Friday, April 08, 2011

Craig's conundrum

Craig/Harris Debate: If You Were Scoring Points Craig Won, But Harris Clearly Had the Better Arguments
By John W. Loftus at 4/08/2011
This debate was very instructive to me, and that’s what debates should be for us. Bill has once again showed himself as the best debater of this generation, that's for sure. He had a great opening statement and kept coming back to it in his rebuttals, assessing what Sam might might have said against it, pointing out when Sam didn’t answer him, and if he did, why he was wrong. Bill was out to score points. That’s what he was taught in his High School debate team. Score points.

To judge by how infidels handicap the Craig debates, Craig is caught in a hopeless dilemma. No matter how often he wins, it never counts. The usual excuse is that when he wins a debate with an atheist, that’s just because he’s a better debater. Not because he was right. Not because he had the best of the argument. Had the facts on his side. No, couldn’t be that. Never that.

But then he debated Hitchens, who is, by all accounts, a masterful debater in his own right. Yet Craig won that debate, too.

In that case, the excuse wasn’t: Craig won because he's such a great debater. No, it had to be: Hitchens was unprepared, or Hitchens was off his game that night.

Public debates are not the best forum to dissect complex issues. However, that cuts both ways. Both Craig and his opponents labor under the same time constraints. 

Somehow, Craig could win every time, against every opponent atheism can throw at him, yet we should pay no attention to the scoreboard.

BTW, while Craig is a fine debater, he also lacks some of the virtues of a great public speaker. He doesn’t have a great speaking voice. He’s not an eloquent wordsmith. He’s not a spellbinding storyteller. He can’t manipulate the emotions of the audience the way a great preacher or actor can.

So, in some fundamental respects, he’s overrated as a debater. You can’t chalk up his winning streak to oratory alone.


  1. At least Loftus said that Craig won.

    I still can't believe that John Loftus was Craig's graduate student.

    What a terrible disappointment Loftus turned out to be.

  2. I've listened to numerous WLC debates and I think he's won all of them with the possible exception of the one against Shelly Kagan. Craig wasn't at his best that day and seemed a bit unsure of himself (even when he had reason to be confident in his arguments). But also, Kagan did a good job in making distinctions that Craig wasn't prepared for. Here's a link to the audio.

  3. Oh, and I agree that Ben Stiller lost the debate yesterday. [grin].

  4. Hey Annoyed, you should know that in the Kagan debate, Craig was deliberately hamstrung by the organizers, who told him not to beat up Kagan too hard.


    Veritas Forum has gone pansy in recent years, hosting a lot of left-wingers, theistic evolutionists and artsy types.

  5. Excellent points Steve. Incidentally, I feel the same way every year when ESPN chalks up BSU's football season to other things than talent. :-)

  6. winteryknight, that explains why Craig seemed so hesitant to press his points with force as he normally does, and could have in this debate!!! No wonder why!!!!!!

    Here's a quote from the link you provided:

    I did respond briefly to Prof. Kagan's view, Alexander, but I didn't press the point because our hosts with the Veritas Forum had made it very clear to me that they were not interested in having a knock-down debate but a friendly dialogue that would foster a warm and inviting atmosphere for non-believing students at Columbia. The goal was simply to get the issues out on the table in a congenial, welcoming environment, which I think we did.

  7. winteryknight said:

    Veritas Forum has gone pansy in recent years, hosting a lot of left-wingers, theistic evolutionists and artsy types.

    I'm not sure how that's necessarily "pansy." When I directed the forum at NYU in 2006, we didn't mind having "pansy" participants to the extent that we could have them interact with non-"pansy" contributors. (And opening night for our forum was Kim Phuc. Her presentation was simply the Gospel through and through.)

    I can't speak to the apparent soft-handed approach asked of WLC, but you need to keep in mind the environment in which the forum engages. When I attended the university, NYU had approximately 300 active Christians in a student body of over 40,000. Conservative Christianity was intellectually and socially dismissed (and mocked) as beneath contempt by both students and professors alike, both inside and outside the classroom. As a Religious Studies major, I found that most of the time Christianity was mentioned, it was critiqued in a negative, or even hostile manner. The default, methodological assumption is that the Bible is riddled with contradictions and errors, and that its moral values are archaic and offensive.

    Extrapolate this atmosphere to similar intellectual environments at Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, etc. To get any sort of funding, support, interest, approval for use of facilities, etc., at an indifferent, or even hostile, secular university requires hosting a program that facilitates dialogue between differing viewpoints, usually on a wide spectrum of positions; that's what students and faculty are interested in, and they otherwise avoid anything that resembles the false and hypocritical preaching they have (rightly or wrongly) come to associate with Christianity in general. Such a dialogue requires having at least some of the panelists be "pansy" in quality. Who else will the conservative Christians interact with? Without the draw of the "pansy" contributor, no one would come to the event to hear the non-"pansy" contributor. (The only exception to this is when you have someone like Kim Phuc. But those kinds of Christian presenters are virtually non-existent, for obvious reasons.)

    Whatever you'd like to say about how these forums are handled, please take into account just how difficult it is to be regarded as a credible voice at the university. Using terms like "hamstrung" and "pansy" to relate the overall work of the Veritas Forum is discourteous. There are legitimate concerns to be raised about the Veritas Forum, but many of those who help run such forums are fellow laborers in an otherwise fallow field, trying to do what they can with what they have.

  8. I'm struck by that part where you say Craig is not a great orator, I agree with that. I thought Harris however was good in that respect though. Reminds me of the Nixon/Kennedy deal, Kennedy winning on tv and Nixon on radio. Except Craig even won on 'tv.'

  9. Atheist and apostate Luke Muehlhauser who is a sort of "expert" on Craig has written on his blog:

    "William Lane Craig is a prolific Christian philosopher, apologist, author, and public debater. He is the best debater – on any topic – that I’ve ever heard. As far as I can tell, he has won nearly all his debates with atheists. When debating him, atheists have consistently failed to put forward solid arguments, and consistently failed to point out the flaws in Craig’s arguments.

    I’m not the only one who thinks Craig has won nearly all his debates. For some atheists, it is rather maddening."

  10. Its starting to get old seeing atheists in the peanut gallery all saying they can't believe Craig continues to beat atheists when all of his arguments have been debunked/are trash.

  11. Jay,

    It isn't clear if the atheists in the peanut gallery think Craig's arguments are trashed, or if you think so.

  12. Steve,

    This is off topic, but I don't know your e-mail address, and didn't see it in your profile, so I thought it might be okay to ask your thoughts on a question that's been on my mind recently.

    I hear a lot of statistics cited hither and thither bemoaning the fact that "young people are leaving church as soon as they're able", in reference to college-age young adults.

    These statistics are usually cited just before a call to re-double efforts at ministry to these "at-risk young people" in order to keep them as engaged and active participants in the church.

    Now I'm no statistician, but it seems that there's probably something to this phenomenon at least anecdotally, and I don't have any reason to disbelieve the actual statisticians that put together this sort of data; so my question to you - if you don't mind answering me here or perhaps exploring it in a separate post - is; is this necessarily a bad thing?

    I mean, if they're goats, why would the church want to build goat pens to keep them inside?

    Why not let them out?

    God's people hear His voice and desire to sit under the pure preaching of His Word, and to serve Him and His people, therefore those who don't want to hear Him or serve Him probably aren't hearing His voice, thus they are probably not His people.

    I'm not saying that we simply write-off such folks (backsliders?) without a hint of interest or without earnest and sincere pleadings that they carefully and prayerfully reconsider their choice to abandon Christ and His church, but it seems to me that 1 John 2:19 might very well be in play such situations.

    What say you?

    In Christ,

  13. The same statisticians will also tell you that most of them also come back to the church at a later age, usually when they have kids of their own and/or a marriage and career. So it's not clear they are goats. Some maybe are, some aren't. We can't tell. We go off their profession. And we know Christians can backslide. In general, ceteris paribus, it's better to avoid backsliding than not. It's not a good, though it may be used for good. So I don't see why we'd not want to present their leaving the church.

  14. CD,

    On the one hand, leaving church can be a winnowing process that separates the wheat from the chaff, or wheat from the tares (pick your metaphor).

    On the other hand, they may leave because they were told what to believe, but never told why to believe it.

    Moreover, the pastor or eldership may have failed to foster a devotional life on the part of the young folks. They lack a grounding in personal religious experience. So it's all abstract and rather unreal.

    Also, leaving the church isn't synonymous with leaving the faith. They may find that church doesn't feed them, that's all.

  15. I don't think I've ever been thrilled with a WCL debate. Win the debate, yes. Win the message, no.

    There's a local atheist, young and philosophically untrained, that has a connection to some members of my church. He has sought to engage us using many of the same points That Sam Harris makes. We don't generally humor him going down the road into endless fruitless debates. However, I have developed brief answers designed to cooperate with the Holy Spirit should He decide to regenerate this young atheist. They wouldn't win a debate over a false objection to the Christian faith, but they're not supposed to. But bu using a presuppositional approach, they would go far to convict a living soul of their error.

    I once spent a couple weeks with an associate of Craig's who shares his thinking. We were ministering the gospel to Muslims. Interestingly, in the work that we were doing, he developed an apologetical approach that was more practical than what Craig uses in his debates that recognized something of the false presups of the Muslims we encountered.

    But listening to debates like this leaves me groaning on the edge of my chair like pulling for an athletic team that wasn't playing half as well as they could.