The First Debate with Lawrence Krauss in Australia

The First Debate with Lawrence Krauss in Australia

A dialogue with Lawrence Krauss called, 'Has Science Buried God' became a symphony of personal attacks on Dr. Craig!


Transcript The First Debate With Lawrence Krauss in Australia

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, things took a rather unexpected turn, it seems, in the Australian tour, particularly in the first debate with Lawrence Krauss at Brisbane. That’s the one that everybody’s been talking about. It became a symphony of personal attacks upon you by Dr. Krauss, and it has really distracted from the issues that were being debated. Now I say, Bill, that it was unexpected – was it unexpected? Did this take you by surprise?

Dr. Craig: This really did catch me off-guard. The topic for the evening was: has science buried God? And, knowing Lawrence Krauss’ material, I thought that he would interpret that question to mean that science has rendered God unnecessary. This is the standard line he takes in his other dialogues, that in light of modern science we no longer need the God hypothesis in order to explain the way the world works. And so my response that I prepared was to explain why that’s a caricature of God; that in fact it’s just a rejection of the old god of the gaps where you appeal to God to plug up the gaps in scientific knowledge. And you and I, Kevin, have encountered this god of the gaps claim before when we did our podcasts on Sean Carroll. What became clear to me there was that it’s not theists, it’s not Christians, who believe in the god of the gaps. It’s these atheists who think that the God we believe in is this god of the gaps, a god that is used to plug up the holes in our scientific knowledge of the world, and so when those gaps are closed God is squeezed out. So what I wanted to do was to say in my opening remarks that this is not the God that we hold to. We do not believe in god of the gaps. And then, secondly, to explain what I’m sure was news to many of these folks down-under that there is a flourishing dialogue between science and theology going on in North America and Europe today, and that science and theology relate to one another in much more nuanced and interesting ways than this caricature of the god of the gaps. So that’s what I thought the dialogue would be about: has science buried God? And I would argue, no. If it’s buried the god of the gaps, so be it, but that’s not the God we believe in and therefore science has not buried God. Science and theology relate in very important ways that are mutually beneficial. And I had no idea that he would get up in his opening speech and launch into the most vicious personal attack that I’ve ever sustained in the 30 years of ministry that I’ve been involved in. One person aptly said after the dialogue, it seemed as though Krauss was trying to bury William Lane Craig, not bury God.

Kevin Harris: What were you thinking when this suddenly started to happen and then he started playing clips of you, even me, our podcast, and some things like that, and began what clearly became a relentless personal attack? What were you thinking up there?

Dr. Craig: Well, what I thought of, Kevin, was our podcasts that we recorded on the movie that Dawkins and Krauss did. I thought of the mistake that I had made in that in attributing a statement to Richard Dawkins that was actually made by the moderator in the movie but I was unaware of that because, as you remember, we were working with an audio tape of the film. When the film premiered in Toronto, Canada, at its public premier, someone in the audience with his cellphone made a recording of the movie and sent it to us. And by listening to this recording we could then do some podcasts on the film. In fact, Kevin, the film probably has not had any greater promotion than the promotion you and I have given it here at Reasonable Faith.[1]

Kevin Harris: Whoops.

Dr. Craig: But because I couldn't see who was speaking, but could only hear the voices, I mistakenly thought that Dawkins had made a statement when it was really the moderator. And so when Krauss showed these clips from the movie in which it was clear it was the moderator that said these things, not Dawkins, I thought, oh no, this is this terrible misunderstanding based on this podcast that Kevin and I did. And as you remember, Kevin, we were made aware of the mistake just few days after the podcast went up.

Kevin Harris: About five days.

Dr. Craig: Yes. As soon as we became aware of it we took that podcast down and corrected the mistake and then put it back up.[2] But apparently during those five days someone had made a recording of it and gave it to Krauss so that he was working off of the old uncorrected podcast that was done. And so I thought, this is just a gross misunderstanding. He accused me of being a liar and a thief, of deliberate distortion and misrepresentation, and it wasn’t that at all. I wouldn't be so stupid, nor would you, Kevin, to misattribute quotations in a movie that was going to be publicly shown in movie theaters all over the country. That would be the dumbest thing to do. So I didn’t respond to the charges during the debate.

Kevin Harris: Those are fighting words.

Dr. Craig: Well, I thought, I’ve got this 15 minute statement prepared, what should I do? And I thought, I just won’t respond. I’ll just give my preplanned prepared statement and then if the moderator brings it up in the dialogue I’ll explain what happened. Well he never brought it up, so I went to Krauss immediately after the dialogue was over, and I said, “Dr. Krauss, I want to explain to you what happened with those misattributions.” And I explained to him the whole thing as to why that happened. He wasn’t mollified by that; he was still upset. But, in fact, I shared with him that it was an honest mistake that I regret but it wasn’t deliberate distortion and misrepresentation.

Kevin Harris: We wanted to comment on this movie in anticipation that it might become very popular. There was a well-produced trailer that was already out all over YouTube. So we wanted to do in a sense a preemptive strike and concentrate on the fact that, once again, this false dichotomy of science and religion, that there’s a war and that the two are totally separate and can’t interact. And here are these two rock stars, so to speak, who are two in the country. The main thing that we wanted to do was just to immediately address what this whole thing was about: science vs. God and God is losing.

Dr. Craig: Yes, and all of that critique that we made stands unaffected by this small misattribution. Our podcasts on that film are the best critical reviews, I think, that the film has received. We had no idea that the film would bomb; that, in fact, after its premier it was never shown in movie theaters because they failed to obtain distribution. So the whole thing was a terrible bomb, but of course we didn’t know that that would happen at the time.

Kevin Harris: We anticipated that it would be distributed and perhaps quite popular so we did want to comment on it. Well, Bill, despite that sometimes I have a temper like Simon Peter, I mean, I have to commend you for the way you handled it. And we’ve had so many people who have emailed us. I’ve got one right here. . . . Dan in Australia said, “Thank you, Dr. Craig, for the way you graciously handled Professor Krauss’ attempts to malign you. Sadly, it became obvious that he wasn’t interested in seriously engaging with the issues at these dialogues. The example you set for how Christians should engage with this sort of antagonism was admirable.” We’ll talk about that a little bit later on. At this point you make a decision: am I going to start doing the same thing, or am I just going to be civil?

Dr. Craig: Right. Turn the other cheek, and treat him in the way you’d like to be treated yourself. I think, Kevin, that there’s a kind of irony in this whole situation in that when you look at the misattribution of the statement that I made to Richard Dawkins, what I was accusing him of doing was acting uncharitably. I said that he didn’t treat his opponent in a respectful way but was being uncharitable. And I think it’s so ironic that in his behavior attacking me, Krauss exhibited precisely the sin that I mistakenly ascribed to Dawkins.[3] But Krauss acted very uncharitably here. He rushed to judgment. He immediately assumed the worst: that this was deliberate distortion and misrepresentation, he said I was a liar, I was a thief. He didn't give his opponent the benefit of the doubt. He acted in a very uncharitable way in launching these personal attacks without knowing the full story. And so it’s rather ironic that he actually commits the very sin that I had mistakenly ascribed to Dawkins in the movie review.

Kevin Harris: You told him after that debate what had happened, and that we had corrected it. We saw the mistake, made the correction. You say he wasn’t mollified by that. Well, apparently not because it seems that not long after an attack video on you was made by Krauss and put up on YouTube.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that’s right. It was released, I think, the very night of the Sydney debate. It went out right away, just as we were about to go into the dialogue in Sydney. And although I haven't watched this attack video myself, Kevin – I don’t look at these things unless I absolutely have to – I’ve been told that this attack video combines what looks like prepared, very slick footage with a sort of amateurish cell phone type image that looks like it was cobbled together. So it looks like this thing was prepared well in advance but then adjusted to take account of the explanation that I gave after the Brisbane dialogue to him privately.

Kevin Harris: After you gave that private explanation it seems to me that that YouTube video either not be posted or taken down.

Dr. Craig: Right. That would have been the charitable thing to do, that’s right. And the fact that there was, it appears, a sort of pre-filmed, prepackaged attack video ready to go which was then just slightly altered in view of the explanation I gave after Brisbane, suggests that there was a concerted and planned effort to put through this campaign of personal character assassination against me. I think it’s very significant that what was going on here was a sort of lawyer’s trick where the lawyer, if you can’t attack the witness’s testimony, you attack the witness himself to try to invalidate what he says by attacking his character. And that seemed to me to be the strategy here. Krauss couldn’t refute the arguments and so he went after my character to assassinate that and thereby undermine the credibility that I would have as a spokesman for the Christian faith.

Kevin Harris: Isn’t that a hollow victory, though? I mean, what if you could blackmail an opponent who held a – people in politics do it all the time, and I’m not saying that professor Krauss blackmailed you or anything like that – but suppose you could and you managed to shut somebody down so that they wouldn’t speak anymore, they wouldn’t be such a burr in your saddle, and be such an opponent of your view. It would be a hollow victory, now – wouldn’t it? – if you were able to somehow shut them down and not shut their arguments down.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, exactly, Kevin. The mistake here is thinking that you’re arguing against a person rather than arguing against an argument. You don’t stop the force of arguments by shutting down the person who offers them. Those arguments are sound or unsound regardless of who offers them. And so shutting down a person is a hollow victory because it does nothing to answer the arguments. That’s what ultimately this should be about – the force of the arguments pro and con.

Kevin Harris: You’ve had these back and forth dialogues before in debates. Most of your debates have been the formal debates – designated speaking times and so on. But the first debate of yours that I attended with you and Dr. Parsons you did have a sit down back and forth dialogue and it seemed to go fine.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, I’ve done this before and it can be a very good sort of exchange. I did it with Peter Slezak of the University of New South Whales during this same Australian tour. We had a similar dialogue on the resurrection of Jesus. But after I got into this Brisbane event I suddenly understood why Dr. Krauss had insisted on a dialogue format. He refused to participate in a debate with me using a debate format where you have set speeches that are timed. Instead, by having a dialogue format, he could interrupt me, talk over me, literally shout me down by raising his voice.[4] He could ignore the time restraints, even run over the moderator, so as to try to put his argument through. So it was clear that by having this sort of format he was choosing a format where he could abuse the time limits and the parameters of the event to his advantage.

Kevin Harris: And let’s talk a little bit about the buzzer that he brought. I’ve never seen anything like that in what’s supposed to be a civil debate, that you would buzz somebody while they’re speaking.

Dr. Craig: It’s really . . . yeah, it’s unbelievable that a professor at a major state university in the Unites States could behave in such an unprofessional manner. For those who aren't aware of it, what happened was that after this personal attack on me in his opening speech, I then got up to give my fifteen minute prepared speech. During my speech, Professor Krauss, who was seated on the stage behind me, rather than observing the rules of debate etiquette where you allow your opponent to speak uninterruptedly, during my speech he was constantly making faces to the audience, rolling his eyes and his head, throwing his hands up into the air in exasperation to get responses from the people in the audience. Then he even had with him an electronic buzzer which he would hit at various points during my speech to try to disrupt my speech, and to show his disagreement with what I was saying. It was just unbelievably juvenile. But that was the sort of conduct that he exhibited during this dialogue. Somebody said after the dialogue that all Professor Krauss needed to complete his performance was a red rubber nose. [laughter]

Kevin Harris: Is that what these events are going to turn into?

Dr. Craig: Oh, I hope not.

Kevin Harris: I mean, come on. One friend of ours counted the interruptions. At Brisbane, Krauss interrupted at least sixty times – according to this one count. An approximate average of one interruption every fifty-three seconds. He hit the buzzer eight times. So if we add this that’s over seventy total interruptions.

Dr. Craig: Yes, and somebody said I interrupted him just as many times.

Kevin Harris: Well let’s see here. It looks like you interrupted him nine times, and mostly to tell him to quit interrupting. [laughter] In Sydney, you interrupted seven times. Shame on you, Bill.

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Kevin Harris: In Melbourne, Krauss interrupted about seventy-five times. So it’s over sixty in Brisbane – not counting the buzzer, over seventy with the buzzer – Sydney, total of about seventy-five times, one interruption every fifty seconds. In Melbourne, approximately seventy times, one interruption every forty-eight seconds. Compared to your nine, seven, and seven.

Dr. Craig: Ten times as many.

Kevin Harris: Well, Bill, you were rather, it seems to me, put on the spot to either let him just run rampant or start responding in kind and try to steer, keep it steered . . . but you know, really, when I think about that, isn’t that the moderator’s job?

Dr. Craig: Oh, yes, I think that there were real problems with the moderation of all three of the dialogues. None of the moderators was able to control Dr. Krauss as these disproportionate number of interruptions indicates. A skilled moderator knows how to guide a discussion, keep it on topic, and allow each person to have his say. The first night when we showed up in Brisbane to do the sound check I said to the organizers, “Where will the timekeeper be seated so that I can keep track of the time of my fifteen minute opening statement?” Because I had worked really hard, Kevin, cutting and cutting to make sure this would fit within fifteen minutes. And they said, “Oh, we’re not going to have a timekeeper.” And I said, “But then how will the speaker know when to end?” And they said, “Oh, well, we just trust you that you will end at about the right time.” That was misplaced trust because, although I gave my opening statement which was roughly the amount of time allotted, I (after I saw that Krauss was going to abuse the limits) then slowed down and wasn’t so concerned to get it within fifteen. It took more like sixteen minutes. But he went thirty-three percent, fifty percent over time.

Kevin Harris: Krauss may have actually thought that he was going to fight fire with fire and try to expose you as a charlatan and a liar.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that’s right. And you notice, Kevin, for those who will listen to all three dialogues, in the final dialogue in Melbourne he says this: “I came here thinking that Dr. Craig was a charlatan,” and he said, “I no longer believe that. I now think that he believes deeply what he says.”[5] So now he thinks that I’m just sincerely deluded but not a charlatan. And after the final dialogue in Melbourne, as we shook hands, he said to me privately, he said, “Bill” – we were on a first name basis by then – he said, “Bill, I have a note of faint praise that I want to convey to you. I realize it’s faint, but I do want to convey it to you.” And he said, “I now no longer think that you’re lying about the things that you say. I really do believe that you sincerely hold to the arguments that you offer.” And I said, “Well, thank you very much for at least that faint note of praise.” So his attitude did change to a degree. I still find it incredibly condescending to say that I’m a fool rather than a charlatan, but I guess I’d rather be thought a fool, Kevin, than a charlatan. I don’t mind people thinking I’m stupid but I am troubled when they attack my character, and say that I’m an immoral man.

Kevin Harris: I don’t know if you’re aware of it, Bill, but there is a community on the internet that haunts various sites that have written on “How to debate William Lane Craig.” These are people who really, as I’ve looked at some of this stuff, demonstrated a lot of sour grapes. As any of us, we have a, maybe, a resentment, we’re uncharitable of someone who does a good job in opposition to our view. And so from time to time some very sophomoric or silly or even twisted tactics can come up in order to try to defeat this person – attack him personally. There’s this whole community that I suspect some of the people who have debated you lately have been communicating with on what the best tactics are.

Dr. Craig: Oh, I think that’s definitely true. And another way in which this was in evidence in the Brisbane dialogue was the use of red herrings to try to move the audience emotionally to the atheist’s side and against me. And what I’m referring to here was, in a debate ostensibly on whether science has buried God, Krauss spent a good deal of time talking about the slaughter of the Canaanites in the Old Testament. He put up a power point of me reading to the two little Shannon girls and the Red Goose and Brown bear books – here’s Dr. Craig portraying himself as a lover of children – and then he puts up these quotations taken out of context justifying the slaughter of the Canaanite children in the book of Genesis. This had nothing to do with the topic under discussion that evening, but it was rhetorically, I think, very effective in saying: here is an evil man, here is a man who portrays himself as loving children but, in fact, is a wicked and immoral person. So that was another example, I think, of preplanned, rhetorical strategies designed to undermine me even though it had absolutely nothing to do with the topic under discussion that evening.

This is very interesting, Kevin, because I think that this strategy has really backfired on Dr. Krauss based on what I am reading in the blogosphere and on the internet. It has brought down upon him incredible condemnation for his ungracious and uncivil attitude in approaching me. After going through that first Brisbane dialogue, Kevin, I felt like a punching bag, and I wondered, “Lord, why have you allowed me to go through something like this?” And then later, after the Sydney dialogue was over and it had gone so much better, it occurred to me that Krauss had only given permission for the recording of the Brisbane dialogue. He had not yet given permission to have Sydney or Melbourne recorded. And I think that because of the false confidence that he gained in his performance in Brisbane this prompted him then to allow the recording of the subsequent dialogues to go on to, I think, his own determinant ultimately in the end. And what I thought of was the bought between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman – the “Rumble in the Jungle” – where Ali used the rope-a-dope strategy, letting Foreman pound on him for most of the bought – he was like a punching bag to Foreman – and then in the very end, you remember, Ali turns upon Foreman and gets the knockout.[6] And I think that what happened in these three dialogues was a kind of rope-a-dope situation where Krauss was so confident after dialogue number one – that he had really scored, he had really put Craig down – that then he said, “All right, let’s go ahead and record the Sydney dialogue and record the Melbourne dialogue.” Because up to that point he wasn’t allowing the organizers to do that. And so this, I think, in a way worked to our advantage ultimately to get a record of all three of these that could finally be released.

Kevin Harris: I want to try to be more succinct in what I was saying, Bill, and that is, this strategy, and I said before in podcasts that I have picked up on little snippets of this, I said, in the Rosenberg debates, especially in these Krauss debates, that there is some coaching that has been going on in this community that says, “How to debate William Lane Craig.” And it’s almost as if Dr. Craig is going to be civil and he’s not a guy who is going to interrupt you so take full advantage of that, number one. And then I often hear it in a disdaining way, “Dr. Craig presents these same five arguments every time.” Well, the strategy ought to be, if you know what he’s going to say, what is your response?

Dr. Craig: I know – college.

Kevin Harris: It’s like saying: “Your momma!” [laughter] Premise one: whatever begins to exist has a cause. Answer: “Your momma!” I mean, of course. Your material is all out there. That’s what this is all about.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, when I was debating in college and you were on the negative team, boy, if you could find out what the affirmative team’s case was you had a leg up. Because then the surprise factor was gone. You could prepare and be loaded for bear when you walked into that debate with Ohio State or University of Illinois because you knew what their affirmative case already was. You had heard it from, say, somebody who had debated them at the tournament at Northwestern or something and they told you. So you would think, having a similar affirmative case in most of these debates, that I’ve kind of given the advantage to the negative side, that they would be stoked and really well prepared. But they’re typically not – Rosenberg certainly wasn’t – and instead come with these politics of personal assassination.

Kevin Harris: Okay, well let’s get into some of the meat of this first debate, and we’ll do that on our next podcast. We’ll see you then.[7]



[1] 5:03

[2] Note that the podcast that Dr. Krauss attacked and Dr. Craig admits had a mistake in it is no longer available. Dr. Craig later posted a statement on Facebook after this dialogue explaining what happened – you can read his statement here: https://www.facebook.com/reasonablefaithorg/posts/10151653014893229 . A revised podcast without error is found here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/The-Unbelievers-Movie-Part-11 (accessed December 20, 2013).

[3] 10:02

[4] 15:00

[5] 20:15

[6] 25:14

[7] Total Running Time: 27:58 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)