Friday, November 12, 2010

Bill Craig, Richard Dawkins, and MMA

I just found out that William Lane Craig and Richard Dawkins are scheduled to participate in a panel discussion this Saturday morning, November 13, in a Mexican conference called Ciudad de las Ideas. There will be six people on the panel discussing the question, "Does the Universe Have a Purpose?"

[UPDATE: Here is the video on youtube. Hopefully they will eventually release a version without the Spanish translator.]

[2nd UPDATE: Here is the English version of the debate.]

As most of you know, Dawkins has refused for some time to debate Craig. As he explained on this video clip, he'll debate a bishop, a cardinal, a pope, or an archbishop, but he doesn't debate creationists, and he won't debate somebody whose only claim to fame is that they are a good debater; he's too busy. Dawkins' naivety regarding Craig can be excused back then, but by now he must know that Craig is widely published in academic journals and is well-respected among his peers, so he can no longer use the excuse that Craig's only claim to fame is that he is a good debater. And a professional philosopher, of course, is more qualified to debate the question of God's existence than an ordinary bishop or cardinal. In fact, Craig is more qualified than Dawkins since Craig is trained in philosophy and Dawkins isn't. And Dawkins did debate John Lennox (see debate), which raises questions about Dawkins' willingness to debate creationists.

A lot of Christians out there have raised complaints about Dawkins' refusal to debate Craig. I've seen most of these in the comment sections of videos on youtube. Those on Dawkins' side always ask something like, "Well, why is it such a big deal to you Christians that he debate Craig? Why do you want to see this debate so bad? Why should Dawkins debate Craig?"

I think the reason people are drawn to debates is pretty much the same as why they are drawn to MMA. The appeal is the same in both cases. There are two kinds of confrontations we like to see. The first is a clash of titans. When we know of two amazing fighters who never seem to lose, we want to see what would happen if they were matched against each other. What would happen if an immovable object were confronted with an unstoppable force? It's the same in debates. We want to see the smartest people on both sides go at it to see who will win. We like to see giants fall, especially when they are on the other team.

The second kind of confrontation is a confrontation between smack-talkers or arrogant people. We like to see the arrogant humbled. We like to see smack talkers eat their own words. Atheists and Christians talk smack almost as much as MMA fighters; they just do it a little differently. I mean think about it. If you're Catholic, wouldn't you love to see James White defeated soundly in a debate?

The reason we Christians want to see Dawkins and Craig debate is because we already know Craig is going to win. Dawkins has gotten away with belittling Christianity in public unchecked, and he comes across as amazingly arrogant in his talks and books. The God Delusion is one of the most popular books out there defending atheism, and most of the people who read it will probably never read anything by William Lane Craig (I question whether Dawkins has either). Given the influence of Dawkins' book, it should be perfectly understandable why we Christians would want to see Dawkins defeated in a public debate. We want all the people who think so highly of Dawkins to see that his arguments will not stand up to scrutiny against a trained Christian thinker like Craig. We want to see him humbled and exposed. The hope is that it will at least open his followers up to reading good academic material from the other side. We want to shake their unfounded confidence in their atheism that appears to us to be the result of skilled smack talk rather than good arguments. (It's interesting how persuasive somebody can be when, instead of really having good arguments, they just sound very confident.)

Craig has two major advantages over Dawkins. First, he's more educated in natural theology than Dawkins is, and his arguments are better. Second, Craig has more skill and experience at public debate than Dawkins. So it would be a total shock to me if Craig did not clearly win a debate with Dawkins on the existence of God, and I suspect that has a lot to do with why Dawkins won't debate him, in spite of what he says.

I think Dawkins' claim that he's too busy to debate creationists or that it's beneath him is a poor excuse not to debate Craig given how much time Dawkins has spent writing against these people. If you're going to publish books to refute intelligent design or theistic philosophy, then you can't turn around and claim it's a waste of time to refute them in debate. I'm not saying everybody who writes a book is obliged to debate. Most people don't debate at all, and that's fine. But if you are open to debating, like Dawkins is, then you can't use the excuse that you haven't got time when clearly you have. If Dawkins thinks that refuting creationists is the waste of time, then he should never have written chapter 4 on The God Delusion. I haven't read The Greatest Show On Earth yet, but I'll bet he "wasted time" refuting intelligent design in there, too.

I think public debates do have some value. When two people write books defending opposite views, we want to know how they would deal with each other directly. You can't cover a whole lot of material in a debate, but I think it's helpful to see a little peer review. It's helpful to see if a person's point of view can stand up to scrutiny, and how they will respond directly to their critics. The usefulness of debates, of course, is diminished by the fact that sometimes the outcome of the debate has more to do with the skill of the debaters than with the defensibility of their positions. (I would probably be a horrible debater because I'd get nervous, and I can't think when I'm nervous. I even get nervous when I call radio shows to talk to people who are on my side. I'd be a mess if I had to debate somebody in public who was not on my side.) But for the most part, I think debates are interesting merely for their entertainment value. We just like to see titans clash and the arrogant humbled. Debates are entertainment pretty much for the same reason MMA is entertaining.


At 11/15/2010 10:56 AM , Blogger DagoodS said...

It has been my experience Christians are far more infatuated with debates than non-theists. But that may be just my impression…your thoughts?

I do think debates show who is the better skilled debater; not nearly as useful as who is correct. No question Dr. Craig is very, VERY good at Lincoln-Douglas debates, and as such does a great job winning in a shortened format. A person inexperienced in the format would be bound to lose, regardless whether the topic was theism or the mating life of Polynesian butterflies.

Further, as Craig argues from philosophy, cosmology, and New Testament scholarship, it does seem a bit odd to beg a biologist debate him. (Although you correctly point out, Dawkins certainly places himself in the running by espousing anti-theistic arguments.)

And I’ve heard so many of Craig’s debates, considered the responses, and been left unconvinced…one more (even with Dawkins) would bore by repetition.

The debate formats do not allow views to stand up to scrutiny (no time), nor how one responds to one’s critics for the same reason. It is a rhetorical exercise with little in way of substance.

I fear they are losing even the entertainment value with me.

At 11/15/2010 11:06 AM , Blogger Sam said...

Howdy DagoodS! Good to see you again!

Yes, I think you're right that debates are more interesting to Christians than non-theists. I suspect the reason is that it matters more to Christians than it does to non-theists.

I don't think it's at all odd for Craig to ask a biologist to debate him considering the fact that Dawkins has written such a popular book attempting to defend strong atheism. It seems perfectly reasonable to me.

I think Lincoln/Douglas debates are far more substantive than political debates (especially presidential debates), which I think are totally and completely useless. Given the contrast between these two debating formats, I can't bring myself to say that oral debates are completely without substance. I think when both debaters take time to read each other's material and prepare responses, you can learn something from a debate. I have.

At 11/15/2010 2:06 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...


I still read your blog. I just don’t comment as much.

I quite agree Lincoln-Douglas are better than political….performances (I can’t bring myself to call them “debates”), but I am used to a courtroom debate format which is not as limited in time as these debates, and has a truly neutral party making a determination. I find the courtroom more informative in making determinations.

And I’ve learned from these debates; I agree they aren’t totally useless.

At 11/22/2010 10:20 AM , Blogger Kyle Hendricks said...

I think it would have been nice if they had a theistic scientist in the panel instead of just theistic philosophers and rabbis. It would have been cool to see his perspective on purpose.


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