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Scraping the barrel

Some fella says Richard Dawkins is bad and stupid and cynical and anti-intellectual because he refuses to debate William Lane Craig.

Really?

Well not the bad and stupid part, no, that’s my paraphrase, but it’s not far off; and the rest of it, yes, really.

Richard Dawkins is not alone in his refusal to debate with William Lane Craig. The vice-president of the British Humanist Association (BHA), AC Grayling has also flatly refused to debate Craig, stating that he would rather debate “the existence of fairies and water-nymphs”.

Yes, and? Are they required (morally though not legally) to debate anyone who asks? Are they not allowed to choose?

Given that there isn’t much in the way of serious argumentation in the New Atheists’ dialectical arsenal, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Dawkins and Grayling aren’t exactly queuing up to enter a public forum with an intellectually rigorous theist like Craig to have their views dissected and the inadequacy of their arguments exposed.

Oh, I see; it’s  intellectually rigorous theists that they’re not allowed to refuse to debate. Well there might be something to that, but what makes Daniel Came (he is the fella in question, the one who wrote the Comment is Free Belief piece) think Craig is intellectually rigorous? From what I hear he’s not a bit; what he is is a practiced debater, not a rigorous intellectual.

In his latest undignified rant, Dawkins claims that it is because Craig is “an apologist for genocide” that he won’t share a platform with him. Dawkins is referring to Craig’s defence of God’s commandment in Deuteronomy 20: 15-17 to wipe out the Canannites.

I am disinclined to defend the God of the Old Testament’s infanticide policy. But as a matter of logic, Craig is probably right: if an infinite good is made possible by a finite evil, then it might reasonably be said that that evil has been offset. However, I doubt whether Craig would be guided by logic himself in this regard and conduct infanticide. 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.

No, but he would defend it in the case of “God,” thus defending what ought not to be defended. As for infinite good, since no one can possibly know anything about such a thing,  it’s not very useful as a reason to say “oh well ok then” to wiping out a tribe or a nation. Dawkins is right to be indignant and Daniel Came is wrong to palter in this way.

As a sceptic, I tend to agree with Dawkins’s conclusion regarding the falsehood of theism, but the tactics deployed by him and the other New Atheists, it seems to me, are fundamentally ignoble and potentially harmful to public intellectual life. For there is something cynical, ominously patronising, and anti-intellectualist in their modus operandi, with its implicit assumption that hurling insults is an effective way to influence people’s beliefs about religion. The presumption is that their largely non-academic readership doesn’t care about, or is incapable of, thinking things through; that passion prevails over reason.

That claim might make some sense if Dawkins refused to debate anyone, but of course he does no such thing. He refuses to debate Craig, largely, I believe, because Craig is a dogmatic apologist, not a rational inquirer. You don’t go to William Lane Craig if you’re after thinking things through.

H/t Eric.

Comments

  1. Dave J L says

    Irritating. The New Atheists, by and large, don’t ‘hurl insults’: they make reasoned criticisms which some people feel insulted by, which is a different thing.

  2. Hamilton Jacobi says

    Ironically, there is nothing substantively new about the New Atheists either.

    Oh good God. What a nitwit.

  3. Roger says

    Surely debating with Craig would be anti-intellectual.
    In fact, Dawkins is following the example of God, who has never engaged in debate of any kind.

  4. says

    The fact that Craig has spent the bulk of his late adulthood coaxing old, busted arguments into shiny new rhetorical outfits – instead of, say, publishing original thinking in what passes for peer-review in theology – speaks volumes to those without Bible earmuffs on.

    Under the heading “What’s good for the goose …,” former Craig grad student and prolific anti-Christian blogger John W. Loftus of Debunking Christianity has openly challenged his former professor to a debate, a challenge which Craig has thus far “ignored.” Some might say, as Loftus does, that this constitutes refusal, since the notion that Loftus might be academically unworthy is poorly considered. Loftus believes, as he probably ought, that his intimate knowledge of Craig’s theology gives Craig significant pause.

    Someone who cares enough might want to tell Daniel Came that there’s something which, should Came enjoy smoking a pipe, he can stick in it.

  5. Bruce S. Springsteen says

    Let’s recap: Dawkins says debating Craig is infra dig, and Daniel Came wants to impress us with the wrong-headedness of Dawkins saying that. Just one question. Who the deuce is Daniel Came and why does anyone care what he thinks? Really. Daniel who? Is he hoping Dawkins will read his criticisms and say “Ach! How arrogantly wrong I was to stiff-arm Craig!” What place in this ecosystem does Came imagine he occupies? He purports to be an Oxford philosopher and “sceptic” of some sort. Then let him run ’round the mulberry bush with Craig. That should be riveting. Or I’ll debate Craig, the old bafflegabbler. He’s been ducking me for too long! What is he hiding from? I demand that Craig explain his refusal to face me in a fair and open contest of cheap rhetorical bull-slinging, at which I am much more adept than Dawkins, but perhaps not more than Came.

  6. says

    FWIW, I don’t find arguments ad hominem or ad (lack of) popularity against Came as mentioned @ 5 particularly helpful. I have no problem agreeing with Dawkins that such a debate would only look good on Craig’s resume. It’s what creationists and defenders of the emperor’s new clothes alike love to see and broadcast : That someone takes them and their silly claims seriously.

  7. Tim Groc says

    Roger:

    In fact, Dawkins is following the example of God, who has never engaged in debate of any kind.

    Dawkins has engaged in a lot of debate. Have you been in stasis for 30 years?

    It’s just that he hasn’t debated the fallacious windbag W.L. Craig. The guy who PZ says is not worth bothering with.

  8. says

    “I am disinclined to defend the God of the Old Testament’s infanticide policy. But as a matter of logic, Craig is probably right: if an infinite good is made possible by a finite evil, then it might reasonably be said that that evil has been offset. ”

    Question: Can god do anything?
    If yes, then God can make possible an infinite good without the use of an infinite evil…
    If god makes infinite good possible via infinite evil then god is either not:
    1) Omnipotent, since he is not capable of creating an infinite good without the infinite evil
    2) or Merciful, since he choose a path of infinite evil as a precursor

    How is that difficult to grasp for people?

  9. sailor1031 says

    Craig is not honest in debate. He makes absurd and unfounded claims, using as his authority his uncritical belief in a body of scripture that has been mostly discredited especially as a source of documentation for any actual historical happenings. To see him in action, against someone who actually does have the scripture facts, watch on youTube the debate series between Craig and Bart Ehrman (sorry no URL, there are twelve videos)

    Few will go to hear Craig who are not solidly in his camp to start with. None of them will be swayed by truth, reason and logic. Debating Craig is a lose-lose proposition for Richard Dawkins. Richard does well to avoid this thoroughly unpleasant little scrote.

  10. Bruce S. Springsteen says

    @6 rorschach. Nonsense. The whole point of this discussion is who should deign to publicly debate whom, and that is all about perceptions (and realities) of individuals’ seriousness, prestige, popular profile, relevance to the future debate and so forth. We live in a bloggy world where any random PhD or other know-it-all can weigh in on what some other public egg-head ought to do. Dandy. But musn’t we develop some criteria for deciding who is in the mix and who isn’t, of what constitutes a fitting matchup? Otherwise, I want that match with Craig, and I expect Came to call him out if he continues to duck me!

    Craig is a baffle-gabbler. Dawkins isn’t. What on earth does RD need that grief for, and why would we need to see it? He’s already gone round-about with Alistair McGrath, John Lennox, Rowan Williams, and even an assortment of American evangelical kooks and logic-choppers from other “faiths.” Maybe at this stage he deserves to reserve his energies for worthier debates and more fruitful battles. (I reckon he was reminded of this need for selective engagement after his recent feckless foray into topsy-turvy Elevatorland!) Came’s rhetoric, on the other hand, is full of cheap misrepresentation, misapprehension and presumption – just like Craig’s. Let him debate Craig if he thinks it’s such a peachy gig. Dawkins has better things to do.

  11. Roger says

    In fact, in this case, Dawkins is following the example of God, who has never engaged in debate of any kind.

    Happy, Tim Groc?

  12. Roger says

    As a general rule, perhaps atheists should announce that they are only going to debate with God itself as- presumably- it has better- less preposterous or dishonest- arguments than any of the self-proclaimed acolytes it’s sent to speak on its behalf so far

  13. says

    We should all start carrying an empty chair around with us, until such time as god does show up for a debate. I’m game if you are!

    Someone (a google says Lenny Bruce) did imagine how if Jesus had been fried instead of crucified, they’d all be hanging electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses, which is funny to think about, but there is precedent there for what you propose. Little empty chairs (and just how big is God anyway?) could symbolize so much more than just the nonexistence of God, so I think they would be great symbols for countering empty crosses.

  14. says

    The empty chair idea is just marvellous !

    Little empty chairs (and just how big is God anyway?) could symbolize so much more than just the nonexistence of God, so I think they would be great symbols for countering empty crosses.

    Only Protestant crosses are empty, the Catholics still have the dead guy dangling from it.

  15. says

    Only Protestant crosses are empty, the Catholics still have the dead guy dangling from it.

    Yeah, that’s… pretty gross. Empty chairs are so much classier. But then again, that’s Catholics for you. The horror genre would be so empty without them.

  16. wysage says

    One of the more interesting atheists is John W. Loftus from the Debunking Christianity blog (debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/). He is a former student under Lane and has written a number of books on why he became an atheist (in fact, that is a title of one of his books). Futhermore, Loftus reports that one of the things the William Craig Lane told him is that Lane fears to be debated by one of his former students.

    Anyway, Loftus challenged Lane to a debate, and Lane refuses to debate him. I think Loftus’ approach has merit because he shows that Christianity is untenable based on Christian theology. This makes sense to me because from my experience from evolution/creation “debates,” scientists usually don’t know all of the dog whistles used by creationists to confuse the audience.

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