American Evangelical theologian William Lane Craig is ready to debate the rationality of faith during his U.K tour this fall, but it appears that some atheist philosophers are running shy of the challenge.
This month president of the British Humanist Association, Polly Toynbee, pulled out of an agreed debate at London’s Westminster Central Hall in October, saying she “hadn’t realized the nature of Mr. Lane Craig’s debating style.”
Lane Craig, who is a professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, Calif., and author of 30 books and hundreds of scholarly articles, is no stranger to the art of debate and has taken on some of the great orators, such as famous atheists Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Harris once described Craig as “the one Christian apologist who has put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists”.
Responding to Toynbee’s cancellation, Lane Craig commented: "These folks (atheists) can be very brave when they are alone at the podium and there's no one there to challenge them. But one of the great things about these debates is that, it allows both sides to be heard on a level playing field, and for the students in the audience to make up their own minds about where they think the truth lies."
But David Silverman, president of the American Atheists, believes the reason behind the cancellation is much simpler.
"The fact is some people get tired of debating Christians because of the same arguments over and over again. And sometimes it’s a lot like arguing with a wall," he said.
Others have refused to challenge Lane Craig, too, including Richard Dawkins, one of the Four Horseman of the new Atheist movement, which include Hitchens, Harris and Daniel Dennett.
Dawkins, who has labeled the Roman Catholic Church “evil” and once called the Pope “a leering old villain in a frock,” refused four separate invitations, extended through religious and humanist organizations, to take part in debates with Lane Craig during his fall tour.
The controversy wafted into the British press after fellow atheist and philosophy lecturer, Daniel Came, accused Dawkins of simply being afraid, saying, "The absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part."
Dawkins responded by saying, "I have no intention of assisting Craig in his relentless drive for self-promotion."
"I've had a few conversations with Dawkins. He doesn't do debates,” said Silverman who defends Dawkins' decision not to challenge Lane Craig. “He doesn't like those staged debates, which is why he doesn't do much. ... And he gets rather frustrated with the quality of responses."
Craig argues that science and faith are connected. In his writings, he states: "I think we are living in a time in human history where physical science is more open to the existence of a creator and designer of the universe than at any time in recent memory."
In his debates he suggests that the question to ask is not whether science can prove God's existence but rather the philosophy that "science can establish a premise in an argument leading to the conclusion that God exists."
But there many in Britain who would not agree and want to debate that. And they're welcome to do it, because apparently the position is open.