Monday, October 24, 2011

The Empty Chair

Tomorrow in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, the philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig will give a lecture critiquing Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion.  Apparently there will be an empty chair present.  This symbolises the fact that Prof Dawkins was invited to turn this lecture into a debate, and declined.  Foes of Dawkins have made much of this, including an amusing but somewhat triumphalistic bus campaign.

I have some thoughts, naturally.

Firstly, if I were Dawkins I would certainly have turned down this invitation.  If Dawkins debated Craig, he would lose, badly.  It may well be humiliating.  And it would mean nothing at all, in terms of the substantive issues.  Craig is a very good debater; he thinks on his feet, exudes confidence, and runs rings around most other people.  But that doesn't make him right.  The debate format would hardly be likely to be helpful, if by helpful we mean allowing people to investigate the question of whether God does or does not exist.  It would be a tribal exercise.  And on that note, it is worth mentioning that even if Dawkins stood his ground it would just mean that both tribes had something to celebrate - I doubt anyone would change their minds.  I remember reading a couple of different write-ups of a debate between Prof Dawkins and John Lennox, and surprisingly enough the atheist thought Dawkins won and the Christian thought Lennox humiliated him.  Pointless exercise.

Secondly, any debate about the existence of God is likely to be useless at a deeper level.  These sorts of debates are almost inevitably about theism, a concept in which the Bible has no interest.  They also tend to revolve around philosophical arguments, whereas the Scriptural evidence for God's existence is historical rather than philosophical and testimonial rather than argumentative.  I don't think there are any good philosophical arguments for God, but even if there were, what use would it be to demonstrate theism in this way - in a way which is so different to the method which God uses to demonstrate himself?

Thirdly - and this is my real point - the motivation behind this event is shown by the reaction of those on the Christian side.  This could be characterised as triumphalism, smugness, and crowing.  It depresses me.  People seem to have remembered that atheism is a travesty, and forgotten that it is a tragedy.  They seem to have remembered that God triumphs, and forgotten that he does it through the cross.  They seem to have remembered that God's people get glory, and forgotten that they get it by being faithful unto death.  Where is the humility?  Where is the pain over the atheists' ultimate fate?

Anyway, since I've now sounded off in a self-righteous manner, I'm off.