#155

Debating

Question 1:

Dear Dr. Craig.

Blessings!

I am truly inspired by your work. I am currently working on my BAS of Theology at Southeastern University. I love watching your debates and hearing your lectures, etc. But my question is a simple one. I have gone through and looked through Atheist's critiques of your debate points. Many of them say that not only are you highly intelligent, and well prepared in your fields, but that you are an amazing debater because of your long history of debating. They say that the only reason you really have an upper-hand in a majority of the debates is not because your facts are right, but because you are such a great speakers and debater. They seem to think that if there was a prominent Atheist with equal debate experience and strategy as you that they would be "winning the battle".

So my question is broken down into three points.

Do you ever go through and read these attacks and critiques?

What is their reasoning for believing that your facts (for example, evidence of the fine tuning of the universe) are not facts at all and contradict science, philosophy, etc.?

Do you believe that they criticize your use of these facts because your facts are indeed debatable, with more than one view or opinion, or because of their failure to actually research the facts you have presented because of their strong faith in their Atheistic world view?

Thank you so much for your time, I pray that your ministry continues to be blessed and that you continue to grow in your walk with Christ.

Blessings,

Cris

Boo hoo! Poor atheists! Big, bad Bill Craig has debate training, and that’s why they can’t even mount a decent response to the same five arguments I’ve been putting out there for 20 years!

Seriously, Cris, while debate training (especially knowing how to manage the clock) is undoubtedly a great help in winning a debate, that’s just not a sufficient explanation for the impotence of atheists to offer refutations of these arguments—or to present a case of their own for atheism. Keep in mind that my oral debates are actually a relatively minor part of my work. Most of my work is published by scholarly presses and in peer-reviewed professional journals, where I have been very forthcoming in responding to critics such as Mackie, Grünbaum, Smith, Oppy, Sobel, Morriston, et al. Some of my debates have been published with critical responses in monograph form, where respondents can write their critiques at leisure and rhetorical techniques become irrelevant. These books include:

Does God Exist? With Antony Flew. Responses by K. Yandell, P. Moser, D. Geivett, M. Martin, D. Yandell, W. Rowe, K. Parsons, and Wm. Wainwright. Ed. Stan Wallace. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003.

God?: A Debate between a Christian and an Atheist. With Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Is Goodness without God Good Enough? A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics. With Paul Kurtz. Ed. Nathan King and Robert Garcia. With responses by Louise Antony, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, John Hare, Donald Hubin, Stephen Layman, Mark Murphy, and Richard Swinburne. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? With John Dominic Crossan. Ed. Paul Copan with responses by Robert Miller, Craig Blomberg, Marcus Borg, and Ben Witherington III. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Bookhouse, 1998.

The Resurrection: Fact or Figment? With Gerd Lüdemann. Ed. Paul Copan with responses by Stephen T. Davis, Michael Goulder, Robert H. Gundry, and Roy Hoover. Downer’s Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000.

I invite anyone to read these books and see if he thinks my arguments hold up. In fact, I wish people would read these books! I’m troubled that some people seem to know me only through debates which are often frustratingly shallow because my opponents rarely bring up any good objections.

In answer to your specific questions: I read scholarly criticisms of my work, but I tend to ignore popular stuff on the internet, since I figure the internet critics are not likely to say anything of substance that the scholars have missed. (That impression has been borne out by the criticisms I have read.) As to what their reasoning is, I’d say you’d be in a better position than I am to answer that question, for the reason just given. Again, I can’t speculate as to your third question. I’ll simply say that almost everything is debatable: there are two sides to every issue. I’ve never said that Christian theism is a slam dunk—just more plausibly true than false.

Question 2:

Dear Dr Craig,

I am personally a skeptic and a strong atheist, but I admire what you do and enjoy your literature very much.

This is not a philosophy of religion question/s, it is concerning debates in particular. Luke Muehlauser from Common Sense Atheism has stated that people should study your debating technique like actors should study Marlon Brando, and I fully agree.

Here are my questions:

1. Would you ever consider releasing an instructional manual on the intricacies and more technical aspects of professional debating?

2. Do you think that debate is a truly effective form of dialogue, or do you view it more as a kind of academic test of wills?

3. How long have you done competitive debating for?

4. What kinds of books, articles and manuals could you recommend for the professional debater if he or she wished to improve their debating skills?

5. Who was your most difficult and challenging debate opponent in your mind (does not have to be on religion specifically, could be any topic you have debated)? Maybe you could give a quick top five list?

6. This last question is a little off topic, but here goes. There was a recent survey done of leading philosophers and scientist asking the question "What have you changed your mind about?" I would like to pose the same question to you. During your Christian life, what kinds of issues have you shifted your stance on?

Thank-you for taking the time to consider my question.

Regards,

Rhys

Good to hear from you again, Rhys! In answer to your questions:

1. I wouldn’t publish a book on debating, but I do occasionally teach a course on debate at Talbot (see our recent newsletter). I even used some of Luke’s stuff in the class!

2. I guess I think it’s both. I’ve said that I think it’s a sort of Western equivalent of what missiologists call a “power encounter” between the local pagan deities and the God of the Bible. But I think that the recordings and transcripts of the debates, viewed and studied in retrospect, are very stimulating and educational. I’ve certainly learned a lot through preparing for these debates.

3. When I was in the eighth grade, my older sister Tami and I used to argue all the time. One day in exasperation she said, “All you want to do is argue! You should join the debate team!” “What’s that?” I said. She explained to me about the high school debate team at East Peoria Community High School (which was, by the way, very good, having won state that year). So when I became a freshman the following year I went out for the team and started debating. That was 1964. When I graduated from Wheaton College in 1971, I figured my debating days were over. But in 1982, with my doctoral studies behind me, I received an invitation from a Canadian Christian group to debate the atheist philosopher Kai Nielsen at the University of Calgary. What I discovered is that whereas a few score might come out to hear me give a talk on campus, hundreds or even thousands of students will come out to hear a debate. So I found to my delight that debate is a great forum for defending the Christian worldview on university campuses.

4. There really aren’t any books I know of about the kind of debating I do because most debate books are on debating questions of policy rather than questions of fact. That has been one of the challenges when it comes to teaching my class at Talbot. What do you assign students to read? There’s not much out there!

5. Several years ago I was becoming frustrated with the level of opponent I continually found myself facing, and I began to wonder, “How would I fare if I faced someone who was both a good philosopher and a good debater?” I was itching for a good opponent. I didn’t have to wait long to find out. I was invited to debate a philosophy professor named Doug Jesseph at the University of North Carolina on the question, “Does God Exist?” As he spoke, I thought to myself, “Wow, this guy is really good!” It was an incredibly exciting debate. After each speech, it seemed as though the advantage had shifted from one side to the other. It wasn’t until late in the rebuttals that I felt I pulled ahead. After the debate, when we shook hands, I said to him, “You’re really a good debater!” Dr. Jesseph replied, “Thanks! I was on my college debate team.” Ha! It was the best debate I’ve had, and the transcript is on our website.

6. Several things. When I wrote The Kalam Cosmological Argument (1979) I thought that God was merely a factually necessary being (as Swinburne believes). I also thought the ontological argument had no value. Plantinga’s work convinced me otherwise. I also was unconvinced by Leibniz’s cosmological argument until I saw Stephen Davis’s formulation of it. I had never even heard of middle knowledge, and, once I became familiar with it, I was uncertain about it until David Basinger convinced me of its validity. More recently, I’ve become increasingly attracted, contrary to my earlier predisposition, to a nominalistic view of so-called abstract objects like numbers, propositions, properties, and so on. So one is always learning and, hopefully, improving.