A.C. Grayling Would Rather Debate Fairies

The following article is based on the second Press Release (26th May 2011) issued by the Reasonable Faith Tour 2011.

‘New Atheists’ – Grayling and Dawkins – run shy of 'Debating God'

"Better to debate fairies", says Grayling

For years, ‘New Atheist’ Professors Anthony Grayling and Richard Dawkins have made money and gained publicity out of God.  But now, the courage of their convictions seems to be running dry: they have both refused to debate one of the world’s leading defenders of the Christian Faith, Professor William Lane Craig.

While Professor Dawkins has set himself up as the ‘scourge’ of the Church, Professor Grayling has offered his latest attack on Christianity by publishing The Good Book – a secular bible in the year the Church celebrates the 400th anniversary of the translation of the King James Bible.

While Dawkins and Grayling have refused to debate the existence of God, Grayling has also refused to debate the foundations of the morality on which his ‘Good Book’ rests. These point-blank refusals to engage in public discussions with Professor Craig will undermine their credibility, not only among Christians but also amongst fellow academics.

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, Lewis Wolpert and, most recently, Sam Harris.

Craig visited the UK in 2007 and received national media coverage for his debate at Westminster Central Hall with Professor Lewis Wolpert, chaired by Radio 4's Today presenter, John Humphrys. This debate has now been seen by thousands of people on YouTube. Professor Craig, who has two Ph.Ds, has written over thirty books and published some 200 academic papers. He is returning to the UK from 17-26 October in a tour sponsored by the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, Damaris Trust and Premier Christian Radio.

Having been invited to debate Craig, Professor Grayling replied:

I am not interested in debating Professor Craig, though if he would like to co-opt me for the publicity for his tour – I would be happy to debate him on the question of the existence of fairies and water-nymphs. But as for the very uninteresting matter of whether there is just one god or goddess and that it can be debated despite the claim that it is transcendently ineffable and unknowablethat is an empty prospect, hence my declining the invitation.”

Justin Brierley, who presents Premier Radio’s highly-rated discussion programme, Unbelievable?, comments:

"It looks insulting and worryingly narrow minded when an invitation to defend such views against a top-flight Christian academic such as Dr. Craig is dismissed in these terms. Grayling is seen as a key proponent of rationalism and atheism in the UK. It will therefore come as a surprise to many that he is so unwilling to defend the rational grounds for atheism against a major opponent.”

Richard Dawkins, however, has refused four separate invitations to debate Craig this October. See Dawkins Refuses God-Debate with William Lane Craig.

In respect of A.C. Grayling’s flippant refusal to debate Professor Craig, Dr Daniel Came, an Oxford University philosopher has said:

“Professor Grayling’s attitude towards the status of the question of the existence of God – essentially that there is nothing to talk about – is hard to justify philosophically. Even though it might not be clear what the solution is, it is plainly a genuine philosophical problem, and there are few, if any, that are more profound or of greater interest to the general public.”

Dr Peter May, Director of the Reasonable Faith Tour 2011 added:

“Debates have an historic role in displaying the best arguments that can be put forward by either side and for giving a thoughtful audience the opportunity to hear the evidence being cross examined. They also present a level playing field and hence are attractive to everyonebelievers, unbelievers and agnostics.”
“If Grayling and Dawkins don’t debate with Dr. Craig, the public must draw their own conclusions. Furthermore, they will search in vain to find Craig’s arguments satisfactorily addressed in any of their popular or academic writings. It isn’t just his formidable debating skills they are running shy of; they have persistently failed to address his arguments. Hence, their academic credibility is clearly being called into question.”

Grayling's refusal to engage with these issues is all the more remarkable for his previous advocacy that ideas are the "motors of history" and are of such "vital concern" that "it is necessary that they be examined and debated, clarified and criticised, adopted when good and defeated when bad. The job of doing these things belongs to all of us, but in practice it fall to those with a particular interest in, and sometimes aptitude for, the task. Such are the 'intellectuals'." He continues:

"Intellectuals are people who are not just interested in ideas, but who actively engage with them. They set themselves the task some of them see as a duty, ... to analyse, to ask questions, to clarify, to seek fresh perspectives, to suggest, to criticise, to challenge, to complain, to examine and propose, to debate, to educate, to comment, to suggest and where possible to discover...."
"... the advantage to society of energetic intellectual activity is that it offers society self-awareness, wakefulness and clarity, inspiration and new ideas, and intelligence in debate and action."
"Thus do intellectuals perform a service: by keeping the hope of progress alive, and by never ceasing to argue about its nature and direction."
From an article by A.C. Grayling titled: 'Thinkers can be pretentious, but they keep progress alive' Times T2, 17 Feb 2005, page 4

It would be good to see Grayling abiding by these fine words and "actively engage" in debate with Craig on one of those "motors of history"arguments for the existence of God or the basis of moralityissues of far more interest and relevance to society than Tinkerbell.

For his part, Professor Craig is leaving the door open for either Dawkins or Grayling to have the courage of their convictions, and join him in debate at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford at 7.30pm on 25th October.

© 2011 bethinking.org
The Reasonable Faith Tour was sponsored by the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF), Premier Christian Radio and The Damaris Trust.