A Scottish Church leader has labeled evolutionary biologist and famed atheist Richard Dawkins a "snob" over his decision to turn down a debate on religion. Dawkins has refused a debate invitation for the faith-themed Faclan Hebridean Book Festival in Scotland in November.
The Rev David Robertson, a Free Church minister in Dundee, responded to Dawkins' decision to avoid debate by saying that he does not believe the atheist to be a "coward," but sees him as a "elitist snob, who once told me he would consider debating with me if I was the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope or Chief Rabbi."
Robertson added: "Dawkins considers, like so many of his fellow new atheists, that there is no debate and they, and they alone, have the truth. Ironically, such arrogance and intolerance of others is the very definition of the fundamentalism that Dawkins professes to hate. I suspect that Richard Dawkins' problem is that he is not a good debater."
The festival, which will examine faith and religion throughout a variety of different angles, will also include a speech by Dawkins on his book, The God Delusion, which tries to show not only that there is no God, but that society needs to "outgrow" such beliefs.
His invitation sparked widespread concern in the local Christian community, as many did not see why the world famous atheist deserved a place at a faith-themed festival. Some church leaders in the region even called for a boycott of the festival because of Dawkins' invitation.
"He has got a name for himself and being invited to a place like the Western Isles, which is a stronghold Presbyterian area, I just find it amazing he should be invited to a place like that," said John Roberts, of the Lord's Day Observance Society.
This prompted Dawkins to respond on his website, describing the calls for a boycott against him as "close to bigotry."
"But to call for other people to stay away just because you want to stay away yourself: that sounds perilously close to bigotry. Or is it desperation? Not content with stopping up his own ears like the proverbial monkey, Mr Roberts seems to want to stop up everybody else's ears too," Dawkins wrote.
The Rev Iver Martin, minister of Stornoway Free Church, then invited the biologist to a debate, noting his hopes for a good argument. He said, "With Richard Dawkins presenting a particularly one-sided narrative, I would hope that there would be opportunity for fair, even handed, reasoned debate at which both sides of the theistic argument can be heard."
However, Dawkins declined the offer, sharing with a local newspaper that he did not think a good discussion would stem from debating Stornoway's church leaders. He explained that he believed the debate would be a "pulpit-style oratory" that does not work with science.
Dawkins later clarified on his website, however, that a discussion on religion with people at the festival is still very much possible.
"But the fundamentalists need not fear: I plan to leave plenty of time for questions after my talk and, indeed, if the festival organizers were in favor of the idea, I would be happy to scrap the talk altogether and simply devote my entire session to answering questions from the audience," he wrote.