Richard Dawkins is widely touted as the world’s leading atheist. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. I suppose there’s no easy way to settle the matter. (Counting numbers of books sold or google hits seems a bit arbitrary, no?)
But then again, maybe there is a way to settle the matter...
William Lane Craig is generally acclaimed as the world’s leading Christian apologist. This is a very plausible judgment. Not only is Craig a holder of two PhDs from leading European universities and the author of more than thirty books ranging from the popular apologetics books to academic treatises on the philosophy of time, but he has also distinguished himself as an extremely effective debater who has locked horns with many of the world’s leading atheists including Christopher Hitchens, Keith Parsons, Vic Stenger, Antony Flew, Paul Draper, and Peter Atkins.
You will note that Dawkins, the world’s “leading” atheist, is not in this august group. Why not? Somehow Dawkins has remained ignorant of Craig all this time. When Craig went on a British speaking tour a couple years ago Peter May, the chairman of the Board of Directors for the UK InterVarsity, invited Dawkins to debate Craig on the existence of God.
Interestingly, Dawkins replied tersely that he didn't know who Craig was, and if he were to debate anybody it would have to be at least a “bishop”.
Okay, maybe Craig's highly publicized debates with Atkins, Stenger and others had somehow escaped Dawkins' attention. But regardless from that point on he knew who Craig was. And still nothing happened.
Well it was only a matter of time before Dawkins would be asked publicly why he wouldn't debate Craig. This is Dawkins' reply. Or, for those not into clicking links:
“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.”
Now what should we think of this? Let’s begin with the charitable assumption that Dawkins is interested in debating the most intellectually capable Christians. Surely the world's leading atheist would settle for nothing less. After all, Ferrari would balk at pitting its cars against a mere Suzuki. So it is interesting to note who Dawkins includes and excludes in his list of possible debating partners.
First he excludes “creationists”, an exclusion which is not relevant here since the topic he has been invited to debate with Craig is not creationism or intelligent design but rather the existence of God.
Next, he excludes from consideration “people whose only claim to fame is that they are professional debaters.” Reading between the lines I take him to mean that he doesn’t debate people who lack appropriate credentialing.
That’s fair. So what counts as professional credentials? How about 2 PhDs from leading European universities, dozens of peer reviewed journal articles, dozens of books published and a track record of speaking at the world’s leading universities? Hey, guess what, that describes William Lane Craig!
But we missed something. Dawkins also said that he only debates priests and bishops. But surely this cannot be correct. Priests and bishops are not academics and professional debaters. On the contrary, they’re practitioners whose daily agendas are crowded with church politics and innumerable other responsibilities. So why would Dawkins limit himself to debating church leaders? Isn't that like Ferrari insisting its cars only be raced against Suzukis?
Hmmm. Here’s a guess. Maybe because Dawkins recognizes that he’s outmatched. Like the amateur boxer who turns white when offered a title shot, it could be that Dawkins really is happier sparring with the befuddled village vicar.
That’s fine of course. But then don’t call him the world’s leading atheist.