The order of speakers was interesting.
Andrew Copson speaks a lot of good sense. He introduced the debate with what was later described as a presumptuous speech. I think that might have been a little harsh.
Retiring Archbishop Rowan Williams then gave a very well polished, aspirational sermon. He is, after all, a professional speaker and I respect his style, even if not his beliefs. Of the archbishops of the last century he is one of the two stars in my opinion. William Temple was the other. Did Williams produce a convincing argument? I think not. But did he carry the audience? Certainly yes.
In response, Professor Richard Dawkins spoke in predictably rational terms and explained why truth matters. He spoke well, but something about the way that he read his notes was less impressive than his usual performance. It was rather scripted and didn't really come from the heart on this occasion. But it was worth listening to his words, and I couldn't disagree with any of them.
Then Tariq Ramadan gave an irrational, taqiyyah-laden, rebuttal. His message seemed to me to include:
- You need me (is that a threat?)
- You're being dogmatic (so what?)
- We know more about humanity (how?)
- I reject your criticism of my religion's attitude to women (and I reject that!)
- You say religion is backwards looking (and would be right to do so)
- We are better at talking about morality and ethics :)
- And you should welcome me to the discussion.
Well - you should welcome ME to the discussion too, and I have as much right to claim that as you do - but it doesn't get me invited.
After some interesting questions from the audience - mostly non-theistic in their background - Dr Arif Ahmed delivered a crushing conclusion on behalf of the proposal. (Starts at 1:10:30) Responding to a question about what he would take as evidence he replied in two parts:
- A valid argument with true premises, from which the consequences follow, or
- Empirical evidence
Addressing another well spoken, although pompous heckler, who used the age old argument that correlation does not imply causation, he expertly quipped:
Nobody denies that correlation does not entail causation, but everybody who knows anything about it knows that correlation is evidence for causation, which is what I was claiming.
But in spite of being aspirationally righteous, the debate was always going to go to the opposition. It might have been framed differently if it referred to the 22nd century instead of the 21st, but it is already too late to claim that religion has no place in the 21st century. And the final speaker, Douglas Murray won the day. Murray is an atheist and long-term opponent of the speakers on his own side, but still he joined with them to oppose the motion.
Having rightly dismissed Alain de Botton's ridiculous writings he went on to say about religion:
Is it true? No! But truth is like water. It needs a vessel to carry it.
Like all analogies this it a little deceitful, but metaphorical presentations are always more convincing than things that are merely true. As he said, no rational person can agree with the proposition - however much they may wish it were true.
And I will be loking out for interviews with Douglas Murray in future.