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Does Richard Dawkins exist…

2011 October 15
by Paul Vallely

Polly Toynbee is a prolific journalist. She is certainly not a woman of few words. Yet she has been uncharacteristically reticent for the past three months over why she pulled out of a debate with the Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, the philosopher and New Testament scholar whose Reasonable Faith tour of the UK begins next week.

Dr Craig has emerged in recent times as the scourge of the New Atheists. Over the years he has debated persuasively, as YouTube shows, with Peter Atkins, Daniel Dennett, Laurence Kraus, Lewis Wolpert and Sam Harris. His exchange with the man who was once the world’s leading atheist, the philosopher, Anthony Flew, was said to have been instrumental in Prof Flew’s late conversion to deism. Sam Harris has described Dr Craig as “the one Christian apologist who has put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists”.

Perhaps that is why Richard Dawkins and AC Grayling refused to meet the American in debate. So it was all credit to Polly Toynbee when, as president of the British Humanist Association, she agreed to open Craig’s tour on Monday with a debate on the existence of God. That was in April.

But then in August she pulled out with the bald statement: “I hadn’t realised the nature of Mr Lane Craig’s debating style, and having now looked at his previous performances, this is not my kind of forum”. She has said nothing more since, apart from apologising for the inconvenience her withdrawal caused after many tickets had been sold. Perhaps she had seen Dr Craig’s debate with Christopher Hitchens of which an atheist website said: “Craig was flawless and unstoppable. Hitchens was rambling and incoherent, with the occasional rhetorical jab. Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child.”

Dr Craig is not the Dawkinsites preferred fundamentalist creationist opponent. He is an analytic philosopher who has attempted to breathe new life into the old cosmological, ontological, teleological and moral arguments for the existence of God. But when the philosopher AC Grayling was invited to debate whether objective moral values can exist as more than social conventions without God, the atheist scornfully riposted: “I would be happy to debate him on the question of the existence of fairies and water-nymphs”.

Prof Dawkins has responded similarly, accusing Dr Craig of  being a “deeply unimpressive…ponderous buffoon” who uses “chopped logic” for “bamboozling his faith-head audience.”  He had, he said in a phrase which recalled pots and kettle, “no intention of assisting Craig in his relentless drive for self-promotion”.

To outsiders all this looks bizarre. So much so that an atheist philosophy lecturer from Oxford, Dr Daniel Came, has written to Richard Dawkins warning him that his refusal to debate with Dr Craig was “apt to be interpreted as cowardice”.

In a way that is true. The classic Dawkins-Grayling-Toynbee style of debate is a relentless catalogue of historical outrage, cheap jibes, sideswipes and dismissive phrases about the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Dr Craig, by contrast, focuses relentlessly on his opponents’ failure to address the internal logic of his philosophical theology.

In the face of this the New Atheists’ ad hominem insults get only more shrill. Prof Dawkins has called his opponent “a truly disgusting person” and  blogged on his “almost visceral loathing of ‘Dr’ Craig’s odiously unctuous, smug and self-satisfied tone of voice”.  Why the doctorates are apostrophised is unclear since one was a PhD under John Hick at Birminghm and the other a Th.D from Munich. And objecting to his voice is as persuasive as dismissing Dr Grayling on the grounds of his bouffant hairstyle. The British Humanist Association lists as one of its core values “engaging in debate rationally, intelligently and with attention to evidence”. We are waiting.

from the Church Times

One Response
  1. Steven Carr permalink
    October 28, 2011

    ‘Dr Craig, by contrast, focuses relentlessly on his opponents’ failure to address the internal logic of his philosophical theology.’

    That was indeed the impression I got when reading accounts of Dr. Craig’s talk at Oxford.

    Even Daniel Came had to concede about Dr. Craig that ‘I doubt, that is, that he would wish it to be adopted as a general moral principle that we should massacre children because they will receive immediate salvation.’

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