I've done a couple of debates with the godly this year: a (relatively) small one against Michael Jensen at Macquarie University back in March; and the big one on Tuesday night in which I joined with Tamas Pataki and Jane Caro against Archbishop Peter Jensen, Tracey Rowland, and Scott Stephens.
One point that I made in the latter, where I was the last speaker for the opposition, was the lack of faith shown by the Christian apologists in the traditional arguments for the existence of God. In fact, none of the four people I've debated this year has used these arguments in any concerted way.
On Tuesday night, there were, perhaps, some vague attempts to evoke (and I do mean evoke, not invoke) the traditional moral argument. These were never developed with any rigour, and didn't require rebuttal (our side would have had to do the other side's work to get the argument into a form worthy of rebutting). In fact, I think they came across more as complaints about the (supposed) moral malaise of secular societies.
Back in March, Michael Jensen did gesture at a transcendental argument based on the need to presume God in order to avoid radical scepticism, and we briefly skirmished about that. Generally, however, the Christian apologists I've encountered have abandoned philosophical arguments and concentrated on (a) the good things done for us by Christianity and (b) the supposed loss of value in societies without God. This is fairly weak, and I don't think it went down well with most of the audience the other night. It's really only going to appeal to people who already hold Christian organisations and moral views in high regard.
I assume that my interlocutors are just not convinced by philosophical arguments and have other reasons for their views, such as what they take to be the inherent plausibility of the gospel narratives. That's up to them, of course, but it weakens their position in debate. William Lane Craig is very formidable as a debater because he really seems to believe in the philosophical arguments, and is able to present them in a more-or-less logically valid form very concisely, quickly, and clearly, forcing his opponents to flounder around unpicking what's wrong with them, or else leave important parts of his presentations unrebutted.
Cardinal Pell relied almost entirely on a cosmic fine tuning argument in his debate against Dan Barker last year, and it didn't go well for him. But at least he had an argument for the existence of God. I went along on Tuesday night ready to debate the alleged cosmic fine tuning, but it wasn't required.
Apart from Pell, most of the Australian debaters don't seem to want to risk their positions on these sorts of arguments, even though it might be better for them tactically - it makes it look as if they don't actually have any good reasons to believe in God, which is pretty fundamental!
Again, it's up to the debaters what arguments they want to run. If they don't think these arguments are conclusive - which Peter Jensen seemed to concede in his summing up the other night - they are just being honest in not relying on them. I'm not saying they should change tack, and I'm certainly not trying to create a sort of witch hunt thread in which we pile on the individuals concerned. I'm just observing something that happened, or failed to happen, in a couple of debates that I've been involved in. Interesting ... or so it struck me.
Has anyone else had similar or contrasting experiences? How would you run the other side's case if you were handed the task?