Everyone has his opinion. And everyone has a right to his opinion. But in an enlightened world, we should not be content to simply vilify our opponents or rant like Yosemite Sam. The confluence of opposing opinions should invite informed debate.
Informed debate needs two conditions: an openness to the information and reasoning that applies to the disputed issue and a mutual civility between the opposing parties. I have found that in today’s world, both conditions are in short supply. Most controversies, especially in popular culture are characterized by poorly supported, one-sided arguments that rely heavily on the reproach one camp has for the other.
It seems to me that for the vast teaming masses out there, becoming informed simply requires too much effort. Rather than exposing one’s life-views to the light of day, thereby being held accountable to reasonable standards of examination, many choose to splice themselves into the security of group-think, then defend it with tribal conviction.
When an individual’s convictions are socially derived, he is less apt to question them, for that might threaten his social bonds. Each of us needs to know whether our assumptions, opinions and beliefs are really our own, or if we have adopted the life view of some category of humans to which we choose to belong. Each group must defend its own life view. But if my life view is truly my own, it must be something I can defend myself.
To me, integrity is the best defense of our most basic convictions. If we use integrity as our guide, we will be open to the objective examination of those convictions. Integrity allows us to honestly evaluate our fundamental belief systems while keeping a clear conscience.
A Reasonable Discussion Of Faith
In my post, “Does God Exist?”, I approached that fundamental question outside of the context of church doctrines in order to examine our use of basic reasoning and the formation of our views of reality. I received a comment, which I did not publish, from a person who, rather than addressing the fundamental question, went through a litany of conclusions about Christianity, the Bible and religion in general.
This got me to thinking. Should I argue against his comment in detail, offering my own counter points to each of his points? Is an argument really what I want? Past experience has taught me that “winning” arguments often has no benefit, other than feeding the ego of the “winner”. Because the aggression of “arguing” can be off-putting, a preferable idea is to maintain a good rapport with our detractors. That way, there is always a chance we might win them over.
I am not a scholar. Nor is the gentleman who commented to my post. I wondered how regular, untrained individuals like us can begin to have a reasonable discussion of faith. Usually, even for some of the nicest people in the world, it’s impossible to discuss matters of faith outside the group of those with whom we agree. When we venture outside our group, those “discussions” usually devolve into squabbling, name-calling, invective-laden outbursts.
Because of that universal phenomenon, folks commonly adhere to the rule of never discussing things like politics and religion in social settings. I personally think that is a shame because politics and religion encompass life’s most important values. As I thought about the need of real debate — a “meeting of the minds” — and its implications of healing and creativity for all human thought, two names came to my mind: William Lane Craig and Richard Dawkins.
William Lane Craig
I first came across William Craig’s name in Lee Strobel’s “The Case For Christ”. Dr. Craig was one of the highly respected scholars interviewed by Mr. Strobel in his research of the evidence for Jesus as the Son of God. In describing Craig, Strobel mentioned a debate in which Craig very effectively argued with an atheist (“Atheism vs. Christianity: Where Does the Evidence Point?”). Here again is the link to the video of the debate:
Watching that debate, I was impressed with Craig’s level of expertise and ability to clearly refute his opponent’s arguments with cogent logic and numerous citations of scholarly attestation.
William Lane Craig has impeccable credentials. He is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology. He has a B.A. from Wheaton College, two M.A.s from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, a Ph.D from the University of Birmingham, England and a doctorate of theology from the University of Munich, Germany. He has authored or edited over 30 books and over 200 articles and journals, many published by Oxford University Press. He has been at the forefront of Christian Philosophy for many years. See his Curriculum Vitae at:
Richard Dawkins is an ethologist, an evolutionary biologist and a notable proponent of atheism. His book, “The God Delusion”, which describes faith in a personal God as a delusion, has sold millions of copies. He received his B.A., M.A. and doctorate of philosophy from Balliol College, Oxford. With fellowships in the Royal Society for both science and literature, and as an emeritus professor at Oxford, Richard Dawkins is ensconced in his ivory tower, a rather lofty perch from which he can look down upon the lesser folk who trod the common soil.
Naturally, since Dawkins is a prominent spokesperson for atheism, his arguments have come under attack by theist philosophers, including William Lane Craig, who beg an audience with Dawkins, to refute his arguments. Craig has been particularly pointed in challenging Dawkins to debate him. But rather than showing a willingness to engage Craig’s positions, and by doing so, demonstrating his superior intellect or his superior philosophical reasoning, Dawkins has chosen to assume an air of pontifical superiority. He cowers on his throne, denying that Craig is a worthy opponent, and certainly not his peer. See the article, “Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig” at:
One would think that a person of Dawkins’ stature would be so certain of the truth as he saw it that he would gladly bend over backwards to win over dissenters through superior argument. Instead, he refuses scholarly debate as one might shoo away irksome gnats. I was particularly impressed with one comment to this article by “Laneprry”. It is quite long, but here is an excerpt:
Unfortunately, many of Dawkins’ followers have the idea that arguments for God’s existence cannot even be named. I will end this letter by naming just some of the arguments that are hotly debated in the literature. I am looking for willing atheists or skeptics to object to these arguments and we can begin our discussion on them. Come with rigorous argumentation using philosophy, science, and so on to defend the premises to your arguments. Here is the list I promised: the Leibnizian cosmological argument, the Thomistic cosmological argument, the Kalam cosmological argument, the traditional teleological argument, an information-theoretic design argument, the ontological argument, the axiological argument, and the noological argument. Also we should all discuss the reliability of the Old and New Testament, the Christology of Jesus, miracles, and the case for Christ’s resurrection. The supporting facts for the New Testament’s reliability and the case for Christ’s resurrection are also thoughtfully debated with remarkable agreement by conservative and skeptical scholars. Let us engage in a truly rational and sophisticated discussion on these matters of such astounding importance!
In his heart of hearts, I don’t believe Dawkins is at all confident of proving his position superior in a direct confrontation with Craig’s scholarly prowess. His goal isn’t to come to the truth through superior reasoning, but to convince as many as possible that his life view is correct. The two ways he does this is by discrediting theists (calling them delusional) and by silencing any voice that speaks contrary to his views. He doesn’t really want a discussion. He doesn’t want his opponents to be heard at all. Point in fact, he celebrated the decision to muzzle creationists in Great Britain:
It is significant that in this article, Dawkins said, “Evolution is fact”. He, along with other evolutionists and atheists, refuses to acknowledge that “facts” aren’t the product of acclamation. They must be proven. If someone disputes any given “fact”, then it should be a simple matter of demonstrating the proof.
But it takes two to tango. Richard Dawkins is not open to the available information and reasoning that applies to the issue of God’s existence. Nor does he exhibit a civil attitude toward William Lane Craig. Unfortunately, a reasoned discussion between these two giants in their fields has stalled, and the focus seems to be wallowing in the matter of “What camp am I in? And do I belong here?”.
Don’t get stuck in a camp before you’ve even begun your journey. Wherever you are on the road to truth, the wise thing to do is to test everything and hold fast to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).