Dawkins vs. Lennox: The Lost Debate

Almost two years ago, producers of the Charlie Rose Show on PBS contacted me about a debate they wanted to do between Professors John Lennox and Richard Dawkins.  The idea was to do the debate on the set of the show in New York City.  Details were hammered out and the debate was set for August 4, 2012.  I flew to New York and met Lennox and Dawkins at the show.  We had all done this before.  I had arranged three prior debates between these men and even moderated two of them. But there was always this feeling that something remained undone.  In the opinion of most observers, Dawkins was annihilated in the first encounter which took place in Birmingham, Alabama.  In the second debate, which took place at the Oxford Museum of Natural History, Dawkins seemed to feel that he had gotten his revenge on Lennox.  Media observers, however, felt differently.  As moderator of that event, I can say that it was a hard-fought contest and I would be hard pressed to declare a winner.  The third encounter was less of a debate than it was a discussion.  There was no audience.  But even after three debates, you could feel that things were not quite settled.  (I simply got them talking and got out of the way.  Each of these debates was recorded, and you can watch or listen to them here.)

That brings us back to the Charlie Rose Show.  Again, with the exception of cameramen, producers, directors, etc. there was only me.  I watched with fascination as these men geared-up to go at it once more.  To keep outsiders informed of the proceedings, I “live-tweeted” the event.  There is, of course, only so much you can do via twitter at an event that is moving so fast.  I could give a kind of play-by-play, but not a lot of details.  The idea was not to give away the whole debate, but to generate interest for when the debate would actually air.

Following the debate while on my flight home I received a flurry of calls from the producer of the Charlie Rose Show.  He was upset that I had tweeted about the debate and demanded that I remove my tweets or, he said, they would not air the debate.  I was taken aback.  I had been asked to sign nothing.  I had not been told that I could not tweet anything about the program.  Indeed, we thought they would be pleased to know that we were promoting it.  Faced with making a decision on the spot, I agreed to remove the tweets with the understanding that PBS would air the debate soon.  He assured me they would.  I also pointed out to him that Dawkins had tweeted about the debate and that fair play demanded that he, too, should have to remove his tweets.  He did not.  Worse, we are almost two years removed from the debate and PBS has yet to air it.  With that in mind, we felt it was time to repost my original tweets.  They are not a transcript and do not pretend to be.  You should also bear in mind that they are my impressions.  No doubt others would have their own. But these tweets are the impressions of someone who knows both men rather well, the issues involved, and the full history of their ongoing debate.  I don’t think it is a stretch to say that Dawkins regards John Lennox as his arch-nemesis.

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