The Nature of Human Beings and the Question of their Ultimate Origin



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  • Logic

The Nature of Human Beings and the Question of their Ultimate Origin - Archbishop Rowan Williams (RoW) and Richard Dawkins (RD) Dc Tue 15th May 2012 at The Blue Mugge pub

Notes based on the Youtube recording of the above discussion and debate in the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, 2012. The lecture theatre was packed and so were two other lecture venues in Oxford same time with the proceedings broadcast simultaneously across the globe. Following links on the web, typing in a summary of the above, reveals a wide range of options for viewing and listening to commentary on the issues. Everyone recommended to look and listen to at least the first 20 minutes. We may have a recording in this in the Mugge… but probably not - yet.



  1. The debate was very urbane, respectful, and ‘civilised’ throughout - just as discussion in the Mugge is, and should be!?



  1. Introductory positions - a) RoW said ‘human beings are the only beings who talk about the Universe… as ‘language-users’ a key issue for him is ‘the relation between language and consciousness’. ‘We live in a Universe that has produced us… how do we understand that?’

b) SD quoted a Christian Hymn (to ripples of laughter…) “It is a thing most wonderful, almost too wonderful to be.” He went on ‘The laws of physics conspired, through a collision of atoms, to produce plants, insects, kangaroos and Us - an astonishing thing to happen… ‘almost too wonderful to be’, conveying the illusion of design… but since 1859 we know how life has developed from simple beginnings. Darwinism is a triumph of science’. He then added ‘We will end up understanding everything’. Is that a kind of atheistic, scientific Fundamentalism?

  1. The Chairman, an Oxford Philosopher, wanted initial agreement on ‘three simple things’:

  1. The Truth - recognition ‘mainly that there is such a thing as objective truth - it is not just an idealogical construct…’. That was quickly agreed.

What do we think? This is not a simple thing to agree on, surely?

  1. Logic - if two contradictory statements are made they cannot both be true?

  2. Science - the great and continuing achievements of Science…



  1. Those things readily agreed … the discussion moved on ‘to the complexity of Physics… a complexity as in chess… but with layers of complexity on top of that (RD)…



  1. Then. RoW on ‘consciousness’ - “Darwin doesn’t say much about that”… RD “I agree – it is deeply mysterious but… neuro-science will solve the problem/s”?



  1. The Chair ‘Consciousness is shared with animals’ RoW ‘Yes, but self-consciousness - reflective self-consciousness - that’s human…’.



  1. Then the discussion moved to computers - Chair ‘Computers are tools?’ RoW ‘Yes and computers are binary… but humans can work in binary and other ways… Computers do not have free will…’.



  1. Finally, for the moment, a ‘gene determinism’ challenge put to RD ‘No, genes determine natural selection… ‘ (Up to about 30 minutes of the broadcast) To be continued, maybe?

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