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Polly Toynbee steps in where Grayling & Dawkins fear to tread
The following Press Release provides further information on the programme for William Lane Craig's UK tour in October 2011. The hyperlinks have been added to help in accessing other material.
N.B. On the evening after the Press Release was issued, it was announced that Grayling has decided not to take up office as President of the British Humanist Association quoting "controversy generated by activities in another area of my public life".
Issued by the Reasonable Faith Tour 2011
For Immediate Release
16 June 2011
Toynbee steps in where Grayling & Dawkins fear to tread
New Atheists urged to put their mouths where their money is
President of the British Humanist Association (BHA), Polly Toynbee, has agreed to debate the existence of God with eminent Christian Philosopher, William Lane Craig, when he visits the UK for a tour of speaking engagements in October.
Leading British atheists Richard Dawkins and A.C. Grayling have both flatly refused to debate with Craig, who was recently described by Sam Harris as “the one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God into my fellow atheists”.
Accepting the invitation Toynbee, whose award-winning journalism is frequently critical of religion, has said she would be “glad to debate” with Craig. Their debate, which will take place in London, is expected to attract a capacity audience.
Meanwhile between them, Dawkins and Grayling have produced a litany of excuses for declining to debate. Dawkins now claims that he has “no interest” in the subject, despite putting the question of the existence of God firmly into the public domain in his best-selling book, The God Delusion. Fellow Oxford academic and atheist philosopher Dr Daniel Came recently wrote to Dawkins warning him that his refusal of a one-to-one debate with Craig was “apt to be interpreted as cowardice”.
Grayling, who takes over from Toynbee as President of the BHA this summer, said he would rather debate “the existence of fairies and water-nymphs”. Yet Grayling has not been shy to profit from books which argue against theism, such as Against all Gods as well as his recent The Good Book, which deliberately mimics The Bible.
Of Grayling’s flippant refusal to debate the existence of God with Craig, Dr. Came has said:
“Professor Grayling’s attitude is hard to justify philosophically. It is a genuine philosophical problem, and there are few, if any, that are more profound or of greater interest to the general public.”
Furthermore, Grayling has refused to debate the foundations for atheistic morality, which is ironic, following the publication of his mock Bible. Dr Peter May, the Craig UK Tour Director comments, “The basis of morality is a subject of major intellectual importance. I find it quite shocking that Grayling is prepared to lecture the world on atheist morality but is not prepared to justify its grounding. Since the great atheist philosopher, Nietzsche, thought that atheism spelled the death of all morality, why doesn't Grayling?"
This refusal sits uncomfortably alongside Grayling’s “gold standard” aspirations for the students of his New College of Humanities. The predominantly atheistic team of academics he has drawn together will, he says, teach their students “to think and ask extremely good questions … about the human condition and human experience.”
Justin Brierley of Premier Christian Radio, who issued the recent invitations, said:
“Polly Toynbee’s willingness to engage with the best arguments for the existence of God is a credit to her Presidency of the British Humanist Association. In contrast, Grayling’s response does not bode well for thoughtful engagement in the future. As President-elect of the BHA, it will come as a surprise to many that he is so unwilling to defend the rational grounds for atheism in public against a major opponent.”
Professor Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, California, is arguably the world’s foremost defender of historic Christianity. He has debated with many top academics and leading atheists across the world, including Peter Atkins, Daniel Dennett, Anthony Flew, Christopher Hitchens, Laurence Kraus, Lewis Wolpert and, most recently, Sam Harris.
This weekend the British Humanist Association is holding a national conference in Manchester where Polly Toynbee and A.C. Grayling will hold a dialogue on the Meaning of Life. Richard Dawkins, who has already said that the “Why?” question is just a “silly question “, is not expected to take part.
Since Dawkins and Grayling have both made significant sums from their books about God, their refusal to defend their writings in public debate is extraordinary. Is it not reasonable to ask them both to publicly put their mouths where their money is?
Bizarrely, Grayling denies previously debating Craig. He has stated on Dawkins’ website, “Craig claims to have debated me before - that is not correct.” In fact, he had a formal debate with Craig on the problem of suffering at the Oxford Union on 28th April 2005. CDs of the debate are available through Craig’s website.
Craig’s UK tour starts with the Toynbee debate on October 17th and finishes with a debate in Manchester with Oxford scientist Prof. Peter Atkins on October 26th. Craig will also be giving public lectures in Oxford, Cambridge and London. Details of these events as they are confirmed, along with information about William Lane Craig, are available at http://www.bethinking.org/craig
© 2011 bethinking.org
The Reasonable Faith Tour was sponsored by the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF), Premier Christian Radio and The Damaris Trust.