holding forth

The Two Richards

"And tonight I will be playing the part of a Quaker Buddhist Anglo-Catholic Agnostic . . ."

". . . and I will be playing an evolutionary biologist with laryngitis."

Opinions differed in advance on whether Messrs Dawkins and Holloway would be thoughtful and polite, or would go at it hammer and tongs. My money was on the former, which is exactly how it turned out.

Aubrey Manning introduced the pair, and then left them to it for 45 minutes or so. The topic was Science and Religion, and broadly covered what it is reasonable to believe, what Richard Holloway believes, and whether it's reasonable of Holloway to consider himself a Christian given how little of it he has no doubts about or considers relatively unimportant. He did most of the talking - unsurprisingly given Dawkins' sore throat - and made a lot of what I thought were very good points. There were a couple of big video cameras there, so I imagine it'll make thee ackurssed Intarweb eventually, at which point I recommend you watch it.

Holloway said he stepped away from the church about ten years ago after finding various debates over homosexuality in the church unpleasantly intolerant, but found after a while that he still considered it his family. He also said that, to quite reverse Pascal's Wager (he cited someone here, but I didn't recognise the name), he thought it odd that a God would care deeply about whether we believed, and thought that actions (and in particular compassionate actions) for him trumped orthodoxy and religious law. I felt there was some danger here of him giving religion a good name.

Dawkins, as I said, was a bit quieter, and said more than once that he found Holloway's brand of belief very close to unbelief1 while questioning him on how he would distinguish it, and why he still considered himself Christian. Various people I'd spoken to thought he'd stridently attack religion, which he absolutely didn't, although he had various things to say about how he thought religion might have arisen and what use it might have been. There was a lot to think about, overall, and I'm rather hoping that the video's available so I can see and hear it all myself. I already have some of Dawkins' books, so I got one of Holloway's instead - Godless Morality. I've had it recommended to me two or three times.

Outside, in spite of it not being a biology lecture, Creationists were giving out glossy 50-age booklets on how Darwinism is apparently in crisis. I've just noticed (cheap shot ahoy!) that on the inside cover page it says "Five evolutionests think again". The first page - the introduction - contains (as best as I can tell) a blatant whitewashing of the facts, claiming someone had embraced Intelligent Design about ten years before that agenda had been defined. The five ex-evolutionists all changed their minds when they adopted a particular brand of Christianity; none adopted young-Earth Creationism independently of a religious conversion, which implies to me that their reasons for rejecting evolution did not come from their understanding of evolution itself. From a brief skim , it looks like the usual misconceptions.

I note that the same publisher puts out a volume called Angels of Light: 5 Spiritualists Test the Spirits. Doubtless this is an account of a whisky-tasting session with Michael Gira. I will buy a copy forthwith.

In other news, the plan for the Cowgate fire site has finally been revealed. I don't know yet if it's shite, but it wouldn't be unprecedented. At least they won't be levelling existing stuff to build on top of this time.

1: And he wasn't the only one - an atheist in the audience pointed out during questions that she could agree with everything Holloway had said - "join us" he replied.
Thanks for the pointer to the redevelopment plans - it's no bad thing that they're talking about improving access between South Bridge and Cowgate.

I'm a little confused by the BBC story that the development will also be linking Guthrie Street and Chambers Street - I thought that Hastie's Close and College Wynd were between the site and Guthrie Street.
Perhaps it's a slightly garbled account of it connecting to Hastie's Close and therefore to Guthrie Street? I can't think of any other sensible interpretation.
That must be it, surely. Does this mean that the access from Chambers Street is through Adam House, as it is at present, or what?
While the prospect of a new hotel doesn't really get my pulse racing, it could be good to improve the passage between Guthrie Street and the Cowgate to something more than the piss-soaked broken-glass-strewn trek it is now. A South Bridge-Cowgate link would indeed be interesting, too.
Yes. Doubtless I'll eventually link to video, if such becomes available.
A Quaker Buddhist Anglo-Catholic Agnostic sounds quite normal to me! In fact add 'With pagan Jewish leanings' for authenticity.
I believe this is as an Anglican, though. Of course, it would be even more unusual if he were still a bishop.
Ah well, those Quakers you know...
found Holloway's brand of belief very close to unbelief... Not surprised. I've just been reading this and it's clarified quite a few things that I only inchoately knew, especially about how it is that you can be a Quaker and, er, not actually believe in god. Or not much. The Liberal strand of Quakerism (which is pretty much the British strand) prioritises your own experience and feelings above everything and reckons that no one group even *can* come up with definite answers to things that apply to everyone and are true. The author refers to it as 'the absolute perhaps' - a dogma of uncertainty in religion and therefore the ability to look for answers anywhere and everywhere - so long as they're not absolutist answers that is... which actually rules out quite a lot but lets in the possibility for a hella lot of individual agnosticism, atheism, and different faiths.
Re: Ah well, those Quakers you know...
I hear very good things about those books.

Most of what I know about Quakers I learned from batswing, although she's not the only one I've known. Her wedding was very interesting. And yes, that all fits with what she said. I remember being surprised (although also impressed) at the idea of Jewish and Muslim Quakers.
Re: Ah well, those Quakers you know...
although, I have to say I have dabbled with non-theist quaker-ish type stuff but didn't feel like I meshed that well with the meeting. thought that could just have been me being awkward and I plan to try again this summer, because I miss the bits I really enjoyed.
Pascal's wager:

If there is no god, then we lose nothing if we do not believe and only very little if we do.

If there is a god, then we lose everything if we do not believe, and win everything if we do.

Hence, it is safer to bet on God, and believe.
Indeed, but Holloway doesn't buy it. As I understand it, he feels it places too high a value on belief and not enough on living in a good way.

I wish I'd caught the name of who he was quoting on that point.
However, Pascal suffered from failure of imagination: if there are more gods than one, and you worship the wrong one....

Now, how many different religions are there again?
There only needs to be one who's pissy about people worshiping someone else...

Plus, I'm not sure about this whole "not losing much" business - staying in bed on a sunday morning is a pretty big sacrifice if you ask me, and bacon, or even beer?
I've just read Holloway's Looking In The Distance, and thought it was wonderful. Godless Morality is next on my list. I don't think I realised he still identifies as a Christian! It's good that it was a civilised discussion, though, and I'd like to see the video if it turns up.
I can't say I was much impressed with Godless Morality. It seemed a little out-of-touch and disjointed.
Are the creationists an American plague, or do you have your own home-grown ones? (I tend to think of Europe as being much more sensible on science.)
We have our own home-grown ones. However they've been reading the exact same sources as the American ones, and I've heard them use phrases word-for-word that I've seen on several creationist websites.
The recent resurgence, such as it is, has definitely taken inspiration and assistance from the States. I don't think, though, that they're anything like as common here. It went out of fashion here fairly convincingly - none of the major Christian denominations have much time for it. It hung on in a few corners, though, and has been seen up and about lately.
It all seems to prove, as if there was any doubt, that mature, thinking believers and mature, thinking atheists are perfectly capable of getting along and having an interesting discussion. And it really wouldn't matter who "won"...

Frustrating as it can be to be an aetheist, I often think it must be much more anguishing to be a careful, thoughtful theologian working within some kind of meaningful hermeneutical tradition. Then the quick-fix "fundamentalists" would really drive you nuts.