me & William Lane Craig

Earlier this week I attended a Campus Crusade for Christ sponsored debate, “Does God Exist?” — featuring rock-star apologist William Lane Craig and fellow Saskatoon atheist George Williamson.  It was a rematch of an earlier debate they did in 2007 (YouTube).

In case you didn’t know this about me, I *love* listening to debates. It’s not at all uncommon to find me listening to a debate while I’m doing my housework (here’s the best site to find debates — I probably have 80% of them on my iPod).  I love listening to debaters set up their arguments, and love even more the spur-of-the-moment interactions between both sides during cross-examinations and Q & A periods.

The one Christian debater I’ve heard the most is Dr. Craig — I’ve heard him so many times that I can even cite all 6 of his arguments.  It was quite the treat to not only see him in person, but on Friday morning I had an opportunity to share a cup of coffee with him and fellow apologist Michael Horner! (along with a few other of my atheisty friends)

What I learned from my Craig encounter (in no particular order):

  • It was so fun to be able to talk about anything and everything with an articulate believer.  There haven’t been many opportunities where my questioning was welcomed.  There weren’t any heated discussions, just exchange of ideas.
  • Despite how smart he is, I think Dr. Craig is out of touch with many contemporary issues and their implications in the world today.  For example, he’s very quick to be dismissive of the “new atheism”, and labels it as only a “pop-culture” phenomenon.  I’m never impressed by a snobby scholar attitude (and don’t get me started on people who brandish their PhD diplomas).
  • The best part of our discussion was when we started talking about morality. I love talking about real, concrete issues — which means talking about moral/ethical dilemmas are more up my alley than discussing the ins and outs of cosmology.  Cosmology doesn’t affect me in my day to day life.
  • What I found the most interesting in our conversation about morality was noticing how uncomfortable Dr. Craig got when we starting applying morality to situations — he complained that his area was “meta-ethics” and not “practical ethics.”  This really shocked me, as I find practical ethics *so important*, and waaaaaay more meaningful to discuss than vaguely pontificating about loosely-defined “objective morality” and supposedly “cosmic” implications.  I asked Dr. Craig to give me an example of an objective moral value — I didn’t get one.
  • At one point, Dr. Craig was dismissively (he’s very good at being dismissive) talking about the ethical theory of consequentialism.  He gave an example that was meant to be horrifying to us to hear — he said, according to this theory, if raping/torturing a little girl would bring more good to society, then you would be morally bound to do such an atrocious action.  He wanted us to be repulsed by such an idea — and it is repulsive!  But I interjected that if Craig’s God were to issue a divine command for him to rape/torture a little girl because God deemed it morally “right,” Craig would have no choice but to follow it — according to the ethical guidelines that he’s under (read: Abraham’s command to sacrifice Issac).  And I find that equally repulsive, if not moreso that a supposedly personal God could make such commands.  Craig conceded (as much as he could — which is to say not much) — but he also made the point that it would be “logically impossible” for God to command such a thing. (?)
  • Ultimately it comes to Craig’s system of morality, I don’t trust God as much as he does.  I also don’t buy into Craig’s forced dichotomy of objective morality vs. nihilism.
  • Another interesting part of the conversation came up when we started talking about the character of God, especially as portrayed in the Old Testament.  Here’s where the theological contorting really starting taking shape.  First Craig tried to diminish the genocidal acts by saying that God really commanded the Israelites to “drive out” the Canaanite residents — and then only killed those left behind.  Later Craig mentioned that there’s no evidence that women and children were killed, and that it was mainly soldiers who were brutalized (not sure where he’s getting that claim from). And there were several other excuses given, but his main premise — God can take life, because he has given life — I found terrifying enough on its own ground.  (and again, here’s another example where Craig seems very willing to hand over his own volition/judgement over to God, something that I don’t think I’m able to do)
  • At one point in the conversation (I think it was in the midst of the ethical dilemmas), Michael Horner just sighed and said he didn’t know an answer to our questions.  AND I LOVED THAT.  I didn’t love it because I felt like I “scored” a point by stumping the apologist, but rather because it showed a moment of vulnerability and honesty.  As much as I enjoyed Dr. Craig, I didn’t see that side of him in our conversation.  The most he would concede would be to say “Well, I’ve struggled with that …” and then continue to give a definitive (to him) answer.
  • Toward the end of our chat, the apologists asked if there were any remaining “burning questions” left for us to ask — I, of course, took that segue way into asking about hell.  And that was when Dr. Craig told me that I should “come back into the faith.”
  • Dr Craig thinks that if you have a “open mind and open heart , you will come to a belief in god” — which is a really interesting statement to unpack.  This statement implies that someone who is skeptical of Christianity’s claims has a closed mind and heart.  My mind/heart isn’t closed,  I’m just not willing to assume God is there and then go looking for him, essentially turning off my critical faculties.  It reminds me when some  Mormons once asked Jerry and I to pray, just to “try it” and see if we felt god.  Ummmm, no thanks.
  • As much as I want to be impressed by Dr. Craig, I left our discussion thinking his faith rationale is pretty simple.  In many ways, I think it just boils down to an elaborately-structured ‘God of the Gaps’ argument, which is an explanation I’m not content to settle for.

Looking back on the whole experience, I’m really glad I had this opportunity to sit and chat with 2 prominent apologists.  I want to think that I’m always open to hearing good arguments that could persuade me to change my mind — but that said, even if I could be persuaded into conceding a deistic or theistic god exists, I’m not sure if I would be so apt to fall into line to worship him/her/it.

My hesitancy isn’t because I’m angry with god, or that I’m too selfish to let god into my life.  I just honestly don’t see how I need a relationship with such a being.  Maybe one day my mind will change — until that time, I’ll keep a lookout for him/her/it — but I won’t stop asking hard questions and I won’t settle for cliched answers.

p.s. In case you want a taste of what Dr. Craig sounds like in conversation, here’s a clip from his trip up here to Saskatoon.

p.p.s.  If you want to hear my favorite debates featuring Dr. Craig, check out these:

  • My very favorite: Craig v. Shelly Kagan, Yale prof.  The debate was “Is God Necessary for Morality?” — which means Craig was off-script!  And he loses the debate, I think.
  • If you want to hear Craig’s 6 proverbial arguments in action, you should listen to his debates with atheist Austin Dacey.  These two debates (2004 & 2005) are the best tackling of the subject, and Dacey offers the best opposition to Craig.
  • Later this spring, Craig is slated to debate both Lawrence Krauss (the physicist) and Sam Harris.