Monday, 12 March 2012

The William Lane Craig vs (Not-) Richard Dawkins Saga Archive

Many of you know already that I spent a large part of 2011 launching a series of youtube commentaries against Richard Dawkins, for refusing to debate William Lane Craig (and specifically, the inconsistent and disingenuous way he went about it). I have decided to archive them all on this page, so you can access them easily and grasp a greater sense of the narrative that ran through them. I loved creating them, though plenty of frustrations and upsets were entailed in the process!

In fact, this brings me to perhaps my most important point: though it may appear otherwise (drumroll...) this wasn't all I was doing with 2011! Granted, it took up a lot of it, but I must assure you 2011 must have been the most important year of my life, for all sorts of different reasons - not all of them to be found in the pages of youtube!

But it is this importance I've recently been needing to face. I came out of William Lane Craig's UK Reasonable Faith Tour as a Christian again. This time, to stay. For good! This May, I will be baptised, submerged in commitment to Christ, and will be giving my testimony to how this happened. The tricky part is writing the testimony, and making sense of what I was up to - thinking, feeling, doing - over these last four years. There is a lot to confront and a lot to untangle, and it'll take a bit of time to get a clear story out of it.

Why start, therefore, with a video archive? Is that not simply procrastinating? Well, it might be a little (it's definitely one of my vices), but I think what I'd like to do is throw these little youtube blighters onto this blog in all their glory, and see what story they tell first. Let's start with the story I spent an insane number of hours trying to tell through the medium of video, and that I heavily invested myself in over a number of months (maybe it contains clues and insights of its own)? Then, I promise, I'll step out further into the light once I've taken the time to figure out how to put pen to paper on the deeper stuff that was really going on (not that that has any cash value in getting Dawkins off the hook, mind). This will include some attempts to answer the question, "Pete, why were you so obsessive about this stuff"!?

I wanted to have done this already, but It's been a busy weekend: more editing (for a keystage two French-teaching DVD, not more Dawkins!) church life in the next city along, and looking after the neighbour's farm ducks and hens (bet you never knew there's a breed of chicken called "Buff Orpington", did you)?

So, 'til I find the time, God bless, and enjoy!  :-)

1. "Richard Dawkins Says He Won't Debate William Lane Craig" Nov 2009

This has possibly been the biggest impact I've had on anything (unless you've been talking to those pesky chaos theorists... don't get me wrong, I love fractal geometry as much as the next guy, but...)!

I had heard about Dawkins' refusals to debate William Lane Craig, and found it exceedingly odd. Why turn down the chance to debate the arguments and evidence, like the militant atheist Dawkins claimed to be? Back then I would have called myself an agnostic ("researching agnostic" if I were trying to be especially pretentious and guarded). I had time for Dawkins' arguments but I'd been made aware how a lot of them were far more fallacious than the popular market appeared to recognise. The arrogance of his refusal "it'll look good on your CV but not mine..."  was a huge letdown (one would be forgiven to expect a follow-up along the lines of "Jeeves, fetch my elephant gun", with that attitude). There was no desire to see Dawkins get "pwned" but rather to have a genuinely educational experience from seeing these two minds engage.

The issue was becoming talked about more and more on the internet, but nothing had been heard from Dawkins' own lips..., naturally, after many cigarettes and much scribbling into an all-too-small diary, on a windy Brighton beach... I'd sort of drafted a question which I might just possibly ask Dawkins, at the 2009 IQ2 debate "Atheism is the New Fundamentalism?" in Berkshire. Then, to cut a long story short, I almost didn't ask him... then I did! The break-through came when Lord Richard Harries (awesome Former bishop of Oxford) listed 4 key points of fundamentalism in his opening speech of the debate. Point number 2 was the characteristic of "always attacking the weakest arguments and avoiding the strongest".

That was all the permission I needed! At present, I think this isolated clip of that question stands at around 175,000 views (still not sure about that beard though).

NB this video clip was cut and uploaded by youtuber Christianjr4.

2. "Richard Dawkins is Too Emotional & Dishonest About William Lane Craig" Dec 2010

Now this was quite something! Completely unexpectedly, Dawkins and Craig would debate... except, not really. According to Dawkins himself, "I don't consider this to be a debate with [Craig]. The Mexicans invited me to participate and I accepted". This was a six-person panel event, where they would have a limited exchange (Dawkins' total time spent responding to Craig was just over 1 minute).

However, in this debate he committed an epic straw man which, strangely, Craig didn't seem to call Dawkins out on at the time (time constraints, presumably). I figured I may as well, therefore, do my bit to point it out! You may be able to guess that at this point I had far less sympathy for this particular New Atheist. It was also a surreal delight to have this featured during Unbelievble?'s episode opening the 2011 new year, in which Bill Craig was interviewed about his encounter with Dawkins (I'm told this video even found its way into his defenders class)!

3. "William Lane Craig, Richard Dawkins & The Empty Chair" Jun 2011

This was when the big guns came out! Justin Brierley (host of Unbelievable? on Premier Christian Radio - essential listening for any apologetics addict) asked if I'd like to do a promo for the Reasonable Faith Tour, to be screened at the first "Unbelievable Conference" in May. Let's just say I managed to mutate it into something with a far more aggressive agenda! With the news that Dr Craig would arrive in the UK that year (2011), and that Dawkins had not only refused him but had been accused of cowardice by a fellow Oxford Atheist in The Telegraph, I leapt on the chance to make as big a deal out of it on video as it was in my own head!

This video went what I guess you could describe as "viral" (well, some people have described it that way anyhow). A lot of blogs picked up on it, and at one point I counted around 14 mirrors of it on youtube! I've never felt so nervous uploading a video before!

4. "Oxford Atheist Calls Dawkins "Coward" For Not Debating Craig" Jul 2011

I took the "empty chair" video, but altered and shortened it a bit, in the hope it would travel better (putting Dr Came's Telegraph letter at the outset), as well as updating it with important news about the (then) recently confirmed opponent for Bill Craig's first debate: Polly Toynbee. I'd also discovered Dawkins' agreement to debate "the Banana Man's sidekick". Oh, and I actually got round to showing the empty chair this time (as well as bringing my favourite film score into it)! :-P

This video was slower to receive views, but it now appears to be surpassing views for the longer "Empty Chair" version... and it's really not popular among the online atheists (that Sith lightsabre ratings bar just grows and grows)!

5. "Richard Dawkins Gets Propositioned In An Elevator" Jul 2011

It had to be done! This was the time of the Elevatorgate scandal, when Dawkins was torched in an internet flame war ("Richard Dawkins Torn Limb From Limb, by Atheists!" proclaimed one news article). He'd responded to Rebecca Watson's plea, for strange men not to proposition women in closed spaces at 4am (sounds fair), by requesting that a fictional Muslim woman "stop whining" and that the incident couldn't have been any more offensive than gum-chewing!

Well, it prompted me to ask... who would Dawkins fear meeting in an elevator at 4am? ;-)

An alternate cut here spells out the connection more explicitly, with news article citations.

6. "British Humanists Run From William Lane Craig" Sept 2011

No longer was it just Dawkins... but a humanist trinity! Polly Toynbee pulled out after tickets were sold, Dawkins resorted to abusive remarks on his website... but most disturbing of all was AC Grayling's dismissive attitude to the question of God's existence. The man who has dared to charge £18,000 per year, for his supposedly elite leadership and tuition, couldn't even be bothered to engage on the biggest and oldest philosophical question known to man? You'll sense how the tone of the video changes when it comes to Grayling's turn. Dawkins' situation has redeeming qualities of comedy and absurdity to it, but Grayling? It really did feel bleak, truth be told. The London riots being on every screen in sight didn't help either.

Made this one while performing a play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival! Talk about a loaded schedule! :-S

7. "The Reasonable Faith Tour Trailer" Sept 2011

Well, by this time I was fully onboard helping to promote the tour, while other aspects of my life were going seriously downhill and big changes would be afoot (more on that properly later, once I've figured out which bits can be told).

This video, for a change, was not my personal ranting, but an offical assignment for the purpose of advertising William Lane Craig's tour, endorsed by the committee (distributed to churches etc). The added responsibility made this probably the most difficult edit of them all, but also the most rewarding (my favourite compliment came from Justin Brierley: "congratulations, Pete, you've made the Kalam argument look sexy")!

8. BBC Oxford News: Oct 13th 2011

Peter May (Tour organiser) actually did it! He pulled the strings and actually bought the advertising space for the Oxford buses to carry my design for the banner: "there's probably no Dawkins, now stop worrying and enjoy Oct 25th at the Sheldonian Theatre"!

And guess who's wearing the "Where's Dawkins?"outfit? ;-D

...I'd just moved out of Brighton, staying close to Oxford, but had snuck time to find everything I needed, for the costume, in the Lanes (never disappoints)!

9. "Where's Dawkins? The Magic of Hypocrisy" Oct 14 2011

No business like show business! Dawkins had just started a tour of his own... self-promoting (Bill O'Reilly is more worthy of Dawkins' time, apparently)! Remember what Dawkins said in his Telegraph excuse? At this point I figured I may as well keep up the momentum with current events. It also gave a good opportunity to unveil some juicy footage of the buses I'd taken, which by now were swarming all over Oxford! I could really feel the imminence of the Tour!

10. "No Dawkins" Oxford Bus Campaign: Oct 15th 2011

This one explicitly spells out the satire behind the bus campaign.

11. "Andrew Copson Contradicts His Own Excuse on BBC Radio 4" - Oct 16th 2011

I cut this quick observation together early in the morning, on the day before the Tour (16th). Andrew Copson had been broadcast all over the radio, preceeding Craig's interviews, giving the most feeble and contrived excuses I could imagine (in fact I was shocked by him, I wouldn't have thought a Chief Exec of British Humanism would use the same arguments I've encountered by online, well, I believe the technical term is "trolls"). But, in his last breath, notice how he undermines his whole argument, essentially saying "there's not enough time for Dawkins, but plenty of time for everyone else"!

I also uploaded the regional BBC Radio interviews and complied them with the R4 interview into a youtube playlist. If you want to hear those interviews, you can follow this link: (Bill really cracked up the London host)!

12. "Almost Time..." Oct 19th 2011

Keeping the heat turned up (can't go wrong with Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen)! Made this one before running to catch the train to Cambridge.

13. "Please Show Up, Professor Dawkins" Oct 17th 2011

This one is actually not mine (though I did host a mirror when I discovered it). It was created by the youtuber gerinja, but I've included it here because it really caught the buzz and fury of the question so many people were asking! In fact one of the most fantastic things to see were other youtubers, cartoonists and bloggers bursting onto the scene with their own commentaries... electric! :-D

14. "12 Ways To Duck Debating: Response to Dawkins' Anti-Craig Guardian Article" Oct 24 2011

Now this was it! No prisoners. Dawkins had released his Guardian article against Craig, and I was having none of it (though I was extremely concerned about what Dawkins could achieve, given the emotive subject matter)! There was drama unfolding.

At first it was hard to figure out what to do (how do you grapple with an issue like the Canaanites in this situation)? But then it became clear why indeed this was a "smokescreen": Dawkins had made 11 other excuses, prior to this one! Quite a bit of pressure to produce this video mid-travel, mid-tour. You'll probably be able to tell by the music how I felt about the whole thing.

Also, I'd been Christian for 4 days when I made this video. More on that to come, promise...!

15. "Has Dawkins lost his Sense of Humour? Is Craig harassing him?" Oct 24th 2011

This quick video I added after the main response to his Guardian article. It seemed bizarre that Dawkins would play "victim" when it's even been explained clearly on national radio that Dr Craig had nothing to do with publicising the tour or even having any agenda of his own to debate Dawkins! I also found it odd how Dawkins seems to praise ridicule and satire as his favourite forms of persuasion... unless he's at the centre of the comical scrutiny!

16. "William Lane Craig, Richard Dawkins & The Full Sheldonian" Oct 30th 2011

And here we are! October 25th came, the Sheldonian was full and... well... see the rest for yourself! :-)

Post-Reasonable Faith Tour:

I continued to make video commentary after the Tour was over, as Dawkins persisted in saying the most extraordinarily spiteful and incoherent things (and it still mattered)...

Here, Dawkins is shown to be attacking John Lenox, on his website. A shame, given that on the promotional video for their debate (the one which apparently put Dawkins off doing them) host Larry Taunton described the men as having a "new-found respect for each other".

By this point I'd moved back to the southwest, but felt like spending a day out in Oxford again. Rounding off the year, perhaps.

It was very sad when Hitch passed away (he was my favourite atheist), yet the urge to comment was still there.

This one brings it full circle, and seems to be the one to end the Saga commentary. I thought it important to ask what it would be like if Rowan Williams treated Dawkins the way Dawkins treated Craig? It was nice to watch them have a civil discussion, ultimately, and joke about razors! Dawkins certainly struggled with a professional agnostic philosopher though.

Reason Rally:

And now we're onto something else: the largest atheistic rally in history. Watch this in light of all the other videos and events that have gone before, and ask yourself what monopoly this man can claim to "reason"?

Reason Rally Invites Westboro Baptists But Rejects Ratio Christi and William Lane Craig:

I never thought they'd do this. It honestly seems too cartoonish to be real. Yet, sure enough, they did! Released on the day of the Rally.

Comedy Videos!

The following videos were actually made prior to "The Empty Chair" saga, but I thought I'd chuck them in here. I made them purely for the fun and silliness of it!

Three Possibilities for What Sam Harris may have been doing on his Mac:

Two Really Unfortunate things to happen to Lawrence Krauss:

...and that's it!

So, what are we to make of all that? What else was going on, and why make them? The degree to which I gravitated into assisting the Tour, and pounded the Dawkins issue, must have had a role to play in returning to the faith (or maybe it was just an indicator of something else that was happening)? Maybe I was trying to hold back from actually becoming a Christian again for a long time, yet somehow still trying to reach back into it through some obscure route?

These are questions I need to think about, but right now I need sleep!

I promise to return and give the more personal story, which I appreciate is still somewhat hidden behind the screens. In the mean time, hope you've enjoyed! :-D