Hitchens vs. Craig

Yesterday, I attended a structured debate between William Lane Craig and The Hitch held at Biola University. As far as anyone can win a debate where the opponents talk mostly at cross-purposes, I’d have to give the trophy to Craig. Clearly, my belief system is biased towards Hitchens, yet I feel that he did an inadequate job as an atheist spokesman.

Firstly, the pamphlet that was handed out prior to the show, had a nice listing of Craig’s main arguments, while the space given to Hitchens was entirely blank (useful for notes, but couldn’t he come up with any written opposition? he didn’t even use the space to repeat his challenge?) Before commenting further on the speakers presentation, I’m going to review the arguments used by Craig.

  • Cosmological Argument
    1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
    2. The Universe began to exist.
    3. Therefore, the Universe has a cause.

    The underlying problem here is that, this argument assumes the Law of Causality. Unfortunately, if (as Craig claimed during the debate) the Big Bang was the beginning of both space and time, exploding the universe ex nihilo then it no longer makes sense to talk about ‘before’ the Bang. You see, the very term ‘before’ implies a continuity of time, and it doesn’t make sense to talk about anything ‘before’ time. This is true too of causality, which depends on continuity of time, so we can no longer talk about events causing other events, when there is no universe of time and space in which these things occur. So, premise 1. is inadmissible, and we cannot then conclude that the universe had a cause.

  • Teleological Argument
    1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either law, chance, or design.
    2. It is not due to law or chance.
    3. Therefore, it is due to design.

    Ignoring the possibility that he has set up a false or incomplete set of choices in premise 1., Craig appealed to the authority of physicists and their testimony that the probability that fundamental physical constants that parameterize our universe have values capable of supporting life such as we observe is vanishingly small. Because of this, the universe could not have been tuned by accident. Nor could it have been by law, because these are initial conditions and are not covered by scientific law. Therefore, our only option left is design.
    Craig also made some detours suggesting that if you were to ally with chance, then you would be forced into conceding the possibility of a multi-verse theory, which he dismissed as being really very silly. I actually agree with this. The multi-verse theories are neither well grounded, nor empirically observed, and smell as if they came from science fiction; but I really don’t have many other options (though there is the Anthropic Principal). I still don’t think an appeal to supernaturalism solves the problem. It’s weak as far as explanations are concerned, for now we must question “Why was the universe created, and what was it designed for?”, and I don’t see any means of empirically testing answers to such questions. I agree that science doesn’t provide very satisfactory answers to why the universe is capable of supporting life as we know it, but God did it. is a non-answer!

  • Moral Argument
    1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
    2. Objective moral values do exist.
    3. Therefore, God exists.

    Unfortunately I don’t quite remember what Craig termed ‘objective moral values’ but it wasn’t what I expected: moral values that can be objectively or empirically measured. Rather, it seemed that he used a definition that nearly presupposed a universal standard of morality which must have been inserted by a God into the fabric of our being. I really wish I could remember his exact words here, but I think he had buried his conclusion into the premises. I do remember that he dismissed objectively measurable moral values as not being truly moral. That is, he didn’t think that atheists had any real logical reason to discount, say cannibalism, other than the fact that it doesn’t allow the formation of large, stable societies (which isn’t itself a moral precept). On this point, he’s absolutely right. Atheists can’t claim an objective or universal set of moral scriptures, we are forced to admit that much of morality is relative, that we’re figuring it out as we go, that advances in technology force us to reconsider some of the relative balances, that fundamentally there are no moral standards, and we are forced, by nature as evolved social primates, to adopt those values that allow us to best get along with each other. But, this position draws doubt on premise 2.

  • The Resurrection of Jesus
    1. There are three established facts concerning the fate of Jesus of Nazareth: (a) the discovery of his empty tomb, (b) his post-mortem appearances, and (c) the origin of his disciples’ belief in his resurrection.
    2. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of these facts.
    3. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” entails that the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth exists.
    4. Therefore, the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth exists.

    I actually this that this argument is completely beside the point. But it is useful from Craig’s side in making the leap from a God to a personal God of the Bible. Hitchens failed to take this on, except in a very wishy-washy fashion arguing that any God who is capable of intervening must be an immoral one. To presume that God had a design which includes the extinction of 99% of all species ever to have lived, the annihilation of galactic expanses in supernovae, black holes and other cosmic dangers, the revelation to a primitive, illiterate desert people without good recording devices, the inhumane and unwarranted suffering cause by natural disaster and disease, and then to claim “but he cares about you” is not at all humble. Rather, it’s presumptuous and immoral. He also added, that as far as prayer for personal intervention, at least as an Atheist, “I can’t be accused of wishful thinking”.

  • The Immediate Experience of God
    1. Beliefs which are appropriately grounded may be rationally accepted as basic beliefs not grounded in argument.
    2. Belief that the biblical God exists is appropriately grounded.
    3. Therefore, belief that the biblical God exists may be rationally accepted as a basic belief not grounded in argument.

    This one is very easy, and I wish that Dan Barker could have been there to address it. Having an experience doesn’t prove the existence of God, it only proves that humans have such experiences.

Overall, Craig was extremely well spoken, and his points were well-delivered. When he presented the Atheistic viewpoints, he didn’t set-up a strawman. Hitchens, in contrast, appealed to emotion (which doesn’t always work on a Christian biased audience) and failed to address Craig on a logical, structured, point-by-point basis. He let a number of the easy quibbles fly, he let Craig leap from Deist to personal God, he never raised the point that our current morality is better than that of the Old Testament God, nor did he contend that it’s up to the supernaturalist to provide proof, he persisted in alluding that Christianity held a deeply depraved view of us as wretched sinners and strayed from the premise of the debate “Does God Exists”. I’ve seen Hitchens do much better in other venues, even when espousing the exact same arguments! He was an unfortunate disappointment.

I think Craig is setting a very good bar for logical debate. He stayed on topic, and was very straightforward. I wish that all Christians would follow his standard, so that my side might have the opportunity to win the ongoing debate with clear and sound reason. Many of Craigs arguments are available in his book “Does God Exist?” (unfortunately listing Antony Flew (who swapped from atheist to deist to christian as old age took its toll) as a co-author.)