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Thursday, May 31, 2007 | Reason : Interviews | print version Print

Video Richard Dawkins and Alister McGrath

Root of All Evil? Uncut Interviews

From "Root of All Evil? The Uncut Interviews" 3-DVD Set
Buy it now

This interview was filmed for the TV documentary "Root of All Evil?" but was left out of the final version. Time restrictions dictated that not all interviews filmed could be used. This was especially regrettable in the case of the McGrath interview, which is therefore offered here now, unedited.

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mcgrath and dawkins

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Comments 1 - 50 of 2419 | Swap Comment Order

1. Comment #46296 by caledonventures on May 30, 2007 at 8:31 pm

McGrath's verbal diahorrea about christianity, god and faith is pathetic.
Nothing that came out of his mouth makes any sense whatsoever. He must have been left in the nursery too long without human verbal contact.
A few months in a closed unit, may help!

2. Comment #46298 by toomanytribbles on May 30, 2007 at 8:45 pm

 avataris it possible to repost this on youtube?

3. Comment #46300 by damianpeterson on May 30, 2007 at 9:15 pm

Fantastic. For 45 minutes it's a gentle game of ping pong and then when it comes to the issue god and suffering McGrath's arms get tired and Dawkins switches to a tennis racket. At 50 minutes McGrath is undone.

4. Comment #46303 by keith on May 30, 2007 at 9:27 pm

 avatarThat's the best interview I've ever seen Richard Dawkins give. He comes over as being a great listener, capable of thinking on his feet and really interested in the other point of view, rather than being simply exasperated by the same old nonsense. In other interviews he occasionally seems on the verge of losing his cool (or maybe it's just my own blood that's boiling through not being able to jump through the TV screen and strangle whoever he's debating).
I think Richard does better when he's matched by another civilised person who has no desire to antagonise, and Alistair McGrath is certainly civilised. However, whereas Richard came across as genuinely human, Alistair McGrath, with his head constantly cocked to one side in pensive pose and his infuriatingly condescending manner, was almost robot-like and it made me wonder if he is completely human. I actually started to wonder if he also talks to his wife and in this authoritative-lecturing style, as this is the only style I've ever heard him use (he also, equally infuriatingly, debated Peter Atkins). Rather than the actual discussion, I became obsessed with the following question: Are we dealing here with a real human being or a 'humanoid', something akin to a 'pod-person' in Invasion of the Body-Snatchers?

5. Comment #46306 by dgcoulson on May 30, 2007 at 9:56 pm

Doesn't the slippery, addled blather of McGrath just about distil the 'intellectual' basis of Christianity? Pressed quite reasonably by Dawkins to explain the inconsistency in claiming his god can, and does, on occasion save an individual child whereas in most cases it is humanity's lot to learn about existence through capricious hardship, McGrath can come up with no better than the standard Christian trump card along the lines of 'well, I've explained myself quite satisfactorily, if you cannot understand it I'm not going over it any more.' If you wish to observe the true essence of Christian thought, as practiced an Oxford theologian scholar, look no further than 49:40. Apart from the temerity of chiding Dawkins, as if he is some dullard undergraduate, McGrath is apparently completely unaware of the ludicrousness of his own position. Tssch. Christians are the same the world over. Only this one puts up the semblance of a reasonable argument. Which makes him even less worthy of any respect for his lofty academic position. Utterly shameful. A complete fake.

6. Comment #46317 by krogercomplete on May 30, 2007 at 10:55 pm

Favorite part: in response to Dawkin's argument that the designer must be at least as improbable as the thing designed, McGrath actually said that, improbable or not, the question is whether or not God actually exists (improbable isn't impossible after all)!! My eyes started to move in opposite directions as I groped for the significance of this statement. So much for improbability arguments I guess. Evolution and the wholly natural "fine tuning" of the universe will just have to be attacked on other grounds from now on. Actually, lets just change all the rules for God.

7. Comment #46319 by krogercomplete on May 30, 2007 at 11:04 pm

Favorite part II: I love the CS Lewis quote about believing in God as you believe the sun rises because through it you see everything else. No shit. By believing in God, a difficult to comprehend universe is explained. If answers to tough questions are what you are looking for, I can make up just about anything you want. Excellent reason to believe in God.

8. Comment #46329 by robhu on May 31, 2007 at 12:03 am

Google video says this for me:

We're sorry, but the provider of this video has not authorised Google to display this video in your location.

I'm in the UK (using Bulldog as my ISP... I've also tried with another ISP).

9. Comment #46336 by tomasekeli on May 31, 2007 at 1:21 am

We're sorry, but the provider of this video has not authorized Google to display this video in your location.

I'm in Norway.

10. Comment #46342 by IceFreak2000 on May 31, 2007 at 1:46 am

 avatarI can't view the video either; my ISP is Nildram (Pipex) in the UK

11. Comment #46346 by Hugo on May 31, 2007 at 2:19 am

 avatarI get SQL errors in the article on this page (Google reader shows it ok)
And can't see the movie, it seems that it is only visible in the US, I tried some proxy servers and the US ones did not show the "not authorized" text but the proxy servers had problems with the Google video plug-in so I could not see it anyway :(

12. Comment #46397 by Martin on May 31, 2007 at 5:44 am

 avatarComment #46346 by Hugo:
I get SQL errors in the article on this page

I get the errors too (Unable to jump to row 0 on MySQL ...)

And can't see the movie, it seems that it is only visible in the US, ...

Same here in The Netherlands. Darn! I was so looking forward to seeing it.

13. Comment #46429 by BigJohn on May 31, 2007 at 7:33 am

 avatar"We're sorry, but the provider of this video has not authorized Google to display this video in your location." Plus, a bunch of mysql warnings.

This is in the U.S., so, based on all of the other posts, it must not be available anywhere. It must have been taken down because this interview plus others are to be released on a DVD.

14. Comment #46434 by Hugo on May 31, 2007 at 7:46 am

 avatarIt is also being discussed in the forum, I've posted a link to this page there and am doing the same here

RD himself said that it would be coming online so I guess there's some upload issues.

15. Comment #46461 by TheHardProblem on May 31, 2007 at 10:52 am

woo! its ávailable again. for me that is

16. Comment #46463 by Richard Dawkins on May 31, 2007 at 11:09 am

Thank you Josh for getting it up and running again. Apologies for the time when it was not available during today.


17. Comment #46471 by steve99 on May 31, 2007 at 11:41 am

 avatarFor those who can't see it yet - be patient, it is well worth it. It was a good, polite - even friendly - debate, with McGrath even conceding the strength of many of Dawkins' arguments, and Dawkins saying that McGrath made reasonable points. I believe this is evidence (if such were needed) that helps demolish criticisms of Dawkins as an angry and fundamentalist atheist. He argues with a polite perstence. Nevertheless, it is devastating. It obviously does not have any effect on McGrath's faith, but it certainly is very revealing to viewers.

I think Dawkins' polite debating style here throws into contrast some of the attacks on McGrath here. Personal attacks on McGrath's head tilt or his manner are inappropriate. They are irrelevant to the quality or otherwise of his arguments.

18. Comment #46472 by Lodestone on May 31, 2007 at 11:49 am

 avatarI emailed the viewing problem to Josh(as I am sure thousands of others have) and it appears to be working now... Thanks from the United States. I have not been able to see it all but what I have seen so far has been refreshing civil. Good form Richard.

19. Comment #46480 by simonova on May 31, 2007 at 12:38 pm

Imagine quoting CS Lewis!! Richard was on top of this interview from the first second. Bravo for exuding confidence and treating McGrath with respect that he didn't deserve.

20. Comment #46482 by chbg21808 on May 31, 2007 at 12:38 pm

One of the most pleasing interviews I have seen from Professor Dawkins... It was more like a debate, but without a moderator. I would love to see more extended interviews like this from Dawkins.

Alister McGrath was articulate and polite, but at the end of the day it was just polite waffle.

McGrath's save one child, tidal wave argument was pathetic. Dawkins stumped him brilliantly.

Richard Dawkins comments to McGrath's final question on anger towards religion, came across like a soliloquy and was very moving... almost as if McGrath wasn't in the room and Dawkins was thinking out loud, when talking about the religious programming of children's minds.

21. Comment #46486 by doodinthemood on May 31, 2007 at 12:52 pm

Is there a version of this that isn't so quiet? it's virtually silent for me, I had to put my speakers on full and get lots of background hiss.

22. Comment #46490 by yourmaninamsterdam on May 31, 2007 at 1:02 pm

I actually very much enjoyed this conversation.
For quite a long time I'm waiting for someone of the religious to present some kind of reasonable argument.
Last time I was satisfied with someone it was the Bishop of Oxford (can't remember his name, but names are not my thing to remember anyway).

Let me in short explain, why...
Although I personally am an atheist and second Richard Dawkins' opinion strongly, there are some people (whom I know personally, but also around here in the forums), who militantly block all arguments from people who are Christians, or actually religious whatsoever.
I just don't think it is right.
I do not believe in God, as the Bishop of Oxford or Alister McGrath, but as I cannot prove the non-existence of God in any way, I am perfectly open to hear the opinion of other people on that matter, as long as it is presented without fundamentalistic claims or any kind of unreasonable kind-of-argument. That is why I try to understand what people think instead of blocking them in their belief.
If you say something like "Oh, come on, your talk is nothing more than the usual Creationism-bullshit", then don't expect to be understood or respected.
There are lots of Creationists on the web, who simply argue so badly that it is not worth to think about it for a long time to realize that they somehow do not know what they are talking about. But there are also some people who obviously are not that stupid.

I want to say something in support of all the competent theologists, whom Richard Dawkins has argued with or maybe in the future.
If you see any inconsistencies in their argument (and I clearly *don't* want to state there are none), don't understand that as a proof of stupidity, general falsehood or (worse) a reason to generally bash them.
These lacks of consitency may also be your misunderstanding, or technically your lack of understanding (note that I also *don't* want to state, that I have this understanding).
It is just that those people have spend quite a long time thinking about that matter and figuring out what they believe is right. But this doesn't make them capable to argue everything ad-hoc in a manner which appeal to everyone who comes along.
When it comes to my feeling, my intuition, or any sort of very complex ideas or matter, which I can answer for myself, it does *not* mean that my thoughts on it can clearly and 100-percent-correctly be transfered into words.

To give a rather simple example of what I mean (out of the usual context):
I spend some of my time programming (I study Computer Science). After some time one gains a intuition, feeling or name it whatever you want, what to do, and especially HOW to to something in special cases. I CAN do that correctly right in the first try, I CAN suggest or even give advice to do it that way, but I often CANNOT say, why this is so... there are things which come as you progress in your experience...
I hope, you could get what I'm up to...

There's another thing which I enjoyed to see in this interview, and that is Richard Dawkings being asked a question.
When I think about it, I really would like to see Richard Dawkins being interviewed on that matter, not alway him interviewing other people (and I don't mean some television moderations without a clue what they are talking about, asking the same questions over and over again).

23. Comment #46494 by SonOfPearl on May 31, 2007 at 1:12 pm

I think this discussion captures nicely the reason why the title 'The God Delusion' is so apt.

McGrath is clearly an articulate and polite man who is capable of debating points with RD, but when he cannot find a way of answering a question he simply falls into a loop and starts repeating himself instead of openly facing the possibility that his belief in a god is mistaken. He is literally deluding himself. He cannot face the prospect that he is wrong and there is no god.

The question is whether he is aware of this self-delusion or has suppressed it so deeply that he is blissfully unaware. Religious belief is a powerful delusion indeed.

24. Comment #46495 by doodinthemood on May 31, 2007 at 1:13 pm

also "The way I would respond would be this"... It's an interesting catchphrase but it gets a tad annoying after a while :)

25. Comment #46496 by NMcC on May 31, 2007 at 1:16 pm

I've said this before on another thread, but I think it's worth repeating: I don't know about McGrath being deluded in his belief about God, I genuinely believe that he is deluded about his own biography.

Once again he claims here in the first few seconds that he was an atheist, a Marxist, and influenced to view religion negatively by the Northern Ireland troubles etc.

Below is excerpts from the other thread in which myself and a fellow Northern Irishman discussed this. The debate mentioned is the one McGrath did with Peter Atkins.

"Whenever I hear McGrath claim that he was once an atheist (which he does every time he writes or speaks) I just laugh now.

I genuinely think he suffers from some form of 'false memory syndrome'. Either that or he's talked that much bollocks in his life that he's confused himself.

In this debate he mentions that 'I grew up in the fifties', yet, at the same time his atheism, at least in part, and according to him, was informed by how religion in Northern Ireland led to the Troubles. Since the Troubles in Northern Ireland didn't really get started big time until around the early seventies (as far as I can remember, although nominally protestant, my family was still living in a predominantly catholic area until then anyway), McGrath's claims would seem to be self-refuting. If he gave up his alleged atheism at the age of 18, and he grew up in the fifties, surely he would have become a theist before the Troubles in Northern Ireland even started.

Incidentally, the claim that the Troubles in Northern Ireland were to any great degree caused by religion in the first place is simply not true. Even if it was the case however, how on earth could such a situation have the slightest influence on any thinking person in terms of the existence or non-existence of the Christian God? What has rioting mobs on the Falls Road or Shankill Road in Belfast got to do with the argument from first cause, or a 13.7 billion year old universe or the lack of evidence for the supposed divinity (or even historicity) of Jesus? What has the actions of an Irish nationalist terrorist in planting a bomb in a Belfast pub got to do with whether or not Darwinian natural selection means there is no requirement for a supernatural creator? And so on...

When we bear in mind McGrath's latest claims in this debate that when he was young he was a bit of an astronomer, I think his real biography might throw up a few surprises."

"I've just discovered that McGrath would have been 18 years old in January 1971.

Given that the Troubles in Northern Ireland had barely started at that point, surely McGrath's more truthful claim should be that he was an 'atheist' until he witnessed all those Christians in Northern Ireland murdering each other whereupon he became a Christian too!

I'd forgotten that McGrath has claimed that he was a teenage Marxist into the bargain.

Blimey! The only thing he wasn't, then, was a teenage warewolf apparently.

What annoys me even more about McGrath now is that I would bet my life he wasn't even a Marxist but was some kind of vague, dopey Leninist who never read a word of anything Karl Marx himself ever wrote.

So, let's sum up: McGrath as a 13 year old was an atheist (but was really a religion hater influenced by the Northern Ireland Troubles which had yet to begin), a Marxist (but really a stroppy Leninist), an astronomer (who thought the mind boggling wonders of the universe were bleak and discomforting) and became a Christian through studying for his degree (although he had become a Christian 7 years before that).

Confused!? No wonder he is!"

26. Comment #46497 by Jiten on May 31, 2007 at 1:22 pm

 avatarWhy do the interview standing up? Surely it would have been more comfortable sitting down.It made me uncomfortable!

The Stalin problem again.Theists like to blame Stalin's atheism for the deaths of millions.Which is absurd.But atheists in turn like to blame Stalin's "dogmatic Marxism" (as said by Dawkins in the interview).This is passing the buck.The buck's gotta stop somewhere! But where? We need to turn to psycology,especially the psycology of bullies,tyrants and psycopaths.

27. Comment #46502 by Reg on May 31, 2007 at 1:43 pm

The part that did it for me was fifty minutes in, when Richard's tenacity, superior debating skills and of course being armed with truths, had the man flummoxed. Darwin's rottweiler had the rag and Christ's Yorkshire terrier had yapped itself into a state of exhaustion, wishing it could crawl up its own arse. Whereas The Hitch gives a verbal bitch slapping, a Richard Dawkins onslaught is the verbal equivalence of ripping out the theist heart and watching its last beats. I don't feel that I would ever want to see Richard debate that imbecile again as he has proven himself not up to the task, that's him finished. What a team the musketeers are, they give me hope and make me glad to live in these times.

Sun comes up, sun goes down.

28. Comment #46504 by flyingscot on May 31, 2007 at 1:49 pm

 avatarI enjoyed the interview very much and do appreciate that it was posted for us to see.
Alister McGrath's answers were convoluted and more than a little garbled whereas Richard's presentation was precise and crystal clear. However it was a polite debate, considering, McGrath is one of the fleas!

29. Comment #46505 by Lionel A on May 31, 2007 at 2:06 pm

 avatarI also suffered from the

'We're sorry, but the provider of this video has not authorised Google to display this video in your location.'

when trying to access over NTL (Virgin) broadband here in the UK and I must say that now I have had a viewing (thanks for posting it here) Richard has confounded McGrath and brought him up sharp with a round turn and a half-hitch.

I recently decided to search Amozon UK for book titles by McGrath, I was astonished at the number of titles listed. Very much a case of 'never mind the quality feel the width'

30. Comment #46507 by scottishgeologist on May 31, 2007 at 2:12 pm

 avatarKeith asked:

I actually started to wonder if he also talks to his wife and in this authoritative-lecturing style

Well if he's an Evangie, then his wife will know her place, ie baby factory. The man is the covenant head of the household. Woman is subservient. Bible tells us this. Also tells us that Christ is superior to the man, so there!

Go along to any evangie "fellowship" supper - you can bet your bottom dollar its 100% women who are doing the catering, cleaning up and so on.The men sit around and discuss heady matters as befits their covenantally superior position.

I know. I used to go there. I've seen it. And if like me, you are a man, and you DO help with the washing up, they look at you kinda funny.....

31. Comment #46524 by jaytee_555 on May 31, 2007 at 2:36 pm

This interview was a rare treat, and not least because of McGrath's fluency. It is not often one gets to see the absurdity of Christian belief so clearly articulated. Each time McGrath thought he had raised an unassailable defence of his position, Richard walked right through it as if it had been an open door. McGrath has arrogantly (and frequently) accused Dawkins of simply not understanding theology, but given all that time to 'explain' it to him, and come out of the interview looking like a confused teenager is quite ironic. McGrath's arguments were so incoherent overall that Richard was not challenged in the slightest. Because it is lengthy and unedited, I think this video is a classic, and needs to be circulated as widely as possible.


32. Comment #46555 by Russell Blackford on May 31, 2007 at 4:17 pm

 avatarI watched most of it, but was pressed for time and didn't make it to the end (will try again later). I enjoyed this discussion very much - McGrath was courteous and articulate, not someone I'd be interested in denigrating, at least going just on this. Much of what he said made sense to me, though my experience is pretty much the opposite of his: i.e., I found that the religious way of looking at things didn't make sense as a good explanation of how the world works, after trying to get by with it through my teenage years.

I was a bit surprised at his manner, i.e. the courteous, conciliatory approach, as some of his written comments that we've all seen have been very nasty and personal.

It is, indeed, regrettable that this wasn't excerpted in The Root of all Evil? as it was a high quality conversation.

33. Comment #46564 by toomanytribbles on May 31, 2007 at 4:41 pm

 avatarwell, mcgrath is being truthful when saying he was once an atheist -- all children start out that way.

34. Comment #46586 by godisanidiot on May 31, 2007 at 6:10 pm

It's so funny, after a time of listening to christians you really can predict what they will answer, which escape routes they will take in a debate.

I think you raised a lot of questions...
I think you again raised a lot of questions...
I think you again raised a lot of questions...
I think you again raised a lot of questions...
I think you again raised a lot of questions...
I think you again raised a lot of questions...

Hmm why would that be :D

McGrath surely has in abundance one of the most important skills for a christian: endlessly fluently babbling on. If you really get into difficulties just repeat the same over and over till the listener has no time anymore or gets fed up.

35. Comment #46589 by GodlessHeathen on May 31, 2007 at 6:21 pm

 avatarWatching McGrath dance and twist and evade as Dawkins pressed was somewhat sad.

When a theologian of any stripe reaches the limit of their scope, they twist back on themselves, trying their best to make that limit "real".

When a scientist reaches the limit of their scope, they simply say "I don't know". At worst, they may speculate on what lies beyond, the best making sure we know they are merely speculating.

This interview illustrated that well.

36. Comment #46601 by keith on May 31, 2007 at 7:07 pm

I'm not convinced that the head tilt and the artificial manner are totally irrelevant to the topic (though I did mention them more in jest than anything else). On this website we always seem to be trying to understand why someone would prefer a religious explanation (i.e. a bad one) over a scientific one (a good one). This desire to choose the supernatural over the natural is especially perplexing in an intelligent person, as McGrath clearly is. I think perhaps looking into someone's psychology might be one place to start understanding this phenomenon, and why not start with what we can see i.e. gestures, posture, manner etc? To me, McGrath's whole manner seems to have been consciously constructed to an incredible degree, and I asked myself what kind of a person would go out of their way to shun a more natural manner in order to acquire such an affected one. It occurred to me that he might have developed this super-authoritative, artificial style as a way of distancing 'himself' from ideas that he knows, at some deeper level (as Bertrand Russell would claim), are indefensible. Were he ever forced to admit that he'd been wrong, I think that not only would his whole belief system collapse, but also his constructed personality with it. The two seem to me inextricably linked, in a way that they are not in the personality of the famous teacher of Richard Dawkins' days, the 'I have been wrong these fifteen years' professor. All this is mere speculation. It could be that Alistair McGrath is just by nature a very annoying person, poor bloke. By the way, had he started picking his nose or scratching his arse during the interview, I would have commented on this too, though strictly speaking, this too, would have had little relevance to his argument.

37. Comment #46615 by ericross on May 31, 2007 at 8:11 pm

I couldn't believe that McGrath actually argued something like, "I'm not sure God could have made a world without earthquakes." If the Christian God existed then of course he could have -- that's what omnipotence means. I was even more surprised, however, that Dawkins let him get away with that ridiculous rationalization.

Incidentally, McGrath's reasons for allegedly being an atheist years ago boil down to "I wanted to be a part of the in-crowd", while his reasons for being a Christian now boil down to "I find it appealing".

38. Comment #46618 by caledonventures on May 31, 2007 at 8:30 pm

In response to comment 46471 Steve99

It is inappropriate to condemn free speech.
The fundamentalist christians have not changed the U.S. Constitution, yet! Nor do we need a fundamentalist athiest to even try.....

Mcgrath lectured with an elequence of affected speech, with more than a small dose of condescension, mistakenly construed as politeness.

As I said in my original comment, Mcgrath's arguments for religion and faith, was verbal diarrhoea.

His fairy stories should remain where they belong, in the midden. To elucidate, Garden Trash.

39. Comment #46643 by Dianelos Georgoudis on June 1, 2007 at 1:20 am

I think that this interview very well illustrates the fact that theism and atheism represent radically different worldviews, i.e. different ways to understand reality. This is evidenced by how often Dawkins and McGrath simply talked past each other. Dawkins apparently thinks that the issue of God's existence is a matter of scientific investigation or of applying the scientific method (for example where he compares the existence of God with the existence of the eye, and thinks that the complexity of both must be accounted for by some naturalist explanatory means) – whereas McGrath repeatedly insisted the religion is about understanding reality and our place in it beyond the scientific investigation of, and resulting knowledge about, physical phenomena.

I was also struck with the big issue about the single child that is not killed in some natural catastrophe. Even though I don't quite agree with McGrath's position that God directly saved that particular child, neither do I find his position incoherent. His position seems to be this: God as a rule does not interfere with the natural order; after all if God did as a rule interfere with the natural order then we would be living in some kind of magical Mickey Mouse kind of world and clearly the world we live in is nothing like that. But God does in some rare occasions, and particularly in the midst of great calamity, directly interfere, for example to save that one child. So I don't understand what Dawkins found so hard to grasp in McGrath's position. The question that I wished Dawkins would have asked at this point is this: If God does in some cases interfere in the natural order then there should be objective (albeit statistical) evidence for God's existence (for example that prayer is sometimes effective), but no such objective evidence has been found.

40. Comment #46656 by godisanidiot on June 1, 2007 at 3:11 am

But God does in some rare occasions, and particularly in the midst of great calamity, directly interfere, for example to save that one child. So I don't understand what Dawkins found so hard to grasp in McGrath's position.

Because his so called explanation is completely irrational. But of course did we expect anything else?

41. Comment #46658 by Rtambree on June 1, 2007 at 3:18 am

McGrath has no clothes. He is an intellectual imposter.

If more people could see past the Oxbridge accent, suit, polite mannerism, and status, they should say to him "You're talking bollocks and the asylum is that way".

Whoever is paying his salary should charge him for fraud and demand a refund.

How do his students summarise his lecture notes? How do you summarise.... "yes, what is significant is that there's a tension to be resolved and a dialogue to be explored..."

McGrath is not even wrong. He's unintelligible. Two different languages were being spoken in that interview.

If there was an annual award for nonsensical academic gobbledegook (like the Razzies), it should be called the AMAFTS - Alister McGrath Award For Talking Shit.

Richard, you'll never get that hour back that you wasted with that idiot. Speakers Corner would have been more fun.

42. Comment #46676 by bouwe on June 1, 2007 at 4:12 am

I was a bit surprised at his manner, i.e. the courteous, conciliatory approach, as some of his written comments that we've all seen have been very nasty and personal.
Wasn't it McGrath who wrote a letter to one of the British papers calling Dawkins "Britain's grumpiest atheist"? He's all polite and civilized in person because he's a wimp; when he is safe in his study writing letters he starts getting personal. He is willing to paint Dawkins in this unfair light and distract people from learning what RD is talking about.

43. Comment #46682 by ryanbooker on June 1, 2007 at 4:33 am

I really enjoyed that conversation. I found McGrath's faith in God very illuminating of the religious mind. He gave a lot of long winded, yet meaningless or purposely abstract answers, and seemed very content to flip between an interventionist God and deistic God whenever it suited him.

I loved that he spent so much time abstracting out his belief and essentially arguing for a deistic God and then spoke about why he's a Christian as if the Bible's account is undoubtedly factual. Very odd.

I have to say I did find his continual use of the phrase 'What I'd want to say', infuriating. It seemed like the intellectual equivalent of using the word 'like' in every sentence. Not that that has any baring on his arguments, of course.

I also found it hilarious when he basically spat the dummy by claiming 'I've already covered this', when pressed on the contradictions in what he was saying. He seemed to genuinely not see the conflicts in his points, and to not understand why he was being pressed.

44. Comment #46705 by bitbutter on June 1, 2007 at 8:02 am

 avatarAn entertaining clip.

But infuriating too. There was a repeating pattern. Dawkins asks a very straight-forward question, mcgrath replies: "You've raised a very interesting question, What i would _want_ to say in reply is this..." and proceeds to answer something entirely different. This, because it happened so frequently, strikes me as dishonest.

45. Comment #46724 by Logicel on June 1, 2007 at 9:28 am

 avatarI was unable to endure McGrath's repellent physical gesturing and verbal style more than a few seconds. However, I have read some of his articles and am familiar with his sophisticated brand of religious hogwash.

Keith, I agree with your psychological 'speculation' regarding the possible reason why McGrath is so stiff and unwelcoming in his verbal and physical mannerisms. As McGrath is an adept at denying that the emperor is naked, what else can a freethinker latch onto except what McGrath's peculiar and frozen physical behavior is saying about his personal reality?

Apparently, his abominable style is perceived as soothing to some church-going members. I regard this positive effect as a very significant clue as to why McGrath speaks and acts the way he does. Preachers and theologians share the talent of performing in front of an audience with secular entertainers.

However for me, the atheist that I am, it is as if McGrath's entire body was rough sandpaper and it pains me just to think of an accidental brushing against him, while his strangely strangled voice oozes words out like a continuous stream of thick, congealed mud.

46. Comment #46726 by steve99 on June 1, 2007 at 9:39 am

It is inappropriate to condemn free speech

If you consider what I was doing 'condemning free speech', then you would block anyone disagreeing with any point of view.

Mcgrath lectured with an elequence of affected speech, with more than a small dose of condescension, mistakenly construed as politeness.

And this is the kind of thing I think is inappropriate. You have no evidence for his speech being affected, or his manner being condescending rather than polite. This is an ad-hominem attack, and does not in any way counter what McGrath says. If you are going to attack his 'affected' voice, you might as well say he is wrong because of his hairstyle, or his clothes sense. This kind of attack lowers the tone of debate and does our case no favours.

47. Comment #46727 by Rtambree on June 1, 2007 at 9:45 am

A fascinating question is... does McGrath actually believe the drivel that emanates from his melodious larynx?

Is it self-delusion or is it conscious fraud? Does he go to bed each night thinking "I've got away with it again"?

Perhaps it's the case of a career that develops an inertia of its own where each step down the road to dishonesty is imperceptible from the last step, but nevertheless progresses to the irreversibly compromised intellect that we all puzzle over today.

48. Comment #46729 by Logicel on June 1, 2007 at 9:51 am

 avatarDianelos Georgoudis wrote: His position seems to be this: God as a rule does not interfere with the natural order; after all if God did as a rule interfere with the natural order then we would be living in some kind of magical Mickey Mouse kind of world and clearly the world we live in is nothing like that.

Religious believers, especially the sophisticated ones like McGrath can be marvelous in the way they can manage to verbally twist and turn to support their UNFOUNDED, NON-EVIDENTIAL, FAITH-BASED beliefs.

In psychiatry, a delusional paranoid person is wrong in his/her belief that he/she is being followed by a non-existent stalker. However, once that delusional premise is accepted, the rest of the patient's logic is perfectly rational. The patient will look out for the stalker and try to prevent him/herself from winding up in a deserted location, etc.

With religious folks of the educated theologian brand which McGrath represents, it requires a bit of vigilance to keep in focus that their superbly glib logic and reasoning is based on a premise that has no support in reality.

49. Comment #46730 by Logicel on June 1, 2007 at 10:01 am

 avatarI forgot the exact percentage, but a hefty bit of our so-called verbal communication comes from the non-verbal bits, like body language, hand gestures, tone and inflection of the voice, etc.

Communication experts when dissecting a verbal performance will always focus on the non verbal bits as they are also communicating essential information.

50. Comment #46732 by Rtambree on June 1, 2007 at 10:04 am

48. Comment #46729 by Logicel

>it requires a bit of vigilance to keep in focus that their so-called superbly glib logic and reasoning is based on a premise that has no support in reality.

Yes, even a cursory knowledge of intellectual history and human cognition reveals that people are capable of rationalising just about any proposition. That's not to say that logic is useless, only that our ape brains are not capable of employing logic in a vacuum to derive any useful information. It must always be alloyed with evidence as a reference point. Armchair rationalism, no matter how good the intention, can quickly lead to inane speculation. And each step (e.g. if A therefore B, therefore C...) leads one further from the truth. Or in other words, if you guess, chances are you'll be wrong.

Alister McGrath is a perfect example of what Michael Shermer was refering to in "Why people believe weird things" where he had a chapter "Why smart people believe weird things".

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