I served as the head of the Oxford L’Chaim society and rabbi at Oxford University for 11 years from 1988 until 1999. In that time with my organization, I staged large discussions and debates featuring world personalities arguing the great issues of our time in front of hundreds of students. One of the most popular series were debates on science and religion that took place on approximately five occasions, all of which involved leading scientists and religious thinkers, and which Oxford’s noted evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins participated in. Dawkins and I became friends through these debates. He was always cordial, accessible, and friendly. I grew to like him a great deal--my wife and I even hosted him and his wife at our home for Shabbat lunch.

After returning to the United States with my family, I did not see Dr. Dawkins for a number of years and therefore welcomed the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion with him on science and religion at the IdeaCity Convention in Toronto in the Summer of 2007. IdeaCity is a prestigious media convention that takes place annually. When I arrived I was surprised by Dr. Dawkin's cool reception of me and his informing me that he could not stay to hear my rebuttal of his remarks, which immediately followed his own. I attributed his coldness towards me to a shift in his perception of people of faith following the publication of his book, “The G-d Delusion,” and many subsequent interviews in which he slams religious people as “know-nothings,” “fundamentalist hypocrites,” “hillbillies,” “vulnerable to subversion,” and “suffering from a delusion.”

I had tried to make some overtures to Dr. Dawkins in the interim years and had not received a response, so I decided to just accept that we had drifted apart. Fast forward to about a month ago when for, no reason, Dawkins attacked me on his website and denied that he and I had ever debated. My office quickly posted the full footage of a two hour debate which took place on October 23, 1996, a debate which Dawkins actually lost after a vote taken by the students as to which side, science or religion, caused more students to change their minds. In my article on the subject responding to his attack I was extremely respectful of Dr. Dawkins and was therefore shocked to receive a letter in return in which he accused me of speaking like Hitler. Had the noted scientist lost his mind? Hitler? Was this for real? Did a world-renowned scientist just compare me to the history’s most reprehensible monster? And was this the man who attacked religion constantly for not being based in fact? This monumentally libelous and loathsome assault boggled the mind. What kind of decent and educated person would compare a colleague with whom they disagree to Hitler?

I wrote to Dawkins again very respectfully and gave him the opportunity to apologize. Instead he invoked the comparison again.

I would encourage all our readers to look at the video of the IdeaCity convention. Where Dawkins heard Hitler, I believe you will find a humorous, well-argued response to his dismissal of G-d and faith that was extremely well-received by the highly educated and influential audience to whom it was delivered. Certainly, the press reports of the speech which are available online were extremely laudatory and Moses Znaimer, the celebrated Canadian media personality who convened the conference wrote to me, “With your terrific contribution to [the conference] still ringing in my ears, I’d like to send you my formal thanks… We’ve had great feedback about the conference as a whole and you are certainly one of the top reasons why.”

You can see the rest of the postings between me and Dr. Dawkins and judge everything for yourself. My main point through all this is that science and religion need not be enemies and atheists and people of faith can get along just fine, so long as we all behave with mutual respect and civility. Disagreement need not lead to hostility and we dare never allow ourselves to descend into hatred.

Oh, I also gave Dr. Dawkins the opportunity to even score by accepting a further debate, at the time and place of his choosing (within reason, of course), to which he has yet to respond.

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