I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the prolific evangelical Christian philosopher William Lane Craig. (Among other things, his German is very, very good.) Armed with two doctorates — a Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham (1977), where his doctoral director was the prominent Anglo-American philosopher of religion John Hick, and a D. Theol. from the University of Munich (1984), where his director was the great Protestant theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg, he is a formidable thinker and an intimidating debater. (Videos of many of his debates, with such figures as Christopher Hitchens, Lawrence Krauss, and Sam Harris, are available online.) He has done very important work on arguments for the existence of God, for instance, and regarding the historicity of the resurrection of Christ.
I’m also deeply, deeply envious of the fact that he has somehow managed, so far as I can see, to find a way to devote his time almost completely to researching, writing, and speaking. I would love to have had such an opportunity. As it is, I fear that most of what I’ve wanted to write will remain unwritten or, at least, unfinished.
I myself participated in a debate with Dr. Craig many years ago regarding the claims of the Restoration. That debate occurred in Denver, Colorado, under the auspices of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. (So far as I’m aware, it was not recorded.) Five Latter-day Saints — myself, Stephen Ricks, Hollis Johnson, Blake Ostler, and David Paulsen — debated a team of five evangelicals, including Dr. Craig and the philosopher Paul Copan and three others. The moderator was the estimable Protestant theologian Richard Mouw.
It was, on the whole, a pleasant experience. Toward the end, one of the evangelicals passed a note up to the Latter-day Saint team to let us know that BYU had defeated Utah in that evening’s football game, which conflicted with our debate schedule. Several of the Protestant philosophers were very polite and appreciative to us afterwards. One even told me that he thought that, in terms of civility and respect, we had plainly won the night.
Personally, I had thought the debate quite civil and polite. The one exception, I suppose, was William Lane Craig, and then only once. He got off a riff about Mormon cosmology being an absurd myth of Olympian proportions, or something to that effect. I happened to look at the moderator, Professor Mouw, at just that moment. He looked back at me and rolled his eyes heavenward. The next day, he caught me in the conference’s vast book display — the Evangelical Philosophical Society had convened its meeting as just a small part of the overall joint annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, which serves as an umbrella for many other, smaller, groups such as the American Schools of Oriental Research, and so forth — and apologized to me, on behalf (he said) of all evangelicals, for Dr. Craig’s disrespectful attitude.
It really hadn’t bothered me, I responded. It hadn’t seemed all that bad.
But it’s plainly the case that William Lane Craig doesn’t have much respect for the faith of the Latter-day Saints. I would also add that, in my judgment, he doesn’t really know much about that faith. Specifically, I completely concur with Stephen Smoot’s recently-posted “open letter” to Dr. Craig: