March 29, 2007

As you might be aware, I enjoy listening to, and occasionally taking part in debate and discussion on religion. This post is mostly links to and commentary about a few such debates I’ve come across recently.

robhu has been posting about William Lane Craig. I don’t like watching Craig, partly because he usually cows his atheist opponents, but also because of how he does it. After you’ve watched or heard him in action more than once, you realise that Craig has a script which he rattles off, and some debating tricks which he uses to great effect (for instance, because debates are time-limited, you can always use your opponent’s lack of time to claim that your opponent cannot refute your argument because they have not had time to do so). Craig often seems to omit the basic courtesy of listening to your opponent. I don’t find his arguments that persuasive either (see gjm11‘s recent blog posting on the evidence for the Resurrection, for example).

Richard Dawkins and Alister McGrath’s discussion at the Oxford Literary Festival was a gentler affair than one of Craig’s debates. McGrath seems a little unwilling to spell out what he does believe, which I found odd for a Christian, and which allowed Dawkins to land some easy blows merely by asking him to spell it out:

Dawkins: Well I mean, do you believe in the virgin birth?

McGrath: Well I do, but the issue I think really is not simply how one makes sense of these things but actually what they point to.

Dawkins: No, no. Look, you are a scientist, you are a biologist and you believe in the virgin birth, on scriptural grounds. You actually elevate scripture above science in this case.

McGrath: Well in this case, here is something which seems to me to be an integral part of the Christian tradition, which may well be in conflict with part of our present day scientific understanding, that’s certainly an area of tension.


Dawkins also turns up alongside a host of other public intellectuals (A.C. Grayling, Christopher Hitchens, Julia Neuberger, Roger Scruton and Nigel Spivey) in a debate on the motion “We’d be better off without religion”. The two sides sometimes seemed to be speaking past each other, in that the proponents were mostly thinking of the religious as people who believe something, and the opponents talked in terms of community and feelings of transcendence. Some commenters on the Dawkins forum took this is a sign of victory, in that so much ground has been yielded to atheism that the proponents of religion are not even prepared to argue that it is true.

Not being a huge follower of politics, I wasn’t aware that these Drinked Soaked Trots took their name from George Galloway’s insult to Christopher Hitchens. I’m not sure about the war, but I’m more in agreement with Hitchens’s views on the moral necessity of atheism.