A challenge for William Lane Craig’s defenders

This post is sort-of repeating the point I made here, but I got thinking about it again reading some of the Christian responses to this post. Many Christian defenders of William Lane Craig seem unable to wrap their heads around the idea that Craig might “win” (an ambiguous word that I prefer to avoid) his debates through anything but superior arguments. I have a challenge for them.

Take a close look at the way Craig deploys his moral argument in his debates. Notice the way he often bases the argument on nothing more than appeals to authority, and when forced to go beyond that he often relies on non-sequiturs about “naturalism,” etc. If that’s not obvious just from listening to Craig, start at the bottom of this post and follow the links for detailed explanations, or just watch this video.

Then tell me: is there any way a competent scholar could honestly believe these are good arguments? To me, this alone looks like clear evidence that Craig is either incompetent (if he doesn’t understand why this isn’t a legitimate way to argue) or dishonest (if he understands, but has decided not to let that stop him).

Now, I recognize that in principle one of Craig’s other arguments could be good even if he’s incompetent and/or a charlatan, but this should settle the question of whether rhetorical effectiveness in a debate has much to do with whether your arguments are any good.

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  • Azuma Hazuki

    Craig *is* dishonest. You have to understand that his apologetics are, though he won’t call them this, essentially presuppositionalism, and we all know where *that* road leads (for those who don’t, think “where I come from we call those axioms” and it all crumbles from there). There are three things anyone thinking about him should remember:

    The first is that he likes the standard debate format. And the reason he likes it is because it is a lot harder to disprove something someone says than to say something. In other words, Craig is Duane Gish in a slightly more expensive suit; his tactic is to exhaust his opponent by making him or her run around putting out little fires of falsehood.

    The second thing to remember is that he makes a lot of unchallenged assumptions, and is allowed to get away with them because most of his opponents aren’t thinking on a low enough level. Take the Kalaam argument which he’s so fond of: he assumes that there was a time when “the universe” (which is not really a thing but the name of a set…) did not exist and now does. The hidden assumption here is that *only* our visible universe exists, and that there was never anything before the Big Bang. How does he know?

    Or take the Transcendental Argument, which basically says “there are no atheists because atheists debate me with logic, and logic comes from God.” This isn’t quite van Tillian presuppositionalism, though it can certainly be used to bolster that set of arguments. In *this* case, what you have is a reification fallacy: “law” is a misnomer, an anthropomorphization of nature and a rather unfortunate one, since it leads directly into “well, if you have laws, you need a lawgiver don’t you?”

    The point is, way too many people let Craig control the flow and the subtext of the debate; the man is like a huge insincere spider, twisting and weaving reality (or so he thinks) to win brownie points in front of an audience of slavering toadies. Don’t let him hold the reins: call him on the most basic assumptions he makes. Shelley Kagan apparently pounded thirty one flavors of mochi out of him over morality, for example.

    • Harry

      “he likes the standard debate format. And the reason he likes it is because it is a lot harder to disprove something someone says than to say something.”

      If this is true (it might be) then surely this is no advantage because the opponent can benefit equally from this can’t they? Also are you suggesting that all of Craig’s opponents are coereced to participate in a debate that from the outset disadvantages them? if there were a grain of truth in what you say then nobody of repute would debate him on such terms or to put it another way all those who do debate him are foolish.


  • Azuma Hazuki

    Oops, forgot thing number three. And this is arguably the most important:

    Craig. Does not argue. To convince. ANYONE.

    He is on record stating that he already is convinced by internal factors and that if he loses a debate, he hasn’t reeeealllly lost, he just didn’t phrase his obviously 100% correct and inspired arguments perfectly. THAT is why I lump him in with Bahnsen and company, irrespective of what he actually calls himself.

    And the delicious irony of all that is that it means he essentially worships his own perceptions and his own mind. Hey, Billy Boy, the laws of logic might be Godel-incomplete! What do you think of THAT?

  • Trent

    The atheist whining about Craig and debates is pretty lame. He uses the SAME five arguments in every debate!!! And it’s not like Duane Gish who uses obscure scientific babble that is hard to refute. This is standard philosophy. The fact Craig’s opponents are so full of hubris that they simply don’t bother to study or prepare, and they pay the price.

    If Craig went second and argued the proposition “God does not exist” is false, it would be even more of a cake walk because he wouldn’t even need his positive arguments. The fact is Craig has had good opponents who kept him on edge (Parsons and Kagan come to mind), but the rest were just being stupid and not taking the debates seriously.

    • Chris Hallquist

      And your response to my challenge is…?

  • http://na Robert McCulley

    Craig ( to me ) comes off as a preacher in his debates. I appreciate the explanation that the affirmative has the burden off proof and therefore leads. Yet his four or five point plan is excessively wordy and when point one and five are addrressed he counters with two and four where not argued therefore I win. As for point one and five “my opponent fails to realize…” and off into another wordy argument. These arguments seem to end in proof of his ever elusive god. For examaple; the universe can not come from nothing , A) if god does not exist then objective moral valves do not exist, B) objective moral valves do exist, C) therefore…, and a personal immediate experience. These provide no support, but are a ruse to confirm the biased audiences preconditioning. Not only does he take the first word he seems to always debate in christian audiences as well. Does anyone have numbers on pro/con/neutral audiences for WLC debates?

  • Arkenaten

    I have always found Craig’s almost zero-modulating whine has forced me to hide all the sharp objects before I even attempt to ‘listen’ to one of his diatribes.

    Excellent blog, by the way. Stumbled across it.
    Good stuff.

  • Harry

    Honestly I don’t see any “challenge” here at all – all you do is ask a subjective question about whether “competent scholars” would believe some argument of Craig’s to be “good”.

    How can we answer that? do a survey? identify a list of “competent scholars”? should the list include only atheists?

    There is no challeneg – and if you want to critique some argumnet of Craig’s (like the moral one you refer to) then how about a transcript that quotes him verbatim rather than your subjective summary of his argument?


  • augustine

    Isn’t WLC’s moral argument based on Robert Adams’ divine command theory? (See http://www.iep.utm.edu/divine-c/). And Adams is one of the most eminent scholars in philosophy (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Merrihew_Adams). That would seem to be an indication that “competent scholars” would respect WLC’s argument (not that they would necessarily agree with it).

  • Bob

    this is a joke. this pathetic bitching makes me ashamed to be an atheist