Monday, October 24, 2011


Intellectual Fail!

Now, I've been known ... once or twice ... to have criticized Gnu Atheists. But this particular form of it, by Daniel Came in the Guardian, is really stupid. Naturally, Bruce Chapman, the person who can't even get his own constituency to understand that they should lie, has seized on Came's confusion.

According to Came, the recent refusal of Richard Dawkins to debate William Lane Craig is "fundamentally ignoble and potentially harmful to public intellectual life."

Give me a break!

You don't have to think that there is much in the way of "serious argumentation in the New Atheists' dialectical arsenal" (though, if there isn't, how could the "failure" of the Gnus to engage Craig be "harmful to public intellectual life"?) nor think that the real reason Dawkins refused the "invitation" was because Craig defended genocide, to still think that Dawkins had good reason to refuse to be chivvied into sharing a stage with Craig.

Would Came think that it was harmful to intellectual life if Dawkins refused to dignify, say Duane Gish, and his galloping young-Earth creationist nonsense, with a "debate" against a prominent scientist? If Craig's defense of genocide, and worse, is galloping nonsense, as Came seems to acknowledge, is there any chance that there will be anything but an exchange of rhetoric that will do nothing but reinforce the beliefs of each side's proponent's? Certainly, since Came has already declared Dawkins bereft of intellectual heft, he could not expect anything from that side. By Came's own standards, what is the point ... except to dump on Dawkins?

And just when has a "debate" of this sort ever truly added to intellectual life? About the closest I can think of is the Lincoln-Douglas debates. But they involved seven debates of three hours each which were then widely published and debated in the press and had a definite objective: which man was best suited to be the next senator from Illinois and the larger political question of the fate of slavery.

Dawkins and Craig have published their views about God(s) widely already and there is no chance of a political resolution (short of a theocracy or anti-theocracy, neither of which is desirable or likely). The only objective of a limited debate between the two would be, at most, entertainment a few people for an evening and bragging rights by one side or the other (most likely both!) over who was the rhetorical "winner ."

I can't imagine a more sterile intellectual exercise.

I'm not sure what you mean by questioning the productivity of debates. Two scientific debates spring immediately to mind:

Georges Cuvier & Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire

Harlow Shapley & Heber Curtis

But, to take a whiggish interpretation, I think that the "winners" in both cases turned out to be "wrong".

Neither debate was particularly significant. It was the ideas expressed and the follow-up work that made an intellectual difference. Neither of those were dependent on an hour or two of face to face confrontation. At best the debates may have stimulated further specific work. Is that likely in the theism/atheism debate? What work is there to do that hasn't already been hashed, rehashed and trampled under hoardes of feet already?
(guard your hoards of feet well!)
(guard your hoards of feet well!)

Yeah, I figured I was using the wrong one but I just didn't feel like checking.
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