winners: and also the link to Rupert Sheldrake’s encounter with Dawkins. Bear in mind that Behaviourism dominated academic psychology for much of the 20th century, as Logical Positivism did with philosophy. If we read up about them in Wikipedia, we can ask ourselves how likely their followers were to differ from Richard Dawkins in tolerating their opponents.
One personal example: For a dissertation for a postgraduate degree, a medical practitioner friend, lecturer in a school of medicine, chose to study telepathy between 60 pairs of twins. A professor of psychology he consulted said that if he proceeded with his plans he could kiss his career goodbye. He was resolute and produced a rigorous proof of the existence of the phenomenon.  He does in fact retain his job, but there were many bitter complaints to the local Medical Council that he should have been permitted to study this.

Michael Cocks, Thu 23 May, 16:44

THANK YOU!  This is a cogent and useful criticism of Dawkins’ pseudoskepticism and—pulling no punches here—utter disregard for truthfulness, sincerity, or actual reason, as opposed to what he presents as reason.  It’s sad that the Archbishop was not scientifically literate enough to give as good as he got.  Perhaps a differently-educated religious figure could have been chosen for this rather silly debate.

Although I recognize that each of us lives in a reality shaped by our respective beliefs, I am sick unto death of the question “Do you believe in ____?” Why should belief have anything to do with anything when we are discussing factual points of science?  Asking someone whether they “believe in the importance of logic” is the height of idiocy, and as a question designed to entrap, it is only one notch above “Have you stopped beating your wife?”

Sometimes patients come in for a first visit with me and tell me that they “believe in acupuncture!” or that their family member or their doctor or whoever sent them does.  I tell them that whatever form of treatment they are using, even if they are only swallowing an aspirin, it’s best to believe with all their might that it’s going to help them, but that acupuncture works whether they believe it or not because it is actual reality, that’s that.

The propensity of humans to ignore facts they don’t like drives me to… well, I can’t drink, so I hardly know what I can do.  Meditate, I suppose.  It often makes me wish I could move to Vulcan.  But I doubt they’re any better there.

Elene Gusch, Thu 23 May, 09:48

Add your comment



Your comment

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

Please note that all comments are read and approved before they appear on the website

translate this page
“Children and the Light” by Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick – ALF Rose had this experience many years ago when he was ill with pneumonia as a young child of four or five. Suddenly I was out of my body and floating near the top of the window in my bedroom. I could see myself in bed and my mother kneeling at the side of the bed. She was crying and looked very distressed. I gazed at this scene for a little while and remember that I didn't feel any emotion at all and was completely indifferent to what I saw. Without any warning at all I was travelling very swiftly through a dense forest. Read here
© White Crow Books | About us | Contact us | Privacy policy | Author submissions | Trade orders