‘The American philosopher William Lane Craig had offered to debate Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion with its author, in his home town (and mine). Dawkins is around, because he has his own event in another Oxford location on Friday. But despite being in the midst of promoting a new book, Dawkins refused to come. He came up with a series of silly excuses, none of which holds water. And an empty chair was provided for him at the Sheldonian on Tuesday evening, in case he changed his mind and – yes – to mock him for his absence.
Details of this controversy are all over the web, and I was impressed by the behaviour of another Oxford atheist, Daniel Came, who said Dawkins should have turned up, and had the guts to be there himself. I might say that I thought his contribution was serious, thoughtful and properly modest about the limits of what we can know. The bumptiousness and raillery of Dawkins and some other anti-God preachers was entirely absent from his discourse, and it was all the better for it.
I have to confess here that I don’t find Craig’s debating style or manner very attractive. It is too smooth and American for me – and his best moment (again, for me) came when he dropped his salesman’s manner and said, in effect, that he was sorry if he seemed too certain, and that his fundamental claims were modest ones – that the Theist position was scientifically tenable.
. . . Many of you will know that in his failure to face William Lane Craig, Professor Dawkins was not alone. Several other members of Britain’s Atheist Premier League found themselves unable or unwilling (or both) to take him on.
The important thing about this is that what Craig does is simple. He uses philosophical logic, and a considerable knowledge of physics, to expose the shallowness of Dawkins’s arguments. I would imagine that an equally serious Atheist philosopher would be able to give him a run for his money, but Dawkins isn’t that. He would have been embarrassingly out of his depth.
For what Craig achieves is this. He simply retakes an important piece of ground that Christianity lost through laziness and cowardice, rather than because it lacked the weapons to defend it. He doesn’t (in my view) achieve total victory over the unbelievers. He simply says : ‘In this logic, which you cannot deny, and in this science, which you cannot deny either, it is clear that there is plenty of room for the possibility that God exists and made the universe’. No scientifically literate person, who is informed and can argue logically, can in truth say that he is wrong.
The trouble is that so many ‘official’ Christians have more or less conceded this ground, not being very firm believers themselves, and lacking Craig’s training in logic and science. He is the antidote to the lazy belief that in some way ‘science’ is incompatible with ‘religion’, and to the idea that all believers are unlettered morons who think the earth is 5,000 years old and that there were dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark.
This is, I’m afraid, all too often the tone of the anti-God people who come here to post. It’s settled, you’re stupid, why not give up? It’s not settled. We’re not stupid. We won’t give up.’