Saturday 21 February 2009

Moral relativism - a debate too short

This week's Moral Maze was broadcast live on BBC Radio 4, on the evening of Wednesday 18 February 2009.

From the Radio 4 website:
This week the Moral Maze celebrates its 500th edition with a special programme in front of a live audience at the Royal Society of Medicine, in London. The question Michael Buerk and the panel will be posing is; if you don’t believe in a set of divinely inspired moral rules, how do you decide right from wrong in a world with complex and competing interests? We live in an age where there is no longer general agreement on religion and the time when our society was united by a common set of values based on a belief in God is long gone. Is it hopelessly optimistic to believe that Man can create an ethical framework based on a belief in individual responsibility and mutual respect or are those secular values a much a better guide than any sectarian dogma or religious text? Can a post-religious society be a moral society and if so, whose morals will we live by?

PANEL: Michael Buerk (Chair); Melanie Phillips; Claire Fox; Michael Portillo; Clifford Longley.

WITNESSES: Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark; Professor Alistair McGrath, Head of the Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture at King’s College and author of The Dawkins Delusion; Peter Cave, chair of the British Humanist Philosophers group and author of Humanism, a Beginner's Guide; Dr Evan Harris MP, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon.
The audio is available here for seven days:

Also available on RapidShare:
(20 MB 64k mp3 43'34")

The Moral Maze is usually live, but not recorded before an audience. This 500th edition was broadcast live, and in front of an audience, whose reactions to the various contributions were audible. Peter Cave did a good job deflecting Melanie Phillips' loaded questions, and succeeded in doing so with understated humour and a degree of gentle mockery. Alister McGrath was, as expected, his usual circumlocutory self (a description I've used before - he doesn't change). Michael Portillo seemed to be sincerely engaged with the issues, but the debate was too short with too many participants. My (biased) assessment of the consensus is that the secularist/humanist side won this debate by a clear margin. At the least, the programme will have raised consciousness.


  1. Thanks for that. I look forward to anything with McGrath, mostly as evidence to confirm my hypothesis that he is completely incapable of not saying absolutely nothing whatsoever with as many words as he can get away with (something I've dubbed as "theonasm" (q.v. pleonasm).

    And hearing Phillips get a verbal slapdown is just icing on the cake.

  2. I always find Alistair McGrath good for a laugh, ever since seeing him in an extended interview with Richard Dawkins (filmed for - but never used in - the Channel 4 TV series "Root of All Evil?").