Friday, 16 March 2012

A Question Of Integrity

Very much has been written and said over the last few weeks about the Oxford debate between Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and senior cleric of the Anglican Church.

Unfortunately, because there was a great deal more said which was of greater interest to both sides of the debate, almost all comment was focussed on Dawkins' acknowledgement that he was actually agnostic about the existence of a god because he could never be 100% certain about anything.

To those who know of Richard Dawkins work and his commitment to the scientific method, and especially to those who have read "The God Delusion", this was no surprise at all because he says exactly that in it. Indeed it would have been astonishing and completely out of character if he had said anything else in response to that question.

No scientist who values his/her reputation for intellectual honesty and integrity would ever claim to be one hundred percent certain about anything. Indeed, uncertainty is the very thing which drives scientific enquiry and hence scientific progress.

Uncertainty is a fundamental scientific principle, and not just at the particle physics level. The door is always left open to the possibility of any scientific theory being shown to be wrong, no matter how unlikely. About the nearest thing to certainty in science is the idea that there are no certainties.

What has gone almost without comment however was Rowan Williams' response to Richard Dawkins' answer, and especially what that revealed about his personal integrity and religion's regard for truth and honesty. One would have expected someone who values intellectual honesty to have applauded his answer and to have complimented Dawkins on his integrity, at the same time having the good grace to acknowledge that he can't be 100% certain that a god does exist.

Instead, Williams significantly passed over that opportunity and laughs along with the audience (1:11:45 in this video) then sits back and smiles beatifically as though he's just scored a point simply by sitting and listening. And so he betrayed his lack of personal integrity and lack of good grace. And this for someone who would claim to be an intellectual and guardian of the Anglican Community's morals!

Why does he do this?

Simply because, for someone in his position, where the whole edifice of the 'faith' he ministers to, and the people who depend on it for their livelihoods, even the slightest admission of uncertainty would be disastrous. To have the Archbishop of Canterbury admitting to being agnostic about the Christian God would be unthinkable, no matter how demonstrably true it may be.

Williams knows full well that selling the delusion of certainty to people who crave it is what the entire Christian Church exists for. The existence of the Church and the perpetuation of that lie is far more important to the priesthood than mere intellectual honesty.

For Rowan Williams, it would be more than his job's worth to admit the simple truth that there is no certainty, even, and especially, when it comes to questions about the existence of gods.

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  1. Yes I agree, although I felt that Rowan Williams came across as being, at least a little, agnostic. I rather admire him in a way. He has managed to supervise the C of E's 'early teenage years', while the members of the worldwide Anglican tradition bicker about stuff that they can't possibly know how to answer. Just to achieve that has been quite a triumph.

    My bet is that the next Archbishop will preside over the collapse of the Anglican Church. If it is Sentamu, then I would say it will happen sooner rather than later. The man seems incapable of putting together a coherent sentence. (see

    1. In a way, I hope Sentamu gets the job, just to see the Anglican racists come swarming out of the woodwork and go scuttling off to the Catholic Church or set up their own Church of WASPS.

      I agree, it'll probably be the end of the the C of E in it's present form. It can only hasten the disestablishment of the C of E in England, and not before time.

    2. Unfortunately, disestablishment frequently strenghthens churches. Establishment only seems to help when the government is ready to torture and kill heretics.

  2. Hey Plasma didn't ypu just write about doubt. Good team work folks. To be honest one must know critical thinking skills, science-n-reason to come to the conclusion that the only honest answer is I dunno for sure, but....



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