Oxford: Richard Dawkins in debate with John Lennox

Controversial atheistic Professor Richard Dawkins contested the compatibility of science with a theistic worldview in a live debate with the Christian Dr John Lennox at Oxford Museum of Natural History on Tuesday.

The sold-out event, organised by Fixed Point Foundation, a Birmingham, Alabama­based Christian thinktank seeking "thoughtful, meaningful discussion on civil issues", brought together for the third time the authors of successively The God Delusion and God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?.

Lennox agreed with Dawkins that blind faith can be very dangerous, but did not feel that this description applies to true Christianity and felt that atheism actively subverts science. He argued that if we are the product of mindless random processes then we have no reason to trust our mental faculties. For Lennox, the fact that the universe is intelligible is a sign that intelligence, meaning God, is behind it. He quoted Whitehead's thesis that human beings became scientific because they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in the law giver. He also disputed how we can be altruistic if we are merely products of our genes and DNA, and pointed out that without God there are no foundations for morality.

This was a follow-up to a broadcasted debate at the University of Birmingham, Alabama in October 2007, in which the claims of The God Delusion had been discussed. The latter debate, screened at Oxford Town Hall on Monday, was described by the Wall Street Journal as displaying "rhetorical skills in the best British tradition" and by Larry Taunton, Fixed Point's Executive Director as "historic" and comparable to a debate in the early 20th century between G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw. The debate was moderated by Federal Judge Bill Pryor who had controversially called in 2003 for the removal of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who had disobeyed a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building. At the end of that debate, Dawkins described the existence of God as "very very unlikely indeed", but credited Lennox with making "some sort of a case for a Deistic God". However he appeared astonished that Lennox believed in miracles and in the literal resurrection of Jesus, so this debate was followed in early 2008 by a more intimate discussion of Christian theology, recorded but without a live audience.

John Lennox is a fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green College, University of Oxford. Richard Dawkins is Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, and in this role he established the Charles Simonyi lecture series. He will be retiring from this post in September, so on Thursday he gave his valedictory lecture The Purpose of Purpose to a sold out crowd at Oxford Playhouse. The event was part of the Oxford Playhouse's 70th anniversary celebrations.

Fixed Point Foundation has also organised and recorded two debates between the atheist Christopher Hitchens and John Lennox and Roman Catholic Conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza.

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