So Richard Dawkins has spoken, explaining his refusal to debate Christian philosopher William Lane Craig.
Forgive me if I’m not impressed with his explanation. Given that the debate is supposed to take place tomorrow, and that the event organizers will have an empty chair at the event (in his absence, Craig will deliver a critique of his God Delusion book), seems like an appropriate way to warm up to it. It’s not like I’ll be able to add anything to the already lengthy conversation–minds much smarter than mine have already said it all–but I can’t resist, so here goes. I’ll just proceed in point-counter-point style.
Dawkins begins with a bang:
Don’t feel embarrassed if you’ve never heard of William Lane Craig. He parades himself as a philosopher, but none of the professors of philosophy whom I consulted had heard his name either. Perhaps he is a “theologian”. For some years now, Craig has been increasingly importunate in his efforts to cajole, harass or defame me into a debate with him. I have consistently refused, in the spirit, if not the letter, of a famous retort by the then president of the Royal Society: “That would look great on your CV, not so good on mine”.
This is quite a rhetorical backhand. Dawkins has his nose turned way, way up at Craig in this comment. It is typical of him. A close examination of the facts shows it to be flatly false, however.
All fine and good. I simply see no reason to buy that, though. I need an argument, a good one, not just a series of rhetorical jabs and loaded words—which is what he usually offers for this view.
First, before I get to the facts, though, let me address the “theologian” comment. In normal parlance, calling someone a theologian is not an insult, for theology is a body of knowledge and is a discipline of study every bit as legitimate as other academic disciplines. However, when guys like Dawkins says it, it is an insult. To him and his ilk, theology is utterly silly and is such junk that it cannot even come close to being a discipline of study. In addition, if asking some philosophy professors if they’ve ever heard of WLC before is all he did to investigate who Craig is, he is being seriously negligent in his homework.
On to the main claim: is Craig a small-fry? A look at his credentials weighs in decisively against this. He would have a point if Craig were actually, say, The Pugnacious Irishman. He does not have an obligation to accept any and every challenge that comes his way. If I were to challenge him to a dual to be held at the Kiwanis Club of Cole County, Mo, a refusal would be reasonable. I really am a small-fry.
But in Craig’s case, it is not as if he just runs a puny blog or has just published a few creationist tracts and pamphlets by Tilamook County First Baptist Press. He has not only debated the best contemporary atheism has to offer over the last few decades, but he has published frequently in scholarly publications in a wide variety of topics. He has not only established himself in philosophy, but has shown himself conversant in science, cosmology, and history as well. In other words, he’s the real deal.
Consider just a small sampling of his publications:
- “On Truth Conditions of Tensed Sentence Types.” Synthese 120 (2000): 265-270.
- “The Extent of the Present.” International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 14 (2000): 165-185.
- “Why Is It Now?” Ratio 18 (2000): 115-122.
- “Timelessness, Creation, and God’s Real Relation to the World.” Laval théologique et philosphique 56 (2000): 93-112.
- “Timelessness and Omnitemporality.” Philosophia Christi 2 (2000): 29-33.
- “Omniscience, Tensed Facts, and Divine Eternity.” Faith and Philosophy 17 (2000): 225-241.
- “ Relativity and the ‘Elimination’ of Absolute Time.” In Recent Advances in Relativity Theory. 2 Vols. Vol.1: Formal Interpretations, pp. 47-66. Ed. M. C. Duffy and Mogens Wegener. Palm Harbor, Flor.: Hadronic Press, 2000.
- “Theistic Critiques of Atheism.” In The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, pp. 69-85. Ed. M. Martin. Cambridge Companions to Philosophy. Cambridge University Press, 2007.
- “The Metaphysics of Special Relativity: Three Views.” In Einstein, Relativity, and Absolute Simultaneity, pp. 11-49. Ed. Wm. L. Craig and Quentin Smith. Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy. London: Routledge, 2007.
- “Creation and Divine Action.” In The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion, pp. 318-28. Ed. Chad Meister and Paul Copan. London: Routledge, 2007.
- “Naturalism and Intelligent Design.” In Intelligent Design, pp. 58-71. Ed. R. Stewart. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007.
- “The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality.” In Ethics, Society, and Religion . Ed. K. Clark, Z. Qingxiong, and X. Yie. Christian Academics 5. Shanghai: Guji Press, 2007.
This is all just a partial list from two years of a publications list that spans over 35 years. It is all a matter of fact. It is all right there in his credentials.
In sum, Dawkins and co. saying it doesn’t make it so…adding sarcasm and such doesn’t help.
Heck, it’s not like I’m worshipping Craig; a debate with any top Christian scholar will do. Alvin Plantinga; J.P Moreland; Stephen Meyer; Darrell Bock; Paul Copan; Paul Moser. The list goes on and on. All these guys and more are widely recognized scholarly authorities in fields in which Dawkins has often commented, and I’m willing to be they’d be willing to have an exchange or two with him.
Dawkins’ fans have been quick to insist that “rigorous Christian scholar” is an oxymoron. That is a load of Tosh. Such a claim only shows that those who say it have shut themselves in a skeptic ghetto and have not substantively engaged with their opposition. Disagree with them if you must, but calling them “country bumpkins” does not inspire confidence on your behalf.
All this makes Dawkins’ words quite strange, for he has gone after much lesser opponents.
In an epitome of bullying presumption, Craig now proposes to place an empty chair on a stage in Oxford next week to symbolise my absence. The idea of cashing in on another’s name by conniving to share a stage with him is hardly new. But what are we to make of this attempt to turn my non-appearance into a self-promotion stunt? In the interests of transparency, I should point out that it isn’t only Oxford that won’t see me on the night Craig proposes to debate me in absentia: you can also see me not appear in Cambridge, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and, if time allows, Bristol.
Normally I would think such an action to be presumptuous, but in this case, given the circumstances, I think it entirely called for. Recall that Dawkins has been eager to engage much lesser opponents. In addition, keep in mind that Dawkins has not merely rested content with academic study, experimenting in his lab and publishing the results in academia. He has gone public, often, brashly so, practically shouting from the rooftops that God “almost certainly” does not exist, and if He did, at least the biblical God would be guilty of crimes against humanity. He has made a career of doing so.
I have no problem with Dawkins proclaiming so. He–and his skeptic friends–have every right to do so and every right to insist that guys like me are actually, objectively wrong. However, the confidence (dare I say cockiness?) with which he does so should be in direct proportion to his willingness to engage the best the opposition has to offer. This is the main reason why I’m making such a big deal of this refusal. A guy who says the sorts of things he says and is as influential as he is deserves a bit of a ribbing if he refuses to do this. Though he has willingly shared a platform with religious folk, he cannot seriously lay claim to the supposition that he has done so with the best. Like I said above, he has plenty to choose from, though Craig is a game choice right in front of him.
I therefore find his list of other places he won’t be quite off, for there is a big difference between the event in Oxford and those other places. At Oxford tomorrow, he has a chance to put all the talk and questions to rest. He has a chance to put his best against the best of his critics, and to do so in front of an international audience. I doubt those other invitations—if they actually represent real invitations—offer that sort of shot.
It’s as if I, as a high school wrestling coach, make a consistent practice of trash talking our cross-town rivals, and when the opposing coach offers me the chance to put my money where my mouth is by dualing his team on a certain day, I reply with, “Bah. Self-promotion! I decline, just like I decline to wrestle Bathgate Elementary school, Newhart Middle School, and Arborland Montessori.”
But Craig is not just a figure of fun. He has a dark side, and that is putting it kindly. Most churchmen these days wisely disown the horrific genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament.
What follows this is a lengthy tirade against Craig’s defense of God’s actions regarding the Canaanites, concluding with, “Would you shake hands with a man who could write stuff like that? Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn’t, and I won’t. Even if I were not engaged to be in London on the day in question, I would be proud to leave that chair in Oxford eloquently empty.”
A few observations here. First, when he says “most churchmen” disavow the part of the Bible in question, he exaggerates. There are plenty of “churchmen” and plenty of “scholars” who do no such disavowing. But that’s neither here nor there. The main point is that Dawkins’ response is simply an argument by outrage, which is not very rigorous, and the only ones who find it persuasive are ones who already agree with Dawkins, or those who are easily cowed by people who act offended.
What’s more, if Craig really is an “apologist for genocide,” here’s Dawkins’ chance to put him out to pasture. If he were to debate Craig, that does not amount to an endorsement of Craig’s beliefs, afterall. If Craig really is a fiend, he’s an influential one, and Dawkins has stated many a time that it is his life’s goal to wipe this sort of belief from the earth. This is as good a chance as it gets. Dawkins would be defending the thesis of one of his best selling books. Seems like a great opportunity for him. Why so gun shy?
Thirdly, Dawkins can’t be serious. Afterall, elsewhere he has said:
The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.
(“God’s Utility Function,” Scientific American, November, 1995, p. 85)
(HT: Wintery Knight)
Out of one side of his mouth, he denies the reality of evil and wickedness, but out of the other side of his mouth, he calls Craig’s beliefs wicked. He cannot have it both ways. He is either flatly contradicting his own worldview, borrowing capital when it is convenient, or he is merely expressing a personal dislike with Craig’s beliefs, as if saying “ewwww, broccoli.” In any case, he is not inspiring confidence.
What else can be said about all this? Dawkins and co. are quick to insinuate that Craig seems impressive simply because of his command of rhetoric. Craig “bamboozles his faith-head audience,” is how he puts it.
This is just beyond silly. If you ever watch him debate, you’ll see that Craig’s “debate style” is to stick to logical arguments, with premises backed up by historical and scientific evidence, and said premises lead deductively or inductively to a conclusion. He presses his opponents to either refute or rebut with premises more plausible than the ones he offered. He stays focused on the issue and does not rest content with rhetorical jabs and evasions from his opponents. Again, disagree with the arguments if you must, but don’t call this “bamboozling.”
Many who are outside the faithful (of Dawkins’ camp) are recognizing this for what it is. Richard Dawkins is being exposed.