Dawkins’ Public Apology

I was once asked why Christians have so many events just to apologize.

This came, of course, in response to an “Apologetics” conference we were promoting at Southern Seminary. Apologetics is based on the Greek word “apologia,” which is a legal term meaning “defense.”

There is also a biblical basis for apologetics as stated in 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Giving a defense is not a uniquely Christian activity, but it is one we are deeply concerned about.

In a post last month entitled “The Empty Chair,” I highlighted the England debate tour scheduled for Christian Apologist William Lane Craig. Four entities worked to organize the debates including The British Humanist Association. One particular debate is set for Tuesday of next week (October 25, 2011) to feature an empty chair should Dawkins decide last minute to participate. Yesterday, Dawkins’ published a defense (apologia) for why he will not debate Craig. Many, however, continue to find his defense to be indefensible.

In an article published today on The Daily Telegraph, Dr. Tim Stanley, research fellow in American History at Oxford University, says Dawkins’ response can only fit into one of two categories: ignorance or cowardice. Of course earlier this summer, Dawkins’ fellow atheist and Oxford colleague, philosopher Dr Daniel Came, encouraged Dawkins to participate in the debate and warned him publicly that his refusal would be considered cowardice. Stanley would seem to disagree, but only by adding the option of “ignorance” to the possible explanations:

We are left with two possible conclusions from Richard Dawkin’s flimsy sick note. The first is that he doesn’t understand Christian apologetics, which is why he unintentionally misrepresents Craig’s piece. . . .The second explanation is that Dawkins is a coward. He likes to pick fights either with dunces (like the deliciously silly and obviously gay Ted Haggard) or with incredibly nice old Christians with no fire in their belly (like Rowan Williams). Dawkins has gotten away with his illiterate, angry schtick for so many years because his opponents have been so woolly. This is a damning indictment not only of him, but of the clerical establishment of Great Britain. But this time, he understood that he was up against a pro. In America, evangelicals have to compete in a vibrant, competitive marketplace of different denominations. That breeds the very guile and theatricality that are so sorely lacking among the Anglican clergy. In Craig, Dawkins met his match.

While I think the chatter around the debate can inflame both sides in their opposition of one another, which isn’t helpful for meaningful dialogue, I do think it is revealing. Were Dawkins to simply show up and put his best arguments for atheism against the best arguments for theism, the audience would determine for themselves which are more compelling. And it would put an end to the accusations. That would be a defensible defense.

“If a book be false in it’s facts, disprove them; if false in it’s reasoning, refute it. But for God’s sake, let us freely hear both sides if we choose.”

– Thomas Jefferson