The Ultimate Concession?

Sadly, another atheist has decided not to debate Dr. William Lane Craig on the question of God’s existence.  In preparation for her debate with Craig, Polly Toynbee began to study some of his previous debates.  Soon after, she decided that she did not want to go through with the engagement scheduled for this October.  Hopefully there will be more information  as to why Toynbee backed out.   One wonders what it was about Craig’s previous debates that led Toynbee to her decision to back out two months before the event.

From Ed Thornton, August 12, 2011. “Atheists Decline Oxford Debate on God”, Church Times (H/T UnbelievableJB):

ATHEIST philosophers are being accused of “running shy” of debating with a Christian philosopher from the United States who is to tour the UK in the autumn to argue that faith is rational.

Polly Toynbee, the Guardian columnist and president of the British Humanist Association, had agreed to debate the existence of God with the Research Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology, California, Dr William Lane Craig, at Westminster Central Hall in October, during Professor Craig’s “Reasonable Faith” tour. Earlier this month, however, Ms Toynbee said that she would not be taking part in the event. “I hadn’t realised the nature of Mr Lane Craig’s debating style, and, having now looked at his previous per­formances, this is not my kind of forum.” Professor Craig said: “These are academic forums, where one con­centrates on the arguments and counter-arguments, the truth of the premises in those arguments and objections to them, and not on personality or ad hominem attacks.” Professor Craig has previously debated with atheist philosophers such as Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris, who described Professor Craig as “the one Christian apologist who has put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists”. The humanist philosopher Pro­fessor A. C. Grayling also refused to debate with Professor Craig, and denied ever having done so, despite the debate between the two on the problem of evil at the Oxford Union in 2005. Professor Grayling later said: “I was wrong about debating [with] Lane Craig — but Lane Craig is wrong about everything else in the universe; so I guess I don’t do too badly in the deal.” The director of Professor Craig’s tour, Peter May, said: “If Craig is ‘wrong about everything else in the universe’ and his arguments for the existence of God are so easy to refute, it is hard to see why the leading atheist voices in the country are running shy of having a debate with him. “Rather than hurling ad hom­inem attacks on Craig from their bunkers, it would be good to see these figures come forward to rationally defend the atheism they publicly espouse.” Professor Craig is scheduled to debate with the atheist former Pro­fessor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, Dr Peter Atkins, at the Uni­versity of Manchester; and with another atheist, the Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, Oxford University, Peter Millican, at the University of Birmingham. Professor Richard Dawkins has been invited to debate with Professor Craig in Oxford, on 25 October. If Professor Dawkins refuses, the organisers say that Professor Craig “will lecture on the weakness of Dawkins’s argu­ments in his book The God Delusion”. The organisers of the tour say that they are attempting to find another atheist to debate with Professor Craig in London, instead of Ms Toynbee.

Many atheists and theists agree that William Lane Craig is among the greatest Christian apologists and debaters of our generation.  He has effectively won nearly every debate with just a few exceptions. Just listen to a few of his debates and you will soon discover that Craig is impeccably organized, methodical, and focused like a laser.  He rarely lets an argument go unchallenged, while his opponent often offer only superficial responses to Craig’s syllogisms.  So if the “New Atheists” no longer will engage with Craig, are they making some kind of concession? We will have to see if other “New Atheists” will follow in the footsteps of Dawkins and Toynbee.  In the meantime, I look forward to the Atkins and Millican debates when they become available.  I hope to write up a review of them, if they don’t back out too.

On a lighter note:

[Update 8/16/2011]  Stephen Law has stepped up to the plate and will debate William Lane Craig!  Hats off to Law for having the courage and conviction that Dawkins, Grayling, and Toynbee seem to lack.

Posted on August 13, 2011, in News and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I think the New Atheists are making a huge concession. If the debates are truly academic, as Dr. Craig claims they are, focusing on the legitimacy of the premises, then the atheist who is truly convinced by his or her own arguments should have no trouble at all debating Craig. What kind of legitimacy does their position have if they refuse to put it forth for scrutiny?

  2. I agree Andy. The New Atheists also prefer to put forward their arguments in popular books rather than in peer-reviewed scholarly journals. They really aren’t interested in putting forth the best case for their position, in my opinion. There are still some solid atheistic philosophers of religion out there–philosophers like Quentin Smith and William Rowe. But it’s hard to take Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and even Dennett (when Dennett is doing philosophy of religion) very seriously. I’m surprised by how influential they’ve become.

  3. I would imagine that many people refuse to debate the deluded Craig for the same reason that they would refuse to debate a deluded nutbag like Kirk Cameron or Ray Comfort.
    Why waste your time with the religious equivalent of Papa Smurf?

    And while Craig is a skilled debater, that says far more about his slickness and ability to trot out 50 bad arguments in 10 minutes that cannot possibly be adequately rebutted in the limited time available in a formal debate setting.

    And if you want to see Craig squirm, watch his debate with Shelly Kagan. This is the type of debate setting that people should be requesting with the nutbag Craig.

    When Craig is asked questions directly by his opponent, he ends up looking like a grade school level philosopher, which happens frequently in the Shelly debate.

  4. TruthOverfaith,

    I agree with you that there are times when Craig seems flummoxed by Kagan in that debate. However, I think Kagan provided no meta-ethical theory to ground his assertions about morality and so was not victorious in the end.

    Another debate where I think Craig floundered was the Ray Bradley debate on hell. I recommend that debate highly. There is a moment where Bradley makes a distinction between causality and logical entailment. Craig offers no response to the point and it was a crucial point. I count Bradley as coming out ahead there, though I think his rhetoric was, at times, over the top.

    My faith is not based upon Craig being an unbeatable champion of Christianity. He is a mere mortal and admits of his own short-comings. Craig is not primarily a moral philosopher and so I think his debates on God and morality tend to be weaker. However, I do find his cosmological arguments far more compelling than what his opponents offer in response. So I would agree that there are some debates were Craig is weaker and others where he is stronger.

    I do find it amusing that you think that Craig is able to put together 50, or rather 5-6, bad arguments and that his opponents do not have adequate time to respond. In the debates that I have read and heard, his opponents spend a great deal of time addressing red herrings and arguments never made so as to avoid Craig altogether. If they cannot cast doubt on those arguments in the time allotted, then perhaps those arguments are not as bad as you suppose.

  5. “My faith is not based upon Craig being an unbeatable champion of Christianity”

    And we can safely rule out reasoned, rational thought as the basis for your Christian faith while we’re at it.

    “I do find his cosmological arguments far more compelling”

    Well, then, you have apparently spent very little time reading the many rebuttals to Craig’s “arguments” in this area.

    “I do find it amusing that you think that Craig is able to put together 50….. bad arguments…”

    Well, then, you’re rather easily amused.

  6. And we can safely rule out reasoned, rational thought as the basis for your Christian faith while we’re at it.

    You are free to make such a determination. I certainly can’t and won’t stop you. So, is there a point to your comments, or do you just like arguing with a madman?

    Well, then, you have apparently spent very little time reading the many rebuttals to Craig’s “arguments” in this area.

    This is not true. I have studied the standard responses put forward by Wes Morriston, Quentin Smith, Victor Stenger, Graham Oppy, and William Rowe. Though I think they make important points, I do not think their objections are without response. Indeed, Craig and others have engaged these philosophers to my satisfaction, as I have read his responses too. Perhaps it troubles you that someone might have studied the same set of arguments as you and come to a different conclusion. But do not be too troubled, just dismiss me as insane and irrational, then you don’t have to think about why a fellow human might come to different conclusion. Isn’t this what it’s all about, being dismissive and nasty?

    Well, then, you’re rather easily amused.

    I think I am a rather jovial person who is quick to find the humor in a situation. However, your recent comments are far less than amusing. I find your constant resort to personal attacks troubling evidence that you are incapable of actually stringing together a sound argument. Then again, I am a lunatic, so I probably can’t tell the difference between personal attacks and sound arguments, right? How about this for an argument:

    1. If you cannot admit that your interlocutor is rational, then you are the fool for engaging him!
    2. You cannot admit that I am rational.
    3. Therefore, you are a fool for engaging me.

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