William Lane Craig is often deemed the Christian religion’s leading intellectual defender. He has two PhDs from reputable universities and is also the author of over 30 books, many of which are dedicated to apologetics and philosophy.
Craig has also proven himself an exceptional debater, and has engaged in 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, some of whom include high profile Islamic apologists. Craig has traveled widely to give presentations at public forums, delivers presentations on theology over YouTube, and teaches a “Defenders Class” dedicated to defending the purported truths of Christianity. It seems that Craig has credentials to his name, making him an attractive prospect for skeptics wishing to debate a respected scholar of Christianity. However, it came to attention that Richard Dawkins publicly refused to debate Craig. Dawkins explains his reasons,
“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.”
One might wonder if these constitute adequate reasons for Dawkins not having to debate Craig. They are likely inadequate.
The claim that Dawkins “would be happy to debate a bishop, a cardinal, a pope, an archbishop,” speaks a great deal in that he prefers easier opposition. It’s no secret that 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 are unlikely to possess the credentials, experience, and knowledge that Craig does. The question then remains why the world’s most well-known atheist would settle for something less than one of the world’s most capable Christian apologists? One might suggest, as a way of an answer, that facing weaker opposition would gel nicely with Dawkins’ narrative that to be religious is to be intellectually dumb. However, this would be a narrative sorely exposed should Dawkins come up against a religious individual far more versed, nuanced, and intelligent on the topic up for debate.
Dawkins also says that he does not “take on creationists.” This is quite odd because a reasonable familiarity with the debates of Craig would show that he has little intention to debate the topic of creationism or intelligent design. Craig has debated on such topics but not when up against atheists like Dawkins. Rather, Craig has a reputation for defending arguments for the existence of God, and one would suspect that a debate between him and Dawkins would be focused there. It would likely follow the form of previous debates: on one side the atheist argues against the existence of God, and on the other the theist argues in favour of God’s existence. The two debaters are then allowed time to respond to one another before a cross examination and the Q&A segment.
If Dawkins was not somehow afraid then why not go ahead and show everyone that God’s existence is rationally indefensible? If faith is so easily dismantled and shown to be a delusion then why not walk over one of its leading defenders?
What is further odd in Dawkins’ claim not to “take on creationists” is that every debate he has had with a religious person in the past has been with a creationist. Popes, cardinals, bishops, and everyone else are creationists in the sense that they believe God created the universe. Not all of these people necessarily hold to the same brand of creationism, but they’re all creationists.
Dawkins also says that he doesn’t take on “people whose only claim to fame is that they are professional debaters.”
This would seem to say that Dawkins prefers to take on debaters who are somehow less competent than the professional debater. Given that Craig is widely deemed to be a talented public debater, is Dawkins fearful to share the stage with him? It is also unfair and pejorative to say that Craig’s only “claim to fame” is being a professional debater. This would seem to undermine the achievements Craig has made throughout his academic career. One doesn’t hold multiple professorships and obtain multiple doctorates and degrees for simply being a “professional debater.” This takes time and effort. Further, it is unlikely that Craig would view his debating in this way. He does not come across as someone who is in it for the fame. In fact, he often appears humble and cordial in approach to his ideological opponents, rather than boastful and prideful.
The reasons Dawkins forwarded for not debating Craig strike one more as excuses than legitimate concerns. Dawkins has made many sweeping, critical claims about religion, religious believers, and belief in God in the public sphere and in his work. He is welcome to do so but he must accept that it makes him a person of interest to those he criticizes. As such, he should stand up for what he says in the face of those he says such things about.