Oxford Think Week, a joint venture by Atheist, Secularist and Humanist societies, entered its third year running this week.
Its aim is to promote reasoned, scientific, rational discourse about the ‘big issues’ that face the modern world. All the events are free to attend and it has become established on the Oxford annual calendar, attracting some big names such as Anthony Grayling and the sponsorship of the Richard Dawkins Foundation For Reason and Science.
The week featured a broad agenda, with 20 distinguished thinkers from diverse backgrounds taking part in talks and debates. Dawkins discussed contemporary topics, physicists questioned the basis for their understanding of the universe, while economists and philosophers are considering the morality of wealth and the value of institutionalised religion. On Tuesday a debate was held by panel of experts on ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’ in order to encourage progressive critical thinking through interdisciplinary dialogue. To finish the week off there was a more personal ‘ask an atheist’ drop in forum.
Ben Krishna, one of the organisers of the week, said that they were partly inspired to start think week in response to the annual Christian mission week, but that they ‘wanted to get people talking and asking questions about interesting questions instead of trying to convert people.’
Annie Webster, an organiser from Oxford Brookes, said, ‘Oxford is full of people who think a lot, and Think Week extends this invitation to people outside of academic circles. It’s a great way bring people together for a discussion on important issues and to broaden their perspectives.’
Krishna said they would like Oxford Think week to become a nationally recognised event, and added that ‘It would be really great to have new young enthusiastic people getting involved.’
Last year more than 1200 people attended events, and this year is set to be more popular, with local schools taking part. ‘We’d really like to see it become as popular as some of the major Literary festivals,’ said Humanist organiser Joseph Trakalo.
Anna Comboni, a second year Christian PPEist said, ‘I’m glad this week is happening. Insistent and perspicacious questioning of anti-Christian friends of mine has greatly helped me sharpen up areas of sloppy thinking.
‘I also really hope these talks help convince people of the seriousness and importance of questions of eternity, God and meaning – virulent opposition to Christianity is more understandable and plausible to me than apathy.’
Robbie Strachan, president of the OICCU said, ‘The Christian union likes thinking, and it also likes weeks.’
A religious first year engineer said, ‘Well you can promote reason and rational discourse all you want, but at the end of the day all you atheists are all going to burn in hell,’ to which Alex Hawkins-Hooker replied, ‘Maybe this is hell, and we are all burning.’