Today I met up with Ranj a new friend from Sweden who is visiting London (and Speakers Corner) for the very first time. His English is perfect so we were able to converse and join in with some of the debates and discussions. I asked him to write down his impressions of Speakers Corner and he kindly agreed to do so. Here they are:
Today I visited Hyde Park Speaker’s Corner, something I wanted to do for several years. I had the pleasure of meeting Paul Williams and some other gentlemen for some good discussions.
I noticed it is mostly religious or people interested in religion who go there. Christian and Muslim groups take the opportunity to preach their message. I recognised fundamentalist or conservative Muslims which I have seen quite a lot. Christian fundamentalists and conservatives also become visible when speaking or having a discussion with them. My impression is they dominate among the crowd and Speaker’s Corner seems to be more of their place, whereas I always imagined all kinds of people and all kinds of subjects were discussed there like economics, politics, sociology, science etc.
Obviously then, most of the discussions I heard were about religious topics and apologetics. I have heard more interesting ones on YouTube rather than Speakers Corner. The people engaged in the discussion for the most time seemed to be very dogmatic and polemical and I didn’t get a sense of honest and open-minded discussions taking place. After a while it just seems pointless and it’s better to move on.
One particular conversation was between a theist [Paul Williams] and an atheist [Phil Harper]. Both speakers were well read and intelligent and it was enjoyable to listen to. I think both sides made good points worth considering. I have always found the kalam cosmological argument to be convincing.
Briefly, the argument states that everything that begins must have a cause. As the atheist remarked, beginning must be defined. Accordingly beginning can mean something began from pre-existing material as when a human being exist as a sperm before conception. According to him, science understands the big bang to have begun from a pre-existing state of energy or matter. A good point the theist argued was that the Idealist worldview can integrate the spiritual and material phenomena coherently whereas the atheist position can not account for other phenomena such as beauty. Another good point that both sides made on the question of morality was also interesting to consider. According to the theist, atheism cannot account for the objective moral standards that exist and that every culture recognises. Yet the atheist countered that we can explain the rise of morality by darwinian evolution. As humans our brains and habits are formed by our environment and the evolutionary pressures. These were all good points made and that I have to consider deeply in my own quest to understand reality. My day in Speaker’s Corner ended well with a lot to consider in this journey.
Although I got the impression that most of the time you will not get enlightened by the end of the day since most speakers are not (it seems) able to detach themselves from their dogmas to be able to internalize and objectively analyze what they hear from their opponents, except for the few exceptions when you have educated or seasoned debaters present there, overall the atmosphere is peaceful and heated discussions take place without serious or physical confrontation.