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Humanists win debate on religion and society at the Oxford Union

Oxford students last night voted 120 to 80 against the motion that ‘Religion is a force for good in this country’ at the Oxford Union debating society. BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson, Professor of Philosophy and BHA Vice President Simon Blackburn, and scientist Professor Peter Atkins were up against speakers including the former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries and Theos director Paul Woolley.

The opposition used survey data to demonstrate that there was no difference in pro-social behaviours such as volunteering between religious and non-religious people, pointed to historical and contemporary instances of the tremendous harm that has been done by religions to offset against any good they have done, argued that religion did not in any case add anything to compassion and human morality, and that religions clouded our ability to understand the world through reason, science and experience.

In his speech, Andrew Copson said, ‘We do not have to prove that religion is always a force for harm or that it is the only force for harm. Most people do good most of the time, and of course some of those people are religious. But the ambitious case that religion itself is a force for good is highly dubious and is not proven by the proposition.’

Notes

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing and supporting the non-religious and campaigning for an end to religious privilege and discrimination based on religion or belief.

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