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