The hypocrisy of William Lane Craig’s refusal to debate Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeff Lowder sent me an e-mail asking me to comment on William Lane Craig’s “apparent hypocrisy” (Jeff’s words) in refusing to do a debate with him. Jeff included a link to a post on this he put up last July, which has some interesting tidbits:

  • The Atheist Alliance, International in October 2000 tried to arrange a debate between William Lane Craig and either Jeff Lowder or Dan Barker. According to Ed Buckner, who was the organizer for the event that never happened, “Wm Lane Craig turned me down flat for the AAI debate, without even knowing who his opponent might be–doesn’t want to “help us make our atheist event better” and is “only interested in fairly ‘evangelical’ settings” for his debates.
  • I contacted Craig in September 2000 about a debate. When I asked him if he was open to the possibility, he said, “Wow! I guess so.” I then contacted Anthony Battaglia at the Council for Secular Humanism, who attempted to organize a debate for the Campus Freethought Alliance between Craig and I. I think this was in 2000 or 2001, but I could be wrong about the date. I believe they had attempted to arrange a debate at Yale University. Initially, I was told by Erika Hedberg in October 2000 that “Word on the street is that Craig has finally agreed to a debate with you,” but apparently Craig’s position on this later changed.
  • In April 2001, I was contacted by Ronald Tacelli at Boston College. Hewrote, “Bill Craig has expressed interest in debating Mr Lowder here at BC. Could you please forward this to Mr Lowder or at least send me his e-mail address. I’d like to schedule the debate for Fall (mid-September)of 2002 or maybe Spring of 2003 (mid-April).” I don’t remember why that proposal never went anywhere.
  • In September 2001, I am told second-hand, by two different trusted sources, that Craig is telling one freethinker (perhaps others as well?) that I am a “sad case,” that I am a young man with a lot of intelligence and energy, but I am wasting it on the wrong fight. “The only reason” I have any influence is because of my “computer savvy with the internet.” (Internet Infidels) He said that “since skeptics are generally unscholarly, I have become a big fish in a small pond” (my source’s words, not Craig’s), and I am “taken much more seriously than warranted.” If Iwere to convert to Christianity, I would “never be allowed to join the rank of ‘true scholars.’”

Jeff’s post also has some discussion of Craig’s inconsistent application of his “PhDs-only” rule, which he occasionally gives as a reason for turning town debates. I already knew Craig had debated (and by many accounts, lost to) Eddie Tabash, who is a lawyer. Jeff’s post adds to more examples: Ron Barrier (doesn’t even have an undergraduate degree!) and John Shelby Spong (who has a Master of Divinity, and two honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees, but no PhD).

In relation to the “PhDs only” rule, this quote from an e-mail by Christian philosopher Victor Reppert also sticks out:

I’m a little puzzled by Craig’s policy on this, since it seems that a case-by-case assessment is more significant than applying a general rule. For example, a Ph.d in some non-philosophical discipline could be a complete patsy for Craig, while a philosophically capable Ph.D student might do well against him. I heard a tape of a debate between Craig and 80+ year old Robert Dietz that was a travesty. I suppose he has to limit his debates somehow. He once told me, of the debate with Dietz, that it was a good opportunity for the Gospel. That’s OK if there was an honest process that put Dietz in the atheist’s position (I would told that he was all they could get), but the whole thing ends up looking staged, and I don’t think that helps anybody in the long run, and doesn’t really help the Gospel.

Now Craig can debate or not debate whoever he wants, but given Craig’s antics in response to Dawkins’ refusal to debate him–including “Eastwooding” Dawkins (Craig’s term, not mine) by “debating” an empty chair on at least two occasions–the hypocrisy is striking. Even if Craig were consistent about the “PhDs only” thing, it’s an obviously bad rule.

These debates are not about the quality of anyone’s academic work. Oral debates are not how academic controversies are settled. They’re largely about public speaking skills that not all academics have. While I disagree with Jeff on some matters of debating tactics, there’s no question that he has the right skills for this. In fact, I’d say that on the whole Jeff is far more qualified to debate Craig than many of the people Craig has debated.

If anyone who’s reading this is involved in a campus atheist group, it might be worth talking to your local Campus Crusade chapter (or whatever they’re calling it these days) about doing a Lowder-Craig debate. Judging by Jeff’s post, quoted above, Craig has been somewhat inconsistent in the past on his position here. So hey, maybe you could make it happen, and if not it would at least be an opportunity to nail Craig down on why he won’t do the debate.

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