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Banbury Evangelical Free Church was founded in 1984, as a Bible-based, Christ-centred congregation seeking to proclaim the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ and to serve Christ in every aspect of our lives, both as individuals and together.

Monday, 31 October 2011

There was no Dawkins!

“There’s probably no Dawkins. Now stop worrying and enjoy Oct 25th at the Sheldonian Theatre.” This was the slogan on 30 Oxford buses for 2 weeks in October. It was correct – Professor Dawkins was not at the Sheldonian Theatre on the occasion of Professor William Lane Craig’s lecture on the subject, “Is God a delusion?”, though a chair was provided for him in the event of a last-minute change of mind. However, many others were there – the 1,000-seater auditorium was almost full.

Dr Peter Millican, Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, and himself an atheist, chaired the meeting very fairly and with good humour. Dr Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, California, gave a fine lecture addressing Professor Dawkins’ supposed demolition of various arguments for the existence of God. He dealt with the cosmological (everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence), moral (you cannot explain morality without God), teleological (the argument from design) and ontological (a method of a priori proof) arguments. Members of the audience without a basic background knowledge of philosophy may have struggled at some points, but Dr Craig very courteously but effectively demolished Dawkins’ arguments, and showed that while the Professor may be a leading biologist, he is at best an amateur philosopher.

In Professor Dawkins’ absence, following the lecture a panel comprising an agnostic, a theist and an atheist each gave a 10 minute response. The weakness of the responses of the agnostic and the atheist was quite significant – the agnostic, himself a Professor or Philosophy, said we really couldn’t know, and the atheist, a Professor of Medicine, simply argued that God’s existence had not been proved (essentially an agnostic argument!). Dawkins would have been disappointed with their performance – but at least they had had the courage to attend! Meanwhile, the theist, Stephen Priest, tutor in Philosophy at the Roman Catholic Blackfriars Hall, gave an entertaining cameo suggesting that Dr Craig needed to have addressed three further questions: “Why is now, now?”, “What is being?” and “Why is something you?” He also observed that if people had an experience of God, there would be no need to spend an evening debating God’s existence.

In his follow-up response, Dr Craig gave short shrift to the agnostic and atheist, but took the time to deal with Mr Priest’s arguments. He felt the first question was simple: now is now, because it follows what was before – a more profound question is simply, why is now? With regard to the second, he argued that God is a being, because he has being, while the answer to the third, which Dr Craig re-framed as “Why do you exist?” was simply, “Because God made you, and has a purpose for your life and you had better find out what it is.”

A short break followed, during which the audience had opportunity to submit questions to the chairman for Dr Craig or the panel members. One of the questions from the floor referred to Professor Dawkins’ claim that Dr Craig defends genocide: in response Dr Craig gave a masterly defence of the Biblical account of the conquering of Canaan, exonerating the Bible from such a charge. Regrettably, the question time was cut short at 9.45pm owing to lack of time.

At the end of the meeting, the chairman asked for a show of hands as to how many of the audience were sure there is a God, how many were convinced that there is not, how many did not know, and how many did not care. The overwhelming majority believed that there is a God: however, the failure to carry out such a survey at the start of the meeting leaves unresolved the question as to whether Dr Craig had overwhelmed doubters by his sheer force of argument or whether he had simply been preaching to the converted throughout!

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