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of a pattern: ignore what your opponent actually says, come prepared with carefully selected (and often irrelevant or out of date) quotes from their writings to attack in lieu of addressing the arguments they actually make during the debate.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.