Dawkins Gets Eastwooded

Dawkins Gets Eastwooded

Dr Craig talks about his recent "Eastwooding" of Richard Dawkins, the Presidential Debates, and a viral video with a surprise ending!


Transcript Dawkins Gets Eastwooded

So, Mr. President, how do you handle promises that you've made when you're running for election . . . What do you mean “Shut up!”?. . .

Now, it would have been great to be able to welcome Professor Richard Dawkins here this evening for public debate. Unfortunately he wasn't able to make it. . . .

If you want to get antiquated why didn't you just say so? . . .

Welcome to Watermark, Professor Dawkins. I am delighted that we can finally . . .

but I have no desire to confess to a boy that's just out of the seminary . . .

I'd love to oblige you but . . .

now . . .

a man's gotta get his rest sometime . . .

calm down. You don't really even have to be on the same stage with me; that's one of the great things about Eastwooding.. . .

What do you mean “shut up!?” . . .

Since you believe that there are no good arguments for God's existence I'm going to summarize a few of the arguments for God that I've defended in my published work, and then give you a chance to respond to each of them; okay?. . .

You did two things wrong: one is you asked a question and two is you asked another question.

Kevin Harris: You just got Eastwooded. This is Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I'm Kevin Harris. Dr. Craig is making headlines again as he Eastwooded Professor Richard Dawkins at a conference in Dallas. We're going to talk about that, as well as the recent Presidential debates, and a video that's gone viral of a pastor speaking at a city council meeting. At first you think he's a typical fiery preacher railing against homosexuality, but suddenly he turns the tables and shocks the audience. We're tying all this together today on Reasonable Faith. You know, Dr. Craig, it seems you almost had a chance to Eastwood before Clint Eastwood did a while back on your U.K. tour. [laughter]

Dr. Craig: Well, I had an empty chair at the Sheldonian Theatre but I didn't Eastwood; I didn't talk to the empty chair. I just gave a lecture in the absence of Professor Dawkins. And it was watching the Republican National Convention and seeing Clint Eastwood do his routine with the empty chair that I thought, “Oh my goodness, I really missed my chance at the Sheldonian; I could have Eastwooded Richard Dawkins.” And then it hit me, Kevin, that I was going to be giving this same lecture at a conference at Watermark Church in Dallas at the end of September, and I thought, “I could Eastwood this instead of just give my lecture.” And so on the way home from the Philosophy of Physics Conference in St. Andrews, Scotland, I began re-writing my entire lecture on my response to Richard Dawkins' critique of theistic arguments so as to make his statements be implied and then I would respond to those statements as though he had said them. But people who see this tape of my Eastwooding Dawkins in Dallas should understand that every statement I attribute to Richard Dawkins is in fact an actual statement that he has made, and in my original article on this is footnoted and the citations are fully given. So that distinguishes it from what Clint Eastwood did where he just put imaginary remarks on the President's lips. In this case I'm actually interacting with Dawkins – mainly in The God Delusion; what he says there – and I've converted a lecture format, which I think is much less entertaining and engaging, to this new format of Eastwooding.

Kevin Harris: And that's what would set apart someone who would legitimately do this as a teaching tool, is that you're actually interacting with what people have said, or what they have written, rather than just putting an empty chair there and then the person wouldn’t have any opportunity to respond.

Dr. Craig: Exactly. I think that if people will watch this, and particularly if they'll look at what Dawkins has actually said, they'll see that I have been very fair toward Dawkins. This presentation is actually, as I say, a reworked version of a published critique that I did, fully footnoted and referenced, and even updated where I take account of some of the more recent things that Dawkins has said since The God Delusion and respond in turn to them. So obviously in offering a responsible critique one has to represent one's opponent fairly and responsibly otherwise the response is ineffective.

Kevin Harris: But, Bill, it's also that Dawkins has not shown up. He has refused to engage with you, he has refused to debate you, and this is well-known, and so there has been of sorts that “empty chair” there.

Dr. Craig: Yes, fair enough. I think that's true.

Kevin Harris: And this is theatrical; but are you saying it's just a kind of a tongue-in-cheek way to bring out the issues?

Dr. Craig: Well this is a common technique in theater. I did some acting when I was in high school and college and enjoyed it very much. I really enjoy acting on the stage.[1] And this – what's called Eastwooding – is actually a very old technique in theater where you interact with an imaginary person who's not there. For example, Jimmy Stewart did a movie called Harvey where the whole film is him interacting with an imaginary six-foot rabbit. And the challenge of this kind of acting is to make it look as though you really are listening to this other person. Your facial expressions, your intonations, have to be such as though the audience can believe you're really having a dialogue with this imaginary individual. And so this was a technique that Stewart used, and then I think, for example, of a comedian like Bob Newhart. He really perfected this technique in his comedy sketches using the telephone where he would be talking to someone else on the telephone whom you wouldn't hear. And the challenge of doing this is that you have to not simply repeat verbatim what the other person has said but you interact with him in such a way that the audience can infer what the other person has said, and then you can give your response. And it's challenging to listen to for the audience because the audience has to infer what the other party has said, and then hear your response. So I think it's one that makes the audience really engage – you've got to listen carefully or you'll miss the joke – but on the other hand it's very entertaining as well as stimulating. So this is a pretty common theatrical technique that's used, and I thought, given the empty chair that we had at the Sheldonian, it was just a natural way to do my lecture and much more entertaining that hearing me giving a dry lecture.

Kevin Harris: Has there been a reaction from Dawkins on this, as far as you know?

Dr. Craig: He did issue some initial very nasty statement where he interprets this as my being eager to have a debate with him, and desperate to debate him, when in fact that's not actually the case at all. I really don't have any desire to have a debate with Richard Dawkins. I think that the situation is such that the expectations on me would be so high that they would be almost impossible to fulfill. So I frankly don't want to have a debate with him.

Kevin Harris: It's been hyped up so much.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, exactly, it's been hyped so much. But given what's happened it just seemed a very natural rhetorical technique to employ in giving my critique rather than the lecture format.

Kevin Harris: What about other reactions? How did people react there at the conference in Dallas, and maybe some of the other reactions you got from around the country?

Dr. Craig: Well, I think most people thought it was a hoot, they really liked it. But I was surprised, Kevin, that some, I think, overly sensitive Christians reacted negatively and thought I was being disrespectful to Professor Dawkins. Even one person said, “You need to apologize to him for treating him in this way.” And I think these folks need to lighten up a little bit. I don't think they understood the use of a satirical technique to represent responsibly the opponent’s arguments, and then respond to them in a credible way. So I did get some negative response from people, I think, who were really hyper-sensitive to the situation.

Kevin Harris: It seems to me the greatest respect you could pay someone is to take their arguments seriously and to handle their arguments in an accurate way.

Dr. Craig: Well, I think what these folks don't understand is that there is a difference between satire and ridicule or mockery. Richard Dawkins himself has advocated the atheist should use ridicule and mockery as one of their chief weapons against Christians. “Don't interact with their arguments,” he advises, “instead just mock them and ridicule them.” And I think you can see that using this rhetorical or theatrical technique to interact with one's opponent is very different from ridicule or mockery. This is satirical, it pokes fun, but it does so in a way that takes the critique responsibly and gives a responsible answer to it. It's not mockery or ridicule; it's satire.

Kevin Harris: Let's tie this into maybe the use of rhetoric in communication with the presidential debates of late. When I was watching those, Bill, I would think, “Well, what would Dr. Craig think about this response?” What about some reflections on those debates?

Dr. Craig: Well, I have to say after watching the three presidential debates, that whatever you think of Mitt Romney as a political candidate, this man is a formidable debater. I was so impressed with his techniques, not only content-wise but also the way he handled himself, his demeanor, the image that he projected.[2] I thought that his handling of these debates was masterful. And as I watched the debates I tried to put myself in Obama's shoes and imagined, “How would I respond to Romney?” I must say I would have been very, very intimated and at a loss to know how to handle him. Romney is a very skilled debater. I think he demonstrated that in the way he took apart Newt Gingrich, which is no small task in and of itself because Gingrich is a formidable debater and scholar, and then the way he handled Obama. I mean, take even the third debate where it was clear that Romney had chosen to lay back, to not attack, to not be aggressive. And so Obama came out as on the offensive, aggressive, critical, and so forth, and Romney just laid back. And to many people it looked like, “Well, Romney is losing this third debate because of his passivity.” But I think this was sort of the rope-a-dope strategy that Mohammed Ali used against Foreman. What Romney did by holding back and looking passive was he assured voters that he wasn't the reckless radical right-winger that Obama wanted to portray him as. And actually by losing the debate he wins in a sense because he projects the image of himself as this responsible, even-tempered person on an even-keel who can be trusted to be commander-in-chief and be in charge of the foreign policy. And I thought, “How do you beat a person who wins by losing?” I mean, how can you beat somebody like that? Do you go on the attack and look aggressive like Obama? Or do you lay back against such a person and play the same game? Well, that wouldn't work either it seemed to me. I thought, “Boy, Obama really found himself in a very difficult position with an opponent who has adopted this kind of strategy.” So my respect for Romney as a debater really went up watching the different ways in which he approached each of these debates, and how effectively he did so in each case.

Kevin Harris: At least one commentator said that this was very effective and that Romney's debate coaches probably had in mind a female audience that he needed to get.

Dr. Craig: Yeah.

Kevin Harris: Now that may sound chauvinistic on the surface, but women would be more drawn to certain aspects of a debate and a kinder, gentler Romney may have been the key there. It just brings up: what are these debate coaches? They have these high-powered debate coaches, Bill. What are they telling them to do?

Dr. Craig: Well, I guess Romney's debate coach, until recently released, was a very excellent coach and obviously, I think, has coached Romney really well. I mean, if you're right that this was a bid for the female vote it's apparently worked because he was down 16% to Obama in the female vote before these debates and now, the most recent ones I saw, he was even. As I say in that sense he could afford to lose the debate but win the women voters. And that's really what the purpose of the debate is, not to win the debate, it's to win the election – right? – so it does show how rhetorical techniques can be very effectively employed to win an audience if you know how to posture yourself.

Kevin Harris: Bill, this all brings up the issue of style over substance, doesn't it? Sometimes debates are criticized because the one who looks the best or has the best body language or who has the best rhetorical skills win, and so much for the substance.

Dr. Craig: Yes, I'm afraid so.

Kevin Harris: Now, what one would want to do would be to have the substance but don't let the style detract from the substance. And that's what I would want to do.

Dr. Craig: Right, you would want to use the style as a vehicle for conveying your substance. So there's nothing the matter with rhetoric. I mean, rhetoric is a noble discipline that goes back as far as Aristotle. And the use of rhetorical techniques is simply good public speaking. But rhetorical techniques which are empty of substance is called sophism or sophistry, and that's what Aristotle opposed. He opposed the ancient sophists who would say, “I'll take any side of the debate and I'll win by using my rhetorical techniques.” And I think what Aristotle rightly saw is that rhetoric is a vehicle for conveying substance and truth effectively. So as Christian communicators we need to combine them both.

Kevin Harris: This brings up the issue of a video that has gone viral.[3] Millions of people have seen this, and it's of a young Missouri pastor, Phil Snider, who stood before the Springfield City Council at their hearing on amending the city's non-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender-identity protections. He's one of the pastors of the Brentwood Christian church. If you're aware of this video, these are some of the things that he said:

I stand before you this evening in support of this ordinance. I worry about the future of our city. Any accurate reading of the Bible should make it clear that gay rights goes against the plain truth of the word of God. As one preacher warns, “man, in overstepping the boundary lies God has drawn by making special rights for gays and lesbians has taken another step in the direction of inviting the judgment of God upon our land.” This step of gay rights is but another stepping stone toward the immortality and lawlessness that will be characteristic of the last days. The liberals leading this movement do not believe the Bible any longer, but every good, substantial, Bible-believing, intelligent, orthodox Christian can read the word of God and know what is happening is not of God. You see, the right of segregation . . . I'm sorry, hold on. The right of segregation is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example. I'm sorry, I have brought the wrong notes with me this evening. I've borrowed my argument from the wrong century. It turns out what I've been reading to you this whole time are direct quotes from white preachers from the 1950s and the 1960s all in support of racial segregation. All I have done is simply take out the phrase “racial integration” and substituted it with the phrase “gay rights.” I guess the arguments I've been hearing around Springfield lately sounded so similar to these that I got them confused. I hope you won't make the same mistake. I hope you will stand on the right side of history. Thank you.

Kevin Harris: What happens here? This is kind of a bait and switch, isn't it?

Dr. Craig: I think this is tremendously effective rhetorical technique. I was stunned when after listening to the first part of the video he began to read this quotation about segregation and he sort of stumbled over his words, and I thought, “Oh no, what has happened here? Is he a closet racist, a closet segregationist, and he brought the wrong notes, or something?” And then he reveals, or at least he says, that all of these quotations were not really about gay rights, they were about ending segregation in the south. And the implication is that just as these pastors were wrong in the past, so those who oppose the gay rights ordinance are wrong now. Now I think that argument as an argument is utterly fallacious; it's worthless as an argument. But rhetorically it was very effective and very powerful, I think.

Kevin Harris: One reminder of this, and there are many, that I remember is a preacher who said “There is a new dance craze which is sweeping this country and it is immoral and it shows the degradation of our morality and away from our Christian principles,” and he was talking about the waltz. This was back in the earlier part of last century.

Dr. Craig: Yeah.

Kevin Harris: You know, so your thinking he's talking about some modern dancing and a modern preacher, and it gives you pause: “Wait a minute. If they said all these things about something that we now consider benign, what does it say about all the rhetoric now?” What is the problem, however, Bill, with his argument?

Dr. Craig: Well, I think that the fallacy is that just because people have made false claims about the dangers of something else doesn't mean that present day claims about a quite different subject are therefore false or unjustified. As I watched the end of the video I though to myself, Kevin, it occurred to me, I thought, “Gee, what if this was a young German pastor in the 1930s preaching against the rise of National Socialism in Germany and warning against the dangers of Nazism?” You could have all of those same quotations about “this shows the end times,” “this shows the advent of the anti-Christ,” you could have all of those things, and then it would be revealed, “Oh, he wasn't talking about gay rights, he was talking about the rise of Nazism in Germany.” Well, would we then look back and say, “Oh, how foolish, that shows that these claims are unjustified.” Not at all. It all depends on what the substance is that you're concerned about and you're talking about. So while it's an effective rhetorical technique, it really doesn’t do anything to show that the subject that is being warned about and being discussed is not a serious issue that doesn't represent danger to society, or an unjustified move on the part of government,[4] or whatever else the claim might be. You have to consider each case on its own merits. But you can't just say that because people have warned against something in the past using Scripture that therefore warnings today against something else on the basis of Scripture are therefore invalid or unjustified. When one sees something that one thinks is deleterious to society, of course you have to warn against it and speak out.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, as we end this podcast today, you have spoken in public forums, and there is a picture of you on our website when you spoke at a school board meeting. Give us some do's and don'ts when you speak in a public forum in civil discourse, and not necessarily in church at this point, you are in public.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, I think this is a point well worth making, Kevin. I actually felt very uncomfortable watching even the first part of Phil Snider's video where he was recommending that the city council adopt certain policy decisions based upon biblical teachings. That made me feel very uncomfortable. That's not an effective argument because our laws in this country aren't based on biblical principles. There's a distinction between immoral behavior and illegal behavior. And if I were testifying before the city council I would never have gotten up, like he did, and start quoting the Bible as a basis for a public city ordinance that the council was considering adopting. So in that photo that you mentioned on the Reasonable Faith website of me testifying before the Cobb County school board considering the placement of a sticker in the biology textbooks I didn't mention Christian beliefs or biblical beliefs whatsoever in the testimony. In fact the person I cited was the agnostic microbiologist Michael Denton on the uncertainty of the contemporary evolutionary paradigm and that therefore it's quite appropriate to recommend that on controversial subjects students consider both sides of the issue. That's all the sticker said; it was utterly innocuous. And you don't need to appeal to the Bible or Christian principles or anything of that sort to advocate that you ought to look at both sides of a controversial issue.

Kevin Harris: But you hear this all the time at city council meetings, when a Christian speaker gets up usually he's going to quote the Scriptures assuming that we are a Christian nation. The most you can say, Bill – and I don't want people to misunderstand – is that our laws and our founding are very biblically informed and very informed by Judeo-Christian principles but when you argue on civic matters if you just argue the Bible it can be just ignored and thrown out by people who say, “Well, I don't believe that, and we're not a theocracy.”

Dr. Craig: Exactly, exactly. You have to be able to give good public policy reasons for the views that you want adopted, even if your own personal reasons for holding that view are personal and religious. You cannot expect public debate in a secular society to proceed on the basis of biblical values.[5]



[1] 5:03

[2] 10:08

[3] 15:02

[4] 20:03

[5] Total Running Time: 23:48 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)