Appearance on BBC’s The Big Questions

As those of you who follow my Twitter feed will know, I was asked to appear as a guest panelist for the BBC’s flagship religious, ethical and political debate show, The Big Questions. The questions posed in the debate was ‘Do we have free will?’, a topic I have written about in the past, but haven’t dedicated too much time to. I was joined by a number of guests including:

Peter D. Williams – Catholic commentator

Julian Baggini – Philosopher

Owen Jones –Journalist

Mark Mullins – Evangelical pastor & lawyer

Catherine Heseltine – Muslim Public Affairs Committee

Ani Rinchen Khandro – Buddhist nun

Anil Seth – Neuroscientist

Mike Pettit – Calvinist

Jonathan MS Pearce – Philosopher

Deirdre Bounds – Entrepreneur

Trevor Little – Satanist

(Thanks to Jonathan MS Pearce for the list of names: accessed 13/04/15)

As I signed a disclaimer stating that I was not allowed to discuss the contents of the debate (or at least I think that’s what it meant), I shan’t. What I can talk about, is my experience.

I was extremely excited to have been personally invited by the production team after they found The Word and one of my pieces to do with determinism and free will. It is my ambition to become a well-recognised theologian and this seemed like a better platform than most to begin what I hope is a long and successful career.

When my fiance and I arrived, we were taken to the green room where I had the chance to speak to the other panelists appearing for this debate. I was asked to check what I would be referred to as when my name came up on screen, and it indeed said “Clarke Roberts, Theologian – York St John University”. Very exciting stuff! I was told that Nicky Campbell, the host, would be making his rounds to talk to the panelists in order to get a sense of their position in the debate. He seemed to spend a long time with the Calvinist guest and indeed Owen Jones, journalist for the Guardian. I didn’t really clock how long he spent with the others as I was trying to get my points together in my head, but when it came to me, I didn’t feel like I was given all that long to explain my point.

I like Nicky Campbell, but I found when he was asking me about my views, he tended to use very loaded terminology in his questions. For example, when I described my belief in God and determinism he instantly termed it “God’s plan”. When I attempted to refute this – not very articulately I must say – it seemed as though it was disregarded, and I felt like Nicky didn’t really feel I was going to be a helpful contributor.

Anyway, when the debate started it was great. I kept myself quiet, listening to the other points being made by the panelists. When it came to my turn, the first thing I said received an applause – a great start! By my excitement soon turned into annoyance. The majority of the air-time, I felt, was given to those people who were well-established. Those who had books published, those who are well recognised and those whose knowledge was rooted in giving impressive quote and statistics. When you watch, that’s the middle of the front row.

At every point where one of the panelists on the fringes of the front row spoke, it was either rushed or interrupted by the centre front (or Nicky himself in fact). The fringes were encouraged to not interrupt as some important point was being made or that the debate was going to move to someone else, by which point, the interrupting comment had been forgotten.

There were some interesting characters on the fringes: a Satanist, a Buddhist nun, a Calvinist and an atheist who is also a hard determinist. To have had more of these views heard would have made for a very interesting discussion indeed. Unfortunately, these voices weren’t represented enough as the same people continually made points that were either sweeping statements about religious belief, or some statistic that didn’t really contribute to the philosophical nature of the debate.

At the points when I made my contributions, I feel I did so successfully, although because of the rush I felt that it had to get back to the centre front, I do not feel that I got all of my points across. Thinking back on it now, I think my view is somewhat confused and perhaps controversial. If I had had more time to explain what I meant, I would’ve felt a lot more confident in myself and my beliefs.

This isn’t in anyway going to deter me from potentially appearing again, or watching the show in the future. I did enjoy my experience, I only wish there were more time awarded to those guests who probably had something extremely interesting to say.

I hope you tune in and watch, this Sunday on BBC1 at 10am.

5 thoughts on “Appearance on BBC’s The Big Questions”

  1. So I felt that I had to interrupt a number of times to make sure I was referred to. I did feel, very strongly that:

    1) we didn’t define our terms! Goodness me, this is philosophy 101. I was speaking to Catherine on the train back, and it turns out she didn’t understand Libertarian free will and that it is philosophically untenable. Peter also had no answer back for the grounding objection as defined here:

    It should have started out with defining the three positions and showing that LFW, as WE talked about, is philosophically untenable.

    2) there needed to be a much clearer journey through the issues:

    define terms, what each believer believes/must believe and how they would defend LFW, evidence from science and social science, how this affects social standing and criminality, what you do with crime and punishment from soft or hard determinism.

  2. I completely agree with you! I don’t think the terms were clearly defined enough and instead, generalised terminology was used like ‘God’s Plan’ and ‘pre-destination’ etc. I don’t know about you, but whenever I tried to interrupt, I was hushed down or spoken over which became very frustrating. I feel like the debate was very rushed in order to include all three aspects of the conversation and you’re right, there needed to be a clearer journey through them; perhaps an issue due to time constraints?

    I am concerned that I haven’t come off very well and that people won’t understand my views and may even reject them quite firmly, especially when I talk of evil/suffering being necessary for biological and spiritual development.

    Nevermind though! Hopefully I can set the record straight in one of the books I eventually aim to write.

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