Dr. Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury is to debate with one of the country's leading atheists, Professor Richard Dawkins, in Oxford. Reuters

The debate is going to be a lot tougher this time... the leader of the Church of England will square off against Britain's most famous atheist... over the question of the origin of man.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, will resume his rivalry with ethnologist and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, on the question of "the nature of human beings and the question of their ultimate origin".

This is the big question - did humankind evolve from monkeys? Was Charles Darwin right? Or are we committing blasphemy by believing so? This is, outside of that over prostitution being the oldest profession in the world, probably the oldest and most fiercely contested intellectual space around. The number of heavyweights, from within and without every conceivable academic field, who have weighed in with their opinions and been roundly criticised or universally acclaimed for their words of wisdom is beyond belief.

This time the two illustrious scholars will be joined by philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny and three will go head-to-head on Feb. 23, at Oxford University; and in a nod to the technology savvy world we live in, the debate will be streamed live on the Internet.

The two lead participants (Williams and Dawkins) have exchanged views on evolution and the existence of God in the past.

In a programme broadcast on Channel 4 in 2010, Professor Dawkins asked Dr. Williams if he could see God as having any role in the evolutionary process.

"For me, God is the power or the intelligence that shapes the whole of that process. As creator, God's act is the beginning of all creation," the good doctor replied. At which point Dawkins intervened and asked: "So by setting up the laws of physics in the first place in which context evolution takes place?"

Dr Williams replied: "Things unfold within that."

In an article on his Web site, published earlier this month, Dawkins said of Dr. Williams: "My suggestion is that the best way to understand Rowan Williams is to remember that he is a poet. And maybe this is the best way to understand other theologians. When Williams speaks of 'silent waiting on the truth, pure sitting and breathing in the presence of the question mark', we laugh because we read it through rational spectacles."

Dawkins who studied zoology at Oxford described his childhood as "a normal Anglican upbringing". He was confirmed and embraced Christianity until his mid-teens, at which point he concluded the theory of evolution was a better explanation for life's complexity and ceased believing in a God.