It's probably obvious that I enjoy debate. One of the perks of my current job is that it allows me to do my work while listening to sermons, podcasts, music sometimes, webradio shows, and yes, debates, most of the working day while I go about my tasks (mostly silently, except I type loud).
One of the most prolific and famous Christian debaters out there is William Lane Craig. In fact, his debate with Peter Atkins of Oxford was the first theist/atheist debate I ever watched/listened to, and I was enthralled. It probably helped that it was one of the worst blowouts of an atheist debater that I have ever witnessed, but my interest was nonetheless permanently piqued in these kinds of debates.
Anyway, while dorking around the other day and clicking on a few of the sites in my "Antagonists" bookmark folder, I came across this interesting blogpost wherein the Uncredible Hallq (which, I agree, is an outstandingly clever Internet handle and blog name) shares his thoughts on the best strategy for atheists in debate with Dr. Craig. The Hallq is an interesting character, in my estimation more of a freethinker than most Internet atheists and antitheists. I understand he is well-regarded among the Internet atheist community as well. I agree with much of what he says in the article, particularly in the way he characterises the way that Craig's opponents usually employ very ineffective time management in their opening speeches and rebuttals. To me, it appears that they don't typically do so much as listen to even one presentation from Craig before the debate; they just show up and expect to steamroll Craig. And in turn, they themselves get flattened. James White has experienced this over and over again, to name another prolific debater - see his most recent debates with Bart Ehrman and Dan Barker (I wouldn't describe the Ehrman debate as a "flattening", just a victory for White, but it's obvious Ehrman didn't study White at all, is all I mean).
So, after the stimulating analysis of the first 2/3 of the post, I was interested to see what the Hallq would say in the section entitled "FINALLY: WHAT I WOULD SAY IN A DEBATE WITH CRAIG". Given my impressions of him up to this point, I was very surprised at the shallow argumentation he employs here. It's really a seriously bad initial presentation. Let's take it point by point. I can't promise that my responses will resemble all that closely how Craig would respond. For one thing, the man is a professional. For another, he's a classical apologist, and I generally take the presuppositional approach, but we certainly have our common ground as well. So for each of these points, I'll give my own reply and What I Think William Lane Craig Would Say (WITWLCWS). Please note that I usually agree with WITWLCWS, but I often prefer to emphasise different aspects of the case.
--Richard Dawkins is famous for saying, ‘We are all atheists with respect to most of the gods humans have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.’ “This isn’t just a slogan: it’s good advice for how to think about this issue.
My friend Vox Veritatis very ably deals with this argument here. It amazes me that this argument is so prevalent and popular. Consider his response my own.
WITWLCWS: The weight of the evidence, as I've laid out in my opening presentation, supports the Christian God. I have a great deal of material on other competing religions and would be happy to debate their truth any time. Also, you need to present positive evidence for your position.
Notes: After a whole post haranguing us on the importance of taking WLC's initial presentation (which almost never changes) into account, and then the buildup of "Here's how I'd open against WLC", Hallquist's first point is not promising. How does this even get close to responding to WLC's presentation?
--Similarly, if the Christian god existed, we would find lots of evidence for him that we do not find:
1. Genesis says God created the heavens and the earth from a chaotic void a mere several thousand years ago. But our best evidence from geology, paleontology, and astronomy contradicts this. If the heavens were a mere few thousand years old, we wouldn’t be able to see most of the galaxy’s stars because their light wouldn’t have had time to reach Earth.
The best evidence for God's existence is that w/o Him, there is no reason or intelligibility. The "evidence" you refer to from those fields is data that must be interpreted thru a worldview grid, to see how well the data fit. Maybe alot of the data fit your worldview, but my worldview is able to explain them just as well, and quite often a lot better. Your challenge is to find data that DON'T fit in my worldview consistently but do fit in yours, and that would count as evidence for your position against mine. I haven't seen much of that in my time.
If God created the stars ~10K years ago, He could just as easily have created the light beams stretching from the stars to the Earth as well. And yes, He could have easily created the light event of a supernova that's dated to millions of yrs ago (on modern assumptions) that would only be ~10K light years away. Let's be serious here - does Christianity believe in an omnipotent God or not?.
WITWLCWS: My presentation is about whether God exists, not whether the Bible is infallible, and I have offered several very compelling lines of evidence for the existence of God. My arguments are forceful and substantive whether or not the modern iterations of the theory of evolution are true. Fine, the Earth is several billions of years old. Now, how about my arguments? Plus, what Rhology said about the light beams.
Notes: OK, I was kidding about Craig throwing me a bone there, but I think he'd agree with that limited point. Note again how Hallquist's point does not touch Craig's typical opening presentation.
--2. Genesis said rainbows are a sign from God given to Noah. But we know they’re a natural phenomenon.
And they can't be both...why? God uses means to accomplish His ends. He usually works providentially rather than via miraculous intervention.
Notes: See above - how does this touch Craig's initial presentation? Hallquist might not be wasting time here with windbag verbosity, but he's wasting the little time he's using, since this argument is virtually irrelevant to Craig's arguments.
--3. Genesis says the world’s many languages are punishment for building the tower of Babel. But we know new languages develop naturally, without divine intervention.
Congratulations, you know NEW languages develop naturally. How precisely does this rule out a miracle in the past?
Also, how do you ground the induction you're using?
WITWLCWS: How, again, does this deal with any of my arguments for God's existence?
Notes: The Bill Craig in my head is right - this is irrelevant to Craig's layout of the case.
--4. The Bible, along with post-Biblical Christian tradition, says God has sent a variety of prophets, apostles, and saints to work miracles on his behalf. But today, whenever we investigate urban legends of miracles or supposed miracle workers like Peter Popoff and Benny Hinn–and real investigations have only become possible recently–the claims turn out to be bogus. The reasonable inference is that all such claims are bogus.
The reader will hopefully pardon me for not finding ignorance about biblical doctrine a very compelling argument against God's existence. There were plenty of eyewitnesses in NT times who had a vested interest in NOT believing what they believed and testified about, b/c they were getting tortured and messily killed, de-synagogued, fired from their jobs, etc for becoming and living as followers of Jesus Christ. And many of them were in a position to know for sure that the teaching about Christ was not true, which is a scenario that few other religious traditions I'm familiar with can claim.
The case against the continuation of what are typically called sign gifts is pretty strong, but even most continuationists don't think that the gifts exercised today are of similar quality and power to those exercised in NT times. Further, ain't too many people around who think that Benny Hinn or TBN are legit. Is that really the best example Hallquist could come up with?
So, let me get this straight. Hallquist would have us investigate people that everyone knows are scam artists and conclude that the real thing doesn't exist anywhere?
WITWLCWS: Quite so. The existence of counterfeit currency doesn't invalidate the existence of real currency. In fact, it bolsters the case for the existence of real currency - why fake it if the real stuff weren't out there?
And a big part of my case for God revolves around the very strong evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Forget Hinn - how about dealing with the evidence for Jesus's resurrection?
--5. The Bible attributes the rise and fall of nations to God’s will. But historians and political scientists have been unable to find much use for that way of explaining historical events.
Note the naturalistic presupposition. You need to argue for naturalism's truth before you bring it in as your overriding interpretive grid like this. See #2 and #3.
WITWLCWS: As a historical discipline, it's true that God's influence might be difficult or even impossible to ascertain in such events as you've cited. You don't get to just assume that history is atheistic, though - you need to make your case. This is an argument from silence.
Also, I'd note that every naturalistic attempt to explain the historical facts surrounding the resurrection of Jesus is fatally flawed, so again, the best evidence strongly favors it. And the obvious inference from the resurrection is that God raised Jesus from the dead.
--6. The Bible affirms that God answers prayer. But attempts to verify this scientifically have failed, and what’s more, most Christians realize deep down this doesn’t work. That’s why they recognize it as a tragedy when religious parents try to use prayer as a replacement for medicine when caring for their children.
God has done plenty to testify about His existence. He's not obligated to perform like a circus monkey when you want Him to. All men know God exists, but they suppress that truth in wickedness b/c they love darkness. And then, in that very suppression, they want to study prayer to see if God will jump thru their hoops? This reduces God to some impersonal Force that can be manipulated thru the right incantations, physical or not. It's paganism, and God isn't a pagan god.
I'd love to see Hallquist's survey data to support the claim that "most Christians realize deep down this doesn't work".
See #4 - this is more ignorance about Christian doctrine. The purpose of prayer is to make ME more like Jesus through communication with Him, not to bend God's will to fit my own. God also uses some prayers as part of the means to accomplishing His will.
'Tisn't Christians who use prayer as a replacement for medicine, or better said, that's not part of the Christian worldview. Word of Faith-ers, may God have mercy on them, whose ideas are strongly influenced by Gnosticism, and Christian Scientists and religious scientists, who are even Gnostic-er, fall into this category. But I thought we were talking about Christianity, not "religion".
Finally, I see no argument as to why we should limit verification to what can be scientifically verified. It's not like Hallquist's own worldview can be scientifically verified. Maybe that's why most naturalists realise deep down that this naturalism thing doesn't work.
WITWLCWS: How does this affect any of my arguments for God's existence?
Further, since we're talking about answered prayer, I prayed when I was in high school that God would save me, and He did! I have had a true experience of Jesus Christ, and absent a good reason to doubt its truth, I am fully justified in believing it. That's an answered prayer right there, and since your argument is inductive, only one example is sufficient to overturn it. Consider it done.
Notes: I'll stop here and address the rest of the post next time. But that's the 1st section of Hallquist's proposed opening statement in a debate against William Lane Craig. Did any of these arguments address Craig's typical opener? No. Were they even very relevant to building a case against Christianity? No. So, my recommendation to the Hallq is: Yes, please, pretty please, do bring this kind of argument to any and all debate you do with a Christian. The Christian debater could share the Gospel, preach a biblical sermon, or read John Piper books aloud during the entire debate and still emerge victorious.