Welcome to Think Week 2011

21 Mar

(From February 23rd, 2011)

It’s sounds like joke, but this week is “Think Week” at Oxford.  Not quite sure what they believe we’re doing in all the other seven weeks of term, but nonetheless this week has been dubbed so and is characterized by special guest lecturers centered around athiest, humanist, and secular themes.  This makes sense once you realize that these lectures are sponsored by none other than the British Humanist Association and the Richard Dawkins Foundation among other private donors.

Now we have yet another problem with the title; for calling this week “Think Week” implicitly implies that athiesm/humanism/secularism all support the activity of thinking more than those of more religious persuasions.  Hmmm, interesting.

The reason I bring up “Think Week” is because last night I went with some friends to hear a public discussion between famed evolutionary biologists and researchers Richard Dawkins and A.C. Grayling.   Disappointingly, it was not a debate, since it’s hard to have a debate between two people who agree with each other. However, we did enjoy watching a very interesting and very cordial armchair discussion between the two high-profile scholars.

The event was held at the Oxford Examination Schools — a huge and magnificent building full of multiple floors of classrooms and lecture halls.  All tickets had to be applied for or bought in advance and even then, the line to gain admittance stretched halfway down the street.  There were too many people to fit into one of the large lecture halls so many people had to sit in the overflow room across the hall…including us.  It wasn’t bad though, after finding a seat that was strategically close to the overhead speakers, we simply watched the discussion unfold by way of video camera and projector that was connected to the other room.

The discussion commenced in typical British fashion, both characteristically friendly and characteristically verbose, in which both scholars entertained what it would take to make them believe that God (or the supernatural in general) exists.

Their discussion was interesting, but — as several people pointed out during the time for questions — Dawkins and Grayling’s processes of reasoning seemed rather circular.  “Supernatural” by their definition refers to anything that defies or supersedes the laws of physics.   …but then they later stated that, as scientists, they only take into account laws of physics when viewing the world…so in other words they require physics to explain something that exists outside the laws of physics.  Anybody detect a possible problem here?

I’m not always one for philosophical debate and I try not to get myself wrapped around theory but it was definitely an interesting discussion and I’m glad I went.

(For more info go to http://www.thinkweek.co.uk)


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