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William Lane Craig vs me, October 17th

Promotional video for the upcoming William Lane Craig tour (I'm his first opponent, of course). The feel is a little like a boxing promo. "William Lane Craig! Undefeated Heavy Weight Champion of The World! Against - some other guys! Come watch Craig smash his atheist opponents! Those that aren't too cowardly!"

I like it (the video I mean). All good knock about fun.


Paul P. Mealing said…
I really do wish you well.

I think you have the right temperament and the right attitude.

Best regards, Paul.
You should revise the date on the header of your post. If you fail to show up on the 17th, it will be most embarassing.
Anonymous said…
Isn't it Monday 17th? that's what it says on my ticket...
Stephen Law said…
oh good grief I keep doing that. Fixed it. Thanks TAM
Paul Crowley said…
Yep, my ticket says Monday 17th. Don't let us down :-) I trust you've read everything Luke Muelhauser has written about him?
Birdieupon said…
Craig certainly knows you're a tough one, and takes you very seriously!

Glad you enjoyed :-)
Paul Baird said…
Hmm, just a word of warning Stephen - the other side are not treating this as knockabout fun.

The objective of this exercise is that you are to be the latest in a very long line of atheist debate opponents for this guy, and his supporters only concede that he's lost one of those debates.

If you do make an ass of yourself then rest assured that the whole mess will be analysed to death (look at both the MandM blog and Glenn Peoples blog analysis of the Sam Harris debate).

This is not being regarded as a game or some dry academic exercise by them. You are there to be beaten, defeated, humiliated and ridiculed, and, by extension, so is the whole atheistic worldview that you represent.

Good luck.

I hope you perform well with Craig. Personally, I find Craig to be a disengenuous, if skilled, rhetorician more concerned with advancing a particular form of irrationalism than uncovering the truth- nothing else.

As for his so-called undefeated, he has lost a few debates: Arif Ahmed, Ray Bradley, Shelly Kagan, and Robert Price. (The latter was on the resurrection.)

I hope you perform well with Craig. Personally, I find Craig to be a disengenuous, if skilled, rhetorician more concerned with advancing a particular form of irrationalism than uncovering the truth- nothing else. In fact, you should push Craig on this at the outset. In Reasonable Faith, he reports that even if reason and evidence tells against belief in god, he would still maintain belief in god because of the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit.

As for his so-called undefeated, he has lost a few debates: Arif Ahmed, Ray Bradley, Shelly Kagan, and Robert Price. (The latter was on the resurrection.)
Stephen Law said…
Paul I meant the video is knock about fun. The actual debate I take more seriously.

Which debate do his supporters concede he lost?
Steven Carr said…
William Lane Craig has ducked debates against Doug Krueger for over a decade now.

Despite Doug being the author of a popular, scholarly book on atheism, and a keen student of Craig's arguments.

Did I say 'despite'? I meant 'because'.
Anonymous said…
I don't think, despite popular opinion, that Craig lost his debate with Kagan.

First, as Craig said, he was told by the organizers of the event that they were looking for a dialogue, not a formal debate. If anyone should think that this is Craig's ex post facto excuse for a poor debate performance, consider this: When Craig was asked to deliver his closing remarks, he said (paraphrasing) "Well, I haven't prepared any closing remarks, but..."

Now all you Craig critics ask yourselves (and be honest when you answer), do you think that (1) Craig would enter a 'debate' that didn't end with closing statements, or (2) that Craig would come to a debate that did end with a closing statement without having prepared one?

Further, listen to the debate: Kagan does far more talking than Craig does, which means that the usual strict debate format of equally timed opening statements, rebuttals, questions, etc. was not what the organizers had in mind. Rather than a debate, we got a dialogue (exactly as Craig had said), one which Kagan, with his more aggressive personality, dominated in terms of time.

One last point: I find it interesting that Craig is often accused of using 'debate tricks,' yet the very same people who throw this charge around, and who cite the Kagan debate as the one Craig lost, never mention the fact that Kagan used a much more blatant debate trick in their dialogue than Craig has ever used. Kagan knew that Craig would be preparing responses to Kagan's consequentialist position, so he instead defended a contractarian approach! Why does no one ever mention this?

There's a lot of irrational Craig hatred on the internet, and I think that the many issues raised by the Kagan 'debate' brings much of that out more clearly than usual.
Tony Lloyd said…
You must now post a video on youtube. This must be a slide show of you in various pensive poses, reading books, scribbling notes etc.

All to the "Rocky" theme.
Jim Hamlyn said…
Good for you Steven and Thank you for doing such a vital job - it's perhaps tedious but also very necessary and at least such debates keep you on your critical toes.

You've probably already seen the following but even if you have, it helps to keep in mind the funny side:


Birdieupon said…
Paul: "If you do make an ass of yourself then rest assured that the whole mess will be analysed to death"

I'd hope their exchange would be "analysed to death" whichever way it turns out!
Birdieupon said…

"I find Craig to be a disengenuous, if skilled, rhetorician more concerned with advancing a particular form of irrationalism than uncovering the truth- nothing else. "

This is such a tedious and dead-horse complaint. Craig does not do "rhetorical tricks". He cares about genuine dialogue and focusing on the arguments, testing their validity on a level playing field.

Bear in mind that many of his debates have been transcribed and studied by critics who've responded after months of writing, with obviously none of the "in the moment" opportunities for performance style to come into play.

Frankly, I find remarks like yours the most disingenuous of all. It's lazy whinging, and I notice most atheists who accuse Craig of "trickery" are usually the same ones who cheer at clips of people like Christopher Hitchens "pwning" and "Hitchslapping" people in debate.

There's probably no debate tactics. Now stop worrying and enjoy exchange. ;-)
Anonymous said…
I think Craig's most obvious loss was against Shelly Kagan. That debate is on youtube. ("Is God Necessary for Morality?)

In almost all of his other debates (except maybe the two against Austin Dacey and the one against John Shook) it just seems like the atheist opponents came unprepared. This is strange, considering that Craig repeats the same arguments every time.
Mark said…
I'm hoping to attend this debate, and will probably write a blog post after from an agnostic perspective.

It will be interesting to see how you go about debating him. I expect Craig to present the arguments he typically presents for the existence of God. I personally find his cosmological and teleological arguments very powerful, and it would be nice if you could engage with these - something many of his opponents do not do.

Also, I'd be interested to know whether you are an atheist in the sense that you do not believe in any of the organised religions, or that you consider it to be certain that a God (or anything like a God) does not exist.
Dave S said…
Many believers think Craig lost his debate against Shelly Kagan on Morality.
'Bear in mind that many of his debates have been transcribed and studied by critics who've responded after months of writing,....'

Normally an excellent way of making sure that Craig will never choose to debate against you.

See his continued ducking of debates against JJ Lowder, Doug Krueger, John Loftus, a rematch with Eddie Tabash etc, etc
Adam said…
Hi Birdieupon

I think one of the reasons that people (including myself) find Craig disingenuous, is through his skilled sophistry to misrepresent/overlook aspects of his opponents' arguments, and (mis)appropriate philosophical axioms, to stack the evidence in favour of HIS god and HIS religious framework. (Many educated religious are happy to concede that their belief is a matter of faith, preference and personal yearning – which seems more ‘ingenuous’ to me?) I’m also yet to hear many of his arguments that wouldn’t be equally useful to Muslim, Hindu, Mayan or Ancient Greek ‘debaters’ – although he’d have you believe they point only towards Christianity.

Whilst the other side might be made of equally skilled and charismatic rhetoricians, they differ in that as (genuine) rationalists they're in a win-win when faced with a ‘knock down’ counter-argument, as they're duty-bound to follow wherever the facts and best arguments take them. This can’t be said for Craig, who’s required to stay firmly put, asserting the legitimacy and reasonableness of his particular/local reality/folklore, and never deviating. For me, it’s no surprise that he often emerges as the more adept debater. He has a cause (perhaps a noble one); and at best – with his training – I can only suppose he thinks he’s engaged in some sort of honourable deception.

Anonymous said…
I think that Craig considers Jessup (sp?) his most challenging debate and that was because Jessup won the coin toss to go first.

The person going first sets the pace and can lead the other person to debate inflation. Craig wins by throwing out tons of arguments, each requiring a bit of time to address. So when you can't get to it all, in the next round Craig says 'my opponent didn't address X, Y, and Z'.

This is one tactic he uses which is great - ALWAYS summarize the debate at the end of your round. Briefly go over what your opponent has failed to address.
Anonymous said…
Good luck Dr. Law!

I'm in a class all myself. Dr. Craig won't debate former students and as far as I know, I'm the only former student who wants to debate him. So when he says he won't debate former students he means, "I won't debate John Loftus. ;-)

Check out his reasons for refusing to debate me.

I would hope someday that someone in the audience would ask Bill this question:

Why do you refuse to debate former students? John Loftus is a former student who wants to debate you. Why do you refuse to debate him?

Memorize it and ask it. Get in line at the front to make sure you can.

Whatever his answer is, it will alert people in the audience to the fact that he refuses to debate me just as Richard Dawkins refuses to debate him.
KJ said…
I think Craig was beaten by Ray Bradley too.
K said…
"There's a lot of irrational Craig hatred on the internet"
Yes, irrational. Like when Craig was debating Massimo Pigliucci and Pigliucci dismissed his arguments as non sequiturs as being out of scope for the debate at hand, Craig called them concessions - as if non sequitur meant the arguments were valid if not conclusive. Where Craig, later in that debate claimed that every single instance of God doing evil in the bible an atheist brings up is taken out of context, even though on his website he has a defence of one such case where God commands genocide. In a debate (either Pigliucci or Stenger), he alleged that is opponent is calling all Christians deluded - pure emotional ploy; just like his argument on morality.

Craig is intelligent, but it's fairly clear he debates to win and will resort to rhetorical ploys if need be. It's partly what makes him a formidable debating opponent, but surely you could understand why it riles people up.
Tim said…
Good luck, Stephen! Craig is very good at what he does. Hopefully you can beat him at his own game.
Joe said…
I think Austin Dacey has been WLC best opponent so far. I can't remember anyone using a syllogism against the existence of God like Craig usually does for the existence of God. It will be interesting to see how you critique and challenge Craig's syllogisms.
Mike D said…
Just for once, it'd be nice if an atheist was on the affirmative. Most of Craig's debates are formatted in such a way that he inundates his opponent with 20 minutes of uninterrupted bullshit, to which it is virtually impossible to respond substantively in its entirety. The atheist opponent, knowing this, chooses to focus on broader issues, and Craig & company claim 'victory' in that the atheist didn't respond to xyz arguments.

That's why most of these debates are just two people talking past each other, and that's why Shelly Kagan beat him – because the format allowed Kagan to interrupted Craig, correcting his errors before he had time to run with them. This left Craig uncharacteristically struggling for words, as can be seen in the videos.

Anyway. Stephen... good luck.
When I first heard WLC's debate with Kagan, I too thought that Craig lost. All the while listening to the debate I was wondering why Craig seemed so tame and unwilling to really engage Kagan. I figured that Craig was just having an off day. Then in April of this year someone gave me this link:

It explained everything. So, I agree with Eric above who said:

Now all you Craig critics ask yourselves (and be honest when you answer), do you think that (1) Craig would enter a 'debate' that didn't end with closing statements, or (2) that Craig would come to a debate that did end with a closing statement without having prepared one?
Observer said…
Hey Stephen (and some points for Peter),

I wish you luck. A few questions:

1. Have you watched any of Craig's debates?

2. Have you read any of his material?

3. Have you organized your responses to his arguments, and to counter arguments of your work, into the debate time constraints?

I ask because Dr. Craig is very organized. I see others have directed you to:

Please note that Dr. Craig is out to embarrass you.

He will call your position irrational.

If you run out of time, he will claim that you dodged a point. This is a rhetorical trick, sorry Peter but Craig is out to win the debate and he uses debate tactics to get it done. I'm sure he is interested in truth but during debates, he takes low blows.

He may even make up an insult in your name (see Bart Erhmens Bart's Blunder). Real classy wouldn't you say Peter? Or is this not considered a rhetorical jab and Craig merely seeking truth?

Most of all, he will usher out 5 arguments and respond to your position within the time limit. If you aren't sure what they all are, look at his opening against Hitchens (and he defeated Hitchens).

You must be ready to respond to him point by point and defend your position point by point. Craig has at least 2-3 responses for every critique of his arguments so be prepared for that too.

This isn't a sharing of ideas, this is a contest that Craig has won for years. Oral debates favor the better speaker, the only true fair ground is a written debate.
rups900 said…
Hi Stephen,
Just a few comments to offer from an agnostic (so hopefully somewhat neutral!).
I’m sure I don’t need to say this at all, as you appear to be that rare breed of English philosopher who is aware of the literature in the philosophy of religion, but Craig is a serious academic philosopher with many publications in major philosophy journals, who also just happens to be amazing and practiced at debating. So, most comments on the internet criticising him are not only incorrect (usually) but actually embarrassing. Obviously, having a large presence in the popular sphere was always going to engender such ‘attention’, and people prefer to comment on a couple of minutes video as opposed to 30 years of published academic research engaging with the likes of Graham Oppy, Jordan Howard Sobel, Quentin Smith, Adolf Grunbaum and Wes Morrisiton. I’m sure most people who claim him to be insincere probably haven’t spent months digesting ‘Atheism, Theism and Big Bang cosmology’.
So please be familiar with the literature (Craig himself recently said that he was aware Millican was engaging with the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, which I’d imagine means you are to, which will already put yourselves ahead of every other opponent he’s debated!), and get good at summarising pages of analytic philosophy into a couple of soundbites!!! (Well you know what I mean).
Best of luck, I really hope you do well and the debate is edifying!
Anonymous said…
You will lose the debate.

Craig will talk nonsense, he won't concede a single point, he will be disingenuous and the audience will be filled with his supporters.

Afterwards hoards of youtube theists will pick apart the whole thing, agree with everything Craig says, and claim you were beaten badly.

The aim is to gut you like a fish, and unless you have very good debate skills, and a cut-throat attitude....that's exactly what will happen.

Sure sounds like " knockabout fun " to me.
Giford said…
Yeah, belated good luck for tonight.

Surely it shouldn't be too difficult to pin Craig down on the Kalaam argument, I would have thought.

Oliver C. said…
Well done tonight, Dr Law. I was lucky enough to be in the front row to watch the debate.

It looked like you'd done your homework in working out how Craig likes to set up these talks, and you didn't fall into any of his traps or go down the paths he'd chosen. I think he was genuinely frustrated that you stuck to your guns on the well-scoped arguments on evil and HIS god, both of which he repeatedly failed on.

Craig is a good speaker, it would be churlish to deny it. But seeing him up close, he does come across as somewhat scripted, and pretty much 'form over substance'.

I got to sit next to some crackpot who, in all seriousness, told me pre-debate that in 2019 two-thirds of the world's population was going to be wiped out. So, these loonies really do exist, then?!
Tony Lloyd said…
Well I think you did rather well.

Lots of applause for WLC, but then an atheist in Methodist Central Hall is a bit like the Everton centre forward at Anfield.

I think you got the theists thinking with your Evil God argument.

Presentation-wise spot on. Very calm in the face of an obviously flustered Craig.
Jay44 said… did the debate go?
Slimer said…
Well done Dr Law for standing in for the cowardly leadership of the BHA. Not so well done on the content of your debate. You seemed prepared to concede almost everything on the basis of your one killer argument (the evidential problem of evil), which on the evening fell flat on its face. Ironically it failed because you yourself argued too persuasively against it. Your argument as to why we should reject God’s existence relied on the fact that no-one would believe in the existence of an evil god given the presence of good in the world. But then you proceeded to give lots of reasons why evil god may in fact allow much good. So all you showed is that we reject evil god for other reasons, which was exactly Craig’s point in the first place! I’m not sure if you missed the force of Craig’s rebuttal, or, what I suspect, kept repeating yourself because you only came with one argument and were sticking to it come hell or high water.

Leaving aside Craig’s response to your argument, your “mirror” of the evil God would only be effective on two assumptions, both of which you didn't establish: (i) that the world is equally good and bad, and (ii) that the only two options for the divine nature are fully good (by which you mean dedicated to the pursuit of human happiness) or evil. As soon as those assumptions fall, the argument fails to be an effective “flip” of a theodicy. For example if we imagine the world is 70% good/30% evil, the fact that we may rule out evil god on the basis on gratuitous good is no reason to think that we should reject the existence of God on the basis on the evil we observe.

In terms of your response to Craig’s points, again it was a bit of a letdown given all the tips you received on this blog. You failed entirely to deal with the Cosmological argument – bizarrely claiming that establishing the existence of God has no place in a cumulative argument seeking to establish the existence of the Christian God. It is self-evidently the first plank in the argument. On reflection I wonder what you thought the title of the debate was? On the Moral Argument, you simply said you don’t believe God could have morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil but provided no argument to think so. You singularly failed to respond to Craig’s supporting arguments regarding our cognitive, temporal and geographical limitations, the necessary complexity of God’s plans for humanity, the purpose of life being knowledge of God not human happiness etc. At one point it looked like you were going to get somewhere with the evil god hypothesis, but in the end you simply asserted that no-one would believe in evil god because of the good in the world – again all assertion, no argument. And actually false as you yourself argued. And on the resurrection you made the curious and disingenuous move of demanding Craig answered all the possible naturalistic accounts of the resurrection (even those no-one’s thought of!), even though you didn’t adopt the same burden of proof when putting forth your argument from evil – you didn’t rule out any reasons God might have, let alone all of them. Indeed if that was your standard of required proof you’d never hold any conclusion because there may be an alternative explanation waiting to be found. You’d be left in epistemological limbo.

So in conclusion your one argument was weak and unpersuasive, you made no response to Craig’s first point, only superficially tackled the second and totally side-stepped the third. I was also not impressed by your debating trick of leaving your rebuttal of Craig’s arguments for your second rebuttal slot so that he wouldn’t have time to engage with you response, except in his closing 5 minute remarks. But thanks for coming, and remaining (mostly) calm and polite. Even a weak debate is better than no debate.
Anonymous said…
You really felt Craig was flustered, Tony? I feel he was incredibly composed and seemed completely unruffled.

I feel Stephen seemed rather flustered throughout the debate.

But - as you say - an atheist in the Methodist Central Hall, it's not really very fair ground for such a debate.
Not So Slimy said…
@Slimer: Keep drinking the Kool-Aid.

It's when people like Dr Craig talk about "the necessary complexity of God’s plans for humanity" that they lose people. These are in no way "supporting arguments". Such arrogant claims are made without a shred of evidence - as if believers had access to some source of knowledge which the rest of us do not have. And they think that the more forcefully they make these claims, the truer they become. And that the more they riddle them with complexity, the more intelligent they sound. Why should an opponent bother wasting time with unsupported claims? It's what Craig wants, and it would lend credence where it is not deserved.

Notice the big difference last night. When Stephen was asked how the world came about, he simply replied "I do not know". It's the simple, but honest answer. We're working on it. Maybe one day we'll find out. Maybe we won't. But that is miles apart from the amazingly convulted, unsupported, dogmatic and unwavering explanation from Dr Craig. Whilst Stephen's reply might not make for a lively debate, you've got to call it as it is - rather than what you wish it to be.

I feel it was the structure of last night's debate which caused any weaknesses. Craig so obviously tries to set the debate up with a view to controlling the agenda. What was frustrating, and yet appreciated, was that Stephen did not play Craig's games. Good on him. Hence, there was sometimes a lack of dialogue going on - which was frustrating.
Tony Lloyd said…
Anonymous asked: You really felt Craig was flustered, Tony?

Yes, he seemed to be actually going red in the first "rebuttal" period.

He also left behind his neat syllogisms and tried a few "tactics", which didn't hit home. He quoted a number of authors (Ruse more than once). Stephen mentioned one: and he called "argument from authority"! He misrepresented Stephen's writings, tried to twist a hypothetical position into a "retreat" (objectivity of morals and the evil God hypothesis), put forward an argument I'm sure he didn't believe (evil is evidence for God's existence), threw up a straw man (evolution) and went on a tangent about animal's consciousness of their own suffering.

I think he knew that his initial "meta argument" had gone.

He began by saying that:
(a) there were good arguments for God's existence and
(b) there were no good arguments against God's existence.

"(b)" was conclusively refuted. You don't have to think that Evil-God is a clincher, or to agree with it: it plainly is a good argument, even if you think it wrong.

"(a)" was weakened, Stephen showed that the three particular arguments put forward had weak points. Of course there may be others, so there may be good arguments for the existence of God.

It might not be the case that both "(a)" and "(b)" are false, but Craig must have realised that "(a) and (b)" was shown to be false.
Dear professor Law,

I'm a student of Philosophy and I write from Brazil.

As you might have seen, the tone of Craig's voice is incredibly arrogant. Did you watch the video where him and his folks make an entire carnival because Dawkins' alleged "cowardice"?

WLC really consideres himself an unbeatable debater. He really thinks he is able to beat anyone and came to the debates to "smash and humiliate" any atheist thinkers. And even if he lose a debate, he (1) will not admit and (2) will apeal for what the Holy Spirit whispered in his ear.

That's why I think, although the good intentions of you, Millican, Atkins and others, it's a total waste of time debating specifically with WLC. He and their people are not open minded.

But I think you were really good in the debate, just as Tabash, Stenger, Dacey and some others.

Best wishes,

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