Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Onward Christian Soldiers - The God Debate (Part 1)

Soldier, from Arc de Triomphe

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
with the cross of Jesus going on before.

Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.
We are not divided, all one body we,
one in hope and doctrine, one in charity.
-"ONWARD, CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS" by Sabine Baring-Gould,

It is a wonderful thing to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven. There are, of course, many different sides to it and it never quite looks the way you’d expect. It’s better than that. But I’ve recently been thrilled by a series of recent Christian and Theist victories in the battlefield of ideas. It is at times like this that the church can truly be seen “spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners” [1]. The old Catholic phrase “The Church Militant,” technically describing the Christians alive today, seems to be an apropos metaphor.

Now before we begin, I’ll need to take care of another bit of metaphor housekeeping. I will be using martial metaphors throughout this essay. I think that when it comes to ideas, we are all in a battle (and if you disagree with me on this point, I’ll fight you :). Thought it is a battle, I think it ought to be a knightly battle, where both sides gain honor when they fight nobly. My celebration of Christian victories does not mean that I hate Atheists any more than my celebrating a Dodgers’ victory means I actually hate the Giants. I love a good game, or as the case is here, a good debate. Of course, I think these matters more serious than ballgames, but the mutual respect of ballplayers for each other captures a bit of the chivalry that I think we need to bring to all our differences of opinion, trivial or grave.

There have been a number of developments recently that bode well for Theists and Christians in the field of ideas. Over the next few posts, I’d like to explore a few of them. I hope you’ll join me! The first part is the story of a debate.

The Showdown
Recently, the world’s leading Atheist champion was challenged by the world’s leading Christian champion to a debate at Oxford, the Atheist’s home institution. A battle to end all battles! I wish I could describe their meeting. I wish I had the words to tell a modern day epic, one that would be remembered for decades or centuries to come. I wish I had the wisdom to understand and discuss it with theist and atheist alike, and to present my opinions here on this blog. But I can do none of these things. I cannot tell you what happened, because the Atheist never showed up. Citing the immorality of the otherwise well-respected Christian, he declined. A chair was left empty for him should he change his mind. But he never did. The Christian dismantled the Atheist’s written arguments with efficiency, and spent a few minutes discussing how groundless the accusations of his immorality were [lecture video].

Over the past few years, the self-titled “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheism (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennot and Christopher Hitchens) had been gaining fame by beating some of the smartest Theists, pastors, scientists and philosophers. They believed that Atheism was more rational, and so accepted debates with most anyone in the spirit of free thinking. Their books were New York Times bestsellers (most notably “The God Delusion” by Dawkins ~2.5 million copies and “God is not Great” by Hitchens). And then a Christian champion arose, William Lane Craig [2]. He debated dozens of atheists before getting noticed by the Four Horsemen. Of them, he first he challenged Hitchens to debate in 2009. And, though there’s no official judge in these debates, it is clear that he won (Hitchens conceded his closing statement; debate video). Then he challenged Harris and won (rarely are you ever able to show that your opponent’s view is not just wrong in its premises, but is logically false; debate video). Most recently, he planned a trip to Oxford, and everybody was waiting with nervous anticipation: how would he do against Dawkins? But the question was never answered. On October 25, 2011, Richard Dawkins refused to debate William Lane Craig. On October 25, 2011, we entered a new phase of the debate on God’s existence. Up until that day, there was some question as to which side was winning.

If Dawkins showed up and lost, I would say that it was just one debate. The question as to “who’s winning?” would still be open. Both Atheism and Theism are contending valiantly in the arena of ideas, sometimes winning and sometimes losing. But Dawkins didn’t lose. He fled [3]. And, to be sure, many other brave Atheists in Britain did debate Craig, showing that the debate has not been finally settled. But their leader left the field. And so we enter a new era where Atheists now have to explain to Theists that, unlike their leader, they really are intellectually serious.

This is one battle in the war of ideas. It is important in itself, but in part is part of a larger movement in higher thought back to God. Next post, I'll talk about the most important discipline and it's return to God.

[1] Lewis, CS. “The Screwtape Letters”

[2] Technically, he’s been “arising” for a few decades. But he really started to get notoriety more recently.
[3] Of course, he has plenty of reasons why he wasn’t there, ranging from “I’m busy” to “This Christian 'philosopher' is an apologist for genocide.” In his UK Guardian article he writes, “Would you shake hands with a man who could write stuff like that? Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn't, and I won't.” By one count, Dawkins has given 12 different excuses as to why he won't debate with Craig. 

Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Theism in Philosophy and Science
Part 3 - Onward!

1 comment:

  1. Nice compilation - you should also take a look at:

    Some quotes:
    "Dawkins does not meet the standards of rationality that a topic as important as religion requires."
    "He rightly criticizes religious critics of evolution for not being adequately informed about the science they are calling into question. But the same criticism applies to his own treatment of philosophical issues."
    and finally:
    "His case is weak because it does not take adequate account of the philosophical discussions that have raised the level of reflection about God’s existence far above that at which he operates"