Richard Dawkins faced defeat in yesterday's Cambridge Union debate against Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury and current new Master of Magdalene College, as Cambridge students voted 324 versus 138 against the motion of 'This House Believes Religion has no place in the 21st Century' in the most high-profile debate staged at the Union so far this term.
The debate between the two prominent, well-respected figures remained collected throughout. The former Archbishop calmly argued, in opposition of the motion, that religion offers to society a means of "community building" and of building "relations of compassion, fellow feeling and inclusion", which would otherwise be "absent from our societies".
Dawkins, speaking for the proposition, put his argument forward with stronger rhetoric, referring to religion as a "cop-out", a "betrayal of the intellect and everything human that is good".
Labelling religion as "a phoney substitute for an explanation" both "redundant and irrelevant", Dawkins also referred to God as an "almighty knob-twiddler" - a comment which was met by laughter and applause from the student audience. The renowned scientist closed his speech with: "As the century goes by, religion has less and less place to exist. It's high time to send it packing."
Other speakers in the debate included Arif Ahmed, Cambridge Lecturer in Logic from the Philosophy Faculty and Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association for the proposition, and Douglas Murray, founder of the Centre for Social Cohesion, and Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford for the opposition, who pointed out in his rebuttal that Dawkins' argument "for a scientist, is not very scientific."
Some students voiced that Dawkins was in fact "the least intriguing speaker" at the debate. One second year student told TCS: "He did not address the motion. His points focused only on debating whether religion is true, and ignored the question of whether it has a place in modern society."
Others, including some of those 85 who abstained, felt the motion was phrased "too strongly". Nonetheless, the general impression echoed by students in the Union was one of a "stimulating" debate, leading to discussions flowing from out of the Chamber to continue in the bar.
Last night's debate constituted one of the most high-profile events at the Union, drawing attention from national press. Students queued outside the Union from as early as 3 hours before the starting time of the debate, with many being turned away due to capacity limitations - around 800 people filled the building.
Gwen Jing - News Editor
Photo - Rob Palmer