Have now managed to listen to the debate – you can too on Richard Dawkins’ official site. I enjoyed it, especially because both were gracious to each other and it was done in a professional and good-natured manner. Here are some random thoughts:
Was it unfair? Having listened to it, i would actually say it was more frustrating than unfair – so i take back my comments from a few days ago (Oct 5th 07). The format was just a bit odd, i felt – the moderator read an extract from the God Delusion, Dawkins had a few minutes to comment, then Lennox responded. Then the moderator would go onto the next point. I felt very frustrated listening and completely understand why Dawkins felt the need to come back to a previous point in his allotted time to speak to the next point (if you see what i mean). But actually Lennox also had a few moments (though not as many) when he was constrained by the format. It would have been better to have allowed 2 minutes each response after their main remarks before moving on. Fortunately the moderator did ease up in the second half of the debate, and Dawkins was allowed to have the last word. So it wasn’t unfair – but it was very annoying for the debaters and the listeners!
What do debates achieve? Having glanced at a few of the comments on the official sites – it is clear that the two sides were cheering for their man and were not necessarily open to having their minds changed. But what i think it did do was to provide a platform to gain a degree of mutual respect and to set out the stall for those who are confused and wavering. The audience in the theatre were probably evenly balanced – but i sincerely hope that people will have realised from Lennox’s excellent performance that Christian theism is no pushover, despite the atheist rhetoric and bluster.
Failing to engage. I am biased – i am of course a Christian theist – but i did feel that Dawkins dodged most of the arguments placed before him – most tellingly the issue of morality. He ducked it by talking about the possibility of atheists who behave uprightly – which Lennox rightly conceded fully. No one disputes that good behaviour exists amongst atheists (although his suggestion that within a Darwinian framework, we all have a ‘lust for doing good’ was a striking one and probably more contentious). What was completely avoided was Lennox’s cogent argument that atheism removes the grounds for even the categories of good and evil.
Failing to prepare – again I’m biased and i was cheering for my man. But it did seen that Lennox was by far the better prepared – he had really done his homework on Dawkins’ books and his wider reading and experience was brilliantly used. Dawkins on the other hand presumably pitched up without really preparing that much (or at least it sounded like that as he was more hesitant and fumbling) – which i fear is a mark of his position – he simply doesn’t give a theistic argument any credence at all and thus assumes it is a pushover. This was especially evident with the sheer scorn and ridicule he poured on Lennox’s closing remarks about Jesus and the resurrection. Those comments particularly are a classic illustration of 1 Corinthians 1:18-25.
I did feel that in purely debating terms therefore Lennox had the upper hand. But the issue is not necessarily always to win the argument but to win the man – and that is of course a much tougher call. But I was very excited to hear that John Lennox did everything he could to do both and therefore should be very pleased that it went as well as it did.
While we’re on this theme, there is another debate in the USA this week – Alister McGrath against Christopher Hitchens. Details at the Trinity Forum page. Will post further details when i can.