Should Dawkins debate Craig?

Tonight at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, William Lane Craig, touted by some as the worlds leading Christian apologist, will be waiting on stage knowing full well that Richard Dawkins will not appear. That’s right, the usually outspoken Dawkins has decided to decline the offer to debate Craig on the grounds that Craig’s views offend him. As a result, Dawkins has come under fire from all sides! Many Christians see this as a triumph, but I am wondering whether it would have been a good thing.

My main issue is with the nature of Craig’s ‘intelligent design’ apologetic. The first thing we must establish is that arguing for the existence of a ‘creator god’ or ‘first cause’ is not equal to presenting people with the Living God of the Bible – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To rely on the ‘cosmological argument’ of a ‘first cause’ or the ‘teleological argument’ of the complexity of the universe, or the ‘moral argument’ of ‘objective morality’, or the ‘ontological argument’ of the ‘greatest conceivable being’ – to rely on these is not inherently Christian.

Don’t get me wrong, Craig does come to Jesus eventually, and he does say that his belief in God does not rely on these arguments – which begs the questions – why use them then?!?

The problem with the philosophical arguments I’ve mentioned is that, if we use them, we are not going to the revelation of God but instead attempting to use human reason alone to get to a ‘first cause’. A HUGE error often made is to assume that when a Christian apologist talks to a philosopher or an atheist about ‘God’ then we are instantly talking about the same ‘God’. That is simply not true. The philosopher could be talking about the Great Bananna God for all we know! So as Christians, we must start with the revelation of our God. And where do we find the revelation of God? Of course, we all know, we find it in the Eternal Son, Jesus Christ. He is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). How can we ever think that we can know anything about God when bypassing the Son? ‘No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’ (Matt 11:27).

Jesus Christ, the only revelation of our God
As John Calvin says: ‘all thinking about God outside Christ is a vast abyss which immediately swallows up all our thoughts.’ So the problem is, if we are arguing for the existence of a ‘first cause’ it doesn’t actually tell us ANYTHING about the God of Jesus Christ.

I have never known anyone who has come to know Jesus through an intelligent design argument. If, as Christians, we ever manage to ‘win’ an intelligent design argument with an atheist, chances are they will just think we have won a game of logic. Is that really what it is all about? No! Jesus Christ is VASTLY different from that. When we see Jesus, we see the Father (John 14:8-11). Jesus is the only access point by which we can know the Living God – he is the only point of contact with humanity. No human reason can get us there – it is only through Christ that we are brought into the life of the Trinity.

So the problem with starting our ‘Christian’ apologetic with intelligent design arguments is that Jesus is then tagged on the end, as a caveat. But is that the true picture? Jesus is breakfast, lunch and dinner! He is the Alpha and the Omega (Rev 21:6)! He cannot be crammed onto the end. If we discover an ‘intelligent designer’ through philosophical arguments, then we have not discovered the Living God of Jesus Christ, but we have instead discovered the golden calf (Exod 32). If we look at the first Christian apologist, Justin Martyr, his entire apologetic starts with Christ.

So in many respects I am with the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens. I don’t like the god that they are arguing against – I certainly wouldn’t want that god to exist. I’m totally with them on that. But with our Trinitarian God – well that’s a different story.

So I ask this question – why, as Christians, would we NOT start with the heart-melting love of Jesus the Eternal Son? Do we really need to ‘clear the ground’ for him with arguments of intelligent design? Whilst Jesus is waiting for us to show people to him, why would we show them to the golden calf?

As Athanasius says: ‘The only system of thought into which Jesus Christ will fit is the one in which He is the starting point.’

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12 comments

  1. Amen! Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner 😀

  2. Another interesting article, Steve.

    What did you mean when you wrote the following passage?

    “So in many respects I am with the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens. I don’t like the god that they are arguing against – I certainly wouldn’t want that god to exist. I’m totally with them on that. But with our Trinitarian God – well that’s a different story.”

  3. Paul – I think the point is that we think they’re right – we don’t believe in the god they don’t believe in either, we rightly hate the god they hate… they’ve just not considered the Triune God.

    1. Dave – from what I understand, Dawkins and Hitchens argue against the god of the Bible. Are you saying that the Triune God is different from the god described in the Bible? Can you help me understand what the difference is?

  4. Hi Paul, I agree that they claim to argue against the god of the bible, but it seems to me they’ve missed him.

    Which is something Jesus says people do – he spoke to the greatest bible experts of his day (the pharisees) and demonstrated that they’d missed god by not seeing that god is not some demanding or distant deity but rather is the one you see when you meet Jesus.

    Dawkins and Hitchins borrow ideas from the bible but they do the same as the Pharisees did – catching glimpses of a god of power, for example, and assuming lots of ugly things that might go with that… the result being an abusive god that you either use for your own ends (like the pharisees did) to control people, or who you’d react strongly against (like Dawkins and Hitchins do). And you can well understand why. The god they portray in their books is horrible, and if that’s god then count me out, quickly.

    But, that’s not the god I know. My god is powerful, but his power is seen in the yielding of divine power by Jesus at the cross. My god is the god you see when you look Jesus in the face, smiling at us, or the god you feel when you put your hand on his heart and feel it beat for you.

    My god is the one I see when Jesus comes out from his loving Father in love to give and to share and to invite. Those aren’t the kind of words people seem to use very often about god in my experience. And it breaks my heart that people like Dawkins, Hitchins and the more approachable Marcus Brigstocke, have looked but not seen because they’ve not seen that God is Jesus-shaped.

    Sorry that’s a lot of words – does that make sense of what I’d said?

    1. Thanks Dave. That’s a very comprehensive answer.

      Are you saying that in essence the god you know is based on your personal interpretation of the Bible and your feelings rather than taking literally the Biblical (especially Old Testament) descriptions of a jealous, vengeful, angry, wrathful, slaughtering, genocidal god?

      1. Hi Paul – sorry for the delay – been away from the computer.

        I’m trying not to be guided by my feelings, and just to follow where the Bible text takes me, imperfectly no doubt.

        Its interesting that you suggest there’s some disconnect between the Old and New Testament picture of God, the same Triune God is evident in both, so I couldn’t disagree more.

        Seems the same God of passionate love is present in both. He is jealous but the alternative would be indifferent – he’s rightly jealous for his Son and for his sons beloved bride – the Father would be an indifferent father if he wasn’t jealous for them and rightly furious when evil is done against them. Jealous anger is the right response to love wronged, isn’t it? And when his own people turn on the Holy Spirit – the very bringer of love – he’s right to feel agrieved isn’t he? Even then he generally bears with them rather than wiping them out.

        Oddly, when the Bible summarises the Old Testament it’s own take on itself is that God is if anything overly patient and forgiving in the Old Testament, scandalously so – so that suggests we might be misreading it if we think him excessively angry on the very same pages. Have to at least ask why… similarly when Jonah runs from taking the good news about Jesus to Nineveh it’s because Jonah wants them to be destroyed but knows that the LORD has grace for them…

        I guess by genocide you mean in Canaan. There was violence done against those evil child abusers in the name of the LORD – rightly so. But even then they were given patience and opportunity to turn, for 400 years and then when Israel arrived on the borders they could either by leave the land they’d so polluted, or as many did they could become part of the LORD’s beloved people. One example there is the prosititute Rahab who joined Israel’s royal family (Judah) and became an ancestor of Jesus.

        Grace upon grace is offered to even the worst people on the planet, like those who had occupied Canaan for 400 years – and whom the LORD had given 400 years to turn from their evil to him. You can argue that the LORD should have indifferently left them to perpetuate evil and spread it around the earth – but seems to me some justice would be the least we’d expect a God of Love to do… I think I’d have poured out wrath sooner than him.

  5. Chris Neil · · Reply

    Actually, I think there is much value in this kind of debating.

    Although we come to Christ through faith, it is normally a process that brings us to that point. For that process to start some people need to realise that the Christian faith has some real evidence that deserves consideration. The atheists would paint our faith as ridiculous and this should be refuted. (“I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” by Geisler/Turek)

    Yes, I agree the arguments that Craig uses, only begin the journey. They point to A god, and not THE Lord. But when you have accepted that there is design and a creator and purpose, you begin to search for it.

  6. Dave – exactly!

    Chris – Thanks for your comment. I understand your point and I think it is certainly an interesting area for discussion and really important! I don’t think we can say that someone ‘intelectually’ coming to a ‘logical’ conclusion that there must be some form of deity is even the beginning of the journey towards a relationship with Jesus. My point is that faith is not something of the intellect, but something of the heart by the Spirit (1Cor 1-2). Where is the power? In the intelligent design argument or in the proclamation of Jesus’ name? (Rom 1:16).

    Paul – You are right that Dawkins and Hitchens take particular dislike to some events in the Old Testament. I think, though, that we can do that with anything. We could, for example, cherry-pick a sentance from anyone in history to make them mean something they didn’t mean. And it’s the same with the Bible. The Bible must be read theologically on its own terms and not cherry-picked. We must appreciate the whole of the Bible and how it holds together in Jesus. Once we have done that we may still find some things hard, but we will understand and appreciate them on their own terms. I can’t speak for Dave, but I take the Bible very literally. We will never understand the wrath of God until we have met Jesus on the Cross.

    1. Steve – with regards to cherry picking, the issue I see is that not only do Dawkins and Hitchens cherry pick sentences to make their point but so do Christians. Even amongst Christianity different factions may cherry pick specific verses to make their point or even say that one translation of the Bible is correct and another is incorrect. You yourself often cherry pick a Bible verse to back up the point you make in the articles you write.

      However, that aside, what I am REALLY trying to understand is what you meant when you wrote:

      “So in many respects I am with the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens. I don’t like the god that they are arguing against – I certainly wouldn’t want that god to exist. I’m totally with them on that. But with our Trinitarian God – well that’s a different story.”

      I’m grateful to Dave for his comments, but I’m failing to grasp the difference between the Triune God you both appear to believe in and the God described in the Bible. As far as I can see the God of the Bible is the Trinitarian God. And the God of the Bible is the one Dawkins argues against and therefore, if I understand you correctly, the one you don’t want to exist. So who is your “Trinitarian God” if he is not the Biblical one?

      I appreciate I’m not exposed to theological terminology or Christian phrases every day and it may be a simple distinction to you, but help me out with some layman terminology! 🙂
      The phrases being used, whilst poetic, aren’t conveying clarity to a non-Christian reader.

      For example…

      “We must appreciate the whole of the Bible and how it holds together in Jesus.”
      What do you mean by “how it holds together in Jesus”?

      “We will never understand the wrath of God until we have met Jesus on the Cross.”
      What do you mean by “until we have met Jesus on the Cross”?

      And in the interests of transparency, I’m not a Christian and I’m not out to convince those who are that they are wrong and I am right. I do, however, enjoy trying to understand alternative perspectives to my own. So if you’d prefer to have these discussions outside your blog just tell me to shut up 🙂

      However, I’d love to have more in depth discussions with you and Dave either here or elsewhere. From my perspective you both have fascinating points of view.

    2. I can see your viewpoint, and I agree salvation is ALL faith. But I would expand my argument to try and make it clearer.

      “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

      Contextually, this is a call to go and preach, but many in this country COME and hear God’s word, either through invitations to Alpha courses, church or other events. If their prejudice is that Christianity is nonsense, they will surely refuse such invitations. So I beleive we should defend the misrepresentations of our faith. Not that this effort will directly lead to salvation (except by God’s extraordinary grace).

      That was the gist of what I was saying.

      However since then I have had time to think that the people who might listen to this kind of debate are actually a very thin cross-section of society. I think (slightly tongue in cheek) a more apt bible verse would be:

      “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” To the philosophers we become philosophers.

  7. Hi Paul – good questions. Apologies for using inaccesible lingo! Not good on my part! On your first point, I try to read the Bible theologically – i.e. taking the whole of Bible and seeing what it says. That is the opposite from cherry-picking. If we cherry-pick, we can literally make it say whatever we want. If I ever use certain verses to back something up, I will have first reached what I want to say not merely through that one verse, but through a theological reading of the whole of the Bible. I suppose we could look at my quoting of that verse to back up my point as being like just putting the answer in a maths test without showing the working.

    You are right that Dawkins and Hitchens think they are arguing against the Biblical God, but as Dave said above, I think they’ve missed him. In order to come to any knowledge of the Triune God we must go through the Eternal Son of God (Jesus). I suppose you could look at it really as a question of how do we gain knowledge of the Triune God. Is it possible for us to REASON ourselves to knowledge of the Triune God? The answer to that is no. The only way we are able to know anything of the Triune God is because he has REVEALED himself to us and that revelation is specifically through the Eternal Son of God (Jesus) (John 1:18; Matt 11:27 etc.). And as the Pharisees proved time and time again – it is perfectly possible to read the Bible and miss Jesus (e.g. John 5:39-40). And if you miss Jesus, you miss the Triune Biblical God. This applies to both the Old and New Testaments – as Jesus didn’t come into being at his incarnation when he was born of Mary, but has eternally existed in loving relationship with the Father (John 17:24), created the universe (John 1:1-3; Col 1:16) and was from then on active throughout history as the revelation of God and eternal Mediator between the Father and humanity (let me know if you want to know more about this, it is a totally different topic!) before taking on human flesh. So in answer to your last question – yes, my God is the Triune God and is the God of the Bible. Dawkins and Hitchens etc., however, have done what the Pharisees have done in some respects and missed the revelation of God in the person of Jesus and therefore, although they might think they are talking about my God, they can know nothing of the true Triune God of the Bible. So whatever texts they take and try to apply to their ‘god’ – they are futile because they have got an intellectual, and in many ways Greek philosophical, concept of god, and have failed to see the specific revelation of God.

    Does this make any more sense? I hope so! But you are right, it is difficult to thrash these things out online! Would be great to meet up with you and Dave and chat about stuff some time!

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