Agnosticism debates

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Richard Dawkins
The Oxford University Professor Daniel Came wrote to the agnostic Richard Dawkins:: "The absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part."[1]

Below are some notable debates related to agnosticism or which an agnostic participated in.

Despite there being more self-described agnostics in the world than self-described atheists (See also: Definitions of Atheist and Agnostic),[2] since at least the latter part of the 20th century, there have been more atheism vs. Christianity debates than atheism vs. agnosticism debates (see: Atheism debates and Atheism vs. Christianity debates). In recent times, however, there have been notable cases of atheists being unwilling to engage in debates (see: Atheism and cowardice).

The Stephen Jay Gould vs. intelligent design proponent Philip E. Johnson at Harvard University

See also: Creation vs. evolution debates

Intelligent design proponent Phillip E. Johnson debated the evolutionary paleontologist and agnostic Stephen Gould at Harvard University before a select audience of elite American intellectuals in a closed door event not open to the public. The debate was considered a draw. At the end of the debate, Johnson hugged Gould and he noticed in the embrace that Gould was nervously shaking.[3]

Both theists and atheists frequently accuse agnostics of being cowardly, due to their wishy-washy rejection of God.[4] Studs Terkel, a self-described agnostic, jokingly referred to the frequent charge of agnostics being called cowardly, "You happen to be talking to an agnostic. You know what an agnostic is? A cowardly atheist".[5]

Richard Dawkins' debates

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionist and agnostic (see: Richard Dawkins and agnosticism).

Below are some debates that Richard Dawkins had with theists. In recent times, there have been some notable cases of Richard Dawkins dodging debate offers (see: Richard Dawkins and debate).

The Oxford University Professor Daniel Came (an atheist) wrote to Richard Dawkins: "The absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part."[1]

Richard Dawkins vs. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach debate

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins,

See also: Richard Dawkins and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Atheism and Debate and Atheism and cowardice

As briefly noted earlier Richard Dawkins had a debate with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was named the London Times Preacher of the Year 2000 and is the author of 20 books.[6]

Recently Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote:

...Dawkins attacked me on his website and denied that he and I had ever debated. My office quickly posted the full footage of a two hour debate which took place on October 23, 1996, a debate which Dawkins actually lost after a vote taken by the students as to which side, science or religion, caused more students to change their minds. In my article on the subject responding to his attack I was extremely respectful of Dr. Dawkins and was therefore shocked to receive a letter in return in which he accused me of speaking like Hitler. Had the noted scientist lost his mind? Hitler? Was this for real?[6]

WorldNetDaily offers the following quotes of Rabbi Boteach about debate and the initial denial by Dawkins that the debate never took place:

That is a particularly bold untruth. Our debate, which took place at St. Catherine's College, Oxford on Oct. 23, 1996, attracted hundreds of students and featured, on the atheist side, Prof. Dawkins and chemistry Prof. Peter Atkins, and on the religion side, me and Prof. Keith Ward, Oxford's Regius Professor of Divinity. Student president Josh Wine was in the chair," the rabbi explained.

"In a vote at the end of the debate as to how many students had changed their minds after hearing the arguments, Dawkin's side was defeated and religion prevailed, which might account for his selective memory," he wrote.[7]

Rabbi Boteach reported at Beliefnet:

I also gave Dr. Dawkins the opportunity to even score by accepting a further debate, at the time and place of his choosing (within reason, of course), to which he has yet to respond.[6]

A video of the debate that Dawkins lost to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is available at Rabbi Schely Boteach's website.

A supporter of the Question evolution campaign wrote:

We don't believe a word Richard Dawkins says and for good reason. For example, he claimed to have never debated Rabbi Schmuley Boteach, but then he had to admit a debate took place as it was videotaped. According to the student audience, the rabbi won the debate as he convinced more students of the validity of his position concerning the existence of God.

Furthermore, an angry and embarrassed Dawkins then claimed the rabbi shrieked like Adolf Hitler. Now tell me, how do you forget a debate with a rabbi who supposedly shrieks like Adolf Hitler? Obviously, Dawkins exposed himself for the clown and fraud he is.[8]

Richard Dawkins vs. John Lennox debates

John Lennox vs. Richard Dawkins: The historicity of Jesus

John Lennox pointed out to Richard Dawkins that Dawkins claimed in his book The God Delusion that Jesus may have never existed and that Dawkins errantly claimed that ancient historians have some disagreement on whether Jesus existed or not. After some additional discussion with Dawkins, Dawkins conceded that Jesus existed and said, "I take that back. Jesus existed".[9]

Richard Dawkins and the Huxley Memorial Debate

For more information please see: Huxley Memorial Debate

The website Creation Safaris wrote about Richard Dawkins current refusal to debate a creation scientist:

A. E. Wilder-Smith is also probably responsible for Richard Dawkins refusing to debate creationists any more. In 1986, Wilder-Smith and Edgar Andrews debated the two leading evolutionists in Britain, Richard Dawkins and John Maynard Smith, at Oxford – a lions’ den with the two strongest Darwinian lions in Europe. Yet even there, over a third – almost half – of the staunchly pro-evolution audience voted that the creation side had won the debate. The vote count became a contentious issue. There were claims of a cover-up by the Oxford Student Union. The AAAS was accused of lying about the vote count and didn’ [sic] correct it even when confronted (see article). The evolutionists apparently were embarrassed that the creationists made such a strong showing. For whatever reason, Dawkins no longer will debate creationists. Reports from those in attendance say that, contrary to the ground rules of the debate, the Dawkins and Maynard Smith repeatedly attacked religion, while the creationists used only scientific arguments. Dawkins himself had to be reprimanded by the moderator for attacking Wilder-Smith about his religious views. Dawkins implored the audience not to give any votes to the creationists lest it be a “blot on the escutcheon of ancient University of Oxford” (an odd remark, considering Oxford was founded by Christians). After the debate, details of the event were lost by the University. Normally, Oxford Union debates are big news, given prominent publicity in the press, radio and television. This one, however, which should have rivalled the historic 1860 Huxley-Wilberforce debate in importance, and indeed was even titled the ’Huxley Memorial Debate,” was silently dropped from the radar screen. In his memoirs, Dr. Wilder-Smith wrote, “No records of my having held the lecture as part of the Oxford Union Debate could be found in any library. No part of the official media breathed a word about it.[10]

The aforementioned debate involving Richard Dawkins is fairly well known in creationist/intelligent design circles and the debate was tape recorded.[11] In August 2003 the Creation Research Society published some interesting material about their correspondence with Richard Dawkins which focused on the debate.[12] The Creation Research Society declared:

Despite Dr. Dawkins’ plea, there were apparently 115 votes for the creation position (more than 37%). This was done near Darwin’s turf. Imagine flat-earthers going to NASA and convincing over 37% of the scientists there that the earth is flat. Maybe creation science is not as closely akin to flat-earthism as Dr. Dawkins supposes (see his Free Inquiry article).[12]

Richard Dawkins no longer will debate a creation scientist. Robert Sloan, Director of Paleontology at the University of Minnesota, reluctantly admitted to a Wall Street Journal reporter that the "creationists tend to win" the public debates which focused on the creation vs. evolution controversy.[13] In August 1979, Dr. Henry Morris reported in an Institute for Creation Research letter the following: “By now, practically every leading evolutionary scientist in this country has declined one or more invitations to a scientific debate on creation/evolution.” Morris also said about the creation scientist Duane Gish (who had over 300 formal debates): “At least in our judgment and that of most in the audiences, he always wins.” Generally speaking, leading evolutionists generally no longer debate creation scientists.[14]

Richard Dawkins' radio debate with Giles Fraser

Giles Frasier

See also: Richard Dawkins' debate with Giles Fraser

On February 19, 2012 The Daily Telegraph reported:

...some critics of Dawkins branded him "an embarrassment to atheism" after what many listeners considered a humiliation in a Radio 4 debate with Giles Fraser, formerly Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, in which the professor boasted he could recite the full title of Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species", then when challenged, dithered and said: "Oh God."[15]

On February 14, 2012, The Daily Telegraph reported regarding the radio debate:

Dr. Fraser skewered the atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins so fabulously, so stylishly, and so thoroughly that anti-religion’s high priest was reduced to incoherent mumbling and spluttering.[16]

Theodore Beale wrote concerning the embarrassing incident for Dawkins:

As I have said repeatedly, Richard Dawkins is a huge intellectual fraud, and perhaps those who previously expressed incredulity at the idea that I would quite easily trounce the old charlatan in a debate will find it just a bit more credible now. This behavior isn't an outlier or a momentary lapse of memory, it is entirely characteristic. The man quite frequently pretends to knowledge that he patently does not possess and assumes he knows things that he obviously does not, which is why he avoids debate with those who are aware of his intellectual pretensions and are capable of exposing them.

It's bad enough that Dawkins couldn't come up with the name of what he considers to be the most important book ever written immediately after claiming he could do so, but in addition to stumbling a little on the subtitle, he even forgot the rather important part of the title that refers to the actual mechanism supposedly responsible![17]

(The full title of Charles Darwin's book is On the The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life and evolutionists rarely cite the book's full title which is racist. See: Evolutionary racism)

Richard Dawkins violation' of the terms of the debate proceedings

As noted earlier, it was agreed before the debate that discussion of religion was not to occur during the debate and that only the evidence related to the physical sciences were going to be discussed. At the end of the debate, Richard Dawkins started to give an impassioned plea to the audience to not give a single vote to the creationists which would show support for creationism. Mr. Dawkins was told to sit down by the President of the Oxford Union for violating the terms of the debate as far as not mentioning religion (as noted earlier John Maynard Smith also violated the terms of the debate).[12]

Deception related to email correspondence with Richard Dawkins

As mentioned earlier, Paul Humber notes there was a deception that occurred during email correspondence with Mr. Dawkins concerning the tally of vote counts that occurred for the Huxley Memorial Debate between creation scientists Professor A.E. Wilder-Smith and Professor Edgar Andrews and evolutionists Richard Dawkins and John Maynard Smith.[12] Mr. Humber did not indicate whether Mr. Dawkins committed the deception or was merely duped by someone who provided an altered account.[12]

Thomas Huxley vs. Anglican Samuel Wilberforce debate

William Lane Craig debates agnostic R.I.G. Hughes

Summary of debate from the website Apologetics315:

In this video, Dr. William Lane Craig debates R.I.G. Hughes on the subject: Agnosticism vs Christianity. This took place at University of South Carolina, sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ. From YouTube: "Hughes argues for the agnostics' position by explaining that neither logic nor science has anything to say about the existence of God. Any arguments for God come from an extra-logical premise. Craig reveals, however, that the claim "we cannot know that God exists" is a huge claim that needs to bear the burden of proof. He goes on to show that there are different forms of agnosticism and that rational agnosticism is compatible with Christian faith. Dr. Craig defends theism while presenting a multi-faceted argument for the untenability of agnosticism."[18]

Videos of the debate:

Bertrand Russell vs. Catholic Frederick Copleston debate

Steven Dunn at Hellenistic Christendom writes about the Fr. Frederick Copleston vs. Bertrand Russell debate:

This is the 1948 debate between Jesuit Catholic Priest Frederick Copleston and philosopher Bertrand Russell on the “Existence of God”. A proper transcript can be found in The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, volume 11, ed. John G. Slater (London: Routledge, 1997) pp. 524-530, 532, 540-541, as well as The Mystery of Existence, ed. John Leslie and Robert Lawrence Kuhn (Wiley-Blackwell: 2013) pp. 53-55.

This is simply a portion of the debate between Copleston and Russell, and captures Copleston’s brief presentation of the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument, drawing upon the principle of sufficient reason as his referent to affirm the existence of God.

Leslie and Kuhn write in their review of the Copleston-Russell debate:

The historic debate between Bertrand Russell and Father Frederick Copleston features intricate fighting over Hume’s idea that being infinitely old could make a universe unmysterious. Copleston believes in a divine person, God. God possesses necessary existence, he says, because God’s essence and existence are identical. God’s nature actually is “to exist.” However we don’t have “any clear intuition of God’s essence as yet” so we cannot, just by contemplating this extraordinary essence, have our proof that God exists. Instead we deduce God’s necessary existence from the fact that the universe would otherwise have to be “its own cause,” which Copleston views as an absurd idea. Even if successive stages of the universe formed an infinite chain, each link caused by an earlier one, this could not remove the need for God. Without God, there would be nothing to give existence to the chain as a whole.[19]

Debate video and transcript

Robert G. Ingersoll debates

The agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll had a written debate with the theist Judge Jeremiah S. Black.[20] In addition, Ingersoll had a debate with the Rev. Dr. Henry Field.[21]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Richard Dawkins accused of cowardice for refusing to debate existence of God, The Daily Telegraph, May 14, 2011
  2. Table on the projected global shrinkage/growth of various worldviews including atheism and agnosticism (Source: Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)
  3. Meyer on Phillip Johnson’s Courage, ID the Future website, the account of the debate begins at the 4 minute 45 second portion of the audio recording
  4. Studs Terkel, a self-described agnostic, jokingly referred to the frequent charge of agnostics being called cowardly, "You happen to be talking to an agnostic. You know what an agnostic is? A cowardly atheist".[1]
  5. Interview:Studs Terkel, PBS
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2
  8. Richard Dawkins and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach debate
  9. Richard Dawkins admits Jesus existed
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4
  13. Ankerberg, John, and Weldon, John, Truth in Advertising: Damaging the Cause of Science
  15. Slaves at the root of the fortune that created Richard Dawkins' family estate, The Daily Telegragh, February 19, 2012
  16. For once, Richard Dawkins is lost for words - Atheists’ arrogance is their Achilles’ heel, as a cringemaking radio performance has proved By Stephen Pollard, Feb 14, 2012
  17. Richard Dawkins, sans pants, Wednesday, February 15, 2012
  18. William Lane Craig Debates agnostic R.I.G. Hughes
  19. Frederick Copleston and Bertrand Russell: A Debate
  20. New Catholic World, Volume 92
  21. Robert G. Ingersoll Against Christianity: Volume 5 Replies to Clergy