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Last year when I was at the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne there was a motley little crew of creationists (3 I think) outside heckling people and demanding that Richard Dawkins debate evolution with them. Just one example of people who try to hitch their cause on to the fame and reputation of others.

And what arrogance. Dawkins was travelling throughout Australia and New Zealand for lectures and other appearances. He arrived as the last speaker at the convention having flown from Auckland where he had lectured the night before. An extremely busy man. And I am sure audiences appreciated his willingness to make these efforts to communicate his love of science and counter the childish rumours some people put out about him.

And even more arrogant – these creationists accused Dawkins of cowardice because he refused to debate them! (Actually he probably didn’t even know they existed).

Debating an empty chair

Recently we have seen a similar arrogance from William Lane Craig. Wishing to boost his audience during his current UK visit Craig demanded Dawkins debate him. Then he promoted a cowardice story and attempts to make a point by debating an empty chair instead. Childish. But also publicity seeking.

Frankly I think Dawkins was perfectly correct to turn down a debate request.  So does Sharon Hill who wrote:

“Debates are not about who has the best facts, it’s about who is the best debater — something completely different. And, debates are for the audience. If the audiences comes into the debate, entrenched in their views, they leave loving their champion even more.”

I think Dawkins has hit on a better approach with the public discussions he has promoted. Here two authorities can sit down and have a reasoned discussion, presenting evidence, outlining their differences as well as where they agree. Much better than the public punch-up of the debate format and the bloodletting pronouncements of winners and losers from the fanboys.

Craig’s dark side

I wondered if Dawkins should respond to Craig by offering a public discussion – something Craig has no skills in. But clearly Dawkins’ objections to Craig run deeper than differences over debate formats. He says in a recent article (Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig) that he just wouldn’t share a platform with the man. Because of Craig’s  “dark side, and that is putting it kindly.” Craig’s “refusal to “disown the horrific genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament.”

Dawkins quotes extensively and convincingly from Craig to justify his claim (he calls them “revolting words”). Have a look at the article for the details.

However, it strikes me that Craig has now got the debate he wanted – but not on his own terms as he usually insists. Dawkins has called his bluff. Up till now Craig was effectively stalking Dawkins. Harassing him in the hope of getting cheap publicity. Dawkins has basically ignored him

But now Dawkins has laid down a challenge. He has pointed out Craig’s support for some of the worst action and justifications of Christianity and religion.

Inevitably Craig and his many apologist fans, will retaliate. Not in the format they want. Nor on the subject they demanded. But it would be inconceivable for them to ignore the challenge.

So the debate is on. Let’s keep it clean. Dawkins has laid down his criticisms – it’s up to Craig and his supporters to put up their defence, if they can.

I think so far it is Dawkins 1: Craig 0.