Craig v Dawkins – sort of



As you might know, although he seems to have a lot to say about how bad the arguments for God’s existence are, Richard Dawkins has always refused the open offer from William Lane Craig to have a debate on the subject. Well, I just spotted this on William Lane Craig’s Facebook page:

I am currently in Mexico to participate in a conference called Ciudad de las Ideas, which is a conference modeled on the TED conference in the US.  It features lots of high tech people, sociologists, psychologists, economists, scientists, etc.

As part of the conference they´re having a panel of six of us debate on the question ¨Does the Universe Have a Purpose?¨  Well. to my surprise, I just found out that one of the three persons on the other side is Richard Dawkins! It´s true! I met him the other night.  When he came my way, I stuck out my hand and introduced myself and said, I’m surspised to see that you’re on the panel.

He replied, And why not?

I said, ¨Well, you’ve always refused to debate me.

His tone suddenly became icy cold. I don´t consider this to be a debate with you.  The Mexicans invited me to participate, and I accepted.¨ At that, he turned away.

¨Well, I hope we have a good discussion,¨ I said.

I very much doubt it,¨ he said and walked off.

So it was a pretty chilly reception!  The debate is Saturday morning, should you think of us.  I´ll give an update after I get back.

This should be very interesting!

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{ 144 comments… add one }
  • Glenn November 29, 2010, 5:09 pm

    If there is a purpose to the universe this will be reflected in the way the universe operates, is organized and in it’s history. You can surely understand that with human manufactured artifacts. Just as with the universe or living beings.

    That’s an interesting assumption, but it’s perfectly clear that it’s not obvious. The observation that you’ve made has more to do with natural artefacts that we find in the universe. But even then, you’ve strayed out of science and into metaphysics. Whether things that are good at X were purposefully meant to do X is not a scientific claim but a religious claim. This is why Richard Dawkins, on account of his atheism, insists that evolution has no purpose in mind, it has “no mind’s eye” and “no mind.” You’re familiar with this much, I will assume. But even then, that’s not about the universe as a whole.

    Science (logical reasoning and empirical evidence and validation) is well accepted as the best way of understanding and gaining knowledge of the universe, it’s operation and history. It had been incredibly successful in this.

    Yes, science is the name for the method of observing, testing and gaining knowledge about how the matter and energy in the universe operate.

    Of course, nobody will slip from this into the very different claim that the sciences have a method of getting “behind” the physical world to see why it is here and what it is here for. These are questions of purpose.

    Surely you agree? Modern cosmology can provide an incredibly detailed and well validated history going back to fractions of a second from the beginning – and is continually pushing back further. Modern biology has been incredibly successful in describing the development of life. No sensible person relies on the special creation myth now.

    If we grant all of this, how does it connect to questions of purpose? The fact is that it quite plainly does not. You are talking here about descriptions of what has taken place. That is not at all the same as a claim about whether or not there was a purpose in things taking place.

    Thus far your comments haven’t even wandered into the relevant subject matter.

    So if there is a purpose in the universe it will be manifested in ways we can detect and science is the obvious way to do this.

    Well Ken, you haven’t given one single good reason for thinking so. Not one.

    Why is that I wonder?

  • Glenn November 29, 2010, 5:14 pm

    One other thing Ken:

    You have misled people and shifted the goalposts int he title of your own blog. The issue that we had been discussing was whether there are “other ways of knowing” than the sciences. Other ways of knowing anything. That is consistently what we were talking about, which is why it was so crystal clear that you were endorsing scientism.

    At the last minute you got cold feet and changed the subject to whether there’s any way of knowing about purpose in the universe. Well, that’s an interesting subject, and the fact is that science can’t answer that question. But it’s not truthful to pretend that this was the only issue all along.

  • Ken November 29, 2010, 7:05 pm

    So Glenn you are proposing the creation of a universe with a purpose or intent. But this purpose or intent has had no influence at all on any detail of the universe. A bit like manufacturing a watch without springs and cogs looking exactly like a rock. In fact a watch with absolutely no purpose! 

    But Rev Pailey can assure us that the rock has the purpose of telling us the time. How goes he know? Because he is a rev!

    Sounds to me like the Rev is a con man, trying to fool us into supporting him with alms, moolah and respect.

    It is really arrogant to deny humanity the usual successful tools for investigating the universe while assuring us that it us a job for religion! Which has failed miserably in the past on such jobs. And all without any justification, any description of a valid “other way of knowing”. Just religion.

    Yeah right. Pull the other one.

    How can religion possible investigate, let alone determine, such questions?

  • Glenn November 29, 2010, 7:35 pm

    “So Glenn you are proposing the creation of a universe with a purpose or intent.”

    No, I am pointing out that you have not given any answers as to how the sciences might address that question.

    Why is this so hard for you to understand, Ken?

  • Tim November 29, 2010, 10:52 pm

    Excuse… naivete…

    Can a purpose of a thing be determined from the effect resulting from its existence? Or is a purpose of necessity predetermined – before the existence of the thing in question?

    for example. If a tree grows of its own accord in a particular place where it happens to provide a pleasant sort of shade, and if because of that shade it becomes common for people to use it to sit under to eat their lunch, is there a point at which we can say that the purpose of that tree is to provide shade at lunchtime?

    If the former is the case then from our own point of view we could happily argue that the universe exists, purely from the effect of its existence, to create a set of conditions that enable a solar system to form with a watery planet the right distance away from it on which we could live.

    That sounds nice. But to me the word purpose suggests intent, and the word intent suggests intelligence. According to the meaning of the word as I understand it, to use the word purpose accepts the existence of a creator.

    With science we can happily explain the purpose of a made thing like an umbrella, or a nuclear powerplant. “this thing was created to give this effect”.

    I don’t believe, if we keep to the definition of purpose that I’m using (leap in and tell me if there’s an accepted defintion that allows the argument you’re having here) then we just can’t, with science, explain the purpose of a bacterium or a rock without accepting the existence of a creator. We can describe the bacterium’s interaction with its surroundings, we can explain how it grew and give an account of the general effect of its existence. We can also theorise an how to alter that effect if we find it inconvenient. But without acknowledging a creator we cannot say what the bacterium is actually (intended) for. It surely follows then that we can’t explain with science the “purpose” of something really big like the universe.

    So it seems to me that there should be no argument at all here. Yes, I can imagine some scientist extrapolating mathematically against all intuition and somehow coming to a conclusion that leads us to isolating and measuring a mysterious controlling intelligence in the laboratory. Think of quantum physics. I can also imagine God showing his face and letting us all into the secret.

    Until that happens science and religion serve completely different ends. There’s nothing to argue about here.

    Christians – I know it stung when you had to admit the earth was not flat, I know it stung when you had to admit that the stars didn’t go around the earth. But I really don’t think there’s anything you can afford to get defensive about here. If one day science stumbles on actual purpose in the universe that contradicts what you believe… well waddya gunna do? It’s not looking like happening anytime soon. Until then you have the monopoly on meaning.

    Scientists – I know you’ve every reason to be defensive, but christians don’t as a rule burn people for contradicting them these days. If they did you wouldn’t be silly enough to be arguing with them now would you? I now it’s a little irritating when people claim things to be fact that you haven’t found proof of yet but it’s not like you haven’t done that yourselves over the years.
    Besides which, you’ve better things to worry about. Figuring out if climate change is anything we can actually do about is probably more pressing just now than worrying about a few guys with clean feet poking their tongues at you because you can’t prove them wrong over something that even if it was going to affect our existence over the next fifty years you couldn’t do anything about it if all you’re doing is arguing.

    But otherwise, by all means carry on.. it’s better than shortland street on here.

    Sorry Glenn, more stream of conciousness here.

    excuse… naivete

  • Tim November 29, 2010, 11:02 pm

    sorry.. my wife tells me I always take it that one step too far

  • Jeremy November 29, 2010, 11:35 pm

    This question was answered centuries ago when the Reformers wrote the Westminster Catechism [ a q&a summary of Biblical doctrine]
    The very first question
    q, What is the whole purpose of man?
    a, To know God and enjoy Him forever.

    Science could never have come up with this answer, the atheists all miss out but they dont mind cause they dont believe anyway.

  • Tim November 30, 2010, 12:01 am

    Were you talking to me Jeremy? I burbled on so long I’d forgotten I ‘d asked a question.

    A better question is why do atheist invest so much energy in trying to undermine belief? Except on flat earth type issues there seems to be very little at stake for them. If they’re as rational as they claim to be why should it matter either way what somebody else believes?

    Similarly on the other side. I know an honest attempt to spread the word is expected, but on rejection the advice is simply to shake the dust from one’s feet as one walks away to find somebody one can actually help is it not?

  • Jeremy November 30, 2010, 1:08 am

    The question of purpose. As to you other comments i’d have to agree, except the Christians dont seem to try as much/hard as they are supposed to and the Atheists seem to ty far harder than is warranted, go figure.

  • Ken November 30, 2010, 1:29 pm

    Glenn – your claim “No, I am pointing out that you have not given any answers as to how the sciences might address that question.” is not valid. I briefly justified the role of science in such questions above This is covered in more detail in “Other ways of knowing” purpose? and the discussion there.

    I have yet to see your justification for the claim that science cannot address this question. Considering that theologians all the way from Craig to the Wedge people do use scientific claims (although poorly and opportunistically) to justify purpose your position seems a bit unique.

    The question of “other ways of knowing anything” is not at issue. We both agree that there are many areas where we don’t use science. The only difference is whether we can use science to investigate and determine an answer to the question does the unvierse have a purpose?

    That is our only difference. I claim it is a job for science (so does Craig and the Wedge people). You claim it is a job for religion. But you give no justification either for your rejection of a role for science or acceptance of a role for religion.

    And you avoid completely the question of how do you determine if you are wrong when using religion?

  • Glenn December 1, 2010, 10:49 pm

    Ken, questions were put to you on how the sciences could – even just in principle – determine a purpose of the universe. Those questions have not been answered, in spite of being put to you more than once. You were silent.

    I offer no comment on why this is the case.

    By contrast, I’ve given you explanations about ways of knowing, which is what your main challenge was.

  • Peter Byrom March 8, 2011, 10:04 am

    Nicely put, Glenn, and dare I say…


    The question must simply be beyond his Ken 😉

  • Frank April 27, 2012, 12:27 pm

    I don’t blame Dawkins for “refusing” to debate Craig. He makes his reasons plain at

    Many atheist may agree that situational ethics have a place within the context of human creativity, but will draw the line at infanticide.

    Craig “brilliantly” reasons that no such evil was done to the children of Canaan as they were fast-tracked to heaven. Wow! I had no idea that it was so simple!

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