Richard Dawkins is one of the most ardent and well-known proponents of atheism in present times. He appears to have made it something of a personal mission to challenge religion and promote atheism via writing books (e.g. The God Delusion), making TV programmes (e.g. The Root of All Evil?), and engaging religious people in debates. At the 2009 Intelligence Squared debate, therefore, a member of the audience requested that Dawkins explain his refusal to debate William Lane Craig, arguably the world’s foremost Christian apologist (1). Dawkins responded in the following way:
"I have always said when invited to do debates, that I will be happy to debate a bishop, a cardinal, a pope, an archbishop. Indeed, I have done both (sic).
"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 something more than that. I’m busy".
Given that Dawkins was invited to debate Craig on numerous occasions previously, it must be assumed that Dawkins knew very well who Craig was and that this misrepresentation of him was deliberate. While Craig is certainly a skilled debater (a fact which a number of Dawkins’ colleagues have experienced personally) this is not his profession. He is a Research Professor in Philosophy with doctorates in philosophy and theology to his name, in addition to an extensive list of published works. Quite clearly there is “something more” to Craig than his skills in debate. Nor is Craig a "creationist" in the “young Earth” understanding of the word. In agreement with modern science and cosmology, he argues that the universe began some 13.7 billion years ago in the “Big Bang”.
Perhaps Dawkins could be given the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he was unaware of these facts at the time. If so, perhaps he would have subsequently became aware of them and reneged on is refusal to debate Craig. Alas, he has not done so. Having been invited to debate Craig on the subject of The God Delusion in
later in 2011, Dawkins has once again refused to participate. This has been met with accusations of cowardice on his part, even from Dr Daniel Came, a fellow atheist at Oxford . Oxford (2)
Having seen the likes of Dawkins (e.g. Christopher Hitchens) engage Craig in debate and walk away the loser, I can understand his refusal to debate. Dawkins is a biologist; he isn’t equipped with the philosophical or theological knowledge and understanding to match Craig. Craig has presented numerous philosophical critiques of Dawkins’ arguments in published works, which have not been met with a response from Dawkins. For example, Craig points out that Dawkins’ “who designed the designer argument” can not be taken seriously, as the demand for an explanation of an explanation would require an infinite regress of explanations which would undermine the enterprise of science itself – that is, if an explanation always required an explanation, that explanation would also require an explanation, etc, and therefore nothing could be accepted as true. In a debate with Craig, Dawkins would be out of his comfort zone of biology and into the realms of philosophy, metaphysics, and theology.
As an agnostic (that is, I do not believe one way or the other), I’d very much like to see this debate happen. It’d be interesting to see how Dawkins would respond to the type of critique that Craig would offer, and also to see what Dawkins might have to say on the rather impressive cosmological and teleological arguments that Craig typically advances. However, I suspect that the accusations of cowardice are true and that Dawkins will continue to avoid Craig.