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.
LINKS FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION
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.