William Lane Craig is often deemed be Christianity’s leading intellectual defender. He has two PhDs from leading universities and is also the author of over 30 books, many of which are dedicated to apologetics and philosophy.
Craig has also proven himself to be an exceptional debater as many have witnessed in his public debates with notable atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Keith Parsons, Victor Stenger, Antony Flew, Paul Draper, Lewis Wolpert, Sam Harris, Richard Carrier, and Peter Atkins. Craig has debated others too, notably several high profile Islamic apologists.
Craig has traveled widely to several continents to give presentations at public forums,. He also engages in theology which he has delivered in presentations over YouTube. He also teaches a “Defenders Class” which is a class dedicated to defending the truth of Christianity.
It is clear that Craig has credentials to his name, making him an attractive prospect for skeptics willing to debate one of Christianity’s most respected scholars. However, it came to the attention of many that Richard Dawkins publicly refused to debate Craig. Dawkins explains,
“I’ve always said when invited to do a debate that I would be happy to debate a bishop, a cardinal, a pope, an archbishop. Indeed, I have done both. But that I don’t take on creationists and I don’t take on people whose only claim to fame is that they are professional debaters. They’ve got to have something more than that. I’m busy.”
There is much one could make of Dawkins’ explanation here. The claim that he “would be happy to debate a bishop, a cardinal, a pope, an archbishop,” speaks much in that it would seem Dawkins is opting for easier opposition. It is not a secret that the likes of bishops, cardinals, and popes aren’t, generally speaking, scholars, academics, or leading apologists. This is not to suggest that they are incompetent on these topics, but it is to say that they obviously don’t possess the credentials, the experience, and the knowledge that Craig himself does. The question then remains why the world’s (arguably) most well-known atheist would settle for something less than one of the world’s most capable apologists. Perhaps facing weaker opposition is easier to fit into Dawkins’ fixed narrative, namely that to be religious is to be intellectually dumb. This would be a narrative sorely exposed should Dawkins face off with a religious person far more versed in these issues and come off second best.
Dawkins then says that he doesn’t “take on creationists,” which is quite odd. For one, it is besides the point since Craig has no intention to debate Dawkins on the subject of creationism or intelligent design. Craig is has a reputation for defending arguments for the existence of God which would undoubtedly play a major role in a debate between him and Dawkins. The debate would likely take the form of many previous debates: on one side the atheist argues against the existence of God whereas on the other the theist argues in favour of God’s existence. If Dawkins wasn’t somehow afraid then what would stop him from showing the world that God’s existence is rationally indefensible? If faith could be so easily dismantled and shown to be a delusion then why not knock over one of its leading defenders?
Another point that is odd about Dawkins saying he doesn’t “take on creationists,” is that every debate he has had with a religious person in the past has been against a creationist. Popes, cardinals, bishops, and everyone else are creationists in the sense that they believe God created the universe. Not all of these men hold to the same brand of creationism, but they’re all creationists. This would seem to make Dawkins’ justification for not debating Craig moot.
Dawkins also says that he doesn’t take on “people whose only claim to fame is that they are professional debaters.”
A simple understanding of this reasoning basically suggests that Dawkins prefers to take on debaters who are somehow less competent. Craig is a good debater, and most would admit that, but ultimately what matters are the ideas he presents. Dawkins should be brave enough to challenge these. Further, debating isn’t Craig’s only “claim to fame,” nor would one imagine that Craig would view his debating in this way. Craig doesn’t strike one as someone who is in this for the fame, and in fact he appears rather humble and gentle in approach to his ideological opponents. Craig is also not one who needs to play childish games to obtain fame for surely he finds personal satisfaction in the fact that he has two doctorates, numerous peer reviewed journal articles, and over 30 books.