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For the first time, this Intelligence Squared debate was live-streamed over the internet, allowing people to watch, and participate, from anywhere in the world. The online audience’s vote is included below.
Initial Vote: For 333, Against 675, Undecided 389
Final Vote: For 363, Against 1070, Undecided 85
Final Online Vote: For 37, Against 889, Undecided 12
The motion proposes that “atheism is the new fundamentalism”, i.e., atheism has replaced religion as the new faith of the secular age, exploring the notion that modern atheism is itself guilty of the very dogma and belief in its own infallibility which it scorns in the religious community.
Speaking for the motion are Richard Harries and Charles Moore.
Richard Harries outlines the features and the history of fundamentalism, arguing that many of the criteria required for it are in fact apparent in today’s atheists. He portrays a set of people with narrow views, arguing against a specific view of God, who forget that some of the greatest philosophy, art, poetry and music has been inspired and supported by Christianity – the very belief system that is accused of restricting the creative process by its refusal to allow for ‘the grand perhaps’ (Browning).
Charles Moore insists that his opponents cannot see the true complexity of the argument, and that they emphasise the physical and the scientific aspect of humanity at the cost of any spiritual understanding. He criticises Richard Dawkins for embodying this crude and narrow pursuit of literal truth above all else.
Opposing the motion are A.C. Grayling and Richard Dawkins.
Professor Grayling maintains that since 9/11, the nature of the debate on religious commitment has become far more serious. He distinguishes between atheism, secularism and humanism. He refutes Moore’s suggestion that atheists cannot fully understand the complexity of the religious experience, insisting that many atheists understand it all too well, having been brought up in a religious family or community.
Richard Dawkins defines fundamentalism as the following: blind obedience to scripture regardless of evidence, allied to extremism. He argues that far from being entrenched fundamentalists, atheists have a commitment to exploring evidence, and a readiness to embrace change, and that we should not mistake the passion of their arguments or their refusal to remain silent for fundamentalism.