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Link blog: william-lane-craig, richard-dawkins, debate, philosophy 
24th Oct 2011, 12:15 pm
giles
Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig | Richard Dawkins | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
Dawkins now says he won't debate with Craig because Craig defends the genocide of the Canaanites in the Old Testament. Craig's views, like those of other evangelicals who share them, are pretty odious, but I don't quite see why that means Dawkins should not debate with Craig: "no platform" principles are there so people can't put forward their odious views, but a debate on the existence of God isn't likely to revolve around what God did to the Canaanites. I think I'd just prefer to say "Craig is a better public speaker, I'd lose" and offer to debate in written form.
(tags: richard-dawkins william-lane-craig debate religion philosophy)
Comments 
24th Oct 2011, 11:48 am (UTC)
I think I'd just prefer to say "Craig is a better public speaker, I'd lose" and offer to debate in written form.

Yeah, I agree that seems likely, and would be preferable to me (though also, I understand why it looks bad to say it). I like the idea of a written debate, at least in principle it might get to some substance.

After all, Dawkins does sort of set himself up as the guy to go to to support claims that something's pseudo-intellectual religious waffle.

Regarding Craig's specific question, on the one hand, it's certainly refreshingly direct to go wholeheartedly for the "it doesn't matter if you die, because you go to the afterlife" viewpoint, it's one most people are reluctant to accept wholeheartedly. But on the other hand, his argument applies equally well to indiscriminantly slaughtering children now which is pretty much the most repugnant reductio ad absurdum imaginable! :)
24th Oct 2011, 12:35 pm (UTC)
I sort of agree, but I can see why he chooses not to say that.
24th Oct 2011, 12:44 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it's a bit dishonest to say you refuse to debate with someone and then have a one-sided "debate" in a medium where they can't easily respond.

As far as I can tell his claimed reason for refusing to debate Craig is that he strongly disagrees with him - which strikes me as a good reason to debate someone.
24th Oct 2011, 01:40 pm (UTC)
It can be a good reason to debate someone. But if you've found out your axiomatic differences, it can make debating someone tedious. I'm not sure Dawkins has clearly found / explained his aximatic differences with Craig though (well, other than 'he thinks God exists and I don't', which is a bit tautologous for the question at hand)
24th Oct 2011, 01:54 pm (UTC)
I was curious what you thought of Craig, actually. Rob persuaded me to go to his talk in Cambridge out of interest, and he was an effective speaker, but when I had to chose between "this explanation of spacetime sounds like nonsense because modern physics is really coutnerintuitive" and "this explanation of spacetime sounds like nonsense because he just pulled out some of the concepts that fit his point and then numbered the first two steps of his argument so it sounds psueo-intellectual", it still felt like all the signs pointed unnerringly to the latter, but also, I know I'm likely to be biased in that direction so it's hard to say for sure my judgement is accurate.
24th Oct 2011, 02:06 pm (UTC)
Um, I'm afraid I don't know the explanation of spacetime in question, so can't comment. I know an argument to do with the origin of the universe and things having causes, but I don't know if it's the same one.
24th Oct 2011, 03:57 pm (UTC)
Oops, sorry; I didn't mean about that specifically (I can quote from his essay I read, but I couldn't do justice to repeating what he said at the lecture here), it was just an example of one of the things he said, and I wondered if friends whose opinion I generally listen to, but with less reason than me to be biased against him in advance, had a general opinion on him.
24th Oct 2011, 05:38 pm (UTC)
I've never heard him speak or read anything he's written AFAIK. I have a vaguely positive opinion of him due to second-hand accounts that he's a logical thinker helping reestablish Christianity as intellectually credible.
24th Oct 2011, 02:04 pm (UTC)
I would be pretty astonished if The Guardian weren't prepared to run any response Craig cares to write.
9th Nov 2011, 08:36 am (UTC)
'Yeah, it's a bit dishonest to say you refuse to debate with someone and then have a one-sided "debate" in a medium where they can't easily respond.'

Correct.

It is not going to be easy for Craig to persuade the Guardian to publish articles about the positive side of genocide - the side people often overlook.
24th Oct 2011, 12:53 pm (UTC)
Dawkins's first two paragraphs give the strong impression that another reason he doesn't want to debate with Craig is that he considers himself much more prominent and important than Craig, so that agreeing to the debate would either bestow an undeserved aura of respectability (in that Dawkins considered Craig in particular important enough to debate with, as compared to the implied 500 other assorted religious wonks at Craig's general level) or set a precedent that Dawkins was generally willing to debate such people (and therefore the aforementioned 500 other wonks would promptly fill up his calendar for the foreseeable future).
24th Oct 2011, 01:35 pm (UTC)
I think he's said that before, and it's understandable, but it also seems like Craig is more prominent (whether or not I think he's more right than the 499 other guys).
24th Oct 2011, 01:42 pm (UTC)
I bet more people have heard of Dawkins than Craig, so it'd be valid for Dawkins to make the "that'd look better on his CV than mine" argument. However, Dawkins then went on about genocide and whatnot, which doesn't seem a good reason to avoid Craig.

I think the Guardian article was a tactical error as far as Dawkins's reputation was concerned, but it could be that Dawkins saw it as a chance to do some damage to Craig's reputation by publicising Craig's horrible moral views and decided it was worth it.
24th Oct 2011, 02:01 pm (UTC)
I bet more people have heard of Dawkins than Craig

I agree that Dawkins is probably more famous (I'd not heard of Craig till comparatively recently) but Dawkins can't only debate people more prominent than he is -- probably more people could name Dawkins than the chief Rabbi :) -- and if Craig's especially thought of as an intellectual debater, it would make sense to debate him from that point of view.

I guess it could be that he rates Craig's arguments are really thin (even though they sound good) and doesn't want to give them credence, but I agree, right or not, it's probably that Craig's a sufficiently effective debater that from a tactical standpoint it's still more effective to dismiss him than enagage him (assuming a debate isn't actually likely to make any useful progress toward understanding, which is pessimistic but probable).

I think the Guardian article was a tactical error as far as Dawkins's reputation was concerned

I don't even know for sure: I don't think it was logically valid, but looked at purely tactically I don't know if it did more harm than good (and you're right that maybe he thought it was worth it) -- normally Dawkins seems pretty good at this sort of tactics, so even if I disagree, it seems likely he had good reason...
24th Oct 2011, 02:19 pm (UTC)
assuming a debate isn't actually likely to make any useful progress toward understanding, which is pessimistic but probable

I think this is really the key point. The general impression I've got of public debate of this nature is that when conducted at a high level of skill its outcome seems at best uncorrelated with truth, and perhaps even anticorrelated in that certain kinds of simplistic but wrong argument are easier to make convincing to a debate audience than the complicated, messy, shades-of-grey truth.

It puts me rather in mind of trial by combat, actually: there's a perception that the outcome has something to do with who's in the right, but in fact it's all about whether you can get a really good champion...
24th Oct 2011, 02:50 pm (UTC)
perhaps even anticorrelated in that certain kinds of simplistic but wrong argument are easier to make convincing to a debate audience than the complicated, messy, shades-of-grey truth.

That's certainly true of Craig's moral argument. Shelly Kagan did beat him on that subject but since I've heard that Craig wasn't prepared for a formal debate so it may not have been fair. Anyway, you need to be very skilled to argue against two premises that people from a Christian-influenced culture will sort of vaguely agree with, and if you get it wrong, Craig will go into his argument from rape.
24th Oct 2011, 05:50 pm (UTC)
Ooh, wossat?

(And it sounds very much like tactical debating, which I have no time for at all.)
25th Oct 2011, 10:55 am (UTC)
Wossat?

The Craig vs Kagan debate? It's this.

The actual story isn't that Craig wasn't prepared, I think, but that the hosts wanted it to be a nice, welcoming environment for non-believers and therefore told Craig not to go for the knock-out: Craig's thoughts are here.

The argument from rape? It's Craig's favourite example of a thing that everyone agrees is objectively wrong. He characterises atheist morality as "whatever evolved is right" and then points out that it could be perfectly OK to commit rape on that account. Of course, that isn't the only atheist morality and similar objections apply to Craig's Divine Command Theory (as Dawkins has been pointing out recent).
25th Oct 2011, 12:06 pm (UTC)
It's Craig's favourite example of a thing that everyone agrees is objectively wrong.
Oh, right. Argument from semantics. As I don't see the words "objectively wrong" as belonging in the same sentence, I'd like to hope that I wouldn't fall into that trap.

It's basically saying "I don't like X. Without God this would just be my opinion rather than a law of the universe. I wouldn't like that. Therefore God."

I'd like to hope that anyone who has actually thought about the issues wouldn't fall into that one.

He characterises atheist morality as "whatever evolved is right"

Oh dear. That's a lovely caricature, and an excellent example of why so much of this debating is just crowd-rallying, and not actually trying to reach understanding. Which is why I find it so frustrating that people bother with it at all.
9th Nov 2011, 08:40 am (UTC)
'He characterises atheist morality as "whatever evolved is right" and then points out that it could be perfectly OK to commit rape on that account.'

I see.

Everybody agrees it is wrong to eat rat-poison for breakfast.

But if evolution is true, we could have evolved to digest rat-poison and extract nutrition from it.

That means atheists claim eating rat-poison could be good for you if we had evolved that way, when everybody knows it is wrong to eat rat-poison!

You lose again, atheist suckers! 1-0 to Craig.
25th Oct 2011, 08:59 am (UTC)
Yeah. "Diax's Rake" is an excellent two-word rebuttal to the moral argument, but only to people who've read Anathem; otherwise the rebuttal takes longer than half an hour to explain, so you lose by default. (To be balanced, there are those sorts of arguments for both sides of most issues if you look for them, I imagine.)
25th Oct 2011, 08:57 am (UTC)
Although, I mean, if one's right, one's probably somewhat more likely to get a good champion, so it's not necessarily negatively correlated -- just only very mildly positively correlated :) (And of course, the flaws are systematic, not random -- if you want trial by combat against someone rich and powerful, you'll lose every time, etc)
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