Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How I Would Debate William Lane Craig

Most of you probably know who William Lane Craig is: He is, by far, the greatest Christian debater in the world. Now, in writing this post I am not saying that I have the ability to debate Craig. Maybe if I was given 25+ years of nonstop public debating I could. But I am NOT up to such a task now. I do, however, have some thoughts on how one might go about beating William Lane Craig in a debate:

1. Mess with Craig's mind. When you give your opening presentation, steal some of Craig's oft-used debating lines. For instance, Craig will often state that his opponent has the burden of destroying all of his arguments and then building a case for atheism. He does this because he wants to saddle his opponent with a burden that they might not be able to meet in the time given. I say you give him a taste of his own medicine: Give several arguments for the nonexistence of God (the problem of evil, unbelief, etc.) then tell the audience that Craig has the burden of destroying all of your arguments and building a positive case for the existence of God. Memorize the exact words he uses in his debates and then state those same lines, in the same tone of voice, only replacing certain bits of it to suit your own ends, as illustrated above. I have a feeling that this kind of tactic would leave Craig speechless, at least momentarily. Plus, it would be totally funny.

2. Prepare brief but devastating responses to Craig's usual "five facts" case, write them down, and use them in the debate. It'll be a lot easier, and it will mean that you won't have to spend a lot of time rebutting Craig's case, so you can spend more time launching arguments for atheism. This won't be hard: Rebut Craig's Kalam Argument by noting that a being who "acts" outside of time is incoherent and unintelligible. For Craig's resurrection argument, note what Gregory Dawes explained in Theism and Explanation: for theistic explanations to be valid, they must show that the event in question is probable given God's existence. You can turn this argument on its head by finding passages in the old testament that show how God doesn't care for false prophets. Then you construct an evil twin of Craig's argument by presenting five facts that show Jesus predicted the end of the world in his generation. That won't be hard to do, just read books like the following: The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, this blog post, and also read some of the contrived Christian responses to this stuff so that you can destroy them and note how contrived they are (make Craig explain all the facts with one hypothesis, as he demands of opponents of his resurrection arguments).

3. Watch a lot of debates that Craig has had, and try to find the inconsistencies so often present in his reasoning so that you can expose them for all the world to see, if they come up in the debate.

4. Read this blog post.

5. Have at least twenty live debates under your belt before you debate Craig, and preferrably you ought to have won most or all of them. Read Craig's work, watch as many of his debates online as you can. Basically, just get to know how he argues and be prepared to argue well yourself.

And that's about it. Craig has won nearly every debate he's been in, although his debate with Shelley Kagan on godless ethics did NOT go well, his debate with Paul Draper didn't go well, and... I'm not sure if I know anyone else who has fared well against the almighty Craig. It certainly is not because it is impossible. Indeed, I think anyone can tell from what I've written here that it is totally possible for an atheist to blow Craig out of the water and strip his "five-facts" case naked.


Kris said...

Are you serious? Saying you couldn't debate WL Craig is like saying an ant would be too big for you to stomp on.

Craig has never in his entire life won a single debate - he just follows the usual apologist MO: Say something completely incoherent, then proclaim victory when the opponent struggles to make sense of it.

A great debater is defined by his ability to reason and construct irrefutable arguments. If there was such a thing as a great Christian debater, that would mean there were irrefutable arguments (or even just coherent arguments) in Christianity's favour, which obviously there isn't.

AIGBusted said...

Hey Kris,

I'm not saying that Craig's arguments are correct, I'm simply saying that I think a lot of people leave his debates thinking he had the better arguments. I mean, it takes critical thinking to realize that most of Craig's responses to his opponents involve special pleading, appeals to authority (always carefully selecting authorities who agree with him), and various other fallacies. Most people just don't have the ability to take apart these things and realize how bad his responses really are.

Craig is very skilled in rhetoric, and so he is good at arguing and making his opponent look bad. He's like a lawyer.

Anyway, I'm flattered that you think I could actually take on Craig, but in reality I would have to have a lot of public debating experience before I would actually stand a chance of convincing an objective audience that Craig is wrong.

Luke said...

Yeah, that would all be good. I love that exapologist post.

Shane said...

AiGBusted, glad you liked my AnswersInGenes blog - it's because I'm a geneticist, and the real answers you find in the DNA trump anything in ancient myth.

Now, about debating WLC. I think you're right - people come away from his debates (as if debates ever settled anything!) feeling he had better arguments, but all his arguments are bogus, and some outright dishonest.

I think Luke has a point in that many people who debate him are unable to pierce each of these arguments, but most of those people have given pretty good accounts of themselves. But they have not exposed the chief defects of WLC himself, and that's what's needed here.

Will John Loftus be able to do that? I don't know - I certainly hope so. John has a very refreshing honesty. But Craig is a machine, and he runs to a script. As philosophers, he and Plantinga and Swinburne are hugely over-rated, but they do manage to project this aura. On paper they are less persuasive than in person (oh - I'll take that back re Swinburne - he is dreadfully dull in person).

Anyway, feel free to stop by my blog any time, as well as The Church of Jesus Christ Atheist - I haven't updated it much lately, and I need some material. Comments are good for that :-)

Kris said...

@AiGBusted: Sure, he is relatively skilled in rhetoric, but seeing as that's all he's capable of, whether you could convince an audience of him being wrong depends more on the intelligence (or lack of it) of the audience than anything else, which also makes impossible to say if you are "skilled enough", without knowing the prospective audience.

If talking to a room full of narrow-minded fundies, I don't think anyone would have enough experience to sway them ;)

eric said...

Craig knows exactly what he wants to say & exactly how he wants to say it, in a smooth, forceful delivery. However, his points are primitive and vacuous. He is righteous ass. I think I could debate him & I'm nobody.

Jon said...

In addition to Draper I thought Eddie Tabash did a pretty good job and would have to give him the nod against Craig. I also thought Bart Ehrman was pretty good, though I'm not sure I'd say he won.

I haven't heard the Kagan debate, so I'll listen to that.

Rhology said...

Hi there,

It's funny you should say this:
it is totally possible for an atheist to blow Craig out of the water and strip his "five-facts" case naked.

It's not a very scientific statement, since it's never happened and so there's no way to observe the possibility. :-)

I do wonder why virtually all of WLC's opponents wither in the face of his barrage. It's not as if he ever says anything unexpected or new. Ppl just don't prepare for him. Hitchens was demolished. Atkins was badly embarrassed. Dawkins is running scared.

I have to say I'd like to see him debate Stephen Law. I just wonder why so many debate him and so few (ie, virtually none) prepare for him.


AIGBusted said...

Hi Rhology,

When I wrote this I don't think I was aware of William Lane Craig's debate with Afir Ahmed. Ahmed handles Craig well:

If the link messes up, then just google "Arif Ahmed Craig" or something like that and you'll find a link.

Also, Shelley Kagan destroyed Craig in a debate about morality:

And Richard Dawkins isn't 'running scared' from Craig. In fact, Craig refuses to debate his former student John Loftus, so even if Dawkins was "scared" Craig wouldn't be in a position to say anything, because he is running scared from someone too.

Rhology said...


I listened to the Kagan debate and thought Kagan did pitifully badly.
So funny how two ppl can think of the same event differently!

And I'm sorry, but it's impossible to take Loftus seriously. (Here's why I say that.) It would be a waste of time to debate Loftus. That is not a credible excuse for Dawkins.