On Sunday, 22 September, a group of students from Years 10 to 13 travelled to the Royal Festival Hall in London to hear renowned biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins speak about his new book, “Outgrowing God”. Dawkins is a scholar listed on both our GCSE and A Level PRE specifications and this was therefore a great opportunity for our students, who were also able to make comparisons with the view of Christian apologist William Lane Craig, whose lecture they attended last academic year.
The students all agreed that Dawkins was amusing and engaging, with some great anecdotes including the story of a tribe of people from the South Pacific Ocean who worship the Duke of Edinburgh as a divine being. Dawkins asserted that religious faith has an evolutionary explanation but in his view this does not make it actually true. Furthermore, he stated that religious beliefs are now holding us back because they prevent us from seeking rational evidence. Finally, Dawkins argued that religion is not a sound basis for morality and has been used to justify acts of grave inhumanity.
Many of our students broadly agreed with him and found his case convincing. Some, however, felt frustrated that Dawkins’ interviewer did not ask him sufficiently challenging questions and that the questions from the audience became a little repetitive. The audience was clearly packed with Dawkins’ fans, which mean that he was not as challenged as he would have been with a more neutral – or even hostile – audience. Dawkins is undeniably a great biologist and speaker, but students noticed that some of his claims about religous beliefs or practices were exaggerated or, in some cases, not even correct. However, all felt that the trip added to their understanding of New Atheism and provided a valuable opportunity to reflect on their own beliefs. The visit also proved to be quite controversial with the general public, leading to the PRE department’s Twitter account trending the following day!
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