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Winning a dumbed-down debate—

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No cause for celebration

by and

Published: 12 January 2016 (GMT+10)
Originally published in a CMI newsletter, July 2012

Many have a tendency to gloat when a self-proclaimed authority slips up, especially when he does so in a very public, very embarrassing way—even more so when that person is a self-proclaimed ‘enemy’ of the Christian faith. In a recent radio interview, Professor Richard Dawkins was promoting alleged ‘findings’ from his own research foundation that claimed most Christians couldn’t name the first book of the New Testament. But when the interviewer, Canon Giles Fraser, asked Dawkins if he could name the full title of Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species, he stumbled and could not remember to add by Means of Natural Selection: or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. Christian websites in particular took the chance to claim a small victory over one of the most famous atheists and proponents for evolution in the world. But was there really much to cheer about?

No roots, no fruits

Christian commentator David Robertson was a dissenting voice among the cheers. He pointed out that Dawkins’ point was valid—many professing Christians only have nominal faith and minimal knowledge of the Bible.1

He added:

“Our problem is we want the fruits of Christianity, without the roots. But if we remove the roots, we shall eventually see the disappearance of the fruits.”

While we don’t agree with his compromising stance on creation, we would actually agree with him in this case. CMI is about restoring the authority of Scripture and supporting its foundational book—Genesis. We are dubious about Dawkins’ research, though. It is hard to believe that most Christians in the UK could not name the book of Matthew, and what were Dawkins’ criteria for ‘a Christian’ anyway? He is obviously biased in favor of findings that cast Christianity in a negative light.

Cheap shots distract from real problems

Robertson also astutely points out that the New Atheists are watering down the debate with trite rhetoric such as this survey. When the debate becomes about winning cheap shots many can forget the most important aspects of the debate—for example, whether or not evolution is true. What if Fraser, instead of asking a trivial question in return, had said something like the following?:

“Dr Dawkins, I agree that many professing Christians don’t know enough about even the most basic doctrines of the faith. But no doubt such proponents exist in all belief systems. If someone were to take a poll asking professing evolutionists about some basic points of evolutionary biology, no doubt we may get numbers very similar to your survey of Christians. But to you that wouldn’t invalidate the theory of evolution. The ignorance of a system’s proponents does not in and of itself say anything about the legitimacy of the system itself. And were we to ‘pick on’ the ignorant laypeople among evolution’s proponents, you would likely strenuously object, and say that the debate should be characterized by the educated scientists and specialists in the relevant fields. Why should the standard for Christianity be any different?”

Surely that sort of comment would have elevated the debate to a useful level!

Setting the tone of the debate

It’s true that an ‘expert Darwinist’ should have known the title of his hero’s book, but a better approach would have been to show that his belief system is the thing that is inadequate. Even lay Christians could ask such an expert some basic science questions. We did this in our DVD From a Frog to a Prince where he could not provide an answer to the question “Can you give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome?”

His stumbling and non-answer highlighted the bankruptcy of one of evolution’s basic tenets.

The important big picture

We are called to lead people to Christ. On occasions it is necessary to challenge a person’s belief system—though not the person per se. I.e. by showing that an expert like Dawkins could not give an adequate defense of his faith in this crucial area, then it opens the possibility to Creation, the book of Genesis and the rest of the Bible being true.

That’s why at CMI we produce the information we do. It’s not only provided to equip you and your families to defend against the challenges of the atheists, but to also challenge them in return. For example, our ongoing campaign is built around the very inexpensive tract 15 Questions for Evolutionists, designed to shake the very foundation that an atheist’s faith is based upon. Educating people about the real problems with the theory of evolution is one way to elevate the debate.

References and notes

  1. D. Robertson, What’s wrong with traditional Christian model, The Scotsman, 21 February 2012, scotsman.com, accessed 1 March 2012. Return to text.

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