Monday, January 29, 2007

On Craig and Dawkins

Public debates are not always circuses. If the debaters are good representatives of their respective positions it is a good way of getting the pros and cons on an issue out on the table. At the same time, there are inherent limitations to the debate format. For example, I find it irritating when an issue that could be the subject of an entire debate by itself is tucked away as one of a bunch of arguments, so both sides deal with it superficially.

At the same time the debate setting is not for everybody. Just as everyone is not cut out to be a blogger, not everyone is cut out to be a debater. Dawkins could have appealed to the inherent limitations of the debate format as a reason for not agreeing to debate.

My problem with Dawkins is that he made this an issue of credentials. Now as an evolutionary biologist Dawkins is at the top of his field. But he has increasingly gotten involved an a crusade for atheism, becoming instead a philosopher of religion. And as a philoospher of religion he is a rank amateur. The most serious concern I have with Dawkins is that the theistic point of view has been very ably defended by philosophers like Plantinga and Swinburne, and William Lane Craig. In addition, there are people in the sciences like Collins and Polkinghorne and Kenneth Miller, who are Christians.

Dawkins has been audacious enough to call a widely held and well defended position, namely theism, a delusion. That's OK if he takes the time and effort to respond to the best theistic defenders in the business. J. L Mackie wrote The Miracle of Theism, (an equally insulting title) but in that book we find detailed critiques of Plantinga and Swinburne. From what I have seen of Dawkins, his book is not a worthy successor to Mackie.


Tom Gilson said...

Dawkins makes it virtually a point of honor (see also here) about not knowing what he's talking about in these realms. His "critique" of the cosmological argument in The God Delusion runs to all of about a paragraph, unless you count the misfire he aimed at God and infinite regress.

I think it's the better part of self-protection for him not to debate Craig, especially on that topic.

Anonymous said...

A very good critique of some of Dawkin's arguments can be found at the Richard Dawkins forum:
Critical Post

Blue Devil Knight said...

I have never seen one of these debates that wasn't a circus.

There are much better ways to engage someone's views than in public oral debates. I don't know what it is with Christians: you seem to fetishize these old-timey formats. I can think of a half-dozen formats that would better foster intellectual honesty, thoroughness, and .

Dawkins is the Philip Johnson of theology. On the technical issues, he doesn't know what he's talking about, so I'm sure his confidence and intelletual-sounding words are annoying as hell. It would sure be nice to point all this stuff out in debates. But he's not gonna do it. Get over it. Some of you (David Wood in particular) are acting like refusing to engage in a public oral debate is akin to refusing to engage with the issues. Dawkins gives talks, fields questions, writes, responds to others' writings. It is possible to engage with him. Let go of the old-timey debate fetish. Jeez.

Perhaps a Christian could explain this preoccupation with public oral debates. I think it is funny that the previous post had 40 responses and that a second thread was started. It's not like Dawkins has done anything wrong by refusing the debate (other than his arrogant manner, but again we are only getting one side of the story: who knows what was said to him initially etc).

In science, there are good reasons we don't settle disputes by formal oral public debates, and people who want to engage in such debates are looked at askew. There are better ways to educate the public, if that is your goal, and much better ways to get at the truth.

Victor Reppert said...

Of course there are limitations to public debate, though I wouldn't go as far as you do in rejecting their significance. I think with scientific issues proper, public debate is can be systematically misleading. So I could surely understand if Dawkins were to say that his work is simply too scholarly to be well-served by the public debate format. Providing, of course, that that were true.

As for the would-be Dawkins-Craig debate, I regret the missed entertainment more than anything else.