Prominent atheist professor Richard Dawkins described religion as "redundant and irrelevant" as he took on the former Archbishop of Canterbury in a debate.
Speaking at the Cambridge Union debating
society, Prof Dawkins argued that religion hindered scientific endeavour
by "peddling false explanations".
Dr Rowan Williams offered a
counter argument, saying religion undoubtedly had a place in the 21st
century and the issue was not whether it should exist, but what our
attitude towards it should be.
He added that modern attitudes towards
human rights had their foundations in religious traditions.
pair were part of a debate on the proposition "religion has no place in
the 21st Century" in front of an audience of about 800, who packed the
famous 200-year-old university debating club's chambers.
his address, Prof Dawkins made a provocative comparison between
Christian and Islamic traditions, describing himself as a "cultural
"I'm grateful, by the way, to be a cultural Anglican
when you think of the competition," he added. "If I were a cultural
Muslim, I would have something to say about that faith's appalling
attitude to women and various other moral points."
his central concern was simply whether religion was true, he summed up
his argument, by describing religion as a "cop-out".
He added: "It is a
betrayal of the intellect, a betrayal of all that's best about what
makes us human. It's a phony substitute for an explanation, which seems
to answer the question until you examine it and realise that it does no
In his address, Lord Williams said: "Religion has
always been a matter of community building, a matter of building
relations of compassion, fellow-feeling and, dare I say it, inclusion.
The notion that religious commitment can be purely a private matter is
one that runs against the grain of religious history."
Williams added that respect for human life and equality was inherent in
all organised religion.
"The very concept of human rights has profound
religious roots," he added. "The convention of human rights would not be
what it is were it not for the history of philosophical religious
At the end of the debate the house voted to reject the
proposition, stating that they do believe religion has a place in the