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War of words over Dawkins visit to the Hebrides

Following the reaction Richard Dawkins forthcoming date at a Lewis book festival, the scientist has ducked a challenge to debate his beliefs in what has become a war of words.



Dawkins and Robertson‘Dawkins branded an elitist snob’

So ran the recent newspaper headline. The news report stated that a church minister has accused the atheist author of “astounding arrogance” and that he was “behaving like the fundamentalists he despised”.

The ‘elitist snob’ remark related to a claim that Dawkins was highly selective regarding the status – as he himself perceives it – of those with whom he was and is prepared to engage in debate.

Meanwhile the scientist – due to speak at the Hebridean Book Festival in Stornoway during November this year -– is side-stepping (declining) the challenge to debate; and writing it down as merely a "change of tactics". (In fact those who have been calling for the debate have also been very vocal in their public criticism of fellow churchmen in the Lord's Day Observance Society who were calling for a boycott of the Dawkins’ event.)
In declining the invitation to defend his view, Dawkins has written a piece 'Why I won't take part in debate with fundamentalists'. He judges that such exchanges “make for good drama, but they do not make for good understand”. Concerning his critics he continued: “If they can, after all, bring themselves to cross the road in the interest of tearing me to pieces, they are very welcome to come and have a go”.

Debate going nowhere

Much has been usefully said and written in rebuttal of Dawkins’ views; and good material which counters the scientist’s arguments is freely available in print and electronic form. However debating and arguing with Dawkins is ultimately a waste of time. Dawkins is on an anti-Christian crusade (pardon the pun). He fits well Winston Churchill’s definition of a fanatic as being “one who can’t change his mind, and won’t change the subject”. For the ubiquitous neo-atheist, Christian- and Christianity-bashing is his mission; and he has the appearance of a man tortured by his unbelief. (In one sense he probably wouldn’t mind if it was proven that God in fact does exist – provided no one was to show any allegiance to the Deity.)

Faith – generally and after all – is based on, well... faith. And the Christian faith in a creator God is no different in this regard. Dawkins’ problem is that he cannot disprove the existence of a deity in order to discredit Christian believers. However neither can Christians offer concrete proof that God does exist. Belief in God is ultimately a ‘heart revelation’. (It may be, as it is argued, that Christians have more evidence to support what they believe than atheists do for their views: however the latter will not be won by argument but only by the Spirit of God.) In the final analysis it will be the Creator whom atheists deny that they will have to deal with.

Because of the rather unthinking actions of a Christian believer this Editor was obliged to ‘enter the door’ of the Dawkins on-line forum some years ago. Before I engaged with Dawkins' friends I imagined that it would be akin to swimming in a pool of sharks. In fact it felt more like trying to keep my head above water in a demonised cesspit. It was a highly toxic and venomous environment.

One of the atheist archbishop’s principal mace bearers – she who had interviewed Dawkins on stage during his Inverness visit – suggested on the forum that I was ‘wasting my time’ there. I responded by agreeing with her expressed sentiment, and thanked the lady for her counsel. Her immediate and very angry reaction was: “Don’t you dare agree with me!”  Oh dear.

The article ‘Richard Dawkins’ Delusion about God summarises the above-mentioned Inverness event in April 2008. In a comprehensive record of the content, questions and answers Dr. Donald Boyd captured the main points on that occasion.
Subsequent to Dawkins’ Inverness visit Professor John Lennox delivered a public lecture in the same (Eden Court Theatre) venue on 27 Oct. 2008.

The articleDavid Robertson counters Dawkins includes an embedded copy of the following short video relating to the book ‘The Dawkins Letters’.


The Editor, 15/08/2012

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Philip (Guest) 18/08/2012 11:19
Good post Keith. Far too often the Christian response repels rather than attracts! From the early days of my walk with The Lord, I have been taught, and I have sought to be winsome (although not always successfully). It seems to me that the attitude and message coming out of the Stornoway Churches over many decades is far from winsome.
Seumas, Tobermory (Guest) 18/08/2012 16:24
There is another point that needs to be stressed in all this as well. The biggest enemy of the Christian faith is not neo-atheism. It is apathy. Apathy is the real killer.

At least the neo-atheists have got people talking and thinking and asking questions.

I think it was Don Carson who put it well. It takes 4 generations to lose the gospel:

1) The gospel is accepted

2) The gospel is assumed

3) The gospel is confused

4) The gospel is lost

Ok, it sounds kind of "sound-bite-ish" but there is a lot of truth in there. Apathy is what creates stage 2 above. The rest follows like night after day
Philip (Guest) 18/08/2012 18:47
You are not wrong Seumas! Where do you stand in relation to The Gospel, the whole counsel of God?
Roy (Guest) 19/08/2012 15:53
The Free Church is not doing itself any good by using language like "elitist snob".
Philip (Guest) 19/08/2012 17:17
Maybe that is why they are called 'Free', free to say what offends!
Seumas, Tobermory (Guest) 20/08/2012 14:34
It seems that the Free Church is taking it in the neck here. It is not the FC that used the term "elitist snob" It was David Robertson.

DR does NOT represent the whole Free Church. He has got his own agendas and his own obsessions, Dawkins being one of them.

This is the guy who abused his position as Editor of the Monthly Record in order to pursue his own agenda of polluting the traditional worship of the FC. And once he got what he wanted, guess what? Stood down as editor!

I heard one Lewis elder describe him as a "loose cannon"

The FC people who should be saying something, if indeed there is anything that needs to be said, are the ministers and elders in Lewis, not loudmouths in Dundee, Hereford or wherever else.

Dawkins was INVITED to speak at the festival, he didnt invite himself along. He deserves a bit of courtesy, which I am sure, the people of Lewis will give him

Incidentally, it would appear that that comment above in the postscript "One of the atheist archbishop’s principal mace bearers and so on" has no factual basis.

Perhaps David Robertson can provide the URL is he is reading this.
Editor 20/08/2012 14:47
"Incidentally, it would appear that that comment above in the postscript "One of the atheist archbishop’s principal mace bearers and so on" has no factual basis.

Perhaps David Robertson can provide the URL is he is reading this."

To clear up any misunderstanding that might exist, the postscript (and the article) was written by the Editor (see reference below the video) who is happy to supply evidence for what has been written on private request.
Seumas (Guest) 20/08/2012 15:03
Thanks for clearing that up - it is rather confusing. After all, it was due to the actions of an unthinking believer (or maybe a thinking one!) that the original David Robertson letter appeared on Dawkins web site - ans it was after that , that DR himself got involved. I followed it closely for a while until it all got too heavy

So thanks for t clearing that up and apologies for the misunderstanding!
Editor 20/08/2012 20:11
No probs. I have modified the text of the Postscript slightly to remove any ambiguity.
Simon D (Guest) 27/08/2012 16:30
What is the point of debate in this context? It is perfectly legitimate to argue that your belief in your particular interpretation of a particular holy book is due to faith alone. However, if this is your argument then no evidence presented, regardless of its veracity (or otherwise), will sway you. It is faith that drives your religionous consiousness and the whole point of faith is that it does not require evidence ('the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen'). So in what respect can such a conversation be said to be a debate if there is no room evidence based argument and no one who is truely faithful be swayed anyway? Why bother? I doubt very much that Dawkins is an elitist snob, he's still attending the festival after all and has made plain that he would like an open questions session when anyone can question him (not very elitist or snobby). He doesn't see the point in debating with someone if they aren't prepared to actually have a debate (i.e. deploy evidence to back assertions, convince through reasoning). Nor do I.
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