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Matt Fradd Interviews Dr. Craig, Pt 1

January 26, 2020

Summary

Dr. Craig appears on the Pints With Aquinas podcast to discuss Reasonable Faith, his debates, and vision.

KEVIN HARRIS: You’ll be able to tell from his accent that he is from “down under” in Australia. Matt Fradd has a podcast called Pints with Aquinas. In this particular podcast he interviews our very own Dr. William Lane Craig. Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. We want to bring this podcast to our podcast here at Reasonable Faith. We are going to break it up into two parts – part one today. Here’s the interview with Dr. William Lane Craig with Matt Fradd on Pints with Aquinas.[1]

MATT FRADD: For those of my listeners and viewers who aren’t terribly familiar with you, who is William Lane Craig and what is Reasonable Faith?

DR. CRAIG: I am a professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in Southern California and at Houston Baptist University in Texas. I became a Christian having been raised in a non-believing home about 16 years of age, and it turned my life upside down. I sensed at that time a call to the ministry to share this good news of the Gospel with as many people as I could. So I wanted to present the Gospel in the context of giving an intellectual defense for the credibility of the Christian world- and life-view. To prepare myself for that sort of ministry I went on to doctoral studies and did doctoral degrees in both philosophy and theology (both in Europe), and then about 12 or 13 years ago founded this nonprofit organization called Reasonable Faith which is a web-based ministry. We have no physical plant whatsoever and hence no light bills, no rent, no mortgage, nothing. We are attempting to use the electronic media and social media to reach as many people as we can with a defense and proclamation of the Gospel.

MATT FRADD: You do a great job of it. I was telling you before the interview that I first became familiar with your work in around 2007. I was over in Ireland. The New Atheism was a big thing back then. I listened to many debates, and I have to say it was embarrassing to see so many Christians be demolished at least rhetorically and often substantively, I thought, by these atheists. And I heard about this debate between Christopher Hitchens and William Lane Craig. I was reluctant to view it because I thought I can't see another debate where the Christian gets trounced. Well, I was pleasantly surprised. As charming and rhetorically effective as Christopher Hitchens was, you just took him to the woodshed. I wanted to ask you about that debate. What are your thoughts on it? What was it like meeting Christopher Hitchens?

DR. CRAIG: The interesting thing about that debate was that I didn't want to do it either because I knew that Hitchens was so famed for his rhetoric and purple prose, and I didn't think it would be a substantive debate and I could get corralled into a situation where it was all basically rhetoric. But the people at Biola told me that the student organization had already contracted with Hitchens to do this debate, and they were on the hook for $12,000. So they had to find somebody who would be willing to debate him. So even though I initially refused, they begged me to do it. I said, Alright, I’ll do it. I think that this would be something that would draw a lot of attention if I can just not be bamboozled by his rhetoric. Well, just shortly before the debate, Hitchens and I were on a panel discussion in, I believe, Dallas, Texas together at the Christian Booksellers conference. In this panel discussion it just became very clear to me that he had absolutely no understanding of the arguments for the existence of God and no substantial objections. At the end of that panel I said to him – I turned to him and said – In two weeks time we're going to be debating the existence of God at Biola University, and I would really encourage you in those two weeks to bone up on these arguments so that we can have a more substantive discussion than we've had here today.

MATT FRADD: You were sort of needling him.

DR. CRAIG: I was! I was! And he didn't do so, and so as a result the debate at Biola, in terms of academic issues, was very superficial.

MATT FRADD: Looking back on it, are you glad you did the debate?

DR. CRAIG: Oh, I am. It drew huge attention and has garnered over a million and a half views on YouTube. I think it really was something that the Lord used to counteract the influence of Hitchens and the New Atheism in general.

MATT FRADD: To his credit, in an interview prior to the debate he spoke kindly of you. He said, I don't usually get phone calls from fellow atheists saying, ‘Don't blow this.’ But he got many before he ended up debating you.

DR. CRAIG: I hadn't heard that. He was very gentlemanly. A lot of people were shocked at that in that they said he was like a lamb in wolf's clothing. He didn't really use his normal vulgarity and profanity. He was really, really well-behaved in that debate, probably because it was at a Christian University and he didn't want to alienate everybody. And so he was very gentle and well-behaved, and I think that worked to his detriment quite honestly.

MATT FRADD: Later on you ended up doing a three-on-three debate in Mexico, I believe, and this is when you first met Richard Dawkins, who famously has refused to debate you. What was that encounter with him like?

DR. CRAIG: This was again another one of these things that has an interesting backstory. The debate was originally supposed to feature three atheists, one of whom would be the physicist Michio Kaku. Well, the night before the debate or so while we were in Mexico City, Kaku came to the organizer and said, I just don't do debates. I don't feel comfortable in this situation. I want to back out. Get someone else. And so since Dawkins was going to be at the conference giving a paper they said, Would you stand in for Michio Kaku? And without asking, I think, who was on the other team, he said yes. And so as it turned out he stepped into a debate with me and my colleagues even though he had sworn he would never be on the same stage with me. Never debate.

MATT FRADD: For increasingly creative reasons.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. I mean, he said he wouldn't even shake my hand because I was an immoral man in his estimation. So that was very funny that I did get this chance to go mano-a-mano with Richard Dawkins. I felt that it went very well. I was quite pleased with how it went.

MATT FRADD: What was it like when you met him in the lobby of the hotel? I know there's a story about that.

DR. CRAIG: That was extraordinary. It was at a cocktail party at the organizer’s home before the conference began. I was standing there and saw him walk in. I saw that he was walking across the room straight in my direction, and that we would soon meet face-to-face. I thought, wow. Well, I might as well grab the bull by the horns. So he got closer, I stuck out my hand, and I said, Hello, I'm Bill Craig. And he looked at me and said, Oh, hello. And I said, I'm surprised to find that you're going to be involved in this debate. And he said, And why not? And I said, Because you've always said you would never debate me. And he said, I don't consider this a debate with you. The Mexicans asked me to participate, and I agreed. At that point he turned away, and I said, Well, I hope we have a good discussion, and he said, I think that highly unlikely, and walked off. It was just icy cold. So that was my initial encounter with Richard Dawkins, and I remember it vividly because it was so extraordinary I immediately went to my room and wrote down this conversation word-for-word because I didn't want to forget it.

MATT FRADD: Out of the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism, which it seems has subsided a great deal – Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the two we have spoken of – this might be a difficult question to answer but, who do you think was the most formidable?

DR. CRAIG: Well, I have interacted with all four of them in public forums – either debates or dialogues – and none of them was a formidable opponent. They were all extremely superficial and had little understanding and especially little engagement with the arguments. You can tell a good debate by what's called “clash,” that is to say the opposition of argument and counter-argument. That's what makes for a good debate. And in none of these debates was there significant clash. But I suppose I would say that Harris did the least poorly of the four. He is articulate and charming and so at least presented himself well at the podium.

MATT FRADD: There is that classic line of his – It's good to be with William Lane Craig, the one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God in my fellow atheists.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, that was a surprise.

MATT FRADD: A back-handed compliment.

DR. CRAIG: And afterwards, again, there was a reception after the debate, and he and I had a chance to speak personally and got on quite well.

MATT FRADD: He seems like a lovely fellow.

DR. CRAIG: He was very friendly, and we had a good discussion.

MATT FRADD: Who do you think is the most formidable atheist today? The most formidable champion today?

DR. CRAIG: I think without a doubt it's Graham Oppy, your fellow compatriot. He is scary smart. Scary smart, and has written important books in defense of atheism and critical of natural theology. J. Howard Sobel, the Canadian philosopher, was also a formidable opponent, but he's passed away and so that leaves I think Graham Oppy as the torch-bearer for the atheist cause.

MATT FRADD: Here's my next question. If you could choose one Christian apologist other than yourself to debate him publicly, who would you choose?

DR. CRAIG: Wow. I know who would be capable of doing it intellectually but I've never heard him really in a debate context, but that would be Alexander Pruss at Baylor University who is, again, scary smart. Pruss has earned doctorates in both philosophy and mathematics and would easily be on a par with Oppy. There are others, however, as well. Rob Coons at U. T. Austin, is a very formidable thinker and perhaps a better public speaker then Pruss. Then there's a younger fellow at Azusa Pacific, Josh Rasmussen.

MATT FRADD: I've heard of him.

DR. CRAIG: He has co-authored books with Pruss and is also very intelligent and presents himself very well. I don't have any idea about any of these fellows’ debating skills, but intellectually.

MATT FRADD: You need both, don't you, I guess?

DR. CRAIG: You really do. Because, for example, just to name one factor – one of the most crucial elements in a debate is time management. You have to know how to manage the clock. What happens to many of these fellows is they will spend five to eight minutes on two points, and then they never get to the rest. As a result they fail to address the issues in the debate. It's just poor management of the clock. You've got to be able to know when it's time to move along and how to speak succinctly and to use that precious time.

MATT FRADD: Have you heard of the term Craig Clones?

DR. CRAIG: No!

MATT FRADD: I just heard of this last night. I guess they say imitation is the highest form of flattery, but there are a lot of people out there who will now get into debates and they sound very much like William Lane Craig. I wanted to ask you what are some things you would love to see Christian apologists stop doing, especially when it comes to debating? What are some things that you watch and you just cringe and wish they'd know better?

DR. CRAIG: Coming unprepared. I have seen debates such as the ones you described where the Christian debater gets just skinned alive and it is embarrassing and awkward. I think it's due to overconfidence and lack of preparation. I tremble when pastors go into these debates because they're not equipped for it, and they're overconfident, and they very often will lose. The other thing more in general that I think Christians need to be reminded of is not to be so angry and mean. There's no need to be sarcastic or personal. We can conduct our debates and ourselves in a civil manner that exemplifies the character of Christ.

MATT FRADD: I know from personal experience when I get nasty or sarcastic even if in one-on-one conversations it's because I don't know what I'm talking about. If I'm not confident in what I know and how to respond then I rely on cheap shots. I think that's what people do and shouldn't be doing.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, that's probably, I think, a good observation. When you are intellectually prepared and you know the answers it just gives you a sort of quiet confidence that there's no need to get hot under the collar. You just explain to the other person where he is mistaken.

MATT FRADD: What do you think the state of the New Atheism? Where is that today? Has it receded? Has it been eclipsed by the Jordan Petersen phenomenon? Has it altered somewhat? What do you see?

DR. CRAIG: While its public representatives seem to have receded, its cultural impact seems to be ongoing and lingering. The rise of the so-called “nones,” the decline in mainline church membership, the sort of alliance between secularism and political progressivism. I think all of these are cultural symptoms that the New Atheism and its influence is still a powerful cultural force.

MATT FRADD: It's interesting that I find myself agreeing with people like Sam Harris and others as they commentate on social situations such as the transgender phenomenon and things like this. I find myself, how is it possible that I'm now making allies with this guy as the culture becomes increasingly secular and bizarre.

DR. CRAIG: I think it's great when we can cross political lines in that way. It is awkward that Christianity seems to be so aligned with conservative right-wing politics and yet on certain moral issues like right-to-life and same-sex marriage, it is hard to see room for compromise from a Christian point of view on those issues. It seems to me that there one is ethically committed to certain positions regardless of how politically incorrect they might be.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. Let’s pick it up right there next time on Reasonable Faith as Matt Fradd continues to interview Dr. William Lane Craig. By the way, if you’d like to donate to our ministry, please do so. Go to our website, ReasonableFaith.org. Keep us going strong in 2020. We appreciate it. I’m Kevin Harris. See you next time on Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig.[2]

 

[2]           Total Running Time: 16:28 (Copyright © 2020 William Lane Craig)