Buses around the university town of Oxford are currently emblazed with the slogan "There's Probably No Dawkins. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Oct 25th at the Sheldonian Theatre" to herald a controversial public address on Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion.
Organisers have invited Dr William Lane Craig, a leading Christian apologist to critique the book by Dawkins who is an Oxford Don and leading proponent of the New Atheism. They have also invited Dawkins to defend his work. However it is unlikely that he will appear.
The above advertisement mimics the earlier Atheist Bus Campaign which read "There's Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Life". It cleverly takes a swipe at Dawkins' consistent refusal to debate Craig on this and many previous occasions.
This is just one minor skirmish in the ongoing intellectual rivalry between theist and atheist thinkers which is gaining more and more profile in mainstream media.
As a young Australian who has an interest in both science and intelligent debate over the existence of God, I find these invigorating times to be alive and thinking. I would very much like to see more public debate on the existence of God in Australia, such as the debate between John Lennox and Peter Singer earlier this year.
The infamous Dr Dawkins will be coming to Australia next year for the 2012 Global Atheist Convention. He originally became famous for his book 'The Selfish Gene', and has written numerous other books in the area of biology. In 2006 he published 'The God Delusion' in which he launched a lengthy attack upon the credibility of religious belief. The book gained huge popularity and Dawkins became a major spokesperson for the 'New Atheist' movement.
Despite his standing as a champion of The New Atheism, Dawkins has dodged multiple invitations from independent groups to debate Dr William Lane Craig, a Research Professor of Philosophy and arguably the most articulate defender of theism today.
When asked to justify his evasive behaviour Dawkins replied "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 more than that."
The statement was surprisingly disingenuous. Even the most a superficial survey of Craig's work reveals that he is not a creationist. It's on the record that he believes the universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old. He doesn't belong to the 'Creation Science' camp at all. He is a philosopher who offers arguments for the existence of God which are consistent with mainstream science.
As for Craig's worthiness as an opponent – surely the fact that he is regarded, by those whose views Dawkins ridicules, as the best advocate of their world view, should be enough for Dawkins to welcome a platform to enlighten them. But given that Craig has double PhDs in Theology and Philosophy from two European Universities, over 30 published books to his name and holds a professorship, one wonders how much 'more than that' Dawkins requires.
The truth is Dawkins has debated less credentialed and presumably therefore less threatening opponents than Craig.
Dawkins' refusal to debate Craig has worried some of his atheist colleagues who are well aware of Craig's clout in the God Debates. Dr Daniel Came, a lecturer in Philosophy at Oxford University wrote to Dawkins about Craig, warning that "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."
Similarly Sam Harris, one of the 'Four Horsemen' of the New Atheism, upon entering a debate with Craig remarked, 'I'm very happy to be debating Dr Craig, the one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists.' Craig has also debated Australian atheist Dr Peter Slezakand Christopher Hitchens among many others.
Craig's address at The Sheldonian Theatre is part of his Reasonable Faith Tour of the UK. The stage will be set up with an empty chair for Dawkins, so that, should he choose to turn up, he can debate Craig. But because "there's probably no Dawkins", a panel of atheist, agnostic and Christian philosophers will be there to respond to Dr Craig's critique of The God Delusion. There will also be a question and answer time between Craig and the audience. (For more information go to www.bethinking.org )
Frankly, by avoiding debate with Craig I believe Dawkins is doing a disservice to atheism. At least from the perspective of this sixteen year old, it looks very much like Dawkins is afraid to take on Craig, and is more interested maintaining his pop star status among New Atheists than engaging in rigorous debate.
My recent reading of Dawkins' The God Delusion was also something of a disappointment. I had hoped to find some intellectually stimulating arguments for atheism. What I found however was not much more than an expression of Dawkins' personal disdain for religion.
It is interesting to note that what Dawkins calls 'The Central Argument of My Book' is little more than him informing his audience that he hopes the future of physics will explain away 'the appearance of design' in the universe and therefore, God 'almost certainly' does not exist.
However it is the vituperative style which Dawkins employs which I find most distasteful and counterproductive when it comes to what should be an intelligent discussion of an important topic.
The 2012 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne is being promoted as 'A Celebration of Reason'. Let's hope that Dawkins doesn't represent the pinnacle of what the conference has to offer.