Thursday, October 15, 2009

Do Atheists Really Want a Fair Debate?

I while ago I posted about the aftermath of the New Orleans Word of God conference, and various actions by the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association that could be interpreted as indications that they are not serious about a debate with a well-prepared proponent of a different perspective.

Apparently this is not a unique phenomena within the neo-atheist movement. It now comes to light that Richard Dawkins, ├╝ber-atheist across the pond, is refusing to debate Stephen Meyer, a philosopher of science who has recently published a major contribution to origins research called Signature in the Cell. This is not the first time Dawkins has refused to debate. Christian apologist D'nesh D'Souza long ago issued a standing invitation to debate with him, but was refused. Eventually Dawkins accepted--but just once, and it was only covered by Al-Jazeera, ensuring that no one in the Western world would see it.

Why won't Dawkins debate Stephen Meyer. He says he won't debate "creationists" because it gives them "respectability" they don't deserve.

Stephen Meyer is not a "creationist," a term commonly reserved for those who believe in a young earth and a literal six-day creation. Dawkins knows this, but is engaging in name-calling.

Secondly, when you trounce someone in a debate, it humiliates them, not lends them respectability. Folks only gain respectability in a debate when they win or at least hold their own.

Therefore, what Dawkins means is, he won't debate Meyer because he thinks Meyer will win the debate or at least do well.


UnBeguiled said...

A major reason Dawkins and other scientists do not engage in debates with creationists or theologians is because as scientists they are blindly obsessed with the truth.

But theologians and hacks from The Discovery Institute are not so constrained. The divine can simply bury the honest scientist in a tsunami of lies, knowing that the god-bots in the pew will swallow it all.

Public debates are for show. They are not good ways to get at the truth.

Vince C said...

"But theologians and hacks from The Discovery Institute are not so constrained. The divine can simply bury the honest scientist in a tsunami of lies, knowing that the god-bots in the pew will swallow it all."

Wow! How much unsubstantiated drivel and ad hominem tap dancing can be packed into one paragraph? That's not a reasoned response; it's an undersized boy standing safely on the other side of a busy street sticking out his tongue at someone who could pound him into the ground and send him running home to mama.

Nick Norelli said...

Yeah, what Vince said!

UnBeguiled said...

Hi Vince,

Are you familiar with the Gish Gallop? Bill Craig has his own version of this underhanded rhetorical ploy. Stephen Meyer's career of deception is well documented.

Why debate people you know have no interest in an honest search for the truth? The tactics of The Discovery Institute are disgraceful. You should read up on it.


Irenaeus said...

I have close friends, good men, who have interned there, asshole.

UnBeguiled said...

"someone who could pound him into the ground"


If Jesus came back and saw what was being done in his name, he wouldn't be able to stop throwing up.

Irenaeus said...

It's a bit rich to bait people and then taunt them when they take the bait. It's also a bit rich for someone to think he could understand Jesus when he doesn't believe in God.

Mark Shea's right. You people are gits.

Vince C said...

"If Jesus came back and saw what was being done in his name, he wouldn't be able to stop throwing up."

The undersized boy on the other side of the busy street often resorts to saying this as a conversation stopper, too. He needs new material AND a spine.

Daniel said...

I think your headline is a bit misleading. In my experience atheists are either sincerely interested in dialogue with the religious or a sincerely indifferent to religious questions in general. "Movement Atheists" are the exception and not the rule among atheists I I think its important for the religious to realize.

That being said I don't believe that Dawkins and the "Movement Atheists" are sincerely interested in dialogue but rather in missons. For them the notion of religious belief is patently absurd and they believe that most people will recognize it to be so if they can present their case to them.

D'Souza and Meyer are not known to the general public. Their audience is primarily religious and committedly so (Dawkins might say ideologically). It is the least receptive audience he could imagine. It's not a fruitful mission field and thus not worth his time. On top of that any public dialogue is bound to benefit the lesser known debater in publicly and revenue generation (Through sales of the debate etc.). "Movement Atheists" are very mission oriented. Doing anything that would benefit their opponents compromises their mission work. It's not about ideas, its about souls.

steph said...

I think your headline is unfortunate. It would have been better to say "Does Dawkins Really Want a Fair Debate?" Dawkins is an atheist but not all atheists are Dawkins. Not all atheists are fundamentalists, militantly anti religious or recovering fundamentalist religious. In fact quite a few participate in serious conversation with the religious. And in the same way, not all Christians are fundamentalist or born again ex drug addict preachers covered in tattoos who cheat on their wives.

John Bergsma said...

Steph--point taken. I have known atheists willing to talk. I think Daniel above is right about "Movement Atheists", however. Their attitudes seem to be similar to those of UnBeguiled. In my defense, blog titles are supposed to be a bit provocative. Note I didn't make an assertion: Atheists don't want a fair debate. I raised a question: Do atheists want a fair debate? The answer is not simple, of course. Some do and some don't. I wish the ones that do had the same public prominence as the ones who don't. Indeed, I could see myself praying for fair-minded atheists to rise up and take over the neo-atheist movement. Anthony Flew was the Richard Dawkins of my childhood; he was a gentleman and willing to debate with anyone. He produced a book with Gary Habermas debating the historicity of the resurrection that I read when I was about twelve. Would there were more like Flew in the world.

steph said...

Thanks for your response. I'm not a fan of sensational headlines that appear like rhetorical questions. Unfortunately debates which appeal to the popular market are debates between fundamentalists - fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist atheists. There are plenty of sensible and intelligent debates between believing and non believing scholars, the non believing scholars generally not identifying themselves as 'atheists' precisely in order not to be confused with Ditchkinism. Close to home for me, Maurice Casey debated Goldingday and James Crossley is involved in the occasional debate.

I still don't like your headline - it comes across as anti atheist much like 'Do Christians..' would come across as anti Christian.

Douglas Naaden said...

I agree with John and I take this as an appropriate title. I am part of the Ask A Catholic A Question that tries to evangelize the campus of Texas A&M.
This past Thursday, we presented a talk on the historical proof on the Resurrection of Jesus. By and large, the type objections they raised were absurd. They were willing to call any and everything into question, even the fact that people just don't throw themselves into the jaws of death for no apparent. It gets to the point that their doubt falls outside the pail of reasonable inquiry and is merely a rationalization of their unfounded beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Dawkins is a coward!!! What's he afraid of? If his position is really so air tight then he should jump at the chance make Meyer look like a fool. On the other hand, if Meyer's position is strong, and Dawkins knows it, then that would explain why he's afraid to debate him.

steph said...

I don't think Dawkins is 'afraid'. However he is arrogant and truly believes this to be wasting his time. And he does have a very busy schedule so he has to pick and choose. Now I'm not defending him, but I think it's a little foolish to get so over excited and eager to condemn him.

And Douglas - there are atheists, and there are other atheists, just as there are Christians, and other Christians.

Alex said...

I see that Stephen Meyer is an Intelligent Design supporter.

What I don't understand, is why many Christian apologists (Christian scientists in particular) keep pushing neo-atheists with the Intelligent Design argument. It seems to me that a far better approach would be to get down to existence (as Aquinas does).

In this way the universe can be eternal but because nothing in the universe can cause itself to exist ("to be" rather than "not be") the universe never would exist at all unless a Being whose essence is "to exist" gave existence.

This is how Copleston approached the issue in his famous debate with Betrand Russell in which Russell could not answer but merely claim that he accepts the existence of matter as a brute fact and is unwilling to go deeper and ask the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?"...Russell, as Dawkins, and their fellow neo-atheists, refuse to ask the deepest question, the question that science can't answer because it is "beyond physics" that is the "metaphysics" question concerning being. Science cannot answer the question of being, because ultimately science only studies matter. To answer a question about "existence" or "be-ing" is not a question of matter. It is a deeper metaphysical question, in which we argue through reason back from the effect that is the universe today currently existing in this present moment back to the cause that there must be a Being who cannot not be, that is He Who Is the Pure Act of Existence. This Being holds the universe in Existence (Existence is a verb not a noun, "to be") at this present moment. Thus, Creation exists right now, when nothing in creation causes its own existence.

Another way of looking at this, is to show that Cats produce more Cats to exist , and Dogs produce more dogs to exist, and Humans produce more humans to exist, but only God gives the actual "existence". Nothing would "be" at all unless He Who Is, communicates existence to creatures. Creation is God's action of communicating existence and thus we see Creation when we experience anything, for God is holding everything in existence at the present moment, it is not merely the 6 day affair.

Science does a great job of telling us about matter, but we need a science whose task goes beyond matter to give us an answer on the deeper question of Being. This is the job of Metaphysics. Richard Dawkins cannot answer the question of Being. He may respond by saying that only that which can be studied by natural sciences is a fact. But this is a circular argument, not to mention, a contraction for his very assertion that only that which can be proved by science is true, cannot be proved by science.

We must move beyond science, to the realm of metaphysics if we wish to answer the question of God's existence. An excellent book on this topic is Etienne Gilson's God and Philosophy.

Perhaps, its a good thing Meyer and Dawkins aren't debating, what is needed is a philosopher who will go beyond Intelligent Design theories to the deepest fabric of the universe, that is "existence," or "Why is there something rather than nothing?"