Why Dawkins’ refusal to debate Craig is not only cowardly, it is immoral

Posted on 10/22/11 37 Comments

I have just returned from a busy conference. As such, I only have the mental energy for a light article. And what better to do than have one more jab at Dawkins by pointing out that his refusal to debate Craig is not only cowardly, it is actually immoral. Immoral you say? Yes dear reader. Immoral.

(An aside: we need more atheists like Stephen Law who are willing to engage Christian theists like Craig in debate with courtesy and first rate intellect. The Craig/Law debate which I will return to tomorrow was a model of productive exchange across a very deep divide.)

Okay, back to the immoral bit. The charge is prompted by the following comment from Chris who was attempting to defend Dawkins:

Randal, let me attempt to be extra-generous and charitable to Dawkins (only God knows how much of an effort that is for me) – the issue (or at the least the entire issue) doesn’t seem to rest on the fact that Craig holds that view. It’s that he holds that view *and* he also argues vigorously and prominently for that view. Presumably, the other people he has debated have not really argued for that particular view on the Caananite genocide.

I appreciate the effort Chris made in defending Dawkins. But ironically, his well-intentioned defense actually makes Dawkins look worse. It makes Dawkins look not only cowardly but immoral. How so? Well let’s go back to the analogy I suggested with holocaust denial. Consider two holocaust deniers:

Dieter is an obscure holocaust denier who has virtually no audience or influence.

Hans is a very influential holocaust denier who has a large audience and tremendous influence.

Let’s say that both Dieter and Hans issue a very public challenge to an eminent historian from a well known university to debate. Should the historian accept?

Well it is quite clear that he should pass on Dieter’s challenge because, to borrow one of Dawkins’ favorite quips, such a debate would look better on Dieter’s resume than on the historian’s. In other words, debating Dieter would simply give him more visibility and credibility. Since Dieter is an obscure figure he has nothing to lose and debating him would thus be a lose/lose proposition for the historian: if Dieter wins then Dieter wins but if the historian wins then Dieter still wins because he has more credibility and visibility than ever.

But the situation is completely different with Hans. He already has a following of  tens of thousands who hang on his every word. They seriously believe that he has established unequivocally that the holocaust never happened. Unlike Dieter, Hans has a lot to lose by debating the historian. If he loses, he will also lose credibility with many of his followers. As a result, while I would advise the historian not to debate Dieter, I would emphatically stress that he should debate Hans. Indeed, I would be willing to argue that if the historian knows he can defeat Hans in a debate then he actually has a moral obligation to debate him and thus bring truth to the tens of thousands of his followers.

If you read Dawkins’ statement you will see him pathetically trying to present Craig as a lowly Dieter. But Dawkins is no fool. Merely by googling Craig’s name he can see that Craig is (by these categories) a Hans of the first order who has influenced not only tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands but literally millions of people. In fact, I spoke with a friend of Craig’s just today who informed me that in one single debate he conducted forty-seven people became Christians. In other words, forty-seven more people became converts to the position that Dawkins views as the moral cousin of holocaust denial.

Craig is a Hans, but Dawkins wants to pretend he is a Dieter. This means not only that Dawkins is cowardly and dishonest, but that he is immoral for he is shirking the moral responsibility to quell a growing movement which he believes is a bane on the human condition. And to think he has the nerve to try to present his own cowardice as an act of moral courage.

Mr. Dawkins, you should be ashamed.


  • http://www.thepietythatliesbetween.blogspot.com Eric Reitan

    I just finished writing up essentially the same line of argument–in my own terms–and sent it off to Religion Dispatches. If it doesn’t appear there, it should be up on my blog early next week.

    Note that Dawkins reaches the “Dieter” conclusion based on supposedly “consulting” with philosophers who claimed to have no idea who Craig was. Um…while one needn’t look very far to find philosophers who don’t have much respect for Craig, one wonders how long and hard Dawkins had to look, from among the field of academic philosophers, before he was finally able to find some sufficiently out of touch that he could feel confident that in consulting them he’d get the desired answer.

    • randal

      Make sure you give us the link when it is up.

      • http://www.thepietythatliesbetween.blogspot.com Eric Reitan
        • randal

          I recommend others read Eric’s comments. Very well stated and very balanced. My favorite line concerns Dawkins’ claim that the philosophy professors he polled hadn’t heard of Craig: “To get this result from a consultation of philosophy professors, Dawkins must have been careful to consult only philosophers long dead.”

  • Mark

    Not to mention that Craig’s Kalam was the most discussed theistic argument in a given year by who? Atheists! In fact, William Lane Craig is IN The Cambridge Companion to Atheism.

    • randal

      Perhaps the problem is that Dawkins is depending on my 2006 book Christian Philosophy A-Z which lacks an entry on Craig. If that is the case I would encourage Dawkins to rely on the Cambridge Companion instead.

  • chris

    Randal, I happily concede the the argument to you. I can now wash my hands of it. ;) That was an excellent response.

  • http://www.thepolemicalmedic.com Thrasymachus

    Granting that we should be interested in trying to stop the propagation of seriously immoral beliefs, this argument still doesn’t work.

    For although Hans may have 0000s of followers, it may be that sharing a platform with him will give the impression of holocaust denial being an acceptable view in the historical mainstream, so much so that *even if* eminent historian can guarantee trouncing Hans, he may gain more followers regardless. Further, debating skills are pretty orthogonal to how how actually defensible a given position is: if Hans was a pro debater, and historian a diffident academic, he might wisely suspect he might come off the worse, which would be *disastrous* for kicking off holocaust denial.

    By shutting him out from public discourse, eminent historian might be far more successful at ‘innoculating’ public opinion from holocaust denial. Sure Hans and his cronies will whine about the historian lacking the cajones to debate, but no one of consequence will care.

    The game changes when holocaust denial ceases to become a fringe position, but is accepted by a large number (or majority) of the population of concern. Then one should engage in debate, as there are no longer costs of ‘sharing a platform’. This is probably the case with ID in the States, but not in the UK.

    So I don’t see the immorality charge. Dawkins’ optimal strategy for reducing credence in OT genocide being acceptable is to duck craig rather than debate him.

  • Robert

    Would you debate Dr. Craig on Biblical inerrancy or genocide if organizing such a debate were possible? You also believe his teaching on at least the latter is damaging to the cause of truth and Christianity.

    • randal

      Sure I would. But such a debate would look better on my CV than Craig’s.

  • Robert Gressis

    I’m not sure this argument works. One of the problems is that you think Hans’s followers would stop taking Hans as seriously if Hans got trounced in a debate. But when you’re as skilled a debater as Craig is, it’s really difficult to ever get trounced. Moreover, Craig (Hans) spends a lot of time after debates explaining to his followers why he actually won the debate (in Craig’s case, this is pretty easy, because he almost always wins debates!). So, I’m not sure that Dawkins, of all people, is the one with the moral obligation. If anyone has it, Shelly Kagan or Austin Dacey has it, because they’re probably much better debaters than Dawkins, no matter how silver-tongued he is.

    • randal

      Austin Dacey has already fulfilled that obligation at least twice (i.e. two formal Craig debates), and he put on a great performance as well.

      Your comments suggest that Dawkins is strategically opting not to debate Craig for the simple reason that he’d probably lose which is indeed the right answer. But then he shouldn’t hide behind baloney about his moral indignation and the claim that Craig is too inferior a name.

      • Robert Gressis

        You’re right that Dawkins’s excuse is bluster, and if he’s lying about what his real reason is, then he’s acting immorally.

        That said, if Dawkins is right that Craig’s views are odious, and if it’s also the case that Craig would trounce Dawkins, then Dawkins has no moral obligation to debate Craig. If he has no moral obligation to debate Craig, though, then it’s not immoral for him to refrain from debating Craig.

        One question this raises is this, though: assume that Dawkins is wrong that Craig’s views on the OT are morally monstrous. This assumption seems to me to be prima facie plausible, since Craig’s rough position on the OT seems to me to be shared by Richard Swinburne and Eleonore Stump who seem to me to know enough about ethics so as to make Craig’s position seem more reasonable. So, if Craig’s position is in fact morally licit, then would it still follow that Dawkins is being immoral in debating Craig? After all, Craig is one of the best known representative of the Christian position while Dawkins is the best known representative of the atheist position. If the Christian position is morally defensible, does that alone give Dawkins the obligation to debate Craig? (E.g., if NAFTA was a policy about whose merits reasonable people could disagree, then did Al Gore have an obligation to debate Ross Perot about it?) My guess is no, but I haven’t thought about it much.

        • randal

          I agree that the evidence that respected ethicists hold a position is prima facie evidence that the ethical views in question are not too wacky (however, I don’t think that Dawkins would agree Swinburne and Stump are respected ethicists; at least he cannot claim not to know Swinburne).

          I also agree that it is reasonable for Dawkins to refuse to debate Craig because he recognizes that he would lose and thus bring more damage to his cause. But whether he has come to admit this to himself is another question.

  • http://www.thepietythatliesbetween.blogspot.com Eric Reitan

    One thing to consider: the proposed subject of the debate would not BE the veracity of OT genocide stories (the purported source of Dawkins’ moral outrage), but the strength of Dawkins’ own atheological argument in The God Delusion (and the question of God’s existence more broadly). Now, of course, Dawkins argues that theistic belief is itself harmful, but he isn’t unwilling to engage with theists in general terms. He doesn’t treat theistic belief as “beyond the pale” in this way.

    That is, belief in God’s existence is not what Dawkins doesn’t want to dignify with a platform. So, his objection is to sharing a platform with someone who HAS Craig’s views on OT genocide stories, even if the topic is something else (it’s as if the proposed debate were about the merits of a particular economic policy, but the debating partner is Hans, who happens to be a Holocaust denier).

    Now imagine you show up for a debate with Hans over an economic policy question, but you refuse to shake Hans’s hand because of Hans’s views about the holocaust. And now suppose Hans trounces you on the economic debate. Have you lent legitimacy to Hans’s views on the holocaust? Have you given them a platform? Or have you made a memorable symbolic gesture that speaks powerfully against Hans’ really dangerous views while, as it happens, also losing the debate about the economic issue? And is the symbolic gesture worth the risk of losing the debate?

    • randal

      You point out well the disanalogy with the case I present. However, I think you swing the pendulum a bit too far in the opposite direction. That is, there is more overlap between Craig’s typical debate topics and his view on Canaanite genocide than there is between Hans’ holocaust denial and his views on economic policy.

      • http://www.thepietythatliesbetween.blogspot.com Eric Reitan


  • clamat

    I also agree that it is reasonable for Dawkins to refuse to debate Craig because he recognizes that he would lose and thus bring more damage to his cause. But whether he has come to admit this to himself is another question.

    It is indeed a different question. And considering you can’t possibly know the answer to it, where do you get off just assuming he’s an immoral coward? This really should dispose of your objections to Dawkins’ second reason for refusing to debate.

    You still ignore Dawkins’ first reason: Craig is a nobody.

    With all due respect to Robert Gressis, Craig is not one of the “best known representatives of the Christian position.” Not even close. Craig is well known in certain narrow academic circles and to habitués of websites like this one (myself included, obviously). The general public? Hardly.

    Is Dawkins really obligated to take on all challengers whose academic qualifications can be verified by a Google search? This indignant insistence that Dawkins pit himself against theism’s Great Philosophical Hope simply trumpets the overweening arrogance of philosophy. Or is Dawkins required to debate Gary Habermas on the historicity of the Resurrection, should the Internets likewise demand it – and assuming Habermas can properly document the requisite conversion/debate ratio, of course? (Of course, if conversion is a criterion, then Joel Osteen is more qualified to debate Dawkins than either Habermas or Craig.)

    Dawkins, the single best-known atheist in the world, is giving the breathless clamor of the blogosphere exactly the weight it deserves – very little.

    • randal

      “Is Dawkins really obligated to take on all challengers whose academic qualifications can be verified by a Google search?”

      The problem is that Dawkins is always willing to debate Christian bishops that nobody has heard of, but he is unwilling to debate the individual widely reputed to by the foremost Christian philosopher/debater in the world who has previously debated a who’s who of eminent atheists. People who can’t see that this is grossly inconsistent are simply deluded.

      • clamat

        People who can’t see that this is grossly inconsistent are simply deluded…That’s like billing yourself a champion prize fighter but declining every time a title holder offers you a prize fight.

        First, echoing Dawkins doesn’t mean your cry of “delusion!” isn’t as reactionary and empty as similar cries made by other atheists. Second, “grossly inconsistent” is a far cry from “immoral and cowardly.” You’ve already acknowledged that Dawkins might actually have perfectly good reasons for refusing to debate Craig. Isn’t it time to change the title of these last few posts?

        In any event, Dawkins’ choice of debate opponents would only be inconsistent if Dawkins actually billed himself as the “champion” debater. When has Dawkins ever done this? Cripes, where have atheists ever held Dawkins up as their Debate Champeen?

        Craig is the one who has built his relatively minor reputation by hollering “I’ll debate all comers!” And to his credit he pretty much does, Loftus notwithstanding. But that’s Craig’s shtick, not Dawkins’. Craig is a one-trick pony; Dawkins isn’t under any obligation – intellectual, moral, or otherwise – to prance around with him.

        You appreciate analogies, so here’s one I think is closer than Hans / Dieter. LeBron James publicly declares that basketball is the best sport in the world, with the best athletes. Cristian Bosch disagrees and challenges (and challenges, and challenges, and challenges) James to a muay thai match to prove it. Would you brand James a coward for refusing?

        You think Dawkins is a coward? To the contrary, those insisting on this debate do so because they know Dawkins would be a relatively weak opponent in this particular arena and Craig likely would score an easy win. That’s cowardly.

        • http://www.thepietythatliesbetween.blogspot.com Eric Reitan

          I think it is worth noting that one can have a right to do something that one, in a morally significant sense, shouldn’t do (e.g, it would exhibit cruelty or poor character)–and a right to refrain from doing what, in a certain sense, one should do (it would be the kind thing to do, or express good character, or do the most to promote a morally laudable goal that one has no strict duty to promote).

          That is, there are different ways for an action to be immoral other than by being a violation of strict duties. I tend to agree that Dawkins has no duty to debate Craig. But the question about whether it displays a moral failing is different.

          My own inclination at this point is to locate the chief moral failing elsewhere: In his throwing up a smokescreen reason for his refusal that isn’t honest–and which, were it honest, would make the refusal to debate more questionable morally than it would otherwise have been. If the goal is to clearly denounce Craig’s views on OT genocide, it isn’t at all clear that the best way to pursue that moral goal is by refusing to debate Craig (given Craig’s stature and influence, given that the debate wouldn’t be about this topic and so wouldn’t amount to giving Craig’s view a platform and the impression of being a legitimate position alongside its opposite, and given that showing up at the debate would give Dawkins an opportunity to pursue more potent symbolic denunciations of Craig’s stance–such as, perhaps, refusing to shake his hand and explaining why at the outset of a debate on other issues).

          • clamat

            We’re all agreed: There are many valid reasons one person might refuse to debate another. But some in this thread seem to believe these reasons are mutually exclusive. They’re not. Some reasons may factor more into the decision, some less, but there might be many in the mix. In the context of Dawkins vs. Craig, a list of such possible valid reasons might be:

            (1) Dawkins holds down two demanding jobs, scientist and World’s Leading Atheist. His time is much in demand, and he can’t accept every challenge.

            (2) Dawkins doesn’t hold himself out as a Great Debater, so doesn’t feel obligated to accept every single challenge to a formal debate.

            (3) Dawkins doesn’t hold himself out as a philosopher of religion or theologian, so doesn’t feel obligated to accept every challenge to debate a philosopher of religion / theologian, no matter how eminent.

            (4) Dawkins is quite famous, in both of his jobs, while Craig is a relative nobody, i.e., it would look better on Craig’s cv.

            (5) Craig and his supporters have been perfectly obnoxious about the whole thing, and Dawkins refuses to be hectored into a debate.

            (6) Dawkins thinks Craig holds reprehensible views and fears debating him might lend them credence.

            (7) Dawkins is afraid he’ll lose.

            Dawkins is being taken to task for (7). All this insistent speculation that Dawkins is simply and only afraid bears the unmistakable smell of projection.

            Dawkins has never said anything along the lines of “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve no fear I would thrash him.” That kind of statement might support a charge of lying – or delusional overconfidence, at least. No, it’s just assumed that unstated fear is the only explanation and Dawkins is lying. Even though it’s trivially simple to rattle off a handful of other valid reasons to decline. And even though Dawkins has never said “I’m not afraid.” “Inference to best explanation”? Please.

            But let’s assume Dawkins is indeed afraid he’d lose. Let’s see if I have this straight: Everyone who is afraid they’d lose a debate is under a moral obligation to say so? Wow, really?

            In the current context, I’d argue exactly the opposite. Consider the interplay between (5) and (6) in the list above. Suppose Dawkins came out and admitted the only reason he won’t debate is because he’s afraid he’ll lose. Can you imagine the hay that would be made of such an admission? “WORLD’S LEADING ATHEIST ADMITS HE’D LOSE TO SOME PHILOSOPHY TEACHER FROM PODUNK U.!!” Can you imagine the harm that would do to Dawkins’ agenda? Can you imagine the support that it would give to Craig’s agenda, one that Dawkins finds morally reprehensible? Wouldn’t this admission be a far bigger win for Craig than he could hope to gain from any silly debate?

            Viewed this way, assuming Dawkins (1) thinks Craig’s worldview is particularly reprehensible and (2) is pretty sure he’d lose in a formal debate, isn’t Dawkins actually morally obliged to do exactly what he has done, namely take the opportunity to take a shot at Craig’s worldview while also offering other perfectly valid reasons for refusing to debate?

  • Craig?

    Hi Randall

    Craig believes because he believes. He has the Holy Spirit leading him into all truth. He’s said so, in so many words.

    But does Dawkins have the time or inclination to research Craig’s gaffs over the years? To point them out one by one? From Kalam to Canaan? Debates require studying the other person’s writings and arguments. Maybe Dawkins wants to write more books on evolution? They require research too, and seem more profitable for him than any single debate.

    It was recently pointed out in a video that Craig’s quotations from cosmologists demonstrate that they do not agree that the cosmos was designed. Neither do they agree that this is the only cosmos that ever was or will be.

    What about a Divine Tinkerer? And how could you tell that from a Divine Designer?

    And at what point does one leap to the conclusion of a “personal” Divine Designer?

    Maybe Craig should debate more agnostics?

    I’d like to see a journal in which philosophers can debate. There already are two philosophy journals for the interested layperson in Britain. I’ve seen them on the newstands at Barnes and Noble. But one devoted to the God question might be nice to see. Also, Craig’s arguments have been published in philosophy journals, technical ones, and also challenged in such journals. What more does Craig hope to accomplish by debating Dawkins in such a loose verbal fashion? Will it demonstrate Craig’s superiority at rhetoric? At lining up objections and dealing with counter objections “on one’s feet?” Much has been said and done in print already.

    Right now Craig denies Loftus a debate, and Copan denies Thom Stark a written counter-rebuttal. But perhaps denies isn’t the right word. Granted that Craig and Copan have other writings and debates they are more focused on, I might suppose Dawkins does too. Just as Gould had better things to write about than spend time preping for a debate with creationist Kent Hovind who used to call Gould a coward in the press.

    Maybe Craig should debate the Pope concerning the legitimacy of Catholicism contra Craig’s Protestant Sola Scriptura view?

    It takes two to tango and two to debate and they both have to have a wish to do so. Whatever other wishes each might have is their own business.

    Let Craig stew in his own list of infallible philosophical proofs for the truth of Christianity. Even Henry Morris the creationist wrote a book titled Many Infallible Proofs. Though a lot of Christian philosophers these days seem intent on merely attempting to demonstrate that their faith is not completely unwarranted rather than attempting to prove it outright. The world of questions today is wider than before, and people are allowed to express their question, including Christian philosophers expressing theirs. There’s a spectrum running from conservative Christian theologians to moderate to liberal, to deistic or agnostic Christians, to deists or agnostics, to atheists. Not to mention such spectrums existing for each religion and denomination as well. How long do you imagine it might take for someone to “fully debate” their way up or down all such spectrums?

    • randal

      “But does Dawkins have the time or inclination to research Craig’s gaffs over the years?”

      Apparently he has the time to debate bishops who spend their days in administrative activities. That’s like billing yourself a champion prize fighter but declining every time a title holder offers you a prize fight.

      Why would you compare Craig to Kent Hovind, a non-academic tax evader? Wow, that’s a low blow! :)

      “a lot of Christian philosophers these days seem intent on merely attempting to demonstrate that their faith is not completely unwarranted rather than attempting to prove it outright.”

      Amen to that. Which significant existential truths can you establish with universally accepted logical proofs? How about none?

      • Ed Babinski

        Randal, A person is not immoral, nor even cowardly, for refusing to accept a challenge to verbal public debate. This is not the day of the glove slap in the face after which you must duel or concede. People are not compelled to do either.

        Dawkins had an extended debate with well known British apologist Alister McGrath at the 2007 Sunday Times Literary Festival. He also had a brief discussion/debate with Francis Collins. And with a fellow Oxford professor, Lennox (author of Has Science Buried God? and who has debated a number of skeptics ranging from Christopher Hitchens to Richard Dawkins). And in 1986 Dawkins was part of a tag team debate against some creationists (his only debate with creationists). But Dawkins doesn’t base his ideas or life around live public debates. Craig apparently does. As does Hitchens. So what? Let Craig answers his critics, which are many, in the formal and informal journals and online forums in which Craig publishes. There are many itching to engage Craig in both written and public debates. Heck, there’s probably young-earth creationists who would love a chance to debate Craig and his old-earth views. Craig hasn’t debated everyone, nor replied to their many criticisms in print.

        I DO compare Craig to Kent Hovind. Apparently they are both inerrantists. Both love the beautiful and just divine mandate of the slaughter of the Canaanites, and Craig like Hovind argues that there is “a sheer lack of evidence for macroevolution” http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4023134/the_sheer_lack_of_evidence_for_macro_evolution_william_lane_craig/

        Though Craig hedges whether he’s a progressive creationist or theistic evolutionist. Apparently he’s agnostic on whether or not apes and humans share a common ancestor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSc92EDm5gU

        Let’s get Dawkins and Craig to debate THAT topic. At least get it out in the open? Why not? Maybe Dawkins can help Craig with his agnosticism concerning the question of shared common ancestry? Even Behe, the most prominent biologist at the Discovery Institute agrees that shared common ancestry is the best explanation for the genomic and other evidence. Let’s see Craig pull out a win in that debate. Heck, let’s see Craig debate Behe on that topic.

        Also, Randal, you admit that there are no significant existential truths that can be established with universally accepted logical proofs? Doesn’t that make you a Christian existentialist? A fideist of some sort? A leap of faith-ist?

        • randal

          “A person is not immoral, nor even cowardly, for refusing to accept a challenge to verbal public debate.”

          Not necessarily. Though I identified instances where a person might be. If a person can rebut immoral arguments with minimal effort expended, thereby saving others from being infected by those mind-numbing memes, it is not a stretch to think they have some sort of moral obligation to do so. This is Dawkins’ dilemma: the more he argues that Craig’s views are evil the more he paints himself into the corner of properly rebutting them, if indeed he is able to do.

          You are right to point out that he has debated McGrath who is an academic in contrast to most of Dawkins’ debating partners. However, it also must be said that McGrath is not a good debater. All I want from Dawkins is that he not provide spurious reasons for not debating Craig (i.e. he/s never heard of Craig and Craig’s views are too evil to debate). I’m not asking Dawkins to debate Craig. I’m just asking him not to lie about why he is not debating him.

          “Also, Randal, you admit that there are no significant existential truths that can be established with universally accepted logical proofs? Doesn’t that make you a Christian existentialist? A fideist of some sort? A leap of faith-ist?”

          No, it means I’m not a classic foundationalist. I am, in fact, a moderate (fallibilist and particularist) foundationalist. I wrote a book defending that view.

          • http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/05/pagans-0-christians-1.html Ed Babinski


            I suspect that you are the one who would like to debate both Craig and Dawkins, and if you can find a way to slap either of their faces with a glove (a velvet glove of brotherly love in the case of Craig) and get them to agree to debate you, you’d enjoy a written or verbal exchange with either of them, the more in-depth the better.

            You like verbal tussels and puzzles, mental exercise. What active mind doesn’t? Christian or atheist? Buddhist or barmaid (as in “Jesus and Mo” comics online)?

            You think Dawkins is refusing to “rebut immoral arguments?” Can an argument be immoral? I allow you could have phrased matters better. Arguments are logically consistent and rationally coherent or not — not “immoral.” But neither is anyone obligated morally to rebut anyone else’s view as to what lay behind the metaphysical curtain or how best to interpret the Bible. Today people simply speak their minds on such topics, or not.

            Dawkins finds religious views “evil?” Probably not as “evil” as a religious person might define the word and label him and his views. Dawkins’ documentary, “The Root of All Evil?” used the word rhetorically, his point being that he thinks society would be better off without religion. He primarily finds religious views delusional and not particularly useful or instructive when it comes to achieving a relatively peaceful and productive society. In many ways Europe has already taken such steps toward secularism, while the U.S. is slowly catching up, at least it seems that way. Even atheists are gaining a voice in the U.S.

            And Randal, Dawkins never said Craig’s views were “too evil to debate.” From my reading of Dawkins dismissal he found Craig’s biblicism “deplorable” and unsophisticated compared with the views of educated English clergy. Even N.T. Wright only goes so far as to say that God “somehow” reveals himself through Scripture. Wright also agrees that Genesis 1 is a myth. Let Craig and his fans at least mature intellectually to that point before hectoring for a debate.

            And how can you be certain Dawkins is “lying” about his reasons for rejecting a deabte with Craig? Dawkins honestly “deplores” some of Craig’s views and does NOT want to debate such a fellow. In fact I bet there’s tons of U.S. Evangelical inerrantsts that Dawkins finds equally deplorable and has no wish to stand beside on a podium. Craig apparently still believes that the Holy Spirit has led him to believe that the Bible’s original autographs were inerrantly true.

            CRAIG HAS WRITTEN, “The Holy Spirit teaches us directly which teaching is really from God.” “We can know the truth whether we have rational arguments or not.” “Even those who are given no good reason to believe and many persuasive reasons to disbelieve have no excuse, because the ultimate reason they do not believe is that they have deliberately rejected God’s Holy Spirit.” [pg. 37 of Reasonable Faith] http://jcnot4me.com/items/contra_craig/contra_craig.htm

            Lastly, Randal, thanks for elucidating your views, “moderate (fallibilist and particularist) foundationalist.” I suspected you were quite moderate based on your interpretation of Genesis 1 and what I’ve read at your blog.

            But like Craig, you’re probably less moderate on the resurrection. Personally I suspect that biblical scholars already know too much to be able to press the issue of the resurrection as provable any more than they can press other “less seen” miracles in the NT.

            For instance, claims of public healings and exorcisms were par for the course in the first century just as they remain par for TV evangeliists today (though in neither case has it been shown that limbs have regrown). As for the “less seen” miracles of the NT, including the resurrection of Jesus, think of the way the OT in comparison with the NT features technicolor movie blockbuster types of miracles–from the rain of fire on Sodom and Gomorrah–to the miraculous plagues on all of Egypt–to the parting of a whole sea and drowning of a whole army–to following a pillar of smoke by day and fire by night–to seeing God’s “backside”–to seeing Moses’ glowing face, and all are said to have been seen by thousands, hundreds of thosuands or even a couple million. But in the NT when Jesus is tempted and flown someplace by Satan, or he stills a storm and walks on water, or glows on a mountain, how many saw such things per NT tales? Or rather how few? Even the tale of the feeding of the 4,000 and 5,000 in Mark’s earliest version does not sound like the people who were fed were even aware a miracle had taken place. Therefore, comparing OT with NT, far smaller numbers of people are depicted as having seen the most amazing miracles. Even the Gospel story about the apostles asking Jesus whether they should “call down fire from heaven” on the towns that rejected them (and Jesus telling them “no”) only seems to illustrate what I am saying (and perhaps illustrating that Jesus or the Gospel authors also thought the final judgment would come soon enough).

            Jesus’ post-resurrection “appearances,” whatever they were, and his alleged post-resurrection walk from Jerusalem to Bethany at night (Luke), or the weeks Jesus allegedly remained on earth (Acts) teaching and eating with his disciples, or his ascent into the night sky to heaven in view of only the remainin apostles (Luke-Acts), also illustrate what I’ve said. There was no triumphal exit from Jerusalem like there was an entrance. There were no multitudes seeing any of this post-rez stuff. Even the boast that “Jesus appeared to over 500 BRETHREN” in 1 Cor. is hardly a drop in the bucket compared with comparisons to great miracles in the OT, and neither do we know what an “appearance” consisted of since Paul equates such “appearances” with his own.

            Also, the ostensibly earliest Gospel, Mark, lacks a post-resurrection story (it was either absent, never finished, or God let it fly away on the wind, using no special power to preseve the earliest Gospel’s post-resurrection story), while Matthew and Luke differ most in their post-resurrection stories (and resemble each other most in parallels with Mark and Q, therefore in the places where neither Matthew nor Luke could follow Mark’s lead they differ the most from one another, in their nativity and post-resurrection stories, endings and beginnings, like adding on a movie prequel and sequel today, once the original story takes off).

            Even the alleged words spoken by the resurrected Jesus continue to climb in number over time from Mark to Matthew to Luke and John. Luke and also Acts hint at entire lectures delivered by the raised Jesus while John ends with “there are many more stories about what Jesus did, such that I suppose (an inspired “I suppose?”) if they were all written down the world could not contain all the books.” Quite a boast, “I suppose.” All of which makes me suppose that such tales grew in the telling, like Pinnochio’s nose. So I suspect that the Gospels are not the unadulterated, most inspired words of any writings on earth.

            How could one tell anyway? There is no inspir-o-meter by which to compare all the world’s practical moral wisdom, wise sayings, writings, plays, inspiring movie scripts.

            Neither do threats of “eternal hell” make much sense, which are typical inter-testamental and first century apocalyptic speech. No inspiration needed for a first century “prophet” to speak in such a way.

            Also, “threats for unbelievers” are only fully spelled out in such late passages as the added final chapter to Mark, and in John 3. While the earliest threats of hell are based primarily on one’s “works” per the synoptics, which is a more Jewish view and probably more authentic, historical-Jesus wise.

            I also doubt that a life on this planet with ignorance and questions galore, and enculturation, is going to make everyone believe and love the same music, let alone the same god(s), or even the same “Jesus” and theological beliefs. The history of world religions and their diversity also seems like the history of cultural mutations and natural selections.

            But if God does think so highly of Christianity above all other religions, then think of the splash Jesus could have made instead of the Gospel advancing in oh-so-human fashion or defeating rival views and questions with the help of man-made laws by Roman rulers like Constantine and his sons (who offered a free coin and cloak with each Christian baptism!) or Theodosius and Justinian (whose famous law book also summed up laws of previous Christian Emperors, stating on page one, “Anyone who does not believe the Trinity is mad and the power of the state will be used against them.” “The works of Arius and Prophyry, heretics and pagans who dared raise questions, are condemned, and will be destroyed and any who possess them punished.” My paraphrase but I also have the exact quotations: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/05/pagans-0-christians-1.html ). Compare the spread of Buddhism which the Emperor Asoka converted to in India after he successfully conquered the continent of India (he promoted Buddhism, but allowed other religious beliefs as well), or compare the spread of Islam via rulers, or even Judaism being attached to a kingdom with “blasphemous” questions and “other gods” condemned by law.

            So Christianity didn’t even reach the New World until 1400 years after Jesus’ death, and it took even more centuries to penetrate Africa and the Far East.

            But a supernatural Being that thought it was essential that all men worship a particular God and love and fear Him, and hold specific beliefs and learn certain lessons “or be damned,” could have sent numerous miracle-working prophets to all nations and people in every century (even though some be murdered as Jesus was), or such a Being could have spoken directly to people all over the world, letting them know the one true name of God and what to believe, or given literally everyone a visionary foretaste of the undiscovered country so that everyone’s visions agreed and everyone saw and heard for themselves what was what. Instead we find many religions with sacred writings and people carrying them around and teaching/preaching from them, and rulers and kingdoms supporting this or that religion for centuries.

            Me? My beliefs? If it wasn’t for agnosticism I wouldn’t know WHAT to believe.

            • randal

              “I suspect that you are the one who would like to debate both Craig and Dawkins”

              Sure. I’d also like to jam with Eddie Van Halen and have a poetry slam with William Carlos Williams.

              “Can an argument be immoral?”

              Trivally it cannot be immoral in terms of being a moral agent. But surely you know what an immoral argument is. If not, ask Dawkins to comment on the morality of Craig’s defense of genocide.

              “Dawkins finds religious views “evil?” ”

              He certainly believes that some religious doctrines are evil. And some religious doctrines are evil.

              “And how can you be certain Dawkins is “lying” about his reasons for rejecting a deabte with Craig?”

              Inference to the best explanation.

              “I suspect that biblical scholars already know too much to be able to press the issue of the resurrection as provable any more than they can press other “less seen” miracles in the NT. ”

              It depends what you mean by “provable”. Can a rational person conclude that the resurrection hypothesis is the best account of the historical evidence? I believe so.

              “if God does think so highly of Christianity above all other religions”

              This is a curious way to put things. Christianity may get more important truth claims about God correctly than any other belief system, but that doesn’t mean God “thinks most highly” of Christianity.

              “But a supernatural Being that thought it was essential that all men worship a particular God and love and fear Him, and hold specific beliefs and learn certain lessons “or be damned,” could have sent numerous miracle-working prophets to all nations and people in every century….”

              You seem to assume that exclusivism is true. I’ve blogged at length against exclusivism and in favor of inclusivism and hopeful universalism.

        • Steve Willy

          Sounds like you simply read the title and let the neck bearded faux-outrage flow! Stfu you Hitchens-Dawkins parroting basement dwelling megadouche.

  • Ed Babinski

    Randal, to continue

    When exactly did Craig start challening Dawkins to a public debate? How often since then did Craig continue to demand one? At what point did Craig’s conintued hectoring drive Dawkins to give Craig a final and definitive “no?” I don’t blame Dawkins for his response which is here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/20/richard-dawkins-william-lane-craig

    Nor do I blame Dawkins for his lack of desire to share the platform with someone like Craig who defends biblical tales that depict mass murder as divinely sanctioned, like many U.S. Evangelicals continue to do. Hovind and other Evangelical inerrantists in the U.S. are similar in that respect.

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  • David

    More and more, I’m not sure that it matters. Dawkins himself seems to be turning into a bit of a Dieter as time goes on.

    I don’t see much intellectually coming from a Dawkins/Craig debate. It is clear who would win, and even most educated atheists refer to Dawkins as an intellectual lightweight on the subject.

    So, we already know everything the debate would tell us. The refusal is clearly an embarrassment for Dawkins’ position, but I can’t claim to be too bothered by that.

    • Frank

      “I don’t see much intellectually coming from a Dawkins/Craig debate. It is clear who would win, and even most educated atheists refer to Dawkins as an intellectual lightweight on the subject.”

      Yes, David. You are so right. Clearly Craig would win a debate with Dawkins, and then God’s existence would be proven once and for all and we could stop wondering about it and all the atheists could convert to believing in God.

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