Richard Dawkins’ Delivers Nasty Low Blows Against William Lane Craig (Revisiting the Controversy)

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Image: The Times, Kaya Burgess, Richard Dawkins Writes a Picturebook to “Free” Children From Religion

Previously I looked briefly at Dawkins’ refusal to debate Christian/religious apologist William Lane Craig. Craig is arguably America’s leading intellectual apologist and defender of religion, and I concluded that Dawkins’ reasons for not debating him struck me as excusatory rather than as legitimate concerns.

I briefly wish to revisit the reasons Dawkins provides for not debating Craig in an article Dawkins released on The Guardian in 2011. As the date shows, this is not a recent controversy but it is yet one I wish to comment on. I shall do so over the course of several posts. I should make known my own position. I simply favour formal debates and find it a necessary conduit for imparting knowledge to public consciousness, particularly on those who attend in the audience. I don’t believe religion and atheism should be merely private affairs beyond critical scrutiny. A major way to ensure that this is not always the case is the formal debate. As such, I found it unfortunate that Dawkins, perhaps the world’s most well-known atheist, refused to debate Craig, arguably the world’s most well-known apologist. A debate between Dawkins and Craig would have been a spectacle and therefore one of great public interest. This is why I wish to put a critical eye on Dawkins, for it is he he decided to avoid one. From the beginning of the article Dawkins makes it a clear goal to undermine Craig by way of belittling him,

“Don’t feel embarrassed if you’ve never heard of William Lane Craig. He parades himself as a philosopher, but none of the professors of philosophy whom I consulted had heard his name either. Perhaps he is a “theologian.””

This statement is concerning for several reasons. It is not only nasty that Dawkins would try to belittle another human being, which to me is a clear case of academic (and playground) bullying, but these statements are both false and uncharitable. Why? As far as I know, Craig is both a philosopher and theologian. In fact, where philosophy is concerned, Craig has been listed among the 50 most influential living philosophers alive. This is not an achievement one would obtain for simply being a fringe, unknown contributor to philosophical discourse and debate.

Further, I have also punched in Craig’s name into my university peer review data base. Craig pops up in a number of theological and philosophical archives, where it seems he has attracted a great deal of attention from academics in these fields. These include, but are not limited to, his writings on the philosophy of time (Craig is known to defend the A-theory of time) in the philosophy of religion (Craig is known to both articulate and defend the Kalam cosmological argument, and other arguments), and in theology (on questions of divine knowledge etc.).

A brief purview of the archives shows that Craig has contributed to the following academic journals: Philosophy, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Religious Studies, Analysis, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Synthese, Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, Franciscan Studies, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, and others. Craig has attracted attention in journals such as: Religion in Southern Africa, Religious Studies, Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie, The Journal of Theological Studies, Analysis, New Blackfriars, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Church History, and others.

In fact, all of these journal articles are referenced just in the first 4 pages (of 773) when I punched Craig’s name into the database. That Craig is just a purported unknown, according to Dawkins, is simply false, and, at worst, an uniformed arrogance on Dawkins’ part. This is not surprising, however, because one wouldn’t expect Dawkins to have a deep knowledge of theorists, debates, and discussions within philosophy, theology, or the humanities. His awareness is perfunctory at best, and this is a point he has been harshly criticized on (even by some atheist philosophers, one might add) in some of his books which cascade into theology and philosophy.

That Dawkins wishes to undermine Craig by stating that a few philosophers he asked were unaware of him is evidence of his naivety. Why? Because Philosophy is a large field encompassing several domains consisting of thousands of academics. How do we know that the philosopher Dawkins asked was not one specializing in the thought of early 20th century Frankfurt school, or in Roman philosophy, or in ethics theory, or in feminist studies? Would one expect a feminist philosopher, such as a Judith Butler, who specializes in gender theory and law and violence to have an awareness of a debate of which Craig is a part, such as in the philosophy of time or on the Kalam cosmological argument? Of course not, and this renders Dawkins’ attempt to belittle Craig naive at best.

Part 2 forthcoming



  1. An added point, the existence of Dawkin’s public response and knowledge of Craig is rather self refuting, if Craig were a nobody why does Dawkins know who he is let alone have give a public responses to why he would not debate him? There is also the matter of Dawkins debating people less well known than Craig.

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