Sunday, November 08, 2009


Roman Catholic cultural commentator Andrew M. Brown laments the performance of Archbishop Onaiyekan and Anne Widdecombe in defence of the motion 'The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world' at the recent Intelligence Squared debate. Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens ran circles around them....but then you'd kind of expect them to on just about any topic, especially against such mediocre opposition.

When Anne Widdecombe is at the podium you don't know whether to turn down the volume or dramatically lower the brightness of your screen....or both.

I've never found this kind of adversorial discussion particularly enlightening, but in this instance perspectives were indeed altered:

"The voting gives a good idea of how it went. Before the debate, for the motion: 678. Against: 1102. Don’t know: 346. This is how it changed after the debate. For: 268. Against: 1876. Don’t know: 34. In other words, after hearing the speakers, the number of people in the audience who opposed the motion increased by 774. My friend Simon, who’s a season ticket holder, said it was the most decisive swing against a motion that he could remember."

It's usually difficult for one team or the other to make converts in such encounters because both manage to find the other's weak points, but in this instance Stephen Fry led the RC pair into a number of significant intellectual traps which proved crucial in shifting the waverers:

— When you are a purveyor of absolute truth, you can hardly plead to be judged by the relative standards of different ages

— There's no point in responding aggressively to certain charges if on others you appear afraid to come out in public with your known doctrinal position

— Asking the audience not to focus on your misdeeds is indeed a bit like a paedophile in court asking the jury to forget about his track record of child abuse and consider instead the nice presents he buys for his grandmother

— An organisation which assumes responsibility for the moral lives of so many people at such a young age realy ought to have more to show for it.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Shall I assume from the frequent inability of atheists to offer any cogent rebuttal to First Cause that atheism must therefore be false?

Or should I say, I debated an atheist last Friday at 3pm at the German Beer Garden and he couldn't answer it, therefore, 'Atheism Trounced'.

Normally you're above the logical fallacies, but on this matter and your least-favorite bistro in town, you seem to have slipped!