If You Were To Debate William Lane Craig How Would You Go About It?

JohnnyP weighs in on this below. How would you do it?
What annoys me is the fact that by now people should know how to debate Craig. Price and Ahmed pretty much tried the right tack with some success. It sounds close to ad hom, but you need to set your stall out by attacking Craig's methodology. I lie in bed at night sometimes dreaming of how I would debate Craig. This is the definition of sad, I know. He puts himself in an unassailable position in debate terms because he

1) uses a scatter-gun approach that means that you have to answer about 100 points to be able to score a win. This is physically impossible to do.
2) argues from authority to make opinion sound like fact.
3) Uses the term fact highly dubiously. His four / five facts are not facts. These should be attacked at fundamental levels.

Take the Kalam Cosmological Argument. You need to go in there and say, before he gets the chance, that the KCA falls down at premise 1. It assumes the philosophical position of realism. I am not a realist, but a conceptualist, and therefore Craig has no leg to stand on. I exposed this in an essay on DC here: http://debunkingchristianity.b...

Basically, I would open with something like this:

"Dr Craig is a formidable debater, this much is true. But please do not be swayed tonight by rhetorical techniques and methods. Dr Craig will be using a lot of important sounding people to make his argument sound reasonably backed. This is called an argumentum ad verecundiam, or appeal to authority. In most cases, you will not know who these people are, what the context of the quotes are, what biases they contain, whether the quote is what they still believe, what someone who believes the opposite might think, and whether the person being quoted is in the minority or not. A voice in the dark. Be warned.

There will also be far too many points for me to rebut. I usually count in Dr Craig’s debates upwards of 50 points. However, each of these points is a debate in its own right – I cannot possibly attempt to refute them all and so I won’t. No, I will concentrate on a couple of points. To be honest, I don’t care if I lose this debate. Debates should be about educating the listener. To have a proper debate, Dr Craig and I should lock ourselves in a room and talk things over until we thrash out what we agree and disagree on in the most appropriate detail. Technically, if I do not rebut each of Craig’s points, I will lose ground in the contest. This is why Cr Craig presents a case in which he produces dozens of points, and then declares that I must not only produce my own positive case, but must also deconstruct each of his points. An impossible task. Therefore, I will worry myself with a few select issues with Dr Craig’s arguments and hope that he will neglect to include them in future debates.

Much of what Dr Craig argues depends on many hidden assumptions. Let us take one of his most favoured arguments, the Kalam Cosmological Argument as an example:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

Given that finite matter has existed since the beginning of time, the only things that have begun to exist have been abstract ideas, labels that we humans assign to arrangements of matter and energy. These do not exist objectively, but in the minds of each individual human. My idea of a hero is different to yours. We assign that chair the label of chair, but this label does not exist objectively, and all those atoms that make up the chair existed in a different format before they became a chair. The idea of the chair exists in each human who views it and assigns it that label. A squirrel will see it as something else, as would an alien, or someone from a different culture of time. We all have different memories and experiences of a chair that affect our experience of the label. So, given that all things that exist existed previously in different formats, it turns out the only ‘thing’ that began to exist in the history of everything was the universe itself. And that in itself is debatable – it may have always existed, for example. Which means that Dr Craig is making a generalised rule about something that has only ever happened once, and deducing that rule from things that don’t actually exist. And if they do, they exist within the system meaning that he is describing a rule for the system by looking at discrete behaviours within the system.

This doesn’t even touch on notions that the universe might be eternally existent, self-creating or formed through any number of multiverse scenarios. Dr Craig will happily cherry pick the science that defends what he wants to be the truth – a definite beginning through a singularity. Despite what he says, a huge wealth of scientists simply do not believe this is the case.

So just with one of his arguments, we can see that we are opening a can of philosophical and scientific worms. And every one of Dr Craig’s arguments is a claim of fact similar to this. In reality, Dr Craig’s arguments may seem very logical and lead to reasonable conclusions, but this will always be the case if you create premises that will logically do the job you want them to. However, it is these premises and assumption that form the foundation of his arguments that need to be put underneath the spotlight.

Take the argument that 75% of biblical scholars believe in the empty tomb. This seems powerful, but if we unpick it, we can see how weak it really is. Firstly, 75%, as far as theories go, is not very big. Since 99.9% of scientists believe in the theory of evolution, it is interesting that so many Christians deny it: you can see my point. Here we have as many as 1 in 4 scholars disbelieving the empty tomb story. But let’s take it one step further. What sort of people will generally take up biblical studies, learn for many years, do a PhD, get published and generally be interested enough in the bible and Christianity to devote their lives to studying them? Well, Christians, of course. And will Christians believe in the empty tomb? You can bet your bottom dollar they will. So, given that the vast majority of biblical scholars are Christians, it is almost tautologous to claim that 75% of biblical scholars believe in the empty tomb! It does not reasonably back the truth claim at all. We can see this by the analogous claim that almost 100% of Islamic scholars believe the account of Muhammad to be factually correct. Do you? How can you disagree with what 100% of the ‘experts’ believe?”

So on and so forth. I think Craig needs to be deconstructed argument by argument. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to defeat all his points. I would simply ignore most of what he says and get into much finer detail over one or two points whilst communicating this approach with the audience, letting them know why I was doing this.

Craig has too long been able to get away with setting up these debates and the arguments to sit in his favour, making it an impossible task for an opponent to defeat him in the time given. It’s about time atheist debaters got their heads out of their arses, did some homework, and took Craig to task.

Link
To see a professor of religion and philosophy take on Craig's arguments see A is For Atheist.

John Curry weighed in when Craig debates the resurrection of Jesus right here.

Luke at Common Sense Atheism wrote a post on How to Debate William Lane Craig.

One of the reasons I don't share is because I might actually debate Bill someday.

I'll be attending the debate between Bill Craig and Sam Harris on April 7th at the University of Notre Dame. Let's hope that goes well. For the record I thought Lawrence Krauss did very well.

-------

While I'm at it here is Professor Jeffrey Shallit's responses to David Wood's arguments in the debate he and I had on God's existence, Link.

0 comments: