Atheists decline Oxford debate on God

by
10 August 2011

by Ed Thornton

ATHEIST philosophers are being accused of “running shy” of debating with a Christian philosopher from the United States who is to tour the UK in the autumn to argue that faith is rational.

Polly Toynbee, the Guardian columnist and president of the British Humanist Association, had agreed to debate the existence of God with the Research Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology, California, Dr William Lane Craig, at Westminster Central Hall in October, during Professor Craig’s “Reasonable Faith” tour.

Earlier this month, however, Ms Toynbee said that she would not be taking part in the event. “I hadn’t realised the nature of Mr Lane Craig’s debating style, and, having now looked at his previous per­formances, this is not my kind of forum.”

Professor Craig said: “These are academic forums, where one con­centrates on the arguments and counter-arguments, the truth of the premises in those arguments and objections to them, and not on personality or ad hominem attacks.”

Professor Craig has previously debated with atheist philosophers such as Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris, who described Professor Craig as “the one Christian apologist who has put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists”.

The humanist philosopher Pro­fessor A. C. Grayling also refused to debate with Professor Craig, and denied ever having done so, despite the debate between the two on the problem of evil at the Oxford Union in 2005. Professor Grayling later said: “I was wrong about debating [with] Lane Craig — but Lane Craig is wrong about everything else in the universe; so I guess I don’t do too badly in the deal.”

The director of Professor Craig’s tour, Peter May, said: “If Craig is ‘wrong about everything else in the universe’ and his arguments for the existence of God are so easy to refute, it is hard to see why the leading atheist voices in the country are running shy of having a debate with him.

“Rather than hurling ad hom­inem attacks on Craig from their bunkers, it would be good to see these figures come forward to rationally defend the atheism they publicly espouse.”

Professor Craig is scheduled to debate with the atheist former Pro­fessor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, Dr Peter Atkins, at the Uni­versity of Manchester; and with another atheist, the Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, Oxford University, Peter Millican, at the University of Birmingham.

Professor Richard Dawkins has been invited to debate with Professor Craig in Oxford, on 25 October. If Professor Dawkins refuses, the organisers say that Professor Craig “will lecture on the weakness of Dawkins’s argu­ments in his book The God Delusion”.

The organisers of the tour say that they are attempting to find another atheist to debate with Professor Craig in London, instead of Ms Toynbee.

Forthcoming Events

16-18 February 2018
Church Times Festival of Faith & Literature

Our literary festival with a theological slant in Bloxham, Oxfordshire. Speakers include Francis Spufford, Ruth Valerio, Eve Poole, Mark Oakley, James Runcie and many others. Find out more

5-6 May 2018
Church Times Festival of Poetry
With Sarum College, Salisbury. More details coming soon - register your interest here

The Church Times Podcast

The Church Times Podcast, hosted by Tim Wyatt and Ed Thornton, features a mixture of interviews and news analysis. Listen online

Subscribe now to get full access

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read seven articles each month for free.