Dawkins should challenge Craig to a debate on evolution

John Loftus has been covering William Lane Craig’s attempts to get Dawkins to debate him. I basically agree with the first comment left on John’s post:

Actually, I really doubt that Dawkins knows who Craig is. Outside of hardcore apologist circles and skeptics who find him annoying enough to be worth responding to, nobody really pays any attention to Craig. I was surprised when no one in my family (all devout Christians) and even my parents’ pastor, who is exceptionally well educated and well versed in apologetics, had no idea who he was.

I mean really, what’s his claim to fame? That he goes around debating atheists? Dawkins has one of the best-selling, most talked about books of the last decade, is a regular on TV and radio shows all over the world and helped spur a new wave of secularism in America. Craig has…. um, a website.

Dawkins is right… it would look much better on Craig’s resume than Dawkins’. Craig has his followers, but he’s a footnote compared to someone like Alister McGrath, who Dawkins has never shied away from engaging.

In spite of his multiple advanced degrees, Craig is only taken about a quarter of the way seriously in academia. His version of the cosmological argument is generally treated respectfully, but his moral argument argument is generally seen as a joke. His presentation is always based on naked appeals to authority and other non-sequiturs, and professional philosophers have called him out repeatedly on this (Craig’s response is always just to pretend he doesn’t understand why they’re so upset, though I assume he’s smart enough to understand the problem). A few Biblical scholars have been willing to treat his claims about the resurection seriously, but most are baffled at how he can make the claims he makes.

His real claim to fame is as a debater, that he can sound plausible on lots of different topics and knows how to take advantage of the fact that most of his opponents lack public speaking skills. And in spite of his admittedly impressive skills, most people still don’t know who he is. I think a lot of people must have an instinctive suspicion of the kinds of arguments Craig gives–McGrath, while in many ways a lightweight, resonates with people more.

All that said, if I had Dawkins’ ear, I would urge him to challenge Craig to a debate on evolution. Craig has always been a creationist of convenience: he knows creationism has a bad name so he distances himself from it, but he is a fellow of the Discovery Institute, and repeats stock creationist claims whenever he finds it rhetorically convenient. And this is Dawkins’ area of expertise, the place where he would really shine. If he thinks there would be bad effects of having the debate, he needn’t worry because Craig has decided it would be bad to defend his views on evolution in a straightforward way, so he never will. Then Dawkins would be able to say, decisively, “You have consistently aligned yourself with creationism, yet you refuse to debate the issue openly with an expert in the field? And you’re calling me a coward?”

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  1. I don’t think Craig is in a position to call Dawkins a coward… Not after he pussied out of debating John Loftus by conveniently saying that he had a policy of not debating former students (Why would someone have such a policy in the first place? Makes me suspect that it is a contrivance).

  2. Why, thank you. I did think I made a good suggestion on Loftus’ site.

  3. Why is evolution a critical point here?

    Are you saying evolution somehow equals atheism or at least implies atheism?

  4. Nope. Just that I think it’s bad when people spread misinformation about one of the best-confirmed ideas of modern science, so Craig should get called out for doing so.

  5. Ryan,

    I suspect Craig’s policy stems from the fact that a former-student-turned-atheist, is an embarrassment to him. It shows that despite prolonged exposure to his various ‘arguments’, someone has failed to be persuaded of the truth of Christianity.

    I don’t think that is a good policy. In fact, it may be slightly cowardly. But I suspect that is the reason.

  6. I generally agree about Craig. He’s very much an oddity, for reasons mentioned, among others. He has published books on a vast range of topics, and does successfully publish in peer-reviewed settings. Furthermore, he apparently has a fairly sophisticated grasp of multiple academic areas, such as time and physics. Yet he doesn’t seem to contribute anything to these areas, other than finding ways to employ them to support various religious beliefs. Even his celebrated cosmological argument (which has been cited for sparking more discussion than Plantinga’s ontological argument) is fairly derivative, as far as I can tell.

    It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for Dawkins to debate Craig. Plenty of respectable atheists have debated him, and from an academic standpoint Dawkins wouldn’t stand out on his resume.

    But I suspect Craig would refuse to debate evolution itself, on the grounds that it is not his area of expertise. He would probably want to debate something subtly related, such as whether or not certain facts of evolution imply theism. And I suspect that this debate would degenerate into deceptively simple philosophical arguments that please crowds, and Dawkins would have no way of adequately responding in the time given. Furthermore, Dawkins would make frequent sophomoric philosophical blunders, and Craig would pounce on every one.

  7. I agree that evolution is outside of Craig’s area of expertise, but so what? As Chris said, evolution does not equl or imply atheism.

    And on the other hand, philosophy and religon are obviously outside of Dawkin’s area of expertise.

    And John Loftus can criticize his “friend” William Lane Craig all he wants, but at least he FINISHED his Ph.D.

  8. Please, be fair, Chris. William Lane Craig believes the universe to be billions of years old:


    Which by definition does NOT make him a creationist.

    Craig has no theological problem with evolution, only a scientific one:


    Also, Craig has been open about his views on evolution and creation:


    And you conveniently skip the fact that Craig debated the issue of evolution before:


    Furthermore, there are members of the Discovery Institute who do NOT hold to Intelligent Design (William Lane Craig is one of them! – that’s right, Craig is technically not an ID advocate and said so many times).

    I would love to see a debate between Craig and Dawkins on evolution. But don’t be dishonest about Craig, Chris.

  9. It seems like many comments made by atheists here have an out and out hatred toward Dr. Craig. Loftus debating Craig? I have a few responses to this…

    1. Loftus is not a good debater. Seriously, he isn’t. Listen to his debate with David Wood and you’ll know what I mean. Or his embarrassing performance on Gene Cook’s show where he openly admitted that atheism is absurd: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dGhqAP9kl0

    2. No really, Loftus believes atheism to be absurd and said it again: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkIHAfsOzww

    3. Furthermore, Loftus obviously wants to get in a debate with Craig to simply embarrass him. Loftus wants to look at the crowd and say, I’m an example that Craig is a failure and so forth. Funny thing is Craig teaches in his classes, he doesn’t hold revivals in classes to convert atheists, you know.

    4. Loftus is a shameless self-promoter. He loves to use Dr. Craig’s name to give himself more notice and popularity. He’s a name-dropper. At least, William Lane Craig doesn’t have to debate Dawkins to know that he’s recognized for his scholarship.

    5. Loftus is incredibly disrespectful toward Dr. Craig. Saying this of him: “He’s a deluded man–a brainwashed man from his youth. A likeable man, no doubt, for I like him a great deal and consider him a friend. But he desperately needs an intervention soon.” – http://rfforum.websitetoolbox.com/post/show_single_post?pid=32668264&postcount=52

    I can’t believe how incredibly mean-spirited and hateful you guys are. I thought you were suppose to be philosophers.

  10. Craig never wrote a book about evolution, and he makes no claim to by any sort of authority on the matter.

    Dawkins wrote a book about religion. I suppose he believes himself to be some type of authority on the subject. He should therefore have no problem debating Craig on the subject of religion.

  11. Jack–

    I’ll respond to some of your other points in a later post, but for the moment let me point out that believing in an old universe does not, by definition, make you not a creationist. Before creationists figured out that “creationism” had become a dirty word, there were lots of people calling themselves “old earth creationists.”

  12. Chris,

    You’re wrong. It was the evolutionists who started calling Christians who hold to an “old earth” as “old earth creationists”. This is pure name-calling. Nothing more. You can still believe the universe to be billions of years old and NOT hold to evolution. No advocate in the Discovery Institute denies that natural selection and that random variation happens. None! Some of them even accept common ancestry with animals. Michael Behe happens to be one of them!


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