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