CONTROVERSIAL scientist Richard Dawkins has branded an attempt to ban him from a Western Isles book festival as “close to bigotry”.
The atheist also suggested a subsequent invite by the Free Church of Scotland to a religious debate was a thinly veiled attempt to ambush him.
Dawkins said the offer to publically discuss ‘evolution versus creation’ was “amusing” and said the church’s planned boycott of his appearance at Faclan, the Hebridean Book Festival, in November, was “desperate”.
He refused to take part in the debate, arguing the church would play to “sound bites” and “emotions”.
But a church minister hit back, branding Mr Dawkins an “elitist snob” for rejecting the debate.
Mr Dawkins is due to appear at the Book Festival, on Lewis, in November, where he will promote his book, The God Delusion.
The invitation was condemned by John Roberts of the Lord’s Day Observance Society, who demanded that God-fearing residents from the Western Isles boycott the meeting.
Richard Dawkins called the church’s criticisms of his talk “desperate” and said he would not take part in any debate.
The Oxford academic said: “What an extraordinary idea that a book festival of all places, should never invite anybody to speak unless they can be relied upon to repeat what the audience already knows and already agrees with.
“As for calling for a boycott, it is one thing to decide to stay away yourself, 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 just desperate?
“How amusing then, to find just a few day after this I am not being urged to take part in a debate while I am there.
“This newfound dedication to ‘fairness and balance’ and to ‘both sides of the theistic debate being heard’ (Plan B), has only emerged now that their Plan A – to prevent my side of the theistic debate being heard at all – has failed.
He continued: “Well, in their shoes, perhaps on pulpit-style oratory, manipulating the emotions of your audience and playing with words, debates will probably work for you very well. They do not however work well for explaining science.
“Debates play to the emotions of sound bites, to oratorical flourishes and, all too often, to sheer volume.
“They may make for good drama, but they do not make for good understanding. Fine if your goal is to grandstand; no good at all if it is to educate. So no, I shall not be taking part in any debate while I am on Lewis,” he added.
Free Church minister, the Rev David Robertson of St Peter’s in Dundee, called Dawkins “elitist” for refusing to debate.
He said: “He is not a coward, he is an elitist snob who once told me he would consider debating with me if I was the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope or Chief Rabbi.
“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.