Professor Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury are to have a ‘civilised conversation’ in Oxford.

Officially branded a ‘dialogue event’, the  discussion is to be held in the Sheldonian theatre on the 23rd February. The topic of the discussion is ‘the nature of human beings and the question of their ultimate origin’. Philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny will be chairing the discussion.

The event will be a dialogue between the three speakers mentioned. The Chancellor of the University will also attend and give the welcoming address. According to the organisers, the hope is that ‘sound, academic discussion will pursue, as issues are considered by three leading academics with expertise in their own areas of study.’

A further hope is that ‘invigorating and inspiring reflection will result’, which will result in further research which in turn will be to ‘the benefit of human life and our world.’

The event is scheduled to take place on Thursday 23rd February from 4-5:30pm.

When contacted, Dawkins was quick to dismiss any misconceptions that the event is going to be a debate. When asked why he was taking part, he replied that he enjoys ‘civilised conversations’.

A website has also been set up for the event; www.originsofnature.com. Although tickets for seats at the Sheldonian sold out in a matter of hours, a livestream of the event will be available on the website. Updates of the discussion will be tweeted under the hashtag #dawkinsarchbishop. Also, a recording will eventually be posted on the website after the discussion has ended.

The event is hosted by the Sofia Europa Group of the Theology Faculty.

Margaret Yee, Faculty member and an organiser of the event, stated that it is being held to enable dialogue on a primary issue of concern. She believes that it is clearly a primary issue for many people, as the Sheldonian was booked out in 3 hours, and two overflow sites which will host the live event via big screens are almost filled (see the event website for details).

A spokesperson for the University stated that it promises to be an ‘interesting evening’.

Beth Hodgett, Theology student at Mansfield, thought that it was good to have the discussion, but thinks it inevitable the speakers will not find any common ground. Also, she was disappointed that all of the Sheldonian tickets had been sold, as she had not heard of the event before.

In further news, results from a major national survey of the religious and social attitudes of UK Christians have been published by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. According to the survey, the numbers of those who self identify as Christians have dropped from 72% to 54% in the period between the last two censuses. Of these, 49% do not think of Jesus as the son of God, 4% doubt he existed at all, and 6% don’t think that God exists.

Dawkins provided the following response to the survey; ‘despite the best efforts of church leaders and politicians to convince us that religion is still an important part of our national life, these results demonstrate that it is largely irrelevant, even to those who still label themselves Christian.’