In Depth

'Outspoken atheist' Dawkins admits he is agnostic

Revelation comes as Richard Dawkins and Archbishop Rowan Williams genially debate religion

RICHARD DAWKINS, usually labelled an "outspoken atheist", has raised eyebrows after describing himself as an agnostic and admitting that he cannot disprove the existence of God.

His words came during a debate at Oxford University between the evolutionary biologist and the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

The discussion was remarkably polite - in marked contrast to last week's backlash over Dawkins's suggestion that most people who say they are Christian do not behave like Christians and The Sunday Telegraph's bizarre attack on him based on the fact that an ancestor of his owned slaves.

Billed as an epic battle between science and religion, the BBC described the debate as "more Thought for the Day than Frost-Nixon".

And there were no knockout blows, according to The Guardian, with Dawkins and Williams simply going over well-practised arguments and frequently admiring each other's backgrounds.

Dawkins, who has described himself in the past as a 'cultural Christian', revealed he had sung a hymn in the shower that morning.

He asked Williams if he really believed the soul survived death.

"A soul is something that does not cease with death," said Williams. "What it is, I have no idea. A number of images, but no idea."

But Dawkins asked why Williams couldn't see the "extraordinary beauty of the idea that we can explain the world". Why, he asked, did the Archbishop "want to clutter up your world view with something so messy as a god?"

Williams replied: "I am not thinking of God as something extra that must be shoehorned in".

So far, so predictable. The gasps, reports The Independent, came when Dawkins admitted he wasn't completely certain that there was no creator.

The philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny, who was chairing the debate asked Dawkins: "Why don't you call yourself an agnostic?" To which Dawkins replied that he did.

At this, Kenny protested: "You are described as the world's most famous atheist."

Prof Dawkins said that he was "6.9 out of seven" sure of his beliefs: "I think the probability of a supernatural creator existing is very, very low," he explained.

Agnostics neither believe nor disbelieve in the existence of God, preferring to accept that the truth of such claims is unknowable. Their stance is somewhat different to that of atheists, who are certain there is no deity.

It seems the 'militant secularists', if they exist, will have to search for another leader.

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