Here’s a recent debate at the Cambridge Union featuring some rather interesting big-wigs – Drs. Rowan Williams, Richard Dawkins, Tariq Ramadan, among others! A friend once pointed out to me that sometimes, if not often, a lot of these debates are about rhetorical posturing -but we have come to an age where the only way you can make a systematic case, where people will actually pay attention to you, is if you host a public spectacle and allow charismatic people to speak (I’d say this is the tragedy of modern newscasting – although the latter is far more agenda-driven than most of us actually recognise). So, more power to those who partake and actually give up their precious time to engage with people who seem more interested in point-scoring than with any notion of ‘truth’.
So, this is perhaps the first (and last) time I might find myself supporting Douglas Murray in anything – I was thoroughly impressed by his talk – at least in part- , despite the fact that on the whole, he has a knack for essentialising religion and religious people; however this was one of those rare occasions where I found, one the whole, that the ‘religious’ seemed to make a much more strong case in favour of their views. Now, despite being of a ‘religious temperament’, I tend to find that arguments from science, for example, as being a little lacking (to say the least), however I’m more convinced by Dr William’s/Ramadan’s/Douglas Murray’s (Lord help me for including Murray…!) arguments about human dignity, opposition to dogmatic humanism, and the search for meaning far more convincing and systematically sound – even if the latter disagreed with both the former Archbishop and the ‘Islamic Martin Luther’!
Anyhow, Rowan Williams – for whom I have a great respect – was on peak form (if only he had been allowed to speak like this regularly, and wasn’t demonised by the press as some sort of archaic despot overseeing an influential but fallacious worldview and dangerous power-structure)… Dr Ramadan made his usual case , polished, refined and I think quite fair (but I wish more people would take it seriously – somehow when hardened humanists face a reasonable ‘believer’, their minds somehow short-circuit and they often ignore what he actually has to say.
Finally, did anyone spot the slightly sloppy “Nobody denies that correlation doesn’t entail causation, everyone who knows anything about it knows that correlation is evidence for causation…” – I’m no philosopher, and I don’t say this with any sort of polemical glee… but do they really let him teach at Cambridge…?! Or is he some sort of quintessential postcolonial subject whom they keep around for display purposes?
…Okay, that was a cheap-shot, I admit; nonetheless this perhaps demonstrates the fallacy, which Dr Ramadan accurately expressed, of essentialising someone with whom you disagree.
…Just in case you’re wondering what problem I have with it – the speaker cited that in Western countries that ‘more religious’ (however you measure that), there is an increase in all sorts of social problems, etc.; of course one could offer a counter-argument that secular states have historically been responsible for wholesale industrial death, in a greater scale than anything witnessed in history; moreover, tremendous demagoguery existed, nuclear weapons were discharged…hmm, correlation between a secular state and atrocity…ironic, ain’t it? Like I said, who in their right mind would let him teach Logic?