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By Ian Cheong
London-based Premier Christian Radio has purchased banner space for around 30 stagecoaches in Oxford that will bear the slogan: ““There’s probably no Dawkins. Now stop worrying and enjoy Oct 25th at the Sheldonian Theatre.”
The banners are believed to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to an Atheist bus campaign in 2009, when comedienne Ariene Sherine paid for posters on over 200 bendy buses in London, which read “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
William Lane Craig told The Oxford Student he had no involvement with the urban banners, which refer to another forum on 25th October: “I had nothing to do with the publicity, including the banners, even to sign off on it. All the events are organized and promoted in the UK. My role is simply that of guest speaker.”
When asked if he hoped Dawkins might turn up at the event anyway, Dr Craig replied: “Frankly, I don’t even know if he’s in town. My expectation is that I’ll be replying to my three respondents.”
Several Christian societies have already dispatched open invitations to Dawkins, asking him to debate the existence of God at the event later this month.
Oxford Atheist Humanists and Secularist society Chairman Ben Krishna was bemused by Premier Radios’ gesture: “Surely there must be something more worthwhile than taunting Professor Dawkins via the medium of buses? I’m not that interested in Craig’s visit as an arrogant philosopher in Oxford is like a drop of water in the ocean; there are much more interesting questions than ‘Does a god exist?’ such as ‘How should people live their lives’ or ‘How much influence should a religion have in public life?’ which are much more relevant and useful questions to ask.”
At the 2009 debating forum Intelligence2, Dawkins refused to engage Craig in debate on the grounds that he “doesn’t debate creationists… and people whose only claim to fame is that they are potential debaters.”
One of the organisations that invited Dawkins to debate is the Oxford University Inter-Collegiate Union (OUICU). President Robbie Strachan said: “Last term I sent Richard Dawkins an invitation to debate William Lane…which he declined, saying ‘I see no benefit in abetting Mr Craig’s evident craving for publicity. If you think he can fill the Sheldonian, good luck to you, but you’ll get no help from me.’”
Also amongst them was Worcester College’s Dr Daniel Came, who claimed the Professor’s refusal to debate “is apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part”, according to the Telegraph.
Robbie Strachan added: “I think it is a real shame that the event in the Sheldonian Theatre on the 25th October will not comprise a debate between William Lane- Craig and Richard Dawkins. If Dawkins and other outspoken public atheists like AC Grayling and Polly Toynbee (both of whom have also refused to debate Craig), are to be consistent with their professed commitment to rationality and interest in religion, it only seems right that they would consider engaging in public debate about the existence of God with one of the most distinguished Christian philosophers of our time. The flippant refusal of these New Atheists seems to suggest that Dawkins’ 2006 paperback has provided some kind of irrefutable closure on the existence of God. This attitude can’t help coming across as a little arrogant.”
Strachan stressed that his opinion did not necessarily match that of all OUICU members.
Several Oxford atheists were disappointed with the banners; 3rd year English and German student Alex Gabriel described them as “disheartening.”
“It’s saddening to know that William Lane Craig hasn’t yet discovered Richard Dawkins, or welcomed him into his life. Those of us who have encountered him feel a genuine sense of inner peace, and Dr. Craig’s event at the Sheldonian seems so perfectly designed that only the existence of Richard Dawkins could explain it,” he added.
Premier Christian Radio was unavailable for comment.
Comment by Tom Blackburn
Fans of Richard Dawkins and the atheist bus campaign that he supported a couple of years ago will no doubt be riled by William Lane Craig’s parody, which is a little too close to home for comfort. The joke ‘I don’t believe in the existence of Dawkins’ isn’t a particularly original one – to my knowledge it has been used by several stand-ups in the last few years, ever since the ‘New Atheism’ started to make the news. However, what is interesting about this story is that it raises the following question – is the Great Dawkins unwilling to debate one of the most famous Philosophers of Religion on his own turf for the very reason that he can’t adequately defend his own arguments? This is certainly what Craig and his followers are claiming, and their calls have been lent support from a professor within Oxford itself.
It is erroneous, however, to suggest that Dawkins, a man famously unafraid of angry fundamentalists worldwide in his published work, is running away in fear. It doesn’t take half a brain to notice that, unlike his prodigious parter in godlessness Christopher Hitchens, Dawkins has never really made a point of debating anybody in the past in a one-on-one scenario. Indeed, the last time he talked publicly at Oxford, it was part of a cosy, armchair discussion with the cuddly AC Grayling that involved the pair nurturing each other’s disdain of religion to the point of loving tenderness. The forum Dawkins obviously favours to express his views is clearly one revolving around group discussion, or in book or lecture form – debating one-on-one clearly isn’t his game, but this does not by any means suggest that he is intellectually unable, or afraid, to participate. His lack of interest is not specific to Craig, and to put it down to fear would simply be a dodgy inference, a claim lacking sufficient evidence. It is only because Craig has the budget to stir up such a fuss that those opposing Dawkins have the chance to publicly cry ‘coward’.
Dawkins is often described as ‘strident’, but compared to Craig’s mock-jovial platitudinous barrage, his speaking style seems positively meek. Craig is an academic with a considerable amount of published work to his name, although this is unrelated to his academic reputation, which as a philosopher I have discovered to be mixed. It remains to be seen whether he can live up to his brash campaign in this the most analytic and scrutinous of forums. Craig has used underhand tactics – besides the bus parody, the seat he will leave empty for Dawkins is clearly going to remain empty (and Craig knows this). Whether the apologist can show Oxford the intellectual goods he has promised, or whether (as Dawkins has claimed) his message is one of publicity and self-promotion rather than genuine academic inquiry, will be revealed on the 25th.