Conservative Scottish Christians are calling for a boycott of a talk by well-known atheist Richard Dawkins, scheduled for a book festival in late October that explores belief - writes Trevor Grundy.
The Faclan Hebridean Book Festival will be held at Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis off the northwest coast of Scotland from 30 October to 3 November 2012. The Isle of Lewis is known as the heartland of the Free Church of Scotland.
John Roberts, president of a group called the Lord's Day Observance Society (LDOS) told ENInews that people should boycott the talk by Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, which asserts that belief in what he deems a supernatural being, is irrational.
"Why explore faith by getting a person who has no faith? It is ridiculous and offensive," Roberts said.
Writing in the Aberdeen Press and Journal, Dawkins said it was "an extraordinary idea that a book festival should never invite anybody to speak unless they can be relied upon to repeat what the audience already knows and agrees with."
Referring to the suggested boycott, Dawkins said: "Not to content with stopping his ears like the proverbial monkey, Mr. Roberts seems to want to stop up everybody else's ears too."
Pastor Donnie Stewart of the non-denominational New Wine Church in Stornoway said in an interview with The Scotsman that "it is disappointing that [Dawkins] has been invited given the Christian heritage and local sensitivities here. But we will keep praying that Professor Dawkins receives the personal revelation of the Holy Spirit."
Dawkins commented in his article that "I always marvel when I come up to the Highlands and encounter this kind of sheer, blind panic at the mere thought of my giving a talk. The region has a reputation for solid faith, but if that were really so, you might think it would be able to take a simple talk by an evolutionary scientist in its stride."
Some in the Free Church say Dawkins is welcome to come but criticise him for turning down an offer to debate with one of his best known Christian critics, the Rev. David Robertson, minister of St Peter's Free Church in Dundee and author of The Dawkins Letters, a rebuttal to The God Delusion.
Referring to the debate invitation, Dawkins said in a Twitter message: "As a great president of the Royal Society said: 'That would look great on your CV, no good on mine.'" Robertson will also speak at the festival about his book.
In an interview with ENInews, Robertson said, "Dawkins has revealed his outstanding arrogance … He says he would debate with the Archbishop of Canterbury or with the Pope but not with someone like myself. I have nothing against the man personally and welcome his presence at the book festival because it gives me, as a Christian, a chance to publicly refute his weak arguments against the existence of God.
"Dawkins considers, like so many of his fellow new atheists, that there is no debate - that they and they alone, have the truth. Ironically, such intolerance of others is the very definition of the fundamentalism that Dawkins professes to hate."
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]