More on McGrath Vs. Atkins

I took an opportunity to listen to the debate between Alister McGrath and Peter Atkins on Christianity/Atheism that I posted about previously. All in all, it was abysmal. I say this because Peter Atkins turned out to be an a-one jerk who offered no argumentation in favour of atheism and proceeded to belittle McGrath and make fun of him. For an Oxford professor of Atkins’ stature, this whole thing was a lesson in ridiculousness (if that’s a word). To say that I was frustrated last night is an understatement – I was borderline angry. If I had been in attendance that night, I would have been quite disturbed at having wasted my time.
Another aspect that I found unsatisfying with the debate was McGrath’s failure to really press the point home that Atkins’ view not only provides as with no meaning to life, but that when Atkins assumes meaning to anything (including taking part in the debate that night!) he is assuming the veracity of the Christian faith. It would be great if McGrath took a page from his friend Joe Boot, who is a disciple of Van Til. McGrath is brilliant, and if his apologetic method was more precise and biblical, he would be a devestating opponent. After listening to this debate, I have become even more convinced that evidentiary arguments in apologetics are efforts in futility.
I had to listen to some Bahnsen after listening to that debate, otherwise I would not have been able to sleep for frustration.


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9 responses to “More on McGrath Vs. Atkins

  1. junior

    I feel your pain brother

  2. Stephen

    Well I watched this too, after you posted up the link. But my opinion is that formal debates are alwise something of an exercise in futility. People come to a debate with their preconceived notions, and they will be much more ready to see the strong arguments that support their preconceptions, rather than those that oppose them.

    I did not think it was too bad. I was not sure if some points had been cut (there were a couple of jumps in the video). Atkins’ inability to sit still and let McGrath speak was a little rude, and his opening argument “no rational man could believe…” were classically fallacious (poisoning the well). McGrath said he could spend a lecture in the evidential basis of Christianity – that would be a lecture worth listening to.

    As Atkins avoided many of Dawkins’ more specious claims, and simply retreated into defending atheism as a defualt position, there was not much for McGrath to get his teeth into.

    But in any case, I don’t think apologetics are really a way to win souls. They can be interesting and useful, helping us to make an answer for our faith, but not really as a method of evangelism.

    (I have a post on my blog queued up for tomorrow morning to that effect).

  3. Anonymous

    “But in any case, I don’t think apologetics are really a way to win souls.”

    That simply is not true. Maybe crassly evidential apologetics, but the presuppositional method is as evangelistic as you can get in my opinion. And there’s obviously a strong exegetical case for what I’ve said (2 Cor. 10:3ff., 1 Peter 3:15).

    Note the Bahnsen Stein debate. Although, I have problems with how Bahnsen failed to maintain a consistently Christian worldview as the debate went on, it was an example of how evangelism and apologetics are friends and not enemies!

  4. Ian

    Stephen: you are right about the relation between apologetics and soul-winning. However, I don’t think that soul-winning is the ultimate aim (thought it is very important!). Another key aspect of apologetics is shutting the mouths of unbelievers. They may illegitimately keep their mouths open, but if the apologist has done his job, the unbeliever will do so in open inconsistency.
    William Edgar has an excellent article that I can’t remember the name of at the moment on the relation between evangelism and apologetics. You could probably Google it.

    Anonymous (please name yourself!) – how did you find Bahnsen inconsistent?

  5. Anonymous


    Sorry, I forgot to leave my name. It’s Mark Jones.

    I’ve listened to the Bahnsen debate more times than I can remember, literally.

    He starts off, as you know, by saying that he will argue for a Christian worldview. Okay, good.

    But, then his arguments were not necessarily distinctly Christian. That is, he argued using the laws of morality & logic and uniformity of nature as only possible in a theistic worldview (he would say Christian).

    Could a Muslim/Jew have listened to the arguments (morality & logic) and have approved?

    While I am a convinced presuppositionalist, the Realist influence in Van Til is obvious and has potential limitations. I’ve spoken to Frame about my concerns about the presuppositional method and he was quite sympathetic.

    BTW, I’m coming to Toronto to get a thesis off Michael Haykin in a few weeks. It’d be great to meet up and even chat about this and other things. Let me know if you’re interested.


  6. Ian

    That would be excellent. Let me know when you’re in town!

  7. Mark

    What happened to Ian?

  8. Ian

    Ian’s internet connection in his apartment stinks. But Ian shall return after exams!
    Mark Jones: when are you in Toronto? Email me and I’ll forward you my phone number.

  9. Mark J.

    I tried emailing you, but no response. So, I may have emailed the wrong address. Can you email me?


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