I have to admit, I was rather disappointed with Monday’s debate between Stephen Law and William Lane Craig on the topic “Does God exist?” Having seen some of William Lane Craig’s previous debates, I went into the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster expecting it to be like hitting my head repeatedly against a brick wall and I wasn’t far wrong... a great shame because I know Stephen Law to be an intelligent, eloquent man and a great philosopher.
Craig commenced by talking about infinity and how, because we find it difficult to get our heads around, it must be a figment of our imaginations. He then used this as proof that the universe had to have had a beginning and therefore it must have been caused by a god. There are so many problems with these assertions – the mind boggles. Quite apart from anything else, Craig’s god is supposed to be infinite: if infinity is merely a figment of our imaginations, surely his god must be too! Yet the Christians who made up the vast majority of the audience (to be expected since one had to sign up to a Christian website to book tickets) appeared not to notice the massive flaws in Craig’s argument; again, I suppose, to be expected. After the kalam cosmological argument, Craig used the argument from morality (how can we have objective morality without god?) and the historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus (basically “the Bible says it, so it must be true”).
Law’s opening speech was fascinating and funny – his evil god argument is fantastic, going along the lines that belief in an evil god is clearly ridiculous but exactly the same arguments can be made for the existence of an evil god as can be made for Craig’s good god. It is a shame, however, that the audience of Christians didn’t get the point at all (as became painfully obvious in the Q&A afterwards). Further difficulty came in the fact that, even with two of Craig’s usual arguments not being used on this occasion, there would not have been time for Law to refute the remaining ones in the time he had, without taking away from his central argument regarding evil god. The arguments Craig makes are easily refutable but it takes time, something which he knows his opponent doesn’t have in such a debate.
Craig dodged giving proper answers to Law’s points, yet still managed to claim victory because, although the points Law made were great, he didn’t refute the kalam cosmological argument. This left Craig free to announce that since Law was merely arguing against the Christian god rather than the very wishy-washy form of deism which the kalam argument aims to show, he had not proved that god does not exist. Against this, Law’s final statement that Craig had not managed to answer a single one of his points fell flat.
Speaking to some Christian attendees afterwards, my disappointment was compounded by being told that they pitied us for not having a better speaker, because William Lane Craig had won by miles and it clearly hadn’t been a challenge for him at all. Although I admire Stephen Law, unfortunately I had to agree with my Christian acquaintance – his logic paled into insignificance compared to Craig’s showmanship.
Having seen Stephen Law, an intelligent man who brought up some very good arguments, defeated in debate by William Lane Craig purely because Craig is more skilled at rhetoric and spin, I can easily understand why Richard Dawkins continually refuses to debate with him. If we atheists are going to show Craig’s arguments to the world at large for the frankly pathetic attempts that they are, we need people to defend our stance who are not only knowledgeable about the subject matter but well trained in oratory and debating skills.