Phew! What a night.
I live Tweeted the debate. Thanks to Amy Letinsky on giving me helpful tips on how to live Tweet. I’ll clean up my tweets, remove all the hashtags, and will post them here either Monday or Tuesday night. For now, if you want to see all the action, just go here.
My apologies to anyone if I didn’t get things right. I missed parts of what Hitchens said (it was hard, at times, to discern what his bottom line points were), and I’m more familiar with Craig’s stuff, so I had considerable more tweets on Craig than Hitchens. My intent was not to snub Hitchens, and I apologize to anyone who was hoping for more from his side of the ledger.
For an excellent “first report” of the debate, see Doug Geivett’s post. For an atheist’s perspective, see Common Sense Atheism. For my response to his question in the post, go here. Other reviews of the debate can be found here and here.
Since I was tweeting so much (over 200 tweets in 2.5 hours!), it was hard for me to digest the night, but here are some thoughts I had (special thanks to Brett Kunkle for helping me put things in perspective. Christians, support his work. It is necessary for the church to flourish in the next generation: well over 50% of our youth leave the church once they leave the nest, mostly because we are not preparing them. Brett fills this very poignant need.):
Craig is just more philsophically trained than Hitchens, so he definitely had the better arguments. It was a bit of a mismatch. There are more philosophically erudite atheists out there, and Craig has debated them. Still, due to Hitchens’ popularity and bravado, I’m glad that the debate happened. I think most who were trying to look at it honestly saw that, when it comes to Hitchens and his crusade, the emperor is stark nake.
Several times, Hitchens misunderstood Craig’s arguments and made irrelevant replies, such as with the moral argument. Hitchens kept hitting on the notion that referring to God as an explanation for morality gives a religious person no behavioral advantage.
As I’ve said before (third part of a three part series. To get the whole of my presentation, you need to read the first two parts as well.), this is a gigantic red herring, and confuses epistemology with metaphysics/ontology. Craig was asking, “how can an atheist ground his moral beliefs?” not “how can an atheist behave morally without believing in God?” Those are two totally different questions. In the absence of a good God that grounds morality, well, the atheist might think he’s behaving morally, but he’s just attaching words without meaning to his actions..actually, the same goes for the theist! Without God, all anyone ever does is act in ways we call morality, but our words are meaningless. The moral sense that we have (that Hitchens claims develops via evolution) is merely an illusion that aids our survival…that’s what you get if you follow the atheistic premises where they lead.
Hitchens made replies cut out of a similar cloth all night. Time and time again, he tried to defeat Craig’s arguments by attacking something else. Another example was when he suggested that (paraphrasing): were we in the 17th century, Craig wouldn’t have the knowledge of cosmology he has now, and would make his arguments based on faith and Scripture. This shows that belief is based on faith. Theists use evidence when it suits their case but are happy to do without it.
Even if the charge sticks, so what? What follows from that? Which premise of which argument is somehow shown to be false? Short answer, in order: nothing of interest follows, and no premise of any argument is even remotely put in doubt.
He also didn’t give much to think atheism true. His arguments seemed to be of the stripe “religion has bad effects in the world.”
Even if it is true that Christianity has overwhelming harmful effects (very doubtful), this is irrelevant to Craig’s five arguments. Craig pointed out that you cannot assess a worldview based on its social effects. In so doing, he cited Bertrand Russell, a prominent 20th century atheist. Russell pointed that out in regards to Christianity’s beneficial social effects. This was a good point; we’re interested in the truth of a religion here, not necessarily the effects it has.
The ironic thing is that Hitchens argues against religion (in general) based on its bad social effects! It’s interesting that Russell argued the opposite, pushing aside Christianity’s benefits as irrelevant to its truth.
Hitchens seemed to suggest that since there is no evidence for God’s existence and that for belief to be justified, it requires “magnificent” evidence, therefore God doesn’t exist (If I’m getting him wrong, someone please correct me).
This misses the fact that absence of evidence only implies evidene of absence if a) there is no such evidence, and b) we have good reason to expect evidence of that thing. In other words, if I don’t see an elephant in the room (if I don’t have visual confirmation of its existence), then I can reasonably believe there is no elephant, because, elephants being the huge, obvious physical animals they are, we expect visual confirmation if there’s one in the room.
But it’s not at all clear this is the case with God. Who are we to expect that we’d know what kind of calling card God would leave? Of course, I think He has given great evidence; it’s just that it’s far from obvious that we should expect such evidence.
I wonder why Hitchens had such a hard time getting Craig’s arguments. The leasst daming explanation is that though he is obviously very intellectual (he’s a genius, actually), he’s not very trained in philosophy, so some of the distinctions Craig made went over his head…that’s the most charitable explanation, anyway.
Geivett, though, isn’t so charitable. He says,
…this debate exposed a difference in preparation on the part of these two debaters. This is far more significant than it might seem at first. William Lane Craig has debated this topic dozens of times, without wavering from the same basic pattern of argument. He presents the same arguments in the same form, and presses his opponents in the same way for arguments in defense of their own worldviews. He’s consistent. He’s predictable. One might think that this is a liability, that it’s too risky to face a new opponent who has so much opportunity to review Craig’s specific strategy. But tonight’s debate proves otherwise. Hitchens can have no excuse for dropping arguments when he knows—or should know—exactly what to expect. Suppose one replies that William Craig is a more experienced debater and a trained philosopher, while Christopher Hitchens is a journalist working outside the Academy. That simply won’t do as a defense of Hitchens. First, Hitchens is no stranger to debate. Second, he is clearly a skillful polemicist. Third—and most important—Hitchens published a book, god Is Not Great, in which he makes bold claims against religion in general and Christianity in particular. With his book, he threw down the challenge. To his credit, he rose to meet a skillful challenger. But did he rise to the occasion? Did he acquit himself well? At one point he acknowledged that some of his objections to the designer argument were “layman’s” objections. His book, I believe, is also the work of a layman. It appears to have been written for popular consumption and without concern for accountability to Christians whose lives are dedicated to the defense of the Gospel.
I also note that my fiance’, who hasn’t taken a single class in philosophy ever, was able to see Craig’s arguments and nuance, so perhaps Geivett is right. Given Hitchens’ normal bravado, he needed to face a guy like Craig. The guy just talks a hot mess normally, and you’d think he’d be able to back it up. Again, while there certainly are good atheist debaters out there, my experience has been that most are unprepared, whether they are debating Craig or someone else. Perhaps that is telling. You decide for yourself.
The thing with Hitchens is that he’s so witty and funny. This can be difficult to handle. In fact, a friend of mine reported what some atheists were saying behind him: “he doesn’t make sense, but he’s so d*** funny!” This might keep many in the audience from really grasping the arguments and accurately assessing both sides. Hitchens tried to use rhetorical flourishes and witty one liners to get him out of tight spots at times.
Along the same lines, Craig was not so good at this. He was clear in his arguments and easy to follow (partly because I’m more familiar with his arguments), but at times he bogged his arguments and questions down with technical philosophical terminology that the audience probably had a hard time following. Still, his demeanor was a powerful apologetic: he was calm, confident, and he was, as Geivett notes, clearly enjoying the discussion. He never squirmed or waffled, even a little.
The highlight of the debate for me was when Craig made an evangelistic appeal to both Hitchens and the non believers in the audience. Of course, Hitchens wasn’t just gonna bow the knee right there, but this underscores a proper view of apologetics: it is an evangelistic, missionary enterprise.
I frequently hear Christians dismiss apologetical ventures because “its all just arguing about words. You can’t win anyone to Christ with an argument. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. It’s all head and no heart and is totally irrelevant to my life.”
First, I think anyone watching tonight could see Craig’s character and fervent love for the Lord. I’ve seen the same for many Christian philosophers and apologists on the intellectual front lines. They are winsome and attractive ambassadors, as Koukl says. This puts that last objection (it’s all head and no heart) in it’s place.
Secondly, *nothing* in isolation can win someone to Christ without the Spirit, not even love or acts of service. But people are won over to Christ with arguments all the time when they are used by the Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit’s help, they are quite potent.
Of course, if someone doesn’t care for the lost, he won’t care about any of this either…but that’s another discussion.
All in all, I had a good time, and my prayer is that the name of Christ was honored, and that curiosity was spiked with both believer and non believer alike.
Check out the following related posts:
Skeptics Answered series (more posts in the series forthcoming in a few weeks)
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