My favorite atheist-theist debates (mostly involve William Lane Craig lying about his opponents)

Awhile ago someone asked me on Facebook for my favorite atheist-theist debates. I was pretty quick to answer “William Lane Craig’s debates with Bart Ehrman, Sam Harris, Stephen Law, and Shelley Kagan.”

I regret somewhat not recommending some debates where the Christian side was represented by someone other than Craig. Truth be told, though, too many theistic debaters out there are basically Craig clones, so you may as well not bother and focus on Craig.

That said, my reasons for picking those four debates… well, mostly they’re debates I’ve written about before. With the Ehrman debate, my view has changed somewhat over time. When I first read the transcript of the Ehrman debate, my impression was that Craig had obviously lost: he spent almost no time addressing Ehrman’s points in the debate, and instead spent his time attacking strained interpretations of things Ehrman had said elsewhere.

That was the first time I’d seen Craig behaving that way in a debate, but it soon became part of a pattern: ignore what your opponent actually says, come prepared with carefully selected (and often irrelevant or out of date) quotes from their writings to attack in lieu of addressing the arguments they actually make during the debate. I’ve realized that, sadly, Craig often gets a lot of mileage from this strategy with his audience, so on a rhetorical level the question of “who won?” is murkier than I’d like.

That said, this debate is also notable because in the aftermath, Craig went around blatantly lying about Ehrman. Craig has been citing Ehrman as a supporter of his “four facts,” when in fact during the debate Ehrman said:

I’m surprised by some of his so-called authorities that Bill cites, for the reality is that the majority of critical scholars studying the historical Jesus today disagree with his conclusion that a historian can show that the body of Jesus emerged physically from the tomb. Bill might find that surprising, but that would be because of the context he works in – a conservative, evangelical seminary. In that environment, what he’s propounding is what everyone believes. And it’s striking that even some of his own key authorities don’t agree. He quotes a number of scholars, whom I consider to be friends and acquaintances, and I can tell you, they don’t agree with his views. Does that make him wrong? No, it simply means that his impressive recounting of scholarly opinion is slanted, lopsided, and fails to tell the real story, which is that he represents a minority opinion.

(later) We don’t know if Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea. What we have are Gospel stories written decades later by people who had heard stories in circulation, and it’s not hard at all to imagine somebody coming up with the story. We don’t know if his tomb was empty three days later. We don’t know if he was physically seen by his followers afterwards.

My review of the Craig-Harris debate is here. The biggest highlight? Craig admitting his only moral disagreement with the Taliban is they’ve got the wrong god, and Craig’s response to Harris pointing this out consisting entirely of rank bullshittery (namely, falsely claiming Harris agreed with him and then changing the subject).

For the Craig-Law debate, Jeff Lowder has an excellent rundown of why Law won on the arguments (if you ignore Lowder rather bizarrely describing Law as not defending atheism but rather defending the “evil God” hypothesis – which is a post in itself). And – you may be starting to notice a pattern here – after the debate Craig decided he needed to tell a whole bunch of lies about Law’s views.

Finally, I recommend the Shelley Kagan debate as an excellent example what happens when Craig goes off-format and can’t use his standard debating tactics… as well as one of the most thorough responses to his moral argument I’ve seen.

  • Ron Stephens

    My favorite debate is “Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?” between Craig and Ray Bradley. Of course Craig says absolutely, a loving god can send people to hell. He goes on and on how this is not a contradiction because the fires of hell is only a metaphor. The debate is available at http://youtu.be/6J9se6pMQso

    My favorite quote is from Bradley, “Dr. Craig likes to talk about hell in such soothing terms as everlasting separation from God. This a favorite dodge of Christians. It makes our question sound rather like “Can a loving God send some of His children to Hawaii?” Think about it like this, and the answer seems obvious. Why not, if that is where some of them choose to go?”

    Transcript available at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/can-a-loving-god-send-people-to-hell-the-craig-bradley-debate

    • Mick

      Thanks. I’ve downloaded the video and the link to the transcript will be handy.

    • Joseph O Polanco

      The Hellfire doctrine is an evil lie: http://bit.ly/17fVMYm

  • Pofarmer

    My favorite part of the Ehrman/Craig debate, is when Ehrman told Craig he was seeking a theological solution to a historical problem. In other words, Craig isn’t working in reality.

    • Annatar

      My favorite part of that debate is in Ehrman’s closing statement when he calls Craig “at heart, an evangelist who is disguising himself as a historian as a means to [getting people to believe in the resurrection of Jesus].”

  • Steve R.

    Craig is living rent free in this guy’s head..

  • L.Long

    These debates with xtians are nothing more then an exercise in tolerating BS lying.
    UNTIL they can PROVE THEIR gawd under controlled conditions, they have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING worth listening to or paying attention to.

    • Joseph O Polanco

      EXACTLY!! The same way it’s been proved under controlled conditions that Christopher Columbus landed in America in 1492, Yuri Gagarin was the very first man to ever journey to space, raping a little girl to death is wrong and that treating others with dignity, respect and beneficence is morally good. Stupid theists …

  • nationofjoe

    Thanks for posting more on this! I pretty much agree with you, sans the Harris debate.

    The bummer is that Craig is the best debater on the theist side. The others are just too big on preaching or just copying Craig. I feel like my site has too many Craig debates on it but he is the best the other side’s got, unfortunately.

    Licona is pretty good but he only does the resurrection.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

      >The bummer is that Craig is the best debater on the theist side. The others are just too big on preaching or just copying Craig. I feel like my site has too many Craig debates on it but he is the best the other side’s got, unfortunately.

      >Licona is pretty good but he only does the resurrection.

      Agreed on all of this. I was on the fence about whether to discuss Licona in this post.

    • http://oldtimeatheism.blogspot.ca/ Andyman409

      I’m surprised to hear someone say that, because IMHO Licona is one of the worst debaters on the Christian side. It’s not that he’s preachy or dishonest- but that he’s way too honest to be convincing. He doesn’t use the empty tomb or conversion of James as evidence, so his argument rests entirely on Paul’s conversion and the vision to the 500. And needless to say, those arguments are unconvincing, despite his insistence to the contrary.

      • nationofjoe

        Solid points, sir.

        Though I think Licona makes up for this by having a novel approach, at least, considering the res debates I have listened to almost always involve using the gospels. Licona is also pretty polished and great at rebuttal.

        Habermas and Licona both use another unconvincing line of argument that I think both would be wise to forget. They both talk about modern miracles and near-death experiences in their debates. I think that even those sympathetic to their side find that stuff sketchy. I haven’t heard more recent Habermas debates but I think Licona has distanced himself from using this line of argument in his debates.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

        Yeah, “too honest to be convincing is an issue in its own way.

  • Maude

    Good one, I just listened to the Law/WLC and the Kagan/WLC debates, and they were quite interesting. Kagan was particularly sharp in noting WLC’s subtle deflections, in a very curteous, disarming manner. I did not know him as a debater. I haven’t come across this quality of debate in a while.

    • nationofjoe

      Kagan is one of the few guys to come out of nowhere and devastate Craig in a debate. I wish Kagan along with Parsons, Sinnott-Armstrong and Dacey would all debate more!

      • Maude

        I just realized I watched his philosophy classes on death on iTunesU a few years ago. Really impressed how well he built his moral argument. Well now I’ll check out Parsons et al. Feels like 2008 again.

        • nationofjoe

          Imma whore my blog:

          http://allthedebates.blogspot.com/
          http://allthedebates.blogspot.com/2013/07/william-lane-craigs-debates-mini.html

          The second link it to a mini-review section of all the Craig debates I’ve heard. Seriously, I feel like I write too much on him, but like I mentioned in my first comment, all the other apologists are nothing compared to the guy…I recently relistened to a debate that Carrier had with Jacoby and man, it sounded like the guy was reading notes he took from “Apologetics for Dummies” scribbled on his hand for each response he gave.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

    I carefully watched the rhetorical tricks that WLC uses in his three ‘discussions’ with Lawrence Krauss last month in Australia. I have unpacked and exposed those tricks and fallacies in three blog posts: Part1, Part2 and Part3.

    • http://rationaloutlook.wordpress.com/ rationaloutlook

      Lawrence Krauss’ performance was totally embarrassing. You don’t need to ask Christians. Ask any atheist who knows a bit about logic and philosophy.

  • Captain Crunch Owns Count Choc

    “The biggest highlight? Craig admitting his only moral disagreement with the Taliban is they’ve got the wrong god, and Craig’s response to Harris pointing this out consisting entirely of rank bullshittery (namely, falsely claiming Harris agreed with him and then changing the subject).”

    This misrepresents that segment of the debate. Craig didn’t say his “only moral disagreement” was that they have the wrong God. Actual context: Craig said his response to the Taliban blowing up people in the name of God would be the same as Harris’; namely, “God didn’t tell you to do that.” Which, as far as I can see, is accurate. Both Harris and Craig don’t think God told the Taliban to blow people up.

    “if you ignore Lowder rather bizarrely describing Law as not defending atheism but rather defending the “evil God” hypothesis – which is a post in itself”

    That’s what Law did. He defended the “evil God” hypothesis to show that all of Craig’s arguments could potentially be applied to a hypothetically “evil God”. The overarching point was that, since we can applies these arguments to show evil God’s existence and we naturally don’t even entertain the idea of “evil God”, there is no reason to believe in Craig’s God either. It was an interesting tactic. Frankly, I think it failed.

    Finally, let’s address your accusations that Craig is a liar. I’ve found that such hyperbolic accusations really ruin one’s credibility. Just because Craig characterizes arguments one way, does not mean he’s lying. You simply get angry at his characterizations–of which reasonable people disagree–and bombastically make it a moral issues. Allow me to illustrate: let’s go to your quote, “Craig admitting his only moral disagreement with the Taliban is they’ve got the wrong god.” That’s patently inaccurate, but it’s also probably your honest assessment of Craig’s position. I’m not going to call you a liar, but I did show why that characterization is flatly wrong.

  • BronzeDog

    I rarely watch these sorts of debates, generally sticking to internet troll roasts, but the idea that theist debaters are all copying Craig has me thinking the nature of the subject. I think it would make it harder to distinguish between individual theist debaters because, well, it’s a dead topic. The core arguments don’t change because there’s no new evidence coming in. The fallacies in their arguments typically necessitate certain common tactics to gloss over them. My experience tends towards “seen one, seen ‘em all,” though there is variation in the quality of their intellectual facade and the amount of venom they’re willing to spew.

    But I suppose that variation could be your point: They think Craig’s got such a pretty facade.


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