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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.