There’s Probably No Dawkins

I think this is a great campaign personally. For the upcoming Reasonable Faith Tour in the UK which features William Lane Craig among other notable names, the ad pictured to below is one of the ways of promoting it. There’s obviously some backstory for those who don’t know it.

Important background information number 1: not too long ago, the British Humanist Society ran ads on UK buses saying “there’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy the rest of your life.” So this is obviously a play on that with its words “There’s probably no Dawkins. Now stop worrying and enjoy October 25th at the Sheldonian Theatre”. No, it is not actually saying there is probably no Dawkins. They know that there is a Dawkins. I’ve heard some atheists argue that this ad is stupid because unlike God it is easy to prove Dawkins. Simply put, they are completely missing the point.

The second relevant point is a bit more serious. Richard Dawkins repeatedly refuses to debate leading proponents of Christianity or any other religion, including William Lane Craig. Apparently this is the fourth invitation to Dawkins to debate Craig, and he has always refused. The ad is actually hoping to get Dawkins to show up for the debate, although I don’t think they genuinely believe it will work. Interestingly, another big name atheist, Polly Toynbee who is the President of the British Humanist Association, originally agreed to this debate but recently pulled out saying essentially that she didn’t know what she was getting into.

It speaks to a disturbing problem on the New Atheist front. For a movement, led by Dawkins, that attempts to define itself on pure rationality, to outright refuse to debate. Dawkins and other New Atheist leaders are quick to debate pastors with no apologetics training, or young up-and-upcoming apologeticists who have virtually no biological or philosophical training (the two areas which often dominate these debates with biology being Dawkins’ area). Last year was a major debate in Canada, between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair. If you don’t know those names, Hitchens is a brilliant philosopher who has written books on the perils of religion. Blair is a politician who happens to be Catholic. Obviously I’m not complaining because Blair knew what he was getting into, but it was hardly a fair fight. This isn’t too unusual – I’ve also seen Sam Harris vs Rick Warren: in this case philosopher against pastor, in a philosophical debate.

Yet of all these years of the New Atheist movement and their emphasis on being purely rational and open to debate with anybody (yes, they say that frequently), it is shocking that they constantly refuse to debate the best Christianity has to offer. It isn’t just bad timing, either – as with Toynbee, Dawkins has outright said he will not debate a professional apologeticist. I’m not sure what valid reason there is for this other than fear. They have been fairly successful by attacking pastors with their theology degrees about evolution which they’ve never studied. Going against somebody who has actually had preparation similar to theirs, they are simply scared that they will not be able to dominate in the same way they’re used to, and that hurts their movement. Fair enough – I understand not wanting to hurt your movement – but when your movement proudly proclaims that you’ll debate anybody and everybody, you should be willing to debate anybody and everybody instead of those that are virtually guaranteed wins. Unfortunately for the New Atheist movement, I think people are catching on to this with ads like this one.

I’m not even saying that Dawkins (or any of the others) would lose to Craig, whatever losing means in this case. I’m just saying it would be nice to see them take up the challenge for a fair fight. Unlike most of the other debates that happen, that would actually be worth watching. And if the New Atheist goal is really to be purely rational and be open to dialogue with anybody, they have so far been unwilling to prove it. So at least for the sake of real conversation about the question of the existence of God, unless Dawkins changes his approach and follows his word of being willing to debate anybody, then there is probably no Dawkins in this question. And that doesn’t just hurt those who want a good debate, it hurts the New Atheist movement.

Update on Oct 17: I was informed via Twitter that Sam Harris has in fact debated William Lane Craig. I apologize for my incorrect blanket statements that nobody would debate him and I applaud Harris. But I also am going to leave this post up because I don’t think it changes my main point: in general, the best of the best of the New Atheists decline invitations to debate Craig and it goes against their mantra of being open to all evidence and wanting reasonable discussion with everybody.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.