Why Richard Dawkins Won’t Debate William Lane Craig

Speaking of Dr. Craig and debates, here’s Richard Dawkins explaining why he won’t debate Craig.  It sounds like he thinks such a debate would be below him (which is absurd).  But having debated John Lennox (mp3 here), I can’t see any good reason to refuse to debate Craig.

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29 thoughts on “Why Richard Dawkins Won’t Debate William Lane Craig

  1. Pingback: William Lane Craig Debates Richard Dawkins « Cloud of Witnesses

  2. Sure, Craig is a great debater, but he too will not debate certain people, like John Loftus; whose book Why I Became an Atheist is a detailed and powerful reply to many arguments for theism and christianity. Is Craig afraid of him? Actually, he probably is.

    Craig is a great debater, but a very poor philosopher. I’ve encountered many excerpts of his debate in various philosophy classes and his arguments are really shallow and usually rely on subtle logical fallacies (in his debate against Walter Sinnott-Armstrong he makes horrible appeals to authority and strawmans). Plantinga is a far better apologist, but not really as good a debater. Simply put, great debater does not mean great arguments, it only means that his arguments may need some time to digest before arguing against. Though I’ll also admit that Dawkins is hardly the best that atheists can offer up for philosophical reasons against god, he’s simply the most popular right now.

    • Hi James,
      Craig says he won’t debate Loftus because he has a policy of not debating his former students. I doubt there’s any fear involved, because Craig has debated people with much more education and academic credentials, including some of the world’s leading atheists.

      One may disagree with Craig’s arguments or conclusions, but there’s no doubt that he’s a recognized and accomplished philosopher. He has a PhD in philosophy, has taught it for years, has published books with top academic publishers, as well as articles in leading academic philosophy journals. Craig’s credentials are not at all in question. That’s why you’ll never see any of his fellow academics, even atheists, make that kind of accusation. And he won’t make it about them. There’s a mutual respect there that’s very appropriate. So, attacking Craig’s philosophical acumen is wrongheaded.

      By the way, the same principle applies for J. P. Moreland (regarding your comments on the other post). He’s a professional philosopher with a PhD from the University of Southern California. He has published in professional journals and with academic philosophy presses. It’s an amateurish mistake to take someone of his stature to task on their philosophical know-how just because you disagree with his viewpoints. As a case in point, all of the objections he raises to physicalism and materialism are well known in the literature of philosophy of mind (he didn’t pull these out of thin air), and are regularly debated among professional philosophers. And they’re powerful enough to convince many philosophers that it’s impossible for the mind to simply be the product of brain states.

  3. When you see dawkins get defensive like that, with a touch of his usual but unwarranted snide tone, know that he feels threatened and insecure.

    The fact of the matter is, he would get destroyed and he knows it. How do I know? I read his book and laughed at his arguments… if they can be even called arguments at that…

    • Hi Goff,
      Yes, Dawkins wouldn’t fare well against Craig, and if he knows anything about Craig, I wouldn’t blame him for avoiding a debate. But it would be nice to see Craig demonstrate the flaws in his arguments, which would hopefully persuade some of Dawkins’s followers that he hasn’t thought rigorously enough or done the proper research to comment on God’s existence.

  4. The objective morality argument isn’t as strong as you may think either. After doing a simple Google search I found these sites which I read briefly and quickly found strong counter arguments for Objective morality.

    http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2007/05/some-argument-against-objective-moral.html

    http://atheism.about.com/od/cslewisnarnia/a/argumentmorals.htm

    The cosmological argument or some form of it is far greater. It may very well be the best argument for the existence of a creator(s).

    • Hey Revo,
      I think my take on this relates somewhat to your first comment. I agree that the cosmological argument (as well as the fine-tuning argument) is very strong and many find it persuasive. But the moral argument may be stronger in an existential sense because it’s not just conceptual, but relates to our everyday experience of morality. Many people find it hard to believe that their deepest moral beliefs or intuitions are just delusions or the chance products of evolutionary development. I find that hard to believe myself. So in that sense, the moral argument is probably more persuasive for some people. It’s very interesting that some types of arguments have great appeal to some, but don’t move other people at all.

  5. Chris,

    Craig is the best debater from either side. This is why Dawkins wants no part of him.

    Craig’s arguments, specifically the one’s you are discussing with Psi, are some of if not the strongest one’s a theist can make for the existence of a creator(s). But keep in mind those arguments are only strong for a creator(s) in general. Not the Christian God.

    Those arguments can easily be used to support the existence of a God from any religion or even multiple Gods. So by no means think his arguments makes a strong case for the Christian God because they don’t.

    Because Craig is a Christian he tries to tie his best arguments about the existence of a God with Christianity. He does this by putting forward his best case for the validity of the resurrection of Jesus. This argument however is far weaker than his others and once you bring in a specific religion then everything about that religion is on the table which turns things into a whole new ball game since it’s very easy to poke holes in all religions.

    In a nutshell: Far stronger arguments can be made for the existence of a creator(s) but not a specific creator(s) of any known religion.

    • Hi Revo,
      Thanks for the thoughtful observations. I agree that it’s harder to argue for the truth of a specific religion than to argue for the existence of God. But I think one can make persuasive arguments in favor of a particular religion, and it seems to me that Jesus’ teachings, miracles, and resurrection make a strong case that Christianity is true — especially compared with any other major religion. Interestingly, some philosophers (like Gary Habermas) think the evidence for the resurrection is so compelling that they use it to argue for God’s existence. On a different level, though, a lot of people are persuaded to accept or reject a religion based on the lives of people who adhere to that religion, or the good (or lack of it) that religion produces. Maybe, where religion is concerned, these kind of existential considerations are just as important as intellectual issues.

  6. Hi Chris,

    I’ll keep this brief if you don’t mind.

    Re beginning of the universe. You cede that if it did indeed begin it had to be either natural or supernatural.

    You don’t know which and neither do I? So just how is this a strong argument for god?

    (BTW why MUST it have a cause) where does a circle start?

    – – –

    Once again you are telling fibs about Dawkins;

    “Dawkins claims that, ultimately, there is no right or wrong, since the universe is purposeless and indifferent.”

    No even close.

    Have you never read anything he has written?

    Why does making up such falsehoods about him help your case? At best it shows you are simply sadly misinformed. At worst a reader might decide that you are deliberately misleading them.

    The basis of such a morality is covered by him in detail in the book Selfish Gene. But then I said that earlier, and you just ignored that and stated the opposite anyway.

    Not a polite way to converse in my humble opinion.

    Here is an actual Dawkins quote (quick close your eyes and then you can pretend you don’t know about it);

    “We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.”

    Best,

    Psi

    • Hello Psi,

      Thanks for the engaging dialogue.

      Yes, the cause of the universe is either natural or supernatural. Of course, any proposal of a multiverse is pure speculation and there isn’t any empirical evidence to support it. The empirical evidence we do have suggests that our universe (along with time, space, and matter) came into existence literally from nothing about 14 billion years ago. Based solely on that evidence, it seems that whatever brought the universe into existence must be timeless, spaceless, uncaused, and personal — for the reasons I mentioned previously. There are only two things that fit such a description: abstract objects (such as numbers) and God. But abstract objects don’t have any causal powers (the number three can’t cause anything), so the best explanation is God.

      We can’t demonstrate that something can’t suddenly appear without a cause, but all of our experience and reason tells us this doesn’t happen. It’s much more reasonable to assume that the universe, like everything else that begins to exist, has a cause. Both the Big Bang model and the Kalam cosmological argument give good reasons for believing the universe (or even something material “behind” the universe) isn’t eternal.

      Also, given that the universe is so finely tuned for the existence of life, it shouldn’t be surprising that it has its origin in a creating Intelligence.

      About Dawkins, I don’t believe I’m misrepresenting his views. You took issue with my statement: “Dawkins claims that, ultimately, there is no right or wrong, since the universe is purposeless and indifferent.” But, let me quote again his words from the journal Scientific American: “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” (Dawkins, “God’s Utility Function,” Scientific American, Nov. 1995, p. 85). Note the phrases “no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” No evil and no good means no morality. (You’ll find almost the exact quotation on p. 133 of River Out of Eden).

      So, in books like The Selfish Gene, he may use the term “morality” or talk about morality — but to the extent that he claims morality is something real or objective, he’s contradicting what he says in the quotations above. Clearly, we can’t have morality if there is no good or evil.

      These kinds of equivocations are the symptoms of a worldview that contradicts human experience. One can choose to adopt naturalism as their worldview, but one also has to be ready to give up objective morality. It’s hard to do, and no one really wants to do it. But you can’t have it both ways. It’s better just to go for broke and agree with Michael Ruse: “Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. . . . Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory” (The Darwinian Paradigm, Routledge, 1989, p. 262, 268-89). But, as I’ve argued, this makes morality completely arbitrary and nothing more than social convention.

      The quote you referred to by Dawkins is interesting: “we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.” But to be consistent, Dawkins can’t make this claim. If we are simply DNA-carrying machines, how can we have libertarian free will? On the Darwinian/naturalism view, human beings are really just a collection of complex chemical reactions. But the question is, How is it possible that we can “break free” of these chemical reactions to have free will? Everyone wants to believe we have free will, and no one wants to give that up. But, again, you can’t have physical and chemical determinism and also free will.

      Dawkins seems to recognize that as well in passages like this: “DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music” (River Out of Eden, p. 133). But this contradicts the passage above about rebelling against DNA. We have to decide which it is — do we dance to its music, or do we make our own choices? On naturalism, we do indeed dance to its music. On Christian theism, we’re created in the image of God with the freedom to choose.

      All the best,
      Chris

  7. Hi Chris,

    Freezing over here.

    Thanks for replying to this.

    You said;

    “he’ll have to present some arguments to deny what seems to logically follow (a timeless, spaceless, immaterial, uncaused, personal creator).”

    How does that logically follow? Dawkins does explicitly point out that the cause could be just another natural cause and not a supernatural one.

    Turtles all the way down Chris.

    – – –

    He addresses the origin of morality in his science writing seeing as it is a scientific subject with quite a lot of research on it. I recommend “Selfish Gene” and the chapter entitled (from memory) “Why goos guys finish first”.

    – – –

    Your argument is also flawed in itself as you simply assert that god is needed for morals to exist. Any actual evidence for this? Any actual evidence that all the science is wrong?

    I won’t bother pointing out (as Dawkins does) the abject nuttiness of the god of the old testament and the obviously immoral idea that one person can and should be punished for another’s sins. Oops I did anyway.

    I much prefer the kind of provisional morality that Shermer discusses in his “Science of Good and Evil”.

    – – –

    Where these really your best arguments?

    Regards,

    Psi

    PS

    You said;

    “Thanks for the thought-provoking questions!”

    I’m flattered – thank you.

    • Hi Psi,

      I hope you’re enjoying the holidays! We’re having a white Christmas here with lots of snow.

      As usual, you raise some challenging questions.

      About the cosmological argument, which holds that the universe began to exist and has a cause (which Richard Dawkins accepts), we’re left to figure out what might have caused it. It looks like there are two choices — a natural cause or a supernatural cause. If one opts for a natural cause, I would like to know what it is. Most will adopt some form of multiverse scenario. But that just pushes the question back one level to: What caused the multiverse or multiverse generator? One could say at that point that the multiverse generator is eternal. But as Craig and others have argued in the Kalam cosmological argument, it’s impossible to traverse an actually infinite span of time (or series of moments), so the universe, or multiverse, or multiverse generator must have had a beginning in the finite past.

      If that’s true, then either the multiverse generator created itself (which seems obviously absurd), or it was created by something beyond it, and beyond time — since time itself can’t be eternal. Since space and time seem to be a package deal (from what we know of physics), whatever created these is necessarily timeless and spaceless. If it’s spaceless, it’s also immaterial, and it must be uncaused — otherwise we need an explanation for it, which leads to an infinite regress (that’s what results if you have “turtles all the way down.”). It seems necessary also for the cause to be personal, rather than just an impersonal force or the like, because an eternally causal force would bring about an eternally existing effect — an eternal universe. What’s needed is a Mind that decides at some “point” to bring the universe about — otherwise, we’re back to the problem of an eternal universe.

      About morality, this is something that can never be grounded in science. Somehow, the belief has become widespread that science can and should explain every aspect of human existence and experience. But, that’s a misguided belief. Science is great at what it does, but it has definite boundaries to what it’s competent to address. I think I’ve noted before that science can’t tell us what’s good and evil, beautiful and ugly, the meaning or purpose of life, how we should govern society, and a multitude of other things. I’m a fan of science, but it’s really quite limited in it’s scope.

      So the attempt to ground morality in biology is mistaken. Any sane human being knows that some things are objectively right and some wrong, and that these facts are true regardless of what anyone says or thinks about them. On the Darwinian scenario, our evolution was entirely haphazard. If we could run the clock back and start again, evolution would have taken any number of different turns, and we would have evolved a different type of morality — possibly one in which cannibalism was a virtue, or rape was regarded as a normal part of life. If our morality depends on random mutations of genes, it is by no means objective — it’s accidental and arbitrary. But we all know that some things are right and some are wrong, regardless of the course evolution took. Torturing children for fun is wrong despite any number of gene mutations that took place in our history. I can’t imagine a more slippery, shaky foundation for morality than Darwinian evolution.

      But as I mentioned, Dawkins claims that, ultimately, there is no right or wrong, since the universe is purposeless and indifferent. Given the naturalistic presuppositions of his worldview, I’d say he’s exactly right. Without an ultimate Law-giver, any “laws” that man in a naturalistic universe creates are nothing more than social constructs. But any normal person will agree that torturing someone for fun is wrong, period, even if the whole world suddenly changes it’s mind and thinks it isn’t. We have a basis for that kind of objective morality if God exists, but we don’t otherwise.

      Take care,
      Chris

    • Hi Psi,
      How’s it going? Is winter in full swing in the U.K. now?

      Craig has a chapter in a new book, God is Great, God is Good (InterVarsity Press, 2009), entitled “Richard Dawkins on Arguments for God.” In the chapter, he examines what Dawkins has written recently on these arguments, mainly from The God Delusion.

      To note just two examples, Dawkins spends some time on one form of the cosmological argument, and accepts this formulation of it:
      1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
      2) The universe began to exist.
      3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.

      As Craig points out, Dawkins doesn’t deny either of the first two premises, or the argument’s conclusion. Instead, he complains that the argument doesn’t prove that the uncaused cause of the universe is omnipotent, omniscient, good, etc. (God Delusion, p. 77). But, the cosmological argument doesn’t attempt to prove those things. What it does show is that there is something “behind” the universe that must be timeless, spaceless, immaterial, uncaused, extremely powerful, and personal (personal because if the cause were only a force of some kind, the universe would be eternal: the effect (the creation of the universe) would be co-eternal with the cause (some kind of force). But we know the universe isn’t eternal. Thus, it’s reasonable to postulate agent causation — a rational agent freely chose to create the universe “when” he/it decided to.

      So, by accepting this argument (but arguing against its theological implications), Dawkins implicitly accepts the identity of a creator, as just described. If he claims not to, he’ll have to present some arguments to deny what seems to logically follow (a timeless, spaceless, immaterial, uncaused, personal creator).

      Craig also mentions the moral argument. Dawkins doesn’t treat this argument per se, but he implicitly, and sometimes explicity, acknowledges that objective morality exists. But if God doesn’t exist, neither do objective morals. I believe you and I touched on this topic before. To put it more formally:
      1) If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
      2) Objective moral values and duties do exist.
      3) Therefore, God exists.

      In order to escape the conclusion of the argument, Dawkins would have to provide some account of how objective (meaning true or false independent of what anyone thinks) moral values and duties could exist apart from God grounding them metaphysically. But far from doing that, in other places, he claims that good and evil are empty concepts: “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” (Dawkins, “God’s Utility Function,” Scientific American, Nov. 1995, p. 85). How’s that for a sun-shiney thought. : )

      So, I think Dawkins (and any metaphysical naturalist) is in real trouble when it comes to morality. On his view, there is no right and wrong, since we aren’t designed, have no purpose, and our existence turns out to be some kind of cosmic accident. That’s why theism is the most compelling explanation of our experience of objective morality.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking questions!

      Chris

  8. William Lane Craig is a Fellow at the Discovery Institute. This means that he has relationship with the Institute and performs “recognized relevant work related to the research program of the Institute.”

    Now that may not seem like a good reason for to decline a debate but I’d wager that for an evolutionary biologist like Dawkins, it is an absolute deal-breaker as it would be for any reputable biologist.

    I’m not sure about this tendency you describe. Plenty of other atheists have debated Craig. The fact that this isn’t good enough suggests that these debates are merely publicity stunts and cries for attention.

    • I don’t have anything against the Discovery Institute, but here’s the link to their fellows page, and Craig’s name doesn’t appear there.

      Dawkins probably thinks I. D. proponents aren’t worth debating, but other scientists are more than happy to. The eminent evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala recently debated Craig, and Michael Shermer and evolutionary geologist Donald Prothero just debated Stephen Meyer and Richard Sternberg (a genomics expert who doubts Darwinian evolution).

      Public debate is usually an enlightening exercise, and an effective means of helping one decide who has the best arguments. So, this is a debate I’d still like to see.

  9. Dawkins tries to be philosopher? How so?

    In his book, Dawkins argues the exact opposite. He maintains that claims about the existence of God are, inevitably, claims about biology, the natural world and/or the universe. And indeed they are. Hence, they are within the province of science.

    I’m curious as to what claim Dawkins is supposed to have made that is “outside” his area of expertise.

  10. There’s a tendency among some of the new atheists not to confront the strongest arguments and proponents of Christianity or theism or religion. As the guy in the video mentions, Craig is pretty much universally acknowledged to be one of the strongest intellectual proponents of Christianity. So if Dawkins wants to take on theism or even the efficacy of Darwinism (see the recent Craig-Ayala debate) in debate, he should be willing to face the strongest advocate of arguments on the other side.

    By the way, I don’t believe Craig is affiliated with the Discovery Institute.

      • I guess you aren’t interested in my opinion either then?

        Funny that!

        Says a lot.

        BTW still nothing but empty claims about poor arguments.

        Happy to engage on the actual arguments anytime – Oh forgot I aren’t specialist enough for you :-(

        Psi

  11. The better question is why SHOULD Dawkins debate Craig? What’s in it for him? The whole enterprise has publiclity stunt written all over it.

    It’s true that Dawkins debated Lennox, but that was more than two years ago. He probably learned his lesson about the futility of debating a theologian, whose every argument is rooted in either intuition, a priori argument or sacred text. It’s the same with Craig. Simply put, Craig and Dawkins don’t even speak the same language – it’s two people talking past one another in a useless spectacle.

    In any event, Dawkins has since published a new book in his primary area of interest (evolutionary biology) which he is, of course, actively promoting. Dawkins was never much for the debate circuit anyway. But if taking on Dawkins is so important, why doesn’t the illustrious Craig publish a book which takes apart the Dawkins arguments. Hopefully, he can do a better job than the others who have tried it.

    There’s another crucial difference between Lennox and Craig. Craig is a member of the Discovery Institute. Like it or not, there’s absolutely no way that Dawkins will waste time with someone from that organzation of charlatans. So yes, in that sense, debating Craig IS beneath him.

    Besides, Craig claims to be a philosopher – Dawkins isn’t. Let Craig debate philosophers.

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