UK Independent joins UK Guardian in call for Dawkins to debate Craig

A call for Richard Dawkins to debate William Lane Craig, from the other major secular-left UK newspaper. (H/T Michael & Czar Berstein)


William Lane Craig is a formidable debater. He has done battle with celebrity academic atheists including Lawrence Krauss, Lewis Wolpert, Peter Atkins, and Sam Harris. Not long after his exchange with the philosopher Anthony Flew, perhaps the leading atheist thinker of the late 20th century, Flew converted, if not to Christianity, to deism. Harris described Craig as “the one Christian apologist who has put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists”.

Christopher Hitchens said: “I can tell you that my brothers and sisters in the unbelieving community take him very seriously. He’s thought of as a very tough guy: very rigorous, very scholarly, very formidable.” After a debate in which the two locked horns, one US atheist website pronounced: “Craig was flawless and unstoppable. Hitchens was rambling and incoherent, with the occasional rhetorical jab. Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child.”

William Lane Craig is the Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in California. He is a conservative evangelical, but he is smart, with a doctorate in philosophy from Birmingham and one in theology from Munich. He has developed such a reputation that when he began a 10-day speaking tour of Britain on Monday he drew an audience of 1,700 at the cavernous Central Hall in Westminster.

The titles of his UK lectures give a clue to his breadth: “Does God Exist?”, “Can We be Good without God?”, “The Origins of the Universe – Has Stephen Hawking Eliminated God?”, “The Historicity of Jesus’s Resurrection”. He is unafraid to range across ontological theology and moral philosophy and talks with ease about new developments in cosmology, mathematics and physics. He has a ready command of easy analogy and can be funny. He is a million miles away from the evangelical rhetoric that amuses and bemuses our secularist and modernist establishment. Proof, he says, is not about scientific or mathematical certainty; it is about a cogent and logical argument which is more plausible than what opponents argue.

This is not the style of the Dawkinsites’ preferred adversaries. Their debating techniques tend to be catalogues of religion’s historical atrocities, coupled with psychological sideswipes about the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas. Dawkins in the past has been notable for seeking out extreme oddball fundamentalists. He and his followers routinely erect a straw man – defining religion in ways unrecognisable to many mainstream believers – and then knock their caricature to the ground. But Craig is an opponent of a different calibre who focuses ruthlessly on failures of internal logic in his rivals’ arguments.

What is striking to the outsider is the ad hominem abuse that has been hurled his way. Dawkins has blogged of his “almost visceral loathing” of Craig’s “odiously unctuous, smug and self-satisfied tone of voice”. Craig, he says, is a “deeply unimpressive… ponderous buffoon” who uses “chopped logic” for “bamboozling his faith-head audience”. On Dawkins’s website his supporters have called Craig a “debased freak” and “snakeoil salesman”.

The writer of this article not so much sympathetic with Craig as he is disappointed with Dawkins for not being willing to debate and defeat Craig. I think that most of the atheists on the Richards Dawkins site have never heard Craig’s arguments, otherwise, they would be pointing out the flaws in them and linking to evidence. When someone dodges what I am saying and instead insults me personally, I think it’s fair to assume that they don’t have a case against me based on substance. If they had substance, they would argue substance.

The UK Guardian article denouncing Dawkins for cowardice is here. The conservative UK Telegraph explicitly called Dawkins a fool or a coward for not debating Craig. But I don’t think it’s going to happen, because Dawkins is a coward. That’s just what he is. And I think he isn’t even intelligent enough to lose as badly as Hitchens did – it would be a much worse defeat for atheism. The man has never expressed any substantial arguments for atheism in any of his books – it was always just bile. And I never saw William Lane Craig’s publications or those of any other major Christian thinker referenced in the footnotes of his books – he is oblivious to the arguments on the other side.

My response to Dawkins’ refusal to debate Craig is here. In it, I go over Craig’s qualifications, Dawkins’ reason for not debating him, and link to Craig’s debate with Christopher Hitchens.

3 thoughts on “UK Independent joins UK Guardian in call for Dawkins to debate Craig”

  1. There are a number of people who I would sympathize with for not entering into a debate with WLC for various reasons that I consider to be fair and legit.

    Dawkins would not be one of them however.


  2. “He is a conservative evangelical, but he is smart…”

    Wow. I’m not surprised, but holy prejudice, batman!


  3. From the first article you referenced: ‘When A C Grayling was invited to debate Craig’s assertion that, without religion, there are no objective moral values, only social conventions, he scornfully replied: “I would be happy to debate him on the question of the existence of fairies and water-nymphs.” So much for the assertion by the British Humanist Association, of which Grayling is a luminary, that one of its core values is “engaging in debate rationally, intelligently and with attention to evidence”.’

    But this is often the tack taken by most atheists that I’ve seen, whether renowned representatives or the rank and file. Craig, on the other hand, is far more often restrained, objective, and accommodating. He typically chooses more defensible and, indeed, accurate language, such as “radical” instead of “ridiculous”, and a more open attitude.

    I will allow that even on the theist side, Craig is the exception rather than the rule (unfortunately) in non-combative, dispassionate discourse and debate. The irony and more egregious distinction, however, is that he is more objective and less dismissive, by leaps and bounds, than virtually every atheist I’ve seen him face. The irony is piled on as people such as Dawkins continue to insist that it’s the theists’ arguments that rely on emotional pleas.

    That is along the lines of the case the Telegraph put forward. Dawkins, and many of his peers, prefer to erect straw men. It’s very easy to discredit any point of view as long as you insist that its buffoons represent the real and full case.


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