In February this year, there was a clash of Titans. In one corner, Richard Dawkins, former Oxford professor, Darwinian biologist, brilliant science writer, scourge of the sloppy, and above all the Platonic Form of Atheist. In the other, Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, himself no intellectual slouch, acknowledged as one of the West’s foremost scholars of Russian literature. The issue at stake: are you for a world devoid of ultimate meaning or are you for a world infused with purpose? Are you, as Benjamin Disraeli, the nineteenth-century prime minister, asked, on the side of Darwin or of the angels?
Although Dawkins is fully committed to the exclusive disjunction — science or religion but not both — Williams would have been surprised and appalled to be forced to choose between the two.
And here’s the rub: I, like Dawkins, am a non-believer. Yet I, like Williams, refuse to put science and religion at war. This is partly because I do not think they have to be — I see them as asking different questions. But it is also because I think there is something socially and psychologically unhealthy about the course that the debate has taken, especially by those on my side of the fence. I do not think the faults are all on one side, but let me speak to the side to which I might naturally be expected to belong.