Rowan Williams, Richard Dawkins to Debate on Role of Religion

Rowan Williams, who stepped down as the Anglican leader last month, and Richard Dawkins, a leading secularist in the U.K., will discuss whether "religion has no place in the 21st Century" at a Cambridge Union Society debate on Thursday.

The upcoming debate is expected to be a highlight of the debating society's 200-year history, Ben Kentish, the Union's president, told BBC. "Our speakers are the most renowned commentators on this subject."

The Union – the largest society at the University of Cambridge – has a long and distinguished history of hosting leading state and international political and other figures in its chamber, from presidents to Prime Ministers and Oscar winners to Olympic legends.

"The prospect of seeing Professor Dawkins and the former Archbishop of Canterbury debate the subject is particularly exciting for our members" Kentish adds. "It has all the makings of an excellent debate."

The Union will film the debate, which will be attended by about 1,000 students, and make it available soon after on its website.

Professor Tariq Ramadan, professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University; Andrew Copson, the chief executive of the British Humanist Association; and Douglas Murray, founder of the Centre for Social Cohesion, will also take part.

During a public debate between Williams and Dawkins last February at Oxford University, Williams pressed Dawkins, vice president of the British Humanist Association, on the idea that humans were unlike other creatures in being able to reflect upon themselves and their own purpose.

The argument also turned towards the question about why a loving God allows suffering, a question that Williams accepted did not have easy answers. Dawkins, an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, attacked religion for providing a "terrific illusion of design which fooled humanity into the 19th Century."

Williams, 62, stepped down as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury on Dec. 31 to start a new role as Master of Cambridge University's Magdalene College.

The Union has formerly hosted Sir Winston Churchill, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.

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