I hear the best politicians these days are the ones who can unashamedly equivocate on the meaning of “is”, or tell the filthiest lies with a straight face and a slick smile.
On the assumption that there’s a shortage of such people in the world, I think it’s imperative we begin the Dawkins for Prime Minister Campaign immediately.
I was tipped off by an editorial in The Guardian yesterday, where Dawkins gives the final word on why he refuses to debate William Lane Craig. It’s a masterful piece of political spin-doctoring. “Don’t feel embarrassed if you’ve never heard of William Lane Craig,” he begins. “He parades himself as a philosopher, but none of the professors of philosophy whom I consulted had heard his name either. Perhaps he is a “theologian”.”
Now, just last night I was watching Stephen Fry’s Planet Word, where he talks about the masterful way Goebbels used language to make the industrial-scale elimination of the Jews seem a perfectly reasonable thing. In fairness, Dawkins is no Goebbels, but he would have made a good propagandist.
Notice how he deftly frames his entire piece with aspersions on Craig’s credentials. From the alleged ignorance among his philosopher friends of Craig’s name, to the scare quotes around “theologian”.
Of course, if Dawkins’s audience were savvy enough to check for themselves, as hopefully at least some of them are, a simple Google search would show what utter garbage this is. Here’s how Wikipedia, hardly a sympathetic source, introduces Craig:
…an American analytic philosopher, philosophical theologian, and Christian apologist. He is known for his work on the philosophy of time and the philosophy of religion, specifically the existence of God and the defense of Christian theism. He has made major contributions to the philosophy of religion and his defense of the Kalam cosmological argument is the most widely discussed argument for the existence of God in contemporary Western philosophy. He has authored or edited over 30 books including The Kalam Cosmological Argument (1979), Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology… [etc]
What should we conclude from the fact that Dawkins’s professors of philosophy haven’t even heard of Craig?
Either that these fellows are quacks, or—more likely—that even in an underpopulated field like philosophy the chances of knowing a fraction of the professionals in your discipline is pretty small. For example, I have a three-pronged profession: copywriting, marketing, and web design. Those combine into a fourth profession called conversion-rate optimization. Do you think I’ve heard of even one tenth of the most successful copywriters, marketers, web designers, and CRO experts? I seriously doubt it.
For some years now, Craig has been increasingly importunate in his efforts to cajole, harass or defame me into a debate with him. I have consistently refused, in the spirit, if not the letter, of a famous retort by the then president of the Royal Society: “That would look great on your CV, not so good on mine”.
What Dawkins means to say is that ever since Craig destroyed the sophomoric arguments in the The God Delusion he has wanted to advance the discussion with Dawkins, and hopefully reveal to all his slavering fanboys how little substance there is to his position. Craig doesn’t want people believing lies—more than can be said for Dawkins, given the rank disingenuousness of his editorial.
Dawkins of course has consistently balked at debating Craig, presumably because he doesn’t want it to be publicly revealed that his arguments haven’t the slightest ability to stand up to rigorous analysis. It wouldn’t look good on his CV.
Craig’s latest stalking foray has taken the form of a string of increasingly hectoring challenges to confront him in Oxford this October. I took pleasure in refusing again, which threw him and his followers into a frenzy of blogging, tweeting and YouTubed accusations of cowardice.
One of the greatest “refutations” you can employ is simply to state the facts with a sarcastic slant that implies only an imbecile would accept them. But the accusations of cowardice are perfectly accurate. Dawkins is a coward in the same way he is a bully. He enjoys notoriety and taking shots at Christianity in a medium where he’s got all the control. He can feel like a big man publishing best-selling books aimed at people with even less schooling in critical thinking than he has. But like any bully, if you confront him and threaten him with a bloody nose, he’s quick to disappear.
Dawkins reminds me of Draco Malfoy after Hermione socked him in the kisser in The Prisoner of Azkaban. “Not a word to anyone, understood? I’m gonna get that jumped-up mudblood, mark my words!” he rants to his friends as they beat a sniveling retreat. Yeah right Malfoy.
I turn down hundreds of more worthy invitations every year, I have publicly engaged an archbishop of York, two archbishops of Canterbury, many bishops and the chief rabbi, and I’m looking forward to my imminent, doubtless civilised encounter with the present archbishop of Canterbury.
Strange—aren’t these people “theologians” with scare quotes? So why are they more worthy than Craig? Could it be because they’ve got less credentials than him? Because they haven’t already published work that obliterates Dawkins’s arguments against God? I guess it’s probably something like that.
After some more accusations of self-promotion, which ring about as hollow as a pot beating on a black kettle, Dawkins turns to Craig’s “dark side”.
You might say that such a call to genocide could never have come from a good and loving God. Any decent bishop, priest, vicar or rabbi would agree. But listen to Craig. He begins by arguing that the Canaanites were debauched and sinful and therefore deserved to be slaughtered.
He then quotes Craig’s defense of God’s actions toward the Canaanite children, concluding: “Do not plead that I have taken these revolting words out of context. What context could possibly justify them?”
Well, not to state the obvious, but an evolutionary context justifies them pretty well. Surely Dawkins can’t have forgotten writing about how “a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make[s] nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not.” Surely he can’t have forgotten that “any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused’s physiology, heredity and environment.”
If a truly scientific view of the world makes nonsense of blame and responsibility, then certainly there’s no sense in which genocide, or the defense of genocide, is unjustified. There’s no moral dimension to it whatsoever. So why is Dawkins borrowing moral norms he inherited from Christianity to judge Craig, instead of taking the rational approach and admitting there’s no reason whatsoever to condemn genocide, given what he believes?
Well, I suppose it’s because that wouldn’t make for a very good smear campaign.
Would you shake hands with a man who could write stuff like that? Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn’t, and I won’t.
This seems oddly forced coming from the man who looks forward to the day when religion is only tolerated behind bars at zoos. But then, it’s all a giant smokescreen anyway; a diversionary tactic. Dawkins needs to use sleight of hand to direct his audience’s attention toward Craig’s character assassination, so they won’t notice how Craig has already assassinated Dawkins’s arguments—and would do so again given half a chance.
Dawkins is clearly cut out to be a master politician. Let’s get him out of the intellectual sphere and put him where he belongs. Dawkins for Prime Minister!
Update: James Anderson and Oxford historian Tim Stanley have also weighed in with their comments. Anderson is typically incisive, concluding that “In the end, all Dawkins has really told us is that he won’t debate Craig because he finds Craig’s views personally offensive. It’s not that Craig’s views are unethical… It’s just that Dawkins…is disgusted — and that’s all there is to it. Even if that were the real reason for his refusal to debate Craig, it would hardly be a compelling one.”