Having been recently promoted to associate professor, I was invited to give a short lecture at our Fall convocation service last week. The audio of the lecture (“The Atheist’s Guide to Intellectual Suicide”) is now available on iTunes U.
On a closely related note, check out these good thoughts by my colleague Mike Kruger on the current state of public debate over moral issues.
The Guardian has provided Richard Dawkins with a platform to explain why he won’t share a platform with Christian apologist William Lane Craig. Dawkins plays what he thinks is a trump card: the real reason he won’t publicly debate Craig is because — drumroll, please — Craig has defended the “genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament.” It ought to be apparent to anyone who has compared Dawkins’ past debate performances with Craig’s (never mind their respective writings on the rationality of theism) that this explanation is, at best, a feeble rationalization. But that’s not the point I want to make in this post.
Dawkins’ piece reflects his trademark rhetorical devices — condescension, mockery, faux outrage, and a dash or two of genuine wit — but what stuck me most was the complete absence of any moral categories in his criticism of Craig and his views. Dawkins regards Craig’s views as ‘horrific’, ‘revolting’, ‘shocking’, and ‘deplorable’. But none of these descriptors function as objective moral evaluations of Craig or Craig’s God. In reality, they reflect little more than Dawkins’ feelings about Craig and Craig’s God (and the feelings of those who share Dawkins’ jaundiced outlook on the world).
I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising, given Dawkins’ published views on the nature of morality. For example, in The God Delusion he rejected and ridiculed the notion that there are moral absolutes. But if there are no moral absolutes, then there are no moral principles that absolutely rule out genocide. According to Dawkins’ moral outlook, then, genocide could be morally justified in some circumstances — just as late-term abortion is morally justified in some circumstances (as Dawkins apparently believes). Isn’t it therefore an open question whether the Old Testament ‘genocides’ were morally justified given the circumstances? Given Dawkins’ own premises, isn’t that question at least worthy of… debate? (I should state for the record that I don’t believe the destruction of the Canaanites was an instance of genocide; I’m just granting Dawkins’ characterization for the sake of argument.)
In the end, all Dawkins has really told us is that he won’t debate Craig because he finds Craig’s views personally offensive. It’s not that Craig’s views are unethical; it’s not that they’re immoral; it’s certainly not that they’re wicked or evil. It’s just that Dawkins finds them extremely distasteful. Dawkins is disgusted — and that’s all there is to it. Even if that were the real reason for his refusal to debate Craig, it would hardly be a compelling one. The only virtue of Dawkins’ dubious explanation, if it can be called a virtue, is its consistency with his moral nihilism.
Update: Here are some entertaining commentaries on Dawkins’ piece: