Help me find this guy!
February 21, 2012 5:16 PM   Subscribe

Help me identify a participant in a long-form debate on religion, who rebuffed a strict atheist.

Okay, this is driving me crazy, and I figure maybe you guys can help.

Around the end of 2010 I got on a kick of watching long-form debates, especially about religion. I watched the Tony Blair vs Hitchens ones, the Intelligence Squared one with Dawkins and Archbishop Tutu, and as many others as I could find. All very interesting, but there's one in particular that I'm trying to re-find, and there's so many of these debates on Youtube and whatnot that it's proving difficult.

I'll say what details I can remember. Memory being what it is, some of these details might be wrong! It was either an Intelligence-Squared debate, or something with a similar format - organised by an academic institution, or maybe PBS, or... something like that. I believe the debate was in the region of an hour long. Unless I'm misremembering, this was on Google Video but not Youtube.

I can't remember exactly what the topic of the debate was, but I *believe* it wasn't so much on whether god exists as whether religion was beneficial or not (it wasn't "Is Religion a Force For Good", i.e. the Hitchens/Blair one, but it may have been similar). Whatever the forum, it wasn't as heavily publicised and televised as the Hitchens/Blair one.

I think it was 2v2, or maybe 3v3 - pretty certain it wasn't 1v1. On the 'atheist' side, there was at least one fairly major name in that movement - I believe it was Dawkins, but if not, it was someone similarly recognisable (Hitchens?).

The person I'm thinking of on the 'theist' side I remember as not being especially famous. He wasn't a clergyman or the like, I believe he was a scientist - of some field like biology, perhaps? - or maybe an academic philosopher. Basically, he seemed to be fairly prominet but in a comparatively niche field. He was caucasian (I believe), and maybe in his 30s or 40s. He had brownish hair, relatively short I think, and I remember him being quite softly spoken.

The reason I remember this debate and want to find it again was this guy's line of argument. Dawkins (or whoever it was - I'll use his name) came out with the typical rationalist/reductionist arguments against religion, implying they can only be used to deceive, and to enable oppression and violence, and to retard progress, and so forth.

Obscure Guy (let's call him that), countered with what I thought was a nicely balanced response. He wasn't coming across as being religious per se - certainly not in an established institution. He argued that regardless of whether or not you can reduce religion down to provable/disprovable arguments and whether it's been used as a tool of oppression in the part - even regardless of whether you feel its benefits outweigh its negatives - nevertheless, religion and spirituality have always been a major component of human life and thought and have been intimately wound in with human progress and . And beyond that, even if you feel the payoff is not worth the sacrifice, spirituality is *still* an indespensible part of how humans view and understand such a vast and sublime universe - even for an atheist, religion is in a sense an integral part of understanding things outside our usual sphere of understanding.

And I remember Dawkins (or whoever) possibly getting rather defensive and protesting that you can't wall off such experiences as being religious, possibly repeating the past sins of religious institutions despite Obscure Guy's protests that that wasn't his point... in general, I remember getting the impression that Obscure Guy was handling the debate on a more nuanced and sophisticated level than Dawkins (whereas previously, I think Hitchens(?) used the same argument much more successfully against Tony Blair).

So that's about all I've got. I'm interested by this guy's arguments because it didn't come across as apologist, but did come across as a subtler-than-usual counterpoint to Dawkins's style of hard, combative rationalism. Does this ring a bell with anyone?
posted by Drexen to Religion & Philosophy (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Do you remember if Obscure Guy was British or American/Canadian or other?
Do you remember if there was a "celebrity" on the pro-theism side?

Are you more likely to have seen this if it came from a British vs American/Canadian (or other) show/institution?
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:24 PM on February 21, 2012

Response by poster: Good questions, and I wish I could be more sure of the answers. :P

Do you remember if Obscure Guy was British or American/Canadian or other?

I'm relatively sure that Obscure Guy was American (or possibly Canadian). If not, British.

Do you remember if there was a "celebrity" on the pro-theism side?

I don't believe there was anyone as recognisable as Dawkins, no. I think this was one of Dawkins's 'lower circuit' debates, as it were - less high-profile. That is, if it was Dawkins on the atheist side.

Are you more likely to have seen this if it came from a British vs American/Canadian (or other) show/institution?

I'd imagine Google would have tended to show me more results from British sources, but it's entirely possible it was American.
posted by Drexen at 5:50 PM on February 21, 2012

Hitchens vs. Fry?
posted by Sys Rq at 5:59 PM on February 21, 2012

Response by poster: Sys Rq: Not that one, unfortunately. It was a similar format, but not as high profile - I don't believe the one I'm thinking of was broadcast live, or if it was, it must have been on a more minor channel. Less 'TV studio', more 'University lecturing hall'. I may be wrong about this, but I think the colours in the room were more predominantly red than blue. The more I think about it, the more sure I am Dawkins was there.

I've just looked through the archive of past IQ2 events (here), and it doesn't look like it was any of those - it must have been organized by someone else. I'm inclined to think it was an American institution of some kind, but that might be wrong.
posted by Drexen at 6:14 PM on February 21, 2012

Christopher Hitchens vs. Chris Hedges?
posted by yz at 7:00 PM on February 21, 2012

Response by poster: A-ha!! I found it.

It was an IQ2 debate, after all, and not American. Apparently it either wasn't in the index, or I missed it!

Debate: "We'd be better off without religion."

For: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Anthony Grayling.
Against: Nigel Spivey, Rabbi Julia Neuberger, Roger Scruton.

"Obscure Guy" is Dr. Nigel Spivey, a "teacher of classical art and architecture at Cambridge". His arguments are as compelling (to me) as his suit is ill-fitting (objectively, it is over 6.4 ill-fitting). Unfortunately I can't find anything else by him on this subject!

Thanks for the suggestions, folks, very glad to have worked it out. :)
posted by Drexen at 9:09 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: P.S. I found it by trawling through this list: 600+ Atheism vs. Theism debates.
posted by Drexen at 9:20 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Glad you got it. And what a resource that site you linked is!
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:29 PM on February 21, 2012

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