Thursday, 14 February 2008

Common ground

Because the Guardian is at the cutting edge of British intellectual life, it offers us a debate between Richard Dawkins and Madeleine Bunting.

It starts badly, because whoever is in charge of this penetrating series of no-holds-barred intellectual smackdowns forgot to specify an actual topic of debate. "Religion and Science and stuff" seems to be as far as they got. But it's worth listening to a) because in intellectual combat terms it's a bit like watching a grizzly bear eviscerate a three-legged puppy and b) because of this money quote from Bunting, in regards to Dawkins unrestrained ridicule of religion:
"this enormous global responsibility we all have to communicate with each other and try to find common solutions"
Communicating with each other - fine. That this is something we should all do - fine. But the common solutions part has its limitations. There are sometimes more important goals than finding common solutions, and there are issues where, with the best will in the world, there simply isn't room for compromise. Rowan Williams' apparent willingness to gloss over this point got him into trouble last week: he didn't actually call for the stoning of adulteresses, as some tabloids' reactions might have suggested, but he didn't seem to draw any bright lines either.

I chose the name of this blog because I wanted to hint at the idea that most of what appears here is probably mistaken in some way, that a rigid certainty about all opinions can be dangerous, and a willingness to revisit your ideas is a good thing. (If I didn't succeed in communicating all that first time round, I can only apologise, and then refer your attention once more to the title.) But there are areas where you have to stick your neck out, some of them apparently controversial. Because compromising on these leaves you adrift in the fog - no bearings, no destination, just vague good intentions. To paraphrase a view on compromise from a Tom Holt novel: Halfway between right and wrong is still wrong.

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