Why Richard Dawkins Won't Debate Craig: "I'm Busy"

Richard Dawkins responds to the question at the recent Intelligence Squared debate at Wellington College in Berkshire, over his refusal to engage with prominent philosopher of religion, William Lane Craig.

HT: Gil S at the new Rational Thoughts blog


Wintery Knight has some good analysis here:

Dawkins’ reasons in point form (with Wintery Knight’s commentary):

  • Dawkins claims that he is willing to debate high-ranking clergymen (but Craig is a scholar, not a clergyman)
  • Dawkins claims that Craig is a creationist (but Craig supports his kalam cosmological argument with the Big Bang)
  • Dawkins claims that Craig’s only claim to fame is that he is a professional debater (but see Craig’s CV and publications below, which is far more prestigious than Dawkins’)
  • Dawkins claims that he’s too busy.

What are the real reasons why he won’t debate Craig?

I can think of three reasons why Dawkins would avoid a debate with Craig:

  1. He doesn’t know how to defend atheism and disprove theism in public
  2. He doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand logic and study evidence
  3. He doesn’t want to debate a real scholar and be humiliated in public, like Hitchens and Dennett

My opinion is that he is guilty of all 3 of these.

Jason Engwer at Triablogue quotes ChristianJR4, who posted the clip:

“To me, it sounded like Dawkins was saying he wouldn’t debate Craig because he doesn’t have any other claim to fame besides him being a really good debater. Of course that’s patently false. Craig’s academic credentials and fame far outstrip any of Dawkin’s past debate opponents against theists… It’s quite amusing, to say the least, that after 2 full years of hearing about him, Dr. Dawkins still doesn’t have a clue about who Dr. Craig is. He doesn’t know, for example, that Craig is a world renowned philosopher of Religion (indeed he’s considered to be at the top of his field). He doesn’t know that Craig is a ‘leading philosopher of space and time’ (Quentin Smith quote). He doesn’t know that Craig’s claim to fame is actually on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, not his debating.”

William Lane Craig on his recent Intelligent Design debate

I guess we all know by now that Richard Dawkins refused to debate Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, and recently also refused to debate Dr. Stephen Meyer, even though their paths crossed in the USA.


But Dawkins may just well be feeling relieved, however, given the outcome of Craig’s latest debate at Indiana University. By all accounts, Craig appears to have soundly beaten his opponent and advocate for evolution, Francisco Ayala. Ayala is no dummy either, and in debating the topic Intelligent Design: Is it Viable? he should, at least on paper, have been a serious contender with Craig. Professor of biology and philosophy at the University of California, Ayala is described by the New York Times as the “Renaissance man of evolutionary biology”, authoring or editing over 980 articles and 34 books. In 2001 he was awarded the National Medal Of Science and throughout his carer has been recognized by numerous other Institutes and Academic organizations (Craig isn’t kidding when he says Ayala “has as many medals as an Argentine general!”) But Ayala was outperformed. Even the moderator of the debate was less than impressed with the evolutionary biologist and viewed it in Craig’s favour (“Ayala didn’t really engage with Craig, but instead presented his own information, ignoring the arguments that Craig was giving.”). Luke Muehlhauser, the blogger at Common Sense Atheism was even more blunt, suggesting Ayala was getting ‘womped’ by Craig:

Ayala’s presentations were meandering musings on evolutionary theory, the history of science, and anecdotes about Darwin. Ayala also discussed the evidence for common descent, apparently unaware that intelligent design theory is compatible with the existing evidence for common descent. In his opening speech, during which he was supposed to present the case against intelligent design, Ayala did not even mention intelligent design. Craig, as usual, cut very clearly to the heart of the disagreement between Ayala and Intelligent Design theory. He then showed how Ayala’s objections to intelligent design were invalid.

Download the audio from the debate and judge for yourself. But, lastly, here are William Lane Craig’s own thoughts from his November Newsletter:CRAIG

As I write this letter, I’m on my way home from my debate last night at Indiana University on “Is Intelligent Design Viable?” My opponent was Francisco Ayala, an eminent and highly decorated evolutionary biologist who, judging by his lengthy resumé, has as many medals as an Argentine general! I had heard Ayala lecture on Intelligent Design last year in China and was dismayed by the caricatures and misrepresentations he gave to the Chinese students. So even though I had never debated intelligent design in biology before, I decided to take on this debate to try at least to set the record straight. The last few months I prepared diligently for this debate, reading Ayala’s work, familiarizing myself with relevant new developments in biology, studying the recent works of ID proponents, conferring with colleagues who work in this field, and formulating the best strategy for the debate. The key to my approach was a distinction helpfully drawn by Ayala himself. Ayala distinguishes three aspects of the contemporary evolutionary paradigm:

  1. Evolution: the process of change and diversification of living things over time.
  2. Evolutionary history: the reconstruction of the universal tree of life (common ancestry).
  3. “Darwinism”: the mechanism behind evolutionary change is natural selection operating on random variations in living things.

This makes it clear just where ID theorists and Ayala part company. It is not on evolution or even common ancestry but on “Darwinism.” Indeed, prominent ID theorists like geneticist Michael Denton and biochemist Michael Behe espouse the same view of evolutionary history as Ayala. What they deny is that the mechanisms of random variation and natural selection are adequate to explain the evolution of biological complexity. Significantly, Ayala states in his published work “The evolution of organisms is universally accepted by biological scientists, while the mechanisms of evolution are still actively investigated and are the subject of debate among scientists.” He says, “To reconstruct evolutionary history, we have to know how the mechanisms operate in detail, and we have only the vaguest idea of how they operate at the genetic level, how genetic change relates to development and to function.” So I decided to just ignore both “evolution” and common ancestry and to go for the jugular, “Darwinism,” since that is the pivotal point on which the disagreement of ID theorists with the contemporary evolutionary paradigm turns. By taking this approach, I could also keep the debate sharply focused. Since the question we were debating was not whether intelligent design is true but merely whether it is viable, it was up to Ayala to disqualify ID as a live option. In his published work, he tries to disqualify ID both scientifically and theologically, so my opening response fell neatly into two parts. First, I argued that Ayala fails to disqualify ID scientifically because he cannot show that the Darwinian mechanisms are capable of producing the sort of biological complexity we see on earth. Then I argued that the theological arguments he presents against the designer’s being all-powerful and all-good are simply irrelevant to drawing a design inference (however interesting and important they may be for theology) because the design argument doesn’t aspire to show that the designer is all-powerful or all-good. The debate turned out to be virtually one-sided! Ayala utterly failed to engage with my arguments. It was almost as if I wasn’t even there. It was pretty obvious to everyone that he was just presenting canned arguments which had already been refuted in my opening statement. I responded to all his points and even went beyond them to tackle the theological problem of natural evil as well. I was also able to call him to account for his misrepresentation of Michael Behe’s work. Ayala likes to indict Behe for saying that the human eye is irreducibly complex, even though it isn’t. Holding up Behe’s book and reading aloud the relevant passage, I responded that this allegation was surprising in light of the fact that Behe says on pages 37-38 that the eye is NOT irreducibly complex and therefore he does not use it as one of his examples of irreducible complexity! Another interesting feature of this debate was the moderator, a young philosopher from the University of Colorado, Boulder, named Bradley Monton. Though a self-confessed atheist, Monton is convinced that the typical refutations of ID that pass muster today are in fact fallacious, and so he has written a book defending not only the scientific status of ID but even its being taught as an option in public schools! Having read his remarkable book in preparation for the debate, I was able to quote “our esteemed moderator” to good effect during the debate itself to counter Ayala’s assertion that ID was not science. I learned so much during those months of preparation for this debate: about features of human anatomy like the appendix, which is not a vestigial organ at all, or the coccyx, which anchors the muscles that keep the anus from just draining freely, about genetics and the incredible molecular machinery of the cell, about malaria and its war of attrition with humanity, about the molecular basis of drug resistance in bacteria and viruses, about the origin of pathogenic parasites, which were once free-living organisms that “devolved” to become parasitic, about Archaeopteryx and feathered dinosaurs, which to my surprise, are now recognized by evolutionary biologists not to be transitional forms to modern birds even though they have both reptilian and avian features, about biomimetics, how engineers repeatedly find that nature has anticipated (and usually exceeds) the best designs of human engineering, about Pod Mrcaru lizards off the Croatian coast which have unexpectedly developed new anatomical structures, about the hierarchy of pain awareness in animals and man’s unique status of having a second order awareness that one is oneself in pain, an awareness that God, in His mercy, has apparently spared the animals (see this week’s Question of the Week for more on this absolutely fascinating subject). One of the things I love about the ministry which God has given us, wholly apart from the practical application in speaking and debates, is the incredible stimulus and personal growth that such study brings.

Craig’s next debate is at the University of North Carolina on the existence of God with Dr. Herb Silverman, in March. And Stephen Meyer is soon to debate Michael Shermer in a superstars of wrestling style “Origins-of-Life tag-team debate at the end of this month. But the question is, where is Professor Dawkins?

UPDATE: Wintery Knight has posted the video to Craig’s opening speech from the debate.

Sarfati reviews Dawkins' 'The Greatest Show on Earth'

Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries International and author of numerous works including By Design: Evidence for nature’s Intelligent Designer—the God of the Bible and Refuting Compromise, has posted a preview of his forthcoming response to Dawkins’ new book. He writes:

Prominent antitheist and self-styled “atheist” Richard Dawkins has written a new book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Ironically, he admits about all his previous pro-evolution books:

“Looking back on these books, I realized that the evidence for evolution is nowhere explicitly set out, and that it seemed like a good gap to close.”
Naturally, CMI is preparing a book to answer Dawkins’ latest. In a chapter about alleged bad design, Dawkins had a section about the loss of wings and evolution of features like halteres, the little drumstick-like stabilizers behind the one pair of wings on flies.

To set the stage, Dawkins related the theory of English evolutionist (and former debate partner1) John Maynard Smith (1920–2004) about the evolution of flying creatures. Maynard-Smith argued that flying creatures evolved first with high stability and low maneuverability (e.g. with the long pterosaur tail or an insect’s long abdomen). Then they shortened, which caused lower stability but greater maneuverability, and they evolved advanced sensory equipment to stabilize by fast reactions (e.g. larger semicircular canals in pterosaurs or halteres in flies).

Even when Dawkins wrote, there were already dragonflies in the ointment, so to speak, because they have both long bodies (stability) but are also highly maneuverable and have advanced navigation systems. Furthermore, even known pterosaur types didn’t fit this theory, as Dawkins admitted in passing. But after writing our response to this Dawkins “Just-so” story, this new pterosaur turned up, and it adds a final demolition point. This new pterosaur, which to be fair Dawkins could not have known about when he wrote, has the stability of the long tail as well as the advanced correction features before loss of stability supposedly drove the selection for the advanced flying skills.

As a sneak peek, to show that we are indeed rebutting Dawkins’ claims, here is a draft section from our forthcoming book answering The Greatest Show on Earth.

Read the rest.

Counting the fallout of New Atheism: Is there an atheist schism?

As early as Epicurus, there have been attempts to debunk the supernatural, but it was not until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with Hume, Feuerbach, Russell, Sartre and others, that more intellectually sophisticated arguments for atheism entered the marketplace of ideas. Since the early twenty-first century, however, a new pattern of atheism has emerged. Departing from their skeptical forebears, the New Atheists espouse a dogma that differs in both tone and content. They denounce not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is said to be not only wrong, but evil. The shift in accent and stunning ignorance of the heritage of the debate that they are joining has not only concerned theists, but many atheists as well. Over at The Guardian, an interesting discussion is unfolding among skeptics in the wake of this. Two philosophers, Michael Ruse and Ophelia Benson, address the fallout from the New Atheist movement and consider whether there is a split occurring within the ranks of those who profess atheism.

Michael Ruse, the atheist philosopher of biology at Florida State University, defends the revolt against Richard Dawkins and the New Atheist movement in his article “Dawkins et al bring us into disrepute”.  He writes:

There are several reasons why we atheists are squabbling – I will speak only for myself but I doubt I am atypical. First, non-believer though I may be, I do not think (as do the new atheists) that all religion is necessarily evil and corrupting. . .

Second, unlike the new atheists, I take scholarship seriously. I have written that The God Delusion made me ashamed to be an atheist and I meant it. Trying to understand how God could need no cause, Christians claim that God exists necessarily. I have taken the effort to try to understand what that means. Dawkins and company are ignorant of such claims and positively contemptuous of those who even try to understand them, let alone believe them. Thus, like a first-year undergraduate, he can happily go around asking loudly, “What caused God?” as though he had made some momentous philosophical discovery. Dawkins was indignant when, on the grounds that inanimate objects cannot have emotions, philosophers like Mary Midgley criticised his metaphorical notion of a selfish gene. Sauce for the biological goose is sauce for the atheist gander. There are a lot of very bright and well informed Christian theologians. We atheists should demand no less.

Third, how dare we be so condescending? I don’t have faith. I really don’t. Rowan Williams does as do many of my fellow philosophers like Alvin Plantinga (a Protestant) and Ernan McMullin (a Catholic). I think they are wrong; they think I am wrong. But they are not stupid or bad or whatever. If I needed advice about everyday matters, I would turn without hesitation to these men. We are caught in opposing Kuhnian paradigms. I can explain their faith claims in terms of psychology; they can explain my lack of faith claims also probably partly through psychology and probably theology also. (Plantinga, a Calvinist, would refer to original sin.) I just keep hearing Cromwell to the Scots. “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.” I don’t think I am wrong, but the worth and integrity of so many believers makes me modest in my unbelief. . .

Today, nearly a decade after 9/11, terrified as so many still are by the terrorist threat, the atheistic fundamentalists are finding equally fertile soil for their equally frenetic messages. It’s all the fault of the believers, Muslims mainly of course, but Christians also. But don’t worry. In the God Delusion, we have a message as simplistic as in The Genesis Flood. This too will solve all of your problems. Peace and prosperity await you in this world, if not the next.

Forgive me if I don’t sign on.

Ophelia Benson, atheist and deputy editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine, responds to Ruse in her article “Atheism itself isn’t a movement”. She argues that the disagreement isn’t within atheism but among atheists who hold additional political views (namely, whether religion is dangerous):

Many atheists want to be able to be atheists without being dragooned into some boring noisy unsubtle bad-tempered “movement”. Many other atheists want to be able to be overt explicit unbashful atheists without constantly being told to be more euphemistic or evasive or respectful or just plain silent by other atheists, who surely ought to know better…

The problem, of course, is that what each group wants is incompatible with what the other group wants. In a perfect world, plain atheists could just ignore movement atheists, and movement atheists could mutter away without disturbing their quieter friends. But in the real world, many plain atheists feel that movement atheists bring the whole notion of atheism into disrepute. We make it more difficult for plain atheists to be just that, because the world at large now thinks of atheists in general as movement atheists.

I see the difficulty, and like the walrus, I deeply sympathise, but I also think that plain atheists should to some extent put up with it. We don’t actually want to dragoon them into “the movement” but we would like to be able to talk freely without even other atheists telling us to pipe down.

To put it another way, we’re not telling them to be noisier, but we don’t much like it when they tell us to be quieter. Yes, granted, we’ve made it somewhat harder to be a plain atheist (though they could always just closet themselves completely, by pretending to be theists) – we seem to be jumping up and down on the parapet yelling “over here, we’re over here!” while everyone else is trying to avoid enemy fire. But that’s life. The pope is always making life difficult for liberal Catholics, too; so it goes.

Where one locates oneself on this map depends partly on whether one thinks religion is mostly benign, or mostly harmful, or a difficult-to-unravel mix of the two. It’s not a neat mapping though – I’m a committed “movement” atheist in the sense that I really do think taboos on open discussion of religion should go away, but I also think religion is a difficult-to-unravel mix of the benign and the harmful. But then I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that all “new” or movement atheists match that description too.

While the concession in Benson’s final paragraph is well-taken, it’s difficult to agree with her general characterization of the debate. I don’t think Ruse or serious advocates of theism are trying to discourage the open discussion of religion or insulate it off from public scrutiny. Christianity, particularly, has nothing to fear here. It has flourished with the robust examination of its ideas for centuries, by great minds such as Augustine, Aquinas, Abelard, Duns Scotus, Descartes, Leibniz, etc. What Ruse and others are objecting to is the mix of belligerence and intellectual complacency that has marked the New Atheist stance.  With pretensions that outstrip their ability to pontificate on the topics they raise, the volume of their shouting has been inversely proportionate to the credibility of their arguments. Religion shouldn’t get an easy ride – faith is no excuse for intellectual shoddiness – but the cliche-mongering and arrogant tone that Dawkins and the New Atheists all too frequently marshal makes it difficult to believe that their goal is truly to engage the theistic side at all.

Critical Reviews of Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion"

I received a few emails in regards to my previous post about Richard Dawkins and his earlier work, The God Delusion. Several readers were interested in what I said about the book’s critical reception and so I’ve compiled a list of some of the reactions that have appeared in academic journals and in the media, from both skeptics and theists. There are many more out there (online responses from Peter Williams, Albert Mohler, Richard Swinburne, and Steve Hays are also worth investigating) but the following offer a pretty good assessment:

“Dawkins is perhaps the world’s most popular science writer; he is also an extremely gifted science writer. (For example, his account of bats and their ways in his earlier book The Blind Watchmaker is a brilliant and fascinating tour de force.) The God Delusion, however, contains little science; it is mainly philosophy and theology. . . Dawkins is not a philosopher (he’s a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class.”
Alvin Plantinga (Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame) Books and Culture 3/01/2007

“Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Cardcarrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince.”
Terry Eagleton, Vol. 28 No. 20 · 19 October 2006 pages 32-34

Despite my admiration for much of Dawkins’s work, I’m afraid that I’m among those scientists who must part company with him here. Indeed, The God Delusion seems to me badly flawed. Though I once labeled Dawkins a professional atheist, I’m forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he’s actually more an amateur.
H. ALLEN ORR (Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester) The New York Review of Books, Volume 54, Number 1, January 11, 2007 (Also worth reading is Orr’s excellent reply to Daniel Dennett’s criticism of the review)

“The quality of Richard Dawkins’s polemic against classical supernaturalism is, for the vast most part, paradigmatically sophomoric. Moreover, while civility is not entirely absent from his deliberations, the tone of his discussion tends all too often to be surly, arrogant, and self-congratulatory.”
Robert Oakes (Professor of Philosophy at the University of Missouri) Faith and Philosophy vol. 25, no. 4, pages 447 – 451, 2008

“In his new book, he attacks religion with all the weapons at his disposal, and as a result the book is a very uneven collection of scriptural ridicule, amateur philosophy, historical and contemporary horror stories, anthropological speculations, and cosmological scientific argument. . . Since Dawkins is operating mostly outside the range of his scientific expertise, it is not surprising that The God Delusion lacks the superb instructive lucidity of his books on evolutionary theory, such as The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, and Climbing Mount Improbable.”
Thomas Nagel (professor of philosophy at New York University) The New Republic Online October 23, 2006

“Dawkins aims at a variety of arguments for God’s existence, but keeps missing the targets. He, amazingly, never addresses the kalam cosmological argument, one of the most powerful and most discussed theistic arguments of the past thirty years. Nor does he mention the much-discussed theistic interpretation of Big Bang cosmology. Pascal’s wager is summarily dismissed and badly botched…Dawkins confesses that the purpose of The God Delusion is to convert people to atheism. . . It nevertheless poses no serious threat to a well-informed and philosophically credible Christian faith”
Douglas R. Groothuis (Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary), Christian Research Journal, volume 30, number 6 (2007)

[Addressing the ‘central argument’ of Chapter 4: “Why There is Almost Certainly No God”] “Dawkins’ argument for atheism is a failure even if we concede, for the sake of argument, all its steps. But, in fact, several of these steps are plausibly false… his argument does nothing to undermine a design inference based on the universe’s complexity, not to speak of its serving as a justification of atheism.
William Lane Craig (Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology)

The least satisfying part of this book is Dawkins’s treatment of the traditional arguments for the existence of God . . . Despite the many flashes of brilliance in this book, Dawkins’s failure to appreciate just how hard philosophical questions about religion can be makes reading it an intellectually frustrating experience.”
Jim Holt, The New York Times, Published: October 22, 2006

“From an anthropological perspective, Richard Dawkins’ Darwinian critique of theism and religion is a fascinating read, though perhaps not always for the reasons the author would wish. In some respects, it makes a highly original contribution, bringing a new perspective to the scientific debate surrounding belief in God and other dimensions of the religious experience. But, at the same time, the arguments in relation to some aspects of religion are sometimes inconsistent and presented with a reliance on rhetoric rather than reason.”
Edward Croft Dutton (Oulu University in Finland) The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies. Washington: Fall 2007. Vol. 32, Iss. 3; pg. 385

Dawkins’s polemic against the need for religion is compelling, even if the arguments are not particularly new. Less persuasive is his attempt to explain what faith is and why people continue to believe. So great is his loathing for religion that it sometimes overwhelms his reasoned argument. . . Dawkins steamrollers over such complexities. The result, ironically, is that he ends up sounding as naive and unworldly as any happy clappy believer.
Kenan Malik, The Telegraph, 08 Oct 2006

It has been obvious for years that Richard Dawkins had a fat book on religion in him, but who would have thought him capable of writing one this bad? Incurious, dogmatic, rambling and self-contradictory, it has none of the style or verve of his earlier works.
Andrew Brown, Prospect, 21st October 2006 — Issue 127

“Ultimately, a reader can get worn out by 400-odd pages of indignation… Early in “The God Delusion,” Dawkins quotes Sagan’s book ” Pale Blue Dot” and concludes: “All Sagan’s books touch the nerve-endings of transcendent wonder that religion monopolized in past centuries. My own books have the same aspiration.” Unfortunately, in “The God Delusion,” he doesn’t succeed. Dawkins is probably right that fundamentalist religion “actively debauches the scientific enterprise,” but I’ll take Sagan’s more reverent skepticism any day.
Anthony Doerr, The Boston Globe, November 19, 2006

“The religion that Dawkins demolishes, like the God he imagines as enthroned in its midst, deserves (and staggers under) practically all the blows he launches at it; but there’s a whole other world that he scarcely lays a glove on. That world isn’t necessarily immune to reason’s assaults, but they’ll have to be orchestrated more subtly and sensitively than they are here. Meanwhile, atheists, especially insecure or harried ones, will find in The God Delusion one hell of a hotline.”
Peter Heinegg, Cross Currents, Winter 2007, Vol. 56, Iss. 4; pg. 128

The most effective chapters are those in which Dawkins calms down, for instance, drawing on evolution to disprove the ideas behind intelligent design. In other chapters, he attempts to construct a scientific scaffolding for atheism, such as using evolution again to rebut the notion that without God there can be no morality. He insists that religion is a divisive and oppressive force, but he is less convincing in arguing that the world would be better and more peaceful without it.”
Review by Staff, Publishers Weekly, New York: Aug 21, 2006. Vol. 253, Iss. 33; pg. 58

Also, for those interested in getting a hold of books that have addressed Dawkins’ book and the New Atheism, here are a few options (HT: James at Analogical Thoughts):

David Berlinksi: The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, April 2008.

Edited by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists and Other Objectors , August 2009

Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker, Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins’ Case Against God, May 2008

Eric Reitan, Is God A Delusion? A Reply to Religion’s Cultured Despisers, December 2008

David Robertson, The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths, June 2007

Keith Ward, Why There Almost Certainly Is a God: Doubting Dawkins, April 2009

Richard Dawkins is coming to NZ

As a part of the New Zealand International Arts Festival, zoologist and popular atheist Richard Dawkins has been invited to speak in Wellington early next year. Dawkins is the author of many landmark books on evolution, including the recently published “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution”. He will speaking at the Festival as apart of the Writers and Readers Week, along with influential philosopher and atheist Peter Singer.

Dawkins is no stranger to controversy, and indeed has invited it openly himself, with his polemical writing and often incendiary comments.  He has been described as “Darwin’s Rottweiler” and a “fundamentalist” in the service of the evolutionary cause. Dawkins’ previous book, The God Delusion, sold more than 1.5 million copies but has been criticized as unsophisticated, prone to caricature and ultimately out of its depth, with even some atheists embarrassed and cringing at some of its claims. But if there’s one thing Dawkins is good at, it’s at stimulating debate. Let’s hope his arrival will encourage the right kind of debate, with more light than heat.714blog_richard_dawkins_2

Michael Ruse on why the New Atheists are a "bloody disaster"

Michael Ruse, the atheist philosopher of biology, has written an interesting post about the extremism and intellectual failures of the “New Atheists”. Ruse teaches at the Florida State University and is himself an ardent critic of Creationism and Intelligent Design, authoring numerous books on the topic and in the philosophy of science (“Darwinism defended: a guide to the evolution controversies”, “Taking Darwin seriously: a naturalistic approach to philosophy”, “Biology and the foundation of ethics”, etc). But in his guest post on BeliefNet, Ruse argues that the New Atheists are doing “political damage to the cause of Creationism fighting” and even a “grave disservice” to science. In their campaign to keep Creationism out of schools, Ruse says “the new atheists have lamentably failed to prove their point, and excoriating people like me who show the failure is (again) not very helpful”.

Ruse is particularly critical of Richard Dawkins, proclaiming that “The God Delusion makes me ashamed to be an atheist”:

Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing. As I have said elsewhere, for the first time in my life, I felt sorry for the ontological argument. If we criticized gene theory with as little knowledge as Dawkins has of religion and philosophy, he would be rightly indignant. (He was just this when, thirty years ago, Mary Midgeley went after the selfish gene concept without the slightest knowledge of genetics.) Conversely, I am indignant at the poor quality of the argumentation in Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and all of the others in that group.

Read the whole thing here (HT: JT)

Sir Harry Kroto, Science and Faith

Today I had the pleasure of attending three events with Nobel prize winning chemist Sir Harry Kroto. Sir Harry is an atheist with a Jewish father, and a friend of Richard Dawkins. He is not afraid to talk about religion as evidenced during his recent interview with Kim Hill and by numerous remarks during the sessions today.

As for me, I’m not an atheist (although I was brought up as such) so it is usually with some trepidation that I attend lectures and talks such as these, just in case my faith [1] is shattered. Over the years I have been to many university-based science lectures and found this fear to rarely be justified and the challenges to Christianity to actually be incredibly weak. To be fair, I go to such lectures and talks trying to be as open-minded as I can be, and trying to consider the facts presented both in their isolated form and as part of a larger worldview. Sir Harry’s talks however appeared to present little if anything that would convince me to change my mind, although I would love to have had the opportunity to have chatted with him one-on-one (or any another scientist) and let them try to convince me.

On this point, Dawkins and Sam Harris and others have something to gain by converting me. I’m involved in a church with students, and various other activities with friends and family. If they could convince me that I am wrong and that they are right, then I would join them and become an evangelist for their side. I could make new converts within my church friends and stop pestering my family over their salvation and the “hell” word that Dawkins and Sir Harry seem so offended about.

I should spend a moment on this “hell” topic too since it keeps coming up. What I see regarding this is both a double-standard and a straw-man fallacy. Let’s take the latter first.

Dawkins and Sir Harry have both quoted instances of children being scared by such things as “hell houses” or having children scared to the point of psychological damage in some way regarding hell. Yet this seems intellectually dishonest as I think Anthony Flew has pointed out. For example, take 1,000 church kids and (somehow) determine how many of them have psychological damage from their parents talking about hell. I know numerous kids and none of them to my knowledge live in some disturbed state, and nor do my kids, yet I make it no secret that hell is a reality according to the Bible. What the new atheists and Sir Harry appear to be doing is taking the (perhaps) one or two cases per 1,000 and citing these as if they are normal.

As for the double standard, let’s consider what atheists are teaching young people. Young person: you are part of a cosmic accident, a piece of highly evolved pond-scum. But don’t worry, you are good pond scum. And life is good and has much meaning. We don’t know what it is, but fear not for you can pretend life has meaning which should make you feel better and you will have less reason to follow 500 other New Zealanders each year by committing suicide. Yes, we know that the universe began with a big bang and ultimately will end in a whimpering heat death. But don’t worry, you will be long dead before that happens, and your ashes will be part of that (cough) meaningful utopic picture.

This leads on to another point which is the trouble universities are having recruiting science students. I’m not about to suggest that atheism and post-modernism are the reasons for the disinterest in science, but I think they do play a role. Consider, if you live a life that is ultimately meaningless (born, live, reproduce, die, nothingness), then why would you choose an occupation that is hard and doesn’t pay well? Why ought I live for the good of all and work on great science that helps improve lives rather than just live for myself? Of course atheists counter this by saying that they are philanthropic and good people to which I would often agree. But my question is why ought they be like that rather than be selfish and self centered? Christians (and some other) religious people know how they ought to behave, but atheists have to take a pragmatic view on oughts, yet one persons’ ought may differ from anothers’ ought, so which do we choose and why?

I have a lot more thoughts on this topic but will finish on the question of knowledge as this is a biggie when it comes to scientists and their worldviews. As Sir harry pointed out on several occasions, he is not going to believe anything unless it is based on evidence. Yet this claim is itself self-refuting. Does he have evidence for not believing anything unless it is based on evidence? But I think it is worse that that and I should like to expand on this in another post sometime, but here is an outline.

Scientists often make the claim as Sir Harry does that we should not believe anything unless it is based on evidence. Yet it seems to me that non-religious scientists actually believe everything based on faith. For example:

  1. Do they know the world was not created 5 minutes ago? If yes, what is the evidence? If no, then it must be taken on faith.
  2. Do they use the laws of logic? If so, can they provide evidence that they are reliable? If yes, what is the evidence? If no, then it must be taken on faith.
  3. Do scientists believe in the uniformity of nature? Do they believe that the next experiment will behave as the previous one? Will some experiment behave the same in another country, on another planet, in another galaxy, or at another time? If yes, what is the evidence? If no, then it must be taken on faith.

Let me finish now with a few big words and why I believe what I believe.

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with how we know what we know, while ontology deals with the nature of existence or being. I fail to understand how the science alone can access reality in any definite way because to do so requires meta-knowledge such as: are my senses are reliable, is nature uniform, am I a brain in a vat, and is the world the creation of a cosmic trickster? Science seems unable even in principle to access such knowledge. Christianity on the other hand begins in ontology with the existence of God and His revelation through the Bible which cuts through the veil and reveals a world created with order and meaning. C.S. Lewis wrote [2]:

Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator. In most modern scientists this belief has died: it will be interesting to see how long their confidence in uniformity survives it. Two significant developments have already appeared—the hypothesis of a lawless sub-nature, and the surrender of the claim that science is true. We may be living nearer than we suppose to the end of the Scientific Age.

I think a nice way to sum this up is to say that to gain certainty, we must begin in ontology as a grounding for epistemology. The law-giving legislator provides this starting point and provides a basis for science. On the other hand, beginning with epistemology as Dawkins and Sir Harry appear to do leads ultimately to total uncertainty because nothing can really be known for sure about anything. I think Rene Descartes realized this long ago. Should someone tell the new atheists?


  1. In case you are thinking that I am using “faith” as something that is disconnected from reason, I am certainly not. My faith is firmly anchored using a chain of reason to the historical claims of the Bible. These in turn are treated as other historical claims are, and weighed upon available evidence, logic, reasonableness and so on.
  2. Lewis, C.S., Miracles: a Preliminary Study, Collins, London, p. 110, 1947.

Further reading:

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, p.132 has a section “The Regularity of Nature” dealing with the problem of induction, David Hume and Bertrand Russell. Keller says that many scholars have argued in the last decades that modern science arose in its most sustained form out of Christian civilization due to belief in an all-powerful, personal God who created and sustains an orderly universe. I would add that reading for example, Homer’s Illiad, would not provide you with such a view of nature.

Jesse Kilgore commits suicide after reading Dawkins

Jesse Kilgore

The Story of Jesse Kilgore and the Consequences of Teaching One Side of Evolution

This episode of ID the Future (MP3 here) tells the story of Jesse Kilgore, a college student whose loss of faith and subsequent suicide has been linked to his biology class and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. After his professor challenged him to read the anti-theistic book and rule out the possibility of God’s existence in light of the evidence for evolution, Jesse experienced a crisis of faith. Now his father is arguing for academic freedom for intelligent design and critiques of Darwin’s theory. Listen in as he and others explain how Jesse was affected by reading this book.

The tragedy of Jesse Kilgore’s death affects all of us. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who knew and loved him.


Rob’s Comment: As I have argued numerous times, suicide does not necessarily follow from accepting the beliefs of people like Richard Dawkins. However, suicide becomes a sensible option for even intelligent people to take, given Dawkins’ beliefs. Of course, this does not prove Dawkins is wrong — but if the universe, as Dawkins has said, ultimately has no purpose, then why not kill yourself? All you are really doing is hastening your trip into nothingness.

More links:
Dad links son’s suicide to ‘The God Delusion’ (Worldnet Daily)

John Lennox interviewed by CPX

The Centre for Public Christianity has some interviews with Professor John Lennox, a distinguished Christian thinker and author. Lennox has recently debated both Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. He is a professor in Mathematics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green College, at the University of Oxford (HT: Justin Taylor).

Other videos worth watching:

The evils of Christendom.

The evidence for God and the explanatory scope of science.

Science and faith, and the credibility of the Bible.

Has science buried God? Report from the Dawkins/Lennox discussion

This week, on the 21st of October, Richard Dawkins and John Lennox came together at the Oxford Museum to discuss science, atheism, and the Christian faith. Both represent significant voices in the debate about the existence of God and the claims of science; with Dawkin’s The God Delusion and Lennox’s God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?

The event was hosted by Fixed Point, and for those that are interested you can grab a DVD or CD of the debate from their website (they are currently offering a £2.50 discount on pre-orders).

The RZIM trust has summarized some of the discussion (thanks to Aaron McAleese for sending this to me) and I thought I would quote some the comments because it sounded like a lively and interesting discussion between the two scientists. The whole report is over three thousand words, so I have not included everything. If you want the full report, you can email me for a copy at

Has science buried God?

The debate was a fascinating exchange which revolved around the ideas of truth, the intelligibility of the universe, the reliability of history, the importance of the resurrection, whether or not God has any place in science, and issues of morality and purpose.

The debate involved a conversation between the two speakers, followed by a question and answer session and then finished with concluding remarks from both sides. Because the speakers were cross-examining one another, it meant that the topics that they spoke about swung quite considerably.

Dawkins started by saying it depends which god you are talking about. He said there were three types of gods:

i) Einstein’s poetic metaphor.
ii) The deist god. Dawkins said there was a “reasonably respectable case for a deist god”, but it was not one he believed in.
iii) The thousands of other gods including Yahweh, Zeus and the Christian God.

Dawkins said he knew what God Lennox believes in. He said Lennox is a scientist who believes God actually turned water into wine (changing the proteins and structure of the water) and who walked on water. He said he is used to hearing it from sophisticated theologians, but not from a scientist like Lennox. He said couldn’t God think of a better way of saving the world then torturing himself. He said it was petty and small-minded.

Lennox said that he believes in the rational intelligibility of the universe and that it was not just a freak accident. He said that he believes in a creator who is not only a force, but a person. He said the issue was far from petty as it deals with a very serious problem – our alienation from God. He said as a scientist he believed the universe was rational intelligible because there was a God. He asked Dawkins how he accounted for it.

Dawkins said things were not a freak accident. He said that Darwin showed that it happened through evolution by natural selection. He said it looks designed but it is not. He said the cosmos has not had its ‘Darwin’ yet, so we do not know how it was created. He said biology can discourage us from believing in God. He said that although we don’t understand the cosmos we do not have to postulate a creator. He says it’s harder to think of how a God came into existence than a universe.

Lennox pointed out that Darwin does not explain the origin.  He said scientists and cosmologists assume the universe is rationally intelligible. He said can we trust our own minds if they are only the product of unguided processes? He quoted the atheist Pinker who said that unguided evolution only serves reproduction and has nothing to do with truth. Likewise, atheist Gray says that it could not give any credence of truth. He says Dawkins’ views undermines the rationality upon which he relies.

Lennox said everything depends on having a fine-tuned universe before life can begin. He asked Dawkins if his belief was that everything went from the simple to the complex. Dawkins said that in biology this was correct. Lennox said that all language comes as a result of a created mind. Dawkins says that DNA is not human language.

Lennox said there was no other conceivable way of understanding information. He said information processes communication.

Dawkins accuses Lennox of [sic] incredulity.

Lennox said believing rationality comes from irrationality is rational credulity. He said he believed in an eternal logos that created the universe and the laws that uphold it.

Dawkins said that this was no explanation and that the universe was just a brute fact. He said it was easier to believe in a brute fact than in God. He said this was more plausible than a God.

Lennox says that things don’t always have a simpler explanation e.g. someone writing a book.

Dawkins says that your brain has an explanation – you can go back a level and it is always from the simple to the complex.

Lennox says we have no evidence for how low level molecules can move to a macro level with information.

Dawkins says we don’t know yet, but science is working on it.

Lennox says DNA is an ancient language that points to a logos and cannot be seen in purely naturalistic terms. Extreme reductionism removes the rationalism from the debate. He said that the existence of DNA suggests there is a designer and that Dawkins’ dichotomy of science or religion could put people off science.

Dawkins says that a religious person smuggles in magic as an explanation.

Lennox said there are some bad gaps that science closes as well as some bad gaps that it opens. He said that if there was a God you would expect (1) Evidence in the universe e.g. mathematical intelligibility, fine-tuning and the sophistication of the world and (2) that the creator would speak in a special way. He said that the resurrection was not petty. He said death affects everyone and therefore it does make an enormous difference.


Lennox asked about ultimate justice. He said this was not a petty matter. He said that we live in a broken world and that no God means no ultimate justice.

Dawkins said suppose there was misery and no justice. He said that this was too bad if it’s true. He then said maybe there was no hope without God.

Lennox said he’d just admitted it. He said if there was a God then he would have to reveal himself. He said he could not know Dawkins by analysing him with a telescope or a microscope. He said God had to take the initiative to reveal himself to people. That is the only way you can know someone.

Lennox asked Dawkins what the ultimate meaning of life was for him.

Dawkins responded by saying that we make our own meaning. He said a biologist’s perspective was that it was all about the propagation of genes.

Lennox said what about the nature of reality? He said how do you get from atoms to a brain, or a mind, or
consciousness? He said what concept of meaning can you have unless there is a top-down view of God? He said there is a personal God and this is the source of life and meaning. He said that there is a beyond and you can have a relationship with God. He said atheism’s meaning is much smaller.

Lennox made the following points as his closing remarks:
– Science has not buried God.
– Science originated from a faith in rational processes (from a Christian background).
– Laws that mean science can be done come from the logos from God.
– Christian faith is not unscientific if you pay attention to history.
– If science has buried God where do we get morality from?
– He pointed out that Dawkins has written that there is no good or evil because there is just DNA and we dance to its music.
– He said the new atheists hold to the values they have got from Christianity. He quotes Jurgen Habermas who says the foundations of our legal system come from Christianity.
– He said atheists like Nietzsche and Camus understood you cannot retain your moral values and you are led to madness.
– He asks whether Dawkins’ world is one in which (like Peter Singer) a newborn baby has no more value than a pig or a dog.

Dawkins made the following points:
– He said Singer was one of the most moral people he knew and that he was interested in suffering. His comment about foetuses and animals was in reference to their ability to suffer.
– He said the universe was not horribly determinist, but rather it was horribly rational or intelligible. He said it would have to be (as what would it look like otherwise?). He said we could only survive in such a universe.
– He said science does not know everything, but we are working on it.
– He says science doesn’t invoke magic as an explanation.
– He said prior to Darwin much of the science seemed like magic, but Darwin solved a difficult problem.
– He said Darwin provides a lesson that we should not give up on the difficult problems.
– He said science is going to solve things and if it doesn’t there is still no reason for saying magic did it.

The RZIM Zacharias Trust Team