Will the archbish be a temporary floor mop?

I tweeted a link about an upcoming debate at Cambridge between Dawkins and Rowan Williams a few hours ago. There are replies saying Richard will wipe the floor with him. I’m not so sure. Williams was an academic before he was the archbish, and now he’s not the archbish any more.

He almost certainly knows of better arguments than the kind of highflown archepiscopal bafflegab he gave to the House of Lords and so on while he actually was the archbish. And since he’s not the archbish any more, he may feel less of a duty to sound churchy and archepiscopal.

There’s no chance that he’s actually stupid. The fact that he used to say a lot of stuff that comes across as stupid to atheists doesn’t mean he is actually stupid. It’s more likely a déformation professionelle. I would think that when arguing with Dawkins he’s well able to come up with things to say that will prevent the latter from wiping the floor with him. Whether he will choose to or not is another question, but I’m thinking he probably will.


  1. Aratina Cage says

    I have faith in Richard Dawkins. (There, I said it. Eeep!)

    More seriously, best of luck to Rowan; it may not turn out to be a floor mopping, especially given the topic, “whether ‘religion has no place in the 21st Century'”, and I’m sure Dawkins will cede some ground on the cultural flair side of things like carols and architecture, but it’s going to be hard for Rowan to give any sufficient reason on why religion should have a place in the modern era other than the argument from tradition (akin to the argument from popularity).

  2. arthur says

    Dawkins has dueled with Rowan Williams numerous times before. Here for example:


    These kinds of meetings pitching well known atheists vs well known apologists are like theater. The participants say their pieces, agreeing and disagreeing on various points. Usually the apologist concedes a whole bunch of stuff.

    Then, after the debate, the god follower goes back to saying the same old crap as before. As though the meeting had never happened.

    After the discussion I linked to between Dawkins and Williams, which was about 5 years ago, Williams continued to make public statements about Dawkins, misrepresenting Dawkins’s position and giving no hint that the two of them had already sparred on the matter several times.

    In the end Williams is no different to Ray Comfort. You could explain an argument to both Comfort and Williams a million times, and they’d nod their head in admission that it was correct, before heading off into the sunset repeating the same old crap.

  3. says

    Well Aratina you’re a trusting sort! Hahahaha

    arthur – I haven’t followed any of the previous debates. I did listen to a sizable chunk of his testimony to the House of Lords – and was very underwhelmed. It was pure bafflegab. But he was the archbish then, and doing his job. It’s not his job now.

    I dunno. Maybe I’m being silly. But I have a hard time believing that stuff is the best he can do.

  4. cmasontaylor says

    What’s far more worrying to me than “who is a better debater” is, is the topic too much of a stretch? It seems unlikely that Dawkins, whose well-known debates in the past have focused on much less ambitious motions (“Is atheism the new fundamentalism?” “Does God exist?”), will fully stick to addressing the motion at hand. And Rowan could perhaps win the debate just by repeatedly saying (albeit in a much more Rowan Williamsy voice), “hey, this isn’t a debate about whether or not God exists, or whether or not religious figures have always done good things, Professor. The question is whether religion has ANY place in the 21st century, not whether its premises are correct or whether it ought to totally dominate public life the way it did centuries ago.”

    In fact, if Dawkins overplays his hand, this could do a lot more damage to the image of ‘Nüs’ in the (semi) public eye. If this motion wasn’t crafted by someone in Williams’s camp I’d say they chose poorly.

  5. says

    Rowan adopts the “shield of woo” defense of religion – he’s very careful not to make claims about god (which is a bit pathetic given his former job) and will certainly be smart enough to refrain from making objective claims at all. I don’t think he’s intellectually honest.

  6. says

    Sometimes he does makes claims about god. He did once make a point of saying yes he really does believe all the creedal stuff he’s supposed to believe to be an archbish. He said lots of people assume I don’t really but I assure you, I do.

  7. sawells says

    Speaking as an academic myself, I have to disagree with Ophelia. There is every chance that Williams is, in fact, stupid.

  8. Bill Openthalt says

    Nice one. I nearly sprayed coffee all over my keyboard.

    There is this common misunderstanding that a college degree proves one has more than average intelligence. In fact, getting through college only proves one got through college. As far as Rowan Williams is concerned, I would have to agree he is about as sharp as a billiard ball.

  9. says

    He did once make a point of saying yes he really does believe all the creedal stuff he’s supposed to believe to be an archbish.

    Ah, I’ve never seen him pinned down like that, before. He certainly was on gimbals whenever he was around Hitch.

  10. FresnoBob says

    Can’t think of a less stimulating proposition for these gentlemen to engage on.

    Williams is guaranteed an easy ride because it’s fairly certain that Dawkins actually agrees that religion has at least some role in the 21st century. If there’s any argument it will be over degree and the extent to which it should occupy the public mind.

    Ben Kentish, president of the union, said it should be a highlight of the debating society’s 200-year history.

    Must have been a pretty quite 200 years.

  11. chrislawson says


    I have seen and read Rowan’s outpourings on many occasions and, yes, he is stupid. I don’t mean he can’t add 2 + 2 or write complex arguments. But his particular religious views have disabled the critical functions of his brain and he is simply incapable of recognising how idiotic or plain contradictory most of his arguments are.

  12. chrislawson says

    Also, I have very little faith in the debate because the question itself is set up to make Rowan Williams’s side almost irrefutable from the get-go. If I had been Dawkins, i would have insisted on a better question before accepting.

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