Darwinism Education Evolution Intelligent Design Science

Stephen C. Meyer asks Richard Dawkins to Debate, Dawkins Refuses

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Anika Smith has noted at Evolution News and Views that Richard Dawkins, author of the recently published book The Greatest Show On Earth, refuses to debate Stephen C. Meyer, author of the recent book The Signature in the Cell.

Dr. Meyer challenged Dawkins to a debate when he saw that their speaking tours would cross paths this fall in Seattle and New York. Dawkins declined through his publicists, saying he does not debate “creationists.”

“Dawkins’ response is disingenuous,” said Meyer. “Creationists believe the earth is 10,000 years old and use the Bible as the basis for their views on the origins of life. I don’t think the earth is 10,000 years old and my case for intelligent design is based on scientific evidence.”

According to Discovery Institute, where Dr. Meyer directs the Center for Science & Culture, the debate challenge is a standing invitation for any time and place that is mutually agreeable to both participants.

It’s a fair question to ask why Richard Dawkins won’t debate even a creationist, but much more telling that he won’t debate Dr. Meyer, who wants only to discuss science. Dr. Dawkins calls “Life” the Greatest Show On Earth, yet he will not debate someone in how that show was produced? Why won’t Richard Dawkins discuss the science? Claiming, as his grounds for rejecting debate, that Dr. Meyer is a creationist, seems like classic Bulverism as explained by C. S. Lewis:

Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is “wishful thinking.” You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself. When you have checked my figures, then, and then only, will you know whether I have that balance or not. If you find my arithmetic correct, then no amount of vapouring about my psychological condition can be anything but a waste of time. If you find my arithmetic wrong, then it may be relevant to explain psychologically how I came to be so bad at my arithmetic, and the doctrine of the concealed wish will become relevant – but only after you have yourself done the sum and discovered me to be wrong on purely arithmetical grounds. It is the same with all thinking and all systems of thought. If you try to find out which are tainted by speculating about the wishes of the thinkers, you are merely making a fool of yourself. You must find out on purely logical grounds which of them do, in fact, break down as arguments. Afterwards, if you like, go on and discover the psychological causes of the error.

In other words, you must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became to be so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it “Bulverism.” Some day I am going the write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father – who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than the third – “Oh, you say that because you are a man.” “At that moment,” E. Bulver assures us, “there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall.” That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.

But, it could be that Richard Dawkins is just outright scared to debate Stephen Meyer; maybe he has too much riding on the line and can’t risk being bested.  I don’t honestly know. Maybe he learned his lesson when he debated John Lennox. At any rate, it seems that according to Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth can only have one type of reviewer.

30 Replies to “Stephen C. Meyer asks Richard Dawkins to Debate, Dawkins Refuses

  1. 1
    Jehu says:

    Richard Dawkins is at least 99% homologous with a chicken. Maybe more.

  2. 2
    Barb says:

    Richard Dawkins is a coward.

  3. 3
    toc says:

    He should also ask Jerry Coyne and P.Z. Meyers. All of them seem to be dismissive on grounds of something inadmissible. But, that inadmissibility is always based upon what they consider metaphysical, as if neo-Darwinism isn’t precisely that.

  4. 4
    Seversky says:

    Barb @ 2

    Richard Dawkins is a coward.

    Richard Dawkins:

    Some time in the 1980s when I was on a visit to the United States, a television station wanted to stage a debate between me and a prominent creationist called, I think, Duane P Gish. I telephoned Stephen Gould for advice. He was friendly and decisive: “Don’t do it.” The point is not, he said, whether or not you would ‘win’ the debate. Winning is not what the creationists realistically aspire to. For them, it is sufficient that the debate happens at all. They need the publicity. We don’t. To the gullible public which is their natural constituency, it is enough that their man is seen sharing a platform with a real scientist. “There must be something in creationism, or Dr So-and-So would not have agreed to debate it on equal terms.” Inevitably, when you turn down the invitation you will be accused of cowardice, or of inability to defend your own beliefs. But that is better than supplying the creationists with what they crave: the oxygen of respectability in the world of real science.

  5. 5
    fmarotta says:

    In 1986, Dawkins, with John Maynard-Smith debated creationists A E Wilder-Smith and Edgar Andrews. See:

    http://www.tonguesrevisited.co.....debate.htm

    for an account.

    Or, from Richard Dawkins website:

    http://richarddawkins.net/arti.....nard-Smith

  6. 6
    CannuckianYankee says:

    fmarotta,

    “In 1986, Dawkins, with John Maynard-Smith debated creationists A E Wilder-Smith and Edgar Andrews. See:”

    From your link I see that Dawkins and Maynard-Smith did quite well by the ‘scores.’ I wonder what is keeping him from further debate with ‘Creationists.’

    It seems that Dawkins’ main themes recently have been regarding religion. It seems most appropriate that he dialog with those who’s views he challenges. To not do so only diminishes his own views. It’s like saying ‘I know I’m right; end of discussion.’

  7. 7
    PaulBurnett says:

    Perhaps Dr. Dawkins learned his lesson in dealing with creationists during his less-than-starring role in Expelled, followed by his “crashing” of a pre-release viewing of it.

  8. 8
    osteonectin says:

    But he didn’t get 20,000 bucks for not showing up.

  9. 9
    Jehu says:

    He should also ask Jerry Coyne and P.Z. Meyers. All of them seem to be dismissive on grounds of something inadmissible.

    I would only debate PZ on the condition that he trims his mustache. The worst part of Expelled was having to watch P.Z. Myers talk through his spittle drenched mustache that covers his lips and curls into his mouth. Nauseating.

  10. 10
    AussieID says:

    “They need the publicity. We don’t.” – Dawkins

    He hasn’t stopped seeking publicity!

    He continually garbles on about creationism.

    There is much more here (or is it less!) than Dawkins lets on.

    There is no elephant in the room! (Squishing sounds as poo squeezes between Dawkins’ toes)

  11. 11
    Cabal says:

    I am more interested in what scientific subjects might Dr Meyer might have wanted to discuss.

  12. 12
    JGuy says:

    Seversky @ 4

    Richard Dawkins:

    Some time in the 1980s when I was on a visit to the United States, a television station wanted to stage a debate between me and a prominent creationist called, I think, Duane P Gish. I telephoned Stephen Gould for advice. He was friendly and decisive: “Don’t do it.” The point is not, he said, whether or not you would ‘win’ the debate. Winning is not what the creationists realistically aspire to. For them, it is sufficient that the debate happens at all.

    An asserted opinion that Creationists are not aspirig to win a debate? Pleaseee spare me! That’s ridiculous. Who logically says, “Let’s debate even though I know I’ll lose! But being humiliated in front of the world! Wow! All the respect we’ll gain!”

    The case for actually winning the debate is the only rational incentive.

    They need the publicity. We don’t. To the gullible public which is their natural constituency, it is enough that their man is seen sharing a platform with a real scientist. “There must be something in creationism, or Dr So-and-So would not have agreed to debate it on equal terms.”

    How “noble” to decide to protect gullible people from themselves. Meanwhile, feeding the same gullible public (their admitted assessment) their views.

    Inevitably, when you turn down the invitation you will be accused of cowardice, or of inability to defend your own beliefs. But that is better than supplying the creationists with what they crave: the oxygen of respectability in the world of real science.

    But isn’t that like what a coward that couldn’t defend his BELIEFS (Dawkins word) would actually say?

    Just another wordy cop-out.

    By the way, Ihad read before somewhere, if I am not mistkaen, where Eugenie Scot would not debate them anymore either. And the words, if I am not mistaken, were along the lines that better than average, they could not win the debates! Cowardly, but at least the tinge of being genuine.

  13. 13
    lars says:

    Dawkins declined through his publicists, saying he does not debate “creationists.”

    And in Dawkins-speak, all who oppose him are “creationists.” How convenient. In other words, Dawkins only debates those who agree with him.

  14. 14
    William J. Murray says:

    If one is going to condemn ID repeatedly in as public a manner as Dawkins, he has an ethical obligation to meet them in fair debate.

    Otherwise, he is a coward.

  15. 15
    van says:

    “If one is going to condemn ID repeatedly in as public a manner as Dawkins, he has an ethical obligation to meet them in fair debate.

    Otherwise, he is a coward.”

    Good point.

  16. 16
    fmarotta says:

    While it is incorrect to label intelligent design advocates as creationists, per se, it is also incorrect to state that creationists believe the earth is 10,000 years old. It is true some do. But there is such a thing as an ‘old earth creationist’.

  17. 17
    ScottAndrews says:

    Inevitably, when you turn down the invitation you will be accused of cowardice, or of inability to defend your own beliefs. But that is better than supplying the creationists with what they crave: the oxygen of respectability in the world of real science.

    What flawless rationalization.
    First, insulating one’s beliefs from criticism is courageous. What a brave sacrifice, to risk being called a coward for the good of science.
    Next, refusal to debate demonstrates the weakness, not of one’s own position, but of the opponents’.

    I won’t debate because I can’t be wrong. I can’t be wrong because I won’t debate.

  18. 18
    Alex73 says:

    I agree with William J. Murray @13: he has an ethical obligation to face those he deplores. In “The Greatest Show on Earth” each chapter ends with “… and that is why creationists have no scientific case whatsoever.” (According to Dawkins ‘creationist’ means all who disagree with evolution.) He does “debate” with creationists, just wrote an entire book on the subject, as long as they cannot give a proper answer to the public at the same time.

    Dawkins obviously enjoys his authority and reputation in the secular media and atheistic circles and also makes a lot of money from making unchallanged assertions. Now apparently his case is not so watertight even in his own sight, otherwise he would certainly not refrain from humiliating dissenters, just as he does with his straw-men. A debate where he would be challenged at his own area by someone who just does not fit into the “stupid, ignorant, fundamentalist history-denier” category would be bad press for him.

    It is perfect logic. He must know that ID has a case where he does not have the answers and very wisely avoids open battle.

  19. 19
    SteveB says:

    Dawkins declined through his publicists, saying he does not debate “creationists.”

    In his books he does little else.

  20. 20
    Monastyrski says:

    I don’t see why Dawkins should be ethically obliged to accept an invitation to a public debate. Not unless Dawkins challenged his challengers to a debate first.

    Maybe Dawkins is a coward — although his record of publicly debating opponents seems to contradict that — but it strikes me as more than a little ironic that those who so easily accuse Dawkins of cowardice seem to have no qualms playing on a blog where debaters from the opposition are silently banned as a matter of routine. Let’s drop the double standard.

  21. 21
    tribune7 says:

    I don’t see why Dawkins should be ethically obliged to accept an invitation to a public debate.

    He doesn’t, but he is ethically obliged not to distort the views of others.

    To imply that ID argument is based on religious revelation is false.

  22. 22
    Clive Hayden says:

    Monastryski,

    I’ll debate anyone as long as they’re civil. There is no double standard. Folks like you don’t see the moderated comments, so you have no basis to judge whether a person merits banning. I don’t hold this against you, but I do hold the willingness of assuming otherwise against you.

  23. 23
    Alex73 says:

    Monastyrski,

    Indeed, refusal to debate with a particular person at a particular time is all right. However, the invitation to debate was declined because he “does not debate creationists”.

    Now in his latest book Dawkins called creationists “history deniers”, similar to those who deny the holocaust. That is a very serious charge and also an insult. To deny the possibility to challenge such a charge indefinitely and inconsiderately to all involved is unethical from a scientist. Especially if he considers himself a champion of truth. Yes, he is obliged to face those he accuses.

  24. 24
    Heinrich says:

    If one is going to condemn ID repeatedly in as public a manner as Dawkins, he has an ethical obligation to meet them in fair debate.

    Debates are poor places for discussing and arguing for the different scientific ideas: they may provide good entertainment, but they also as much about rhetorical skill as the substance of the debate.

    A lot of the substance that would have to be discussed is rather technical, and would bore the pants off most onlookers. A better place to discuss these matters would be through the written word, e.g. scientific articles and books. These give one the space to set out an argument, with the necessary details, in a way that can be absorbed at more leisure.

    Perhaps Dawkins has decided not to debate because he feels it is unlikely to be productive, with no chance of a genuine exchange of views.

  25. 25
    yqbd says:

    I invite everyone to debate on the Intelligent Design debate map at http://debategraph.org/ or are you all cowards?

  26. 26
    TempHut says:

    What could really be gained from a debate? Everybody on both sides knows what the other is going to say. Dawkins is correct that whoever he debates will benefit from it far more than him, since he is more well known and respected in all corners except the ultra religious and the ID movement.

    Dawkins has put out his views in his book and if anybody has an disagreements they can challenege him in print or on the internet.

  27. 27
    Seversky says:

    As others have pointed out, public debates are little more than a spectator sport or entertainment. The only thing they decide is who is the more persuasive public speaker to the audience on the day, and that may have little to do with the strength of the case they presenting.

    There have already been many public debates about evolution going at least as far back as the famous heavyweight match between Thomas “The Bulldog” Huxley and Bishop “Soapy Sam” Wilberforce. They may be good knockabout fun for an audience but they solve nothing. Issues in science are decided in the laboratory or in the field not in the debating hall.

    Richard Dawkins has nothing to gain by debating Stephen Meyer. His reputation as one of the world’s most prominent atheists and champions of evolution is well-established. Meyer’s prestige on the other hand, at least among his supporters, would undoubtedly be enhanced by appearing on the same stage as such a figure. It would do no harm to his book sales either.

  28. 28
    Clive Hayden says:

    Seversky,

    Issues in science are decided in the laboratory or in the field not in the debating hall.

    Right. Let’s not even discuss it in public. Let’s not let the public know that there is disagreement, because the public is just a spectator, and they aren’t important. Sarcasm, I hope, is obvious.

  29. 29
    Dave Wisker says:

    Clive writes,

    Right. Let’s not even discuss it in public. Let’s not let the public know that there is disagreement, because the public is just a spectator, and they aren’t important. Sarcasm, I hope, is obvious

    Obvious, but misquided. The publishing of their respective books places the discussion squarely before the public. The advantage over “debates” is, each side can take the time required to properly lay out their positions. The public can then decide who makes the better case.

    I just wish papers germane to the debate were better available to the interested layman. But that is an issue with the journal publishing industry, not the debate itself.

  30. 30
    Seversky says:

    Clive Hayden @ 28

    Right. Let’s not even discuss it in public. Let’s not let the public know that there is disagreement, because the public is just a spectator, and they aren’t important. Sarcasm, I hope, is obvious.

    Who is being prevented from discussing it in public?

    As has been pointed out several times before. Intelligent Design proponents have published and – as in this case – are publishing books, blog, newspaper and magazine articles. They are appearing on radio and TV shows and even in movies.

    What more do they want?

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