by Andrew Halloway

The atheist who dared Dawkins

Peter Byrom
When Peter Byrom challenged Richard Dawkins to debate a Christian academic, Dawkins’ refusal went viral on the internet.

Post-grad student Peter Byrom was bowled over by Richard Dawkins' famous book, The God Delusion.

While studying for a Masters degree at Kent University, a friend gave him the book and soon Peter was watching atheist videos on YouTube and reading the more extreme atheist material.

It was the trendy thing to do. In an interview for the Solas website, Peter recalls: "You think it makes you a more sophisticated person, because you embrace the grey areas and complexities of the human condition. So the whole ethos was, if you are a sophisticated, intelligent, person, you don't do 'the god-stuff' which is for losers. That was an atmosphere that I very much enjoyed and embraced, because that gave me more permission to just do things my own way."

In truth, Peter was attracted to a lifestyle where anything goes, and atheism provided the excuse to ignore the bits of Christian upbringing he'd had.

Peter was also taken in by Dawkins' science guru status, which he uses to promote his 'new atheism': "Dawkins gives you a sense of being 'in' on the wonder of science, and he plays on his talents for explaining science and enthusing people about it. He persuades many people that finding science beautiful, and the natural world amazing, means rejecting all religion... and that belief in God is lazy and boring."

He adds: "The bit I found liberating [in Dawkins' book] was when he defined faith as 'belief without evidence'. I now know that's nonsense, but back then, I bought into his definition."

Having absorbed the arguments, Peter began to use them in debates with believers. The only problem was, that meant getting to understand the arguments they used in return: "It was then that I discovered good Christian apologists confronting the new atheists. YouTube recommended videos with titles like 'Dawkins wipes the floor with...' or 'Dawkins destroys...' such and such a person. However, through those debates I was exposed to other points of view.

"Eventually, I discovered [Christian intellectuals like] William Lane Craig, John Lennox and David Robertson."

When the new atheists came up against these debaters, Peter saw that they were struggling.

For example, Peter was convinced by the atheists' 'Who made God?' argument, "until someone like William Lane Craig comes along and dismantles it. He shows that Dawkins has made all sorts of logically invalid steps and equivocations... So, firstly, I discovered how logical argumentation actually works, and then saw that the 'new atheists' didn't live up to that standard."

It was at this point that Peter stood up in an auditorium and publicly asked Prof Dawkins if he would debate William Lane Craig – but Dawkins refused. The incident 'went viral' on YouTube.

Peter wasn't impressed with the arrogant excuse Dawkins gave: "It might look good on his CV, but not on mine."

"It was pathetic!" says Peter. "I got very disgruntled with Dawkins. I felt almost personally let down by him. I'd based a lot of my world-view, values and behaviour on his work..."

Craig had already debated three of Dawkins' new atheist chums, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, yet Dawkins claimed: "I don't know who Craig is."

That disappointment was the start of a long road to Christian faith.

"In terms of coming to Christian belief myself, there were a mixture of factors... I had decided that I didn't want to go anywhere near Christianity because I didn't want an authority figure over my life... So, emotionally I was very set against it. But the intellectual barriers had started to come down.

"At the same time I ended up living with two friends. One was... an atheist who became a Christian. He had a massive conversion experience, and that was really annoying; really inconvenient... our flat was a constant source of debate and discussion.

"However, I saw the impact of becoming a Christian on my friend. I couldn't help noticing that bits of his character seemed to be oddly improving!"

Meanwhile, Peter had got into a bad relationship because of his atheist, 'anything goes' philosophy, and the results were coming home to roost.

A year after becoming intellectually convinced of Christianity, Peter finally asked Jesus Christ into his life.

Since then, knowing Jesus has helped him deal with his perfectionism: "Becoming a Christian involves learning that your security is in Christ, and that it's not about getting your act together and being a perfect person. The irony is that it frees you up to have a better shape to your life because your security is all in God. He has forgiven your sin, and you don't need to... base your life-identity on something else."

He also has a better relationship with his parents, and is now married.

"The Christian life isn't all easy... but it does mean that, whatever happens, you are secure in Christ, and can trust Him, and that is the greatest thing to have.

"If I was to sum it up, I'd say, 'Don't be conned'. Faith is not 'belief without evidence' as Dawkins says."

For Peter's full story, see www.solas-cpc.org