Frank Turek interview with William Lane Craig
William Lane Craig at SES National Conference on Christian Apologetics
SES National Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina, United States – October 28, 2011
Frank Turek interviews William Lane Craig at Southern Evangelical Seminary’s National Conference on Christian Apologetics. Dr. Craig speaks on his experience with the Reasonable Faith tour in the UK.
Frank Turek: What would you think of a quarterback who approached the line of scrimmage and told the defense, “We’re going to run this play right now. In fact, I’m going to throw a down and out to the wide receiver. See if you can stop it”? And every time he came to the line of scrimmage, he told the defense, “This is what we’re going to run.” And every time, the defense couldn’t stop it.
Here’s the quarterback. [Gestures to Dr. William Lane Craig] Every time he goes into, really, the lion’s den, academia, to debate someone, they already know what he’s going to say. Many times, the arguments are the same five arguments, depending upon the topic of the debate. Dr. Craig gives the same five arguments for many of his debates, and they still can’t stop it—which shows you not only the strength of the argument, but the strength of the man and the strength of the Holy Spirit behind him.
And his books certainly have been a Godsend to me and I know many in this room. Probably his most famous book is called Reasonable Faith. If you don’t have it and you’re an apologist, consider yourself uneducated. [Laughter] I’ve got it all marked up. If you’d like something a little bit more for lay people, even though I think this is accessible to the intelligent layperson, you want to get On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Passion and Precision. This is very accessible. In fact, Bobby Conway, the One Minute Apologist—you may have seen his room out here to the left, where he interviews apologists and gets a one-minute snippet from them—has put together a curriculum with Dr. Craig on On Guard. It’s a DVD. Unfortunately, it’s only one minute long. [Laughter]
But Dr. Craig really packs a punch in one minute. Actually, it’s 234 minutes long, and it goes through, I think, eight lessons, where Dr. Craig is explaining the concepts here in the book in a very accessible way. So, I’d encourage you at your church to get that. And, Bill, you have something called Reasonable Faith chapters. Why don’t you just tell them a little bit about that?
Dr. Craig: Sure. We’ve attempted to provide local groups for fellowship and encouragement and stimulus for people who are interested in apologetics, both on university campuses and then in local churches. Our experience has been that folks like yourselves often feel very isolated intellectually, because others in your church aren’t interested in these questions, they don’t care about them, and you feel rather the odd man out. These local Reasonable Faith chapters help like-minded people to come together for mutual encouragement, as well as for outreach. And so, these are developing all over the country, and even abroad. We have one of our representatives here from the Dallas chapter, Allen Hainline, who’s in the exhibit area, to talk to you about how you could start a local Reasonable Faith chapter in your church or school.
Frank Turek: And ReasonableFaith.org is the website, which is a website you need to avail yourselves of. Also, the top apologetics blog—or I should say, podcast—according to Apologetics 315, is Dr. Craig’s podcast, which you can get at ReasonableFaith.org. Is it dot org, or dot com?
Dr. Craig: Dot org. It’s a non-profit, and everything there is free.
Frank Turek: Okay, ReasonableFaith.org. Now, we want to discuss a little bit of a tour that Dr. Craig has been on for about the past 10 days. He’s a little bit jet-lagged coming back from the UK. You had four debates and several presentations in the UK—one which was supposed to happen and didn’t. You may have heard of the supposed debate with Richard Dawkins, but Richard Dawkins wimped out, and so it never happened. But Bill, talk about what did occur, particularly on the Dawkins debate, which didn’t happen. I mean, there were signs on busses which said something like, “Don’t be worried, there may not even be a Dawkins,” or something.
Dr. Craig: “There’s probably no Dawkins, now stop worrying and enjoy the event October 25th at the Sheldonian Theatre.” There were 30 of these busses driving around Oxford like this, and this really got under Richard Dawkins’ skin, finally. Just a couple of days before the debate, he published a vitriolic personal attack in the newspaper The Guardian on me saying I was morally unfit to engage in a debate, and that therefore he would neither shake my hand or appear on the platform with me. Even though he had done both last November in Mexico.
Well, we chose not to respond, and what happened, I think, was that Dawkins’ strategy just proved counterproductive because it brought down upon him denunciations from other atheists in the press and on blog sites for his obvious desperation to find excuses to not engage in debate, and really, really made him look very small, I think, as a result.
Frank Turek: And instead of having the debate, then, you actually went to a forum there in the UK. And I heard through an actual news report on it that you fairly critiqued his book, but then you had three atheists critique your critique of the book. Tell us about that.
Dr. Craig: Right, rather than go mano a mano with Dawkins, they arranged to have three Oxford professors respond to me without letting me see the responses in advance, and I said, “This is supposed to be an improvement?” But they had Stephen Priest, John Parrington, and Daniel Came, who are all Oxford lecturers and professors, and they each commented on my critique of Dawkins’ attack on theistic arguments. And then I had a chance to extemporaneously respond to them before throwing it open to questions from the audience. It was a wonderful evening. It was in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, which is an auditorium that was designed by the great architect Christopher Wren. Inside, it’s a sort of semi-circular auditorium with three galleries stretching vertically, straight up the walls, and circular portals letting the light in. Just a stunning setting. And so, it was really a magical evening. One of those moments that one will remember the rest of one’s life.
Frank Turek: Now, you told me beforehand that they actually filmed this and all the other events, so these will be available at some point?
Dr. Craig: Yes, the organizers of the trip hired a film crew to follow us around from event to event. They filmed every single event, as well as the environs—the cities and so forth—so that they hope to not only have each event available on video, but to produce a sort of documentary of the whole 10-day tour, which I think should be very interesting.
Frank Turek: By the way, if you want to see Dr. Craig’s written critique of Richard Dawkins, every Monday, Dr. Craig answers a question on his website, ReasonableFaith.org. Right now, there are over 200 questions and answers on that archive. The very first one, if you go back to question number one, you will see his critique of The God Delusion. Very, very well done, as you could imagine. So if you want to see an actual critique of what Dawkins has written, you can go to his website.
Now, Dr. Craig, you had four other debates, one with Stephen Law. Tell us a little bit about that debate and how that went.
Dr. Craig: Now, this was an incredibly packed tour, four debates in 10 days. It was just amazing. The one with Stephen Law was held in Central Hall, Westminster, right across the street from Westminster Abbey—just a gorgeous, ornate, grand auditorium. We debated on the existence of God, and had over 1,700 people show up for that event. It went very well. We had a very substantive debate. The centerpiece of Law’s argument was his so-called “evil God” objection, which he uses in order to defend the problem of evil. And I offered a critique as to why I thought his “evil God” objection is a failure. He put all the eggs in one basket. He refused to engage with the cosmological argument. He staked his claim on the “evil God” objection, so whether you think that stands or falls will determine, I think, your reaction to the debate.
Frank Turek: And in 1998, you had a famous debate, which we’ll see a clip of later, with Peter Atkins at the Carter Center in Atlanta. Richard Howe and I had the privilege of being there, and it was a magical evening because William Buckley was moderator. I’ll never forget the intro. He said, “Representing the Christian position is Dr. William Lane Craig.” He went into all of Dr. Craig’s academic credentials, and then he said, “Representing the devil is Peter Atkins.” [Laughter] How did that debate go, the second time, with Atkins?
Dr. Craig: This one was held at Manchester University up north, and we had an overflow capacity crowd there—600 seats in the main auditorium sold out, then they spilled over into overflow rooms. And in that debate, Dawkins answers the question, “Why does something exist rather than nothing?” by saying that really, nothing exists, and therefore there’s nothing to be explained. The positive energy and the negative energy in the universe balance out so, net nothing exists.
Frank Turek: This is what Atkins was saying?
Dr. Craig: Yeah, this is his view. This is his actual position, is that you escape the question by affirming that nothing exists, not even himself. I said, “Well, if Dr. Atkins doesn’t exist, why do I need to answer his objections, since nobody has ever pressed it?”
Frank Turek: Ah, that’s much to do about nothing.
Dr. Craig: Yes.
Frank Turek: Alright, how about your debate with Peter Millican, what happened there?
Dr. Craig: This was, I think, the finest debate of the tour. Peter Millican has recently been elevated to full professor of philosophy at Oxford University, a very credible person with considerable gravitas. His willingness to participate in a debate with me, and then also to chair the Sheldonian event in Oxford, just gave the lie to all of Richard Dawkins’ accusations about the unworthiness and ineptness of participating in a debate with me, because Millican was able to do it and willing to do it.
We had a very cordial and substantive exchange at the University of Birmingham, which is my alma mater. That’s where I earned my doctorate, and so it was sort of a homecoming. And it was held in the Great Hall of the university, which is this beautiful, ornate structure that seats about a thousand people, and again it just filled up—people streaming down the center aisle, filling up this Great Hall. Millican and I then had this very, very good debate on this existence of God.
Frank Turek: What was his main argument against God’s existence?
Dr. Craig: Well, he was all over the place. He responded to all of my arguments. He had nine objections to the fine-tuning argument, if you can imagine. He attacked the cosmological argument, he attacked the moral argument, he attacked the resurrection of Jesus. And so, he clashed with everything. The only problem is, he didn’t do it all in the same speech. He would attack two arguments in one speech, two arguments in the rebuttal, and then another argument in the closing statement. So, it was rather disorganized, but there was a lot of substance there to debate on each issue.
Frank Turek: And is there one argument he gave that you thought was a formidable one?
Dr. Craig: No… [Laughter] I didn’t. I had prepared for all of these. There was a lot to deal with. As I say, nine objections to fine-tuning alone. But they weren’t substantive, they were soundbite-ish, almost. And so, I didn’t feel, with all due respect, that there was any sort of substantive objection that I wasn’t able to handle.
Frank Turek: Okay, and the video and audio at one point will be up on BeThinking.org, is that the place?
Dr. Craig: That’s right. They’ll all be posted on BeThinking.org as soon as they’re edited. They did a two-camera shoot; they’ll edit them together. And then folks can watch the debate and make up their own minds. The reaction from the people who were there was just incredibly enthusiastic: one, because of the substance of the debate; but secondly because of the mutual respect and civility of the two protagonists toward each other. And so, many said that they thought it was one of the best debates that I’ve ever participated in.
Frank Turek: And then you had a debate that you probably never had participated in, at least in terms of format—a British-style debate, where you teamed up with Peter Williams from, I think, Oxford—
Dr. Craig: Damaris Trust.
Frank Turek: From Damaris Trust, and then two other atheists. But the audience, you said, could get involved. Now, how did that go?
Dr. Craig: This was wild, Frank. This was a debate at the Cambridge Union, which is the oldest debating society in the world, at Cambridge University. And it was British parliamentary-style debate, such as you see in the House of Commons. So, when you walk into the debating chamber, there are rows of maroon leather benches, facing each other and ascending toward the walls. And then around the walls is a 360-degree gallery, where people can sit. And you sit down in the well and speak to the crowd all around you. It was, I think, the most enjoyable experience I, as a public speaker, have ever had, because it was so unusual.
The two opening speakers first spoke for the House. We were the House. The House believes that God is not a delusion. And then the opposition spoke, and then it was thrown open to the audience, and just anybody could get up and speak and say anything.
Frank Turek: Was Richard Dawkins there?
Dr. Craig: No.
Dr. Craig: But the level of sophistication was comparable.
I mean, students would get up and say things like, “If God created everything, then who created God?” And then they would all applaud, as though this were some sort of a significant point, and it became very clear that we were debating in front of a crowd that had only a sort of village atheist understanding of these issues.
Frank Turek: So, Dawkins was there!
Dr. Craig: Well, yeah, through his influence. So, the amount of applause for the other team, the kinds of speeches that were given from the floor, you could just feel the momentum turning against us as the sort of emotional tide in the room was going that way. And I thought, “Boy, we’re in big trouble here.” And I couldn’t give a full speech until the closing argument.
After everybody spoke, then I got up and gave the closing argument for the House, and then Arif Ahmed gave the closing argument for the opposition. I had a prepared ending to the speech, where I tried to explain to the audience all that our opponents needed to do in the last speech to prove that God is a delusion—how we had given good arguments for God that hadn’t been refuted that night.
Then I talked about the students’ vote, because the way they finish out the debate that evening is the students exit through one of two doorways. Above one doorway it says “Ayes,” and the other one says “Nos.” And if you go through the “Aye” doorway, you’re voting for the House. If you exit through the other one, you’re voting for the opposition. And they count the votes by where people exit. Then afterwards, in the student bar upstairs, they announced the result.
And so, I explained to the students, “If you believe that belief in God is a delusion, then you are saying that all of your believing friends and professors are literally irrational, that they are delusional. Not simply that God doesn’t exist, but that they are literally irrational and delusional. And are you really that judgmental? Is that the kind of person you want to be?” And I said, “If you’re respectful of the opinions of others, tolerant of a diversity of opinion on difficult questions and open-minded, then you’ll walk through the door marked ‘Aye.’” And challenged them to do that.
And in the end, when we went upstairs—I mean, we had no idea how this was going to go—the girl came upstairs, and she rang this bell in the student bar to get the attention of people. And she said, “We have a House divided!” And she then announced the vote, and it turned out that Peter Williams and I had won by just 14 votes in this very secular audience. So, it very exciting.
Frank Turek: Richard Dawkins was seen on video going through the “no” door several times.
Frank Turek: What was your sense of the climate there in the UK when it comes to Christianity and apologetics?
Dr. Craig: I sensed that the apologetics revolution that is going on here in the United States is just beginning in the UK. The fire is just being kindled, I think. We could see the interest in the kind of attendance at these conferences or these debates. Everywhere we went, there were capacity crowds, so there’s tremendous interest. But it doesn’t seem that the churches have yet caught the vision of providing this kind of training for their people. So as a result, I was told British evangelical Christianity tends to be charismatic and anti-intellectual.
It’s really pulling teeth to try to get folks in the churches, in the leadership, to engage with this kind of material, but I think it’s happening. At the Be Thinking conference held on a Saturday morning in London at Martin Lloyd Jones’ old church, Westminster Chapel, we had about 500 people come for training and apologetics. Now, it wasn’t a capacity crowd; it was the only event that wasn’t capacity. But nevertheless, I was told this was probably the largest apologetics conference ever held in Great Britain, so that was an encouraging sign.
Frank Turek: Who sponsored this event? Your whole tour, I mean.
Dr. Craig: Well, it didn’t actually have any sponsor, Frank. I mean, this is one of the awkward things about it. Again, there was no British organization that was willing to put up money for this.
Frank Turek: Not even a church or a Christian organization of any kind?
Dr. Craig: No. No philanthropist, no organization. So, that’s why they had to charge tickets at all of these events. People had to pay five to 12 pounds to get into these debates, and yet they still were filled to capacity, even having to buy tickets to get into them. And the reason they charged money was because they had to pay the expenses of renting all these great halls and our travel expenses, and so forth. So, they had to sell out every venue just in order to break even.
Now, having said that, although we didn’t have any sponsors, there were other organizations whose personnel were involved. UCCF, or Intervarsity, in Great Britain, their personnel was involved. Damaris Trust was involved personnel-wise. Peter Williams partnered with me in the one debate. And then Premier Christian Radio with Justin Brierley was also involved in helping to put on and organize the events.
Frank Turek: And you’ve been on Justin’s show several times. That’s another podcast you may want to avail yourselves of: Unbelievable with Justin Brierley. It’s out of the UK, and Justin has had Dr. Craig on several times. He’s had Mike Licona on, he’s had Gary on, he’s had several people on here.
Dr. Craig: Yeah, he’s doing a very good job.
Frank Turek: Yeah, he’s doing a very good job in the UK. But it’s troubling a little bit to me that there would be no Christian organization—I mean, you had a private, individual fund quite a bit of the trip, correct?
Dr. Craig: Yes, he put forward the money just out of his own pocket to help pay for the bus campaign in Oxford and for other things on faith that he would be reimbursed out of the till from the ticket sales. So, he really went out on a limb in order to make this happen, and I really am tremendously grateful for his generosity and his vision and faith in doing this.
Frank Turek: But people had to pay, I guess in US dollars that might be what, 25 dollars to come to a debate?
Dr. Craig: Well, 20 dollars if you were an adult. For students it was less, probably eight dollars to get in.
Frank Turek: And they came anyway.
Dr. Craig: And they came.
Frank Turek: Now Bill, we have an idea in our culture, I think, generally, that we think everyone is post-modern—that they don’t even believe in truth. And I heard you say this before, you don’t agree with that.
Dr. Craig: Not at all. I think that’s an utter misdiagnosis of our contemporary culture. Our culture remains deeply modernist at its heart. Nobody is a post-modernist when it comes to reading the labels on a box of rat poison and a bottle of Aspirin. If you’ve got a headache, you better believe that texts have objective meaning.
People are not relativistic and pluralistic about engineering, medicine, and technology. What they’re relativistic and pluralistic about is ethics and religion. But that’s not post-modernism, that’s modernism. That’s just old-line verificationism, which says, “If you can’t prove it by the scientific method, it’s merely a matter of personal taste and emotive expression.” And the nerve of response that has been struck by the New Atheists, I think, is the most eloquent testimony of how deeply modernist our culture remains, because if these post-modernists were correct, the writings of Richard Dawkins and the other New Atheists would just fall like water on a duck’s back, rather than receiving the reception that is has, because they are totally modernist, verificationist, scientistic. So, it is a great, great mistake to think that we live in a post-modern society, and that the traditional canons of logic, evidence, and truth are no longer relevant. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Frank Turek: So, friends, if you want to reach unbelievers, forget all the namby-pamby post-modern stuff. It’s easily refuted anyway. Dr. Craig goes over to the UK, one of the most secular areas in the entire world, and people pay to get in to hear him talk science! Hello, McFly, come on!
We’ve got to get on board here! So, his books and his videos are available to you at ReasonableFaith.org. As he mentioned, too, you can go to BeThinking.org as well. And Bill, we just have a few minutes left. I want to ask you sort of your overall sense of the lesson or the conclusion or the idea that you’ve come away with from this tour. What’s your overall conclusion about it?
Dr. Craig: Well, I think I have the overall impression that we as Christians simply mustn’t let the culture drift in the way that it has in Great Britain. In 1900 in Great Britain, zero percent of the population was classed as non-religious. Today, 34 percent of the British population is classed as non-religious. Thirty-four percent compared to zero percent in just a century.
The church in Britain, frankly, has been asleep at the switch, and has allowed the culture to drift into secularism. And now Islam is filling the spiritual vacuum that has been left by the demise of Christianity in the UK. I and others are involved in a kind of reclamation effort to try to awaken and revive the church in England, so that she can reclaim lost ground and commend the faith culturally as relevant and intellectually viable for thinking people today. And so, I am just passionate about this for Britain, but also for our own country here in the United States. It is absolutely critical that we be intellectually engaged in this way, lest the same sort of destructive trends continue here.
Frank Turek: So, how can the people here, sitting in this room, get engaged to advance the Kingdom, at least on the intellectual front?
Dr. Craig: Well, first they need themselves to be able to give a sound apologetic case for what and why they believe as they do. A simple book like The Case for Christ or On Guard or others will give them the tools to answer most unbelievers’ questions. If I might say quickly, I was stunned, Frank, when I had a debate with Lawrence Krauss earlier this year—prominent physicist and bitter anti-Christian critic. And afterwards I thought to myself, a layperson who was trained with the arguments of On Guard could have successfully debated Lawrence Krauss. That’s how bad it was.
And so, the layman can get equipped with these kinds of books, and it will enable him to answer 95 percent, I think, of the objections that he meets. Secondly, if you’re a parent, you need to be discipling your children in this area. Don’t leave it to the church and the youth pastor, because they won’t do it. You have got to train your children from a young age on up—
—why we as Christians believe what we do. It’s not enough just to read your children Bible stories anymore. We’ve got to equip them with apologetics. And then third, I’d encourage us all to get involved in the local church in some way. Don’t ask your pastor to do this, he’s too busy to do something else. You start a class in your church. You take the initiative and start an apologetics group or Reasonable Faith chapter or something of that sort, and get involved in making these materials available to others in your church, and you’ll see lives changed as a result.
Frank Turek: You know, this man writes voluminously, as you know, prolifically. He travels the world, defending the Christian faith, against some of the most notorious atheists and agnostics and sceptics out there, yet every Sunday he can, he is at his church teaching apologetics. In fact, you’re going home tonight so you can teach tomorrow, aren’t you?
Dr. Craig: Yeah, well, Joe Mulvihill is going to take the class from me tomorrow, but I’m going to be there, yes. I wasn’t sure when we left whether I would be sick and exhausted when we came back from the UK. In fact, I feel great. But I’ve got Joe on tap for tomorrow. But we’ll be there to give a debriefing.
Frank Turek: But you teach a Sunday school class.
Dr. Craig: Oh, we’re deeply committed to the ministry of the local church, Frank. It is an essential part of Christian discipleship to be using your spiritual gift in the context of the local church.
Frank Turek: By the way, there are two podcasts Dr. Craig puts out. One of them is a 10 to 20 minute or so topical one that he records with Kevin Harris, and then there’s another one of his actual Sunday school class that is called…
Dr. Craig: It’s called Defenders, and it’s on Christian doctrine and apologetics together, and we have a wonderful time, and have about 10,000 people a week who download this podcast and join us for Defenders every Sunday.
Frank Turek: And you can go all the way back to 2007 on the archives on that one, so this is a wealth of apologetic knowledge sitting right here that is archived on the web. ReasonableFaith.org.
Now what I’d like to do—we’re right at two o’clock—I would like to give Dr. Craig an extra five minutes for his presentation. So, in this room we will start at 2:10 for Dr. Craig’s presentation. He wants to have some time for questions. He won’t have any time to talk to anyone right now. He has to get prepared for his talk. After his talk he will be available over in the Exhibitors Hall to talk further if you’d like. And when you go through the Exhibitors Hall, if you go to the left, you will see the On Guard…
 For a video of this talk, see http://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/is-god-a-delusion-sheldonian-theatre-oxford (accessed August 10, 2013).
 Total Running Time: 30:02