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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Dealing with William Lane Craig

Richard Dawkins' site has an interesting article by Lawrence Krauss relating to a recent debate that he had with William Lane Craig.

The thread that follows is also interesting. Richard himself has a comment in which he challenges the claim that Craig is a skilled debater. I'm going to disagree with Richard about that - from what I've seen, Craig is in fact very skilled in using his allocated time, judging how aggressive to be, maintaining a confident demeanour, connecting with his audience, and all the other things that make it appear that someone has "won" a debate irrespective of the quality of his arguments.

That doesn't necessarily mean he'd do well in a court of a law - though I expect that he would, in fact, tend to appeal to a jury. But he does very well in this sort of format. I'm not sure what good it does debating him. Someone who doesn't debate in this format day in day out, and who may not have the talent or training for it in the first place, will be seen as "losing" (and then, like Krauss, be subjected to well-meaning dissections from allies who want to tell him, "Ur doing it rong").

Still, interesting to see some further discussion of the merits of such debates.


Damion said...

I am far more guilty than most of the "you're doing it wrong" accusations, as you can see on my blog dedicated to reviewing all the audio or video debates on topics related to the ongoing struggles between faith and reason.

With that confession out of the way, I've seen several people do it really well (Eddie Tabash, Richard Carrier, Jeremy Beahan, Stephen Law, Matt McCormick and Arif Ahmed come immediately to mind) and that gives us freethinkers a chance to ponder and eventually figure out what works well and what does not. Hopefully, by identifying the good arguments and counter-arguments, we can get better at critically assessing faith based claims.

Spencer Troxell said...

I agree with you about your disagreement with Dawkins, but I think his viewpoint on whether or not Craig is a good debater underlines a characteristic that makes Dawkins admirable.

Dawkins presents as a bottom line kind of guy; is what you're saying true, or is it not? He doesn't seem impressed with flowery presentation or clever language, he wants to know what's right and what's not. So maybe you're both right: Craig is a 'good' debater in the sense that he is talented at working a crowd and playing word games, but he's not 'good' in the fact that he is a dishonest obfuscator.

'The Obfuscator'...Now there's an interesting super villain for the marvel universe to consider...

Thalamus said...

As you probably already know, Sam Harris will be debating William Craig tonight at 7 (EDT, I think). The debate will be streamed live here:


I agree that Bill Craig is a great debater, scientifically benighted though he might be.

Out of all the prominent voices for atheism today I think Sam Harris is the best suited to debate someone like Craig.
It be nice if you, as well, could help dismantle Craig's arguments one by one on one of your acuminous posts.

Ivo said...

We'll see soon how well Harris fares, in the same straits.

David M said...

I only stomached about a minute of each speaker in that krauss/Craig vid at PZ's site. Craig was smooth and polished, but somewhat like a used car salesman. Krauss was like the acne covered shop assistant in The Simpsons, "My girlfriend's gonna kill me..."

And the above "critique", of course, says NOTHING of the substance, and that's the problem right there. It's not impossible for debates to be useful, or for you to hear things you haven't heard, or at least not articulated in a certain way. I quite liked blair v hitchens, because both are more than competent speakers.

But it was still a sampler compared to what you could say about a lot of the subjects.

Getting back to the Craig debate, just in the frst 30 seconds of his first go I counted at least 3 assertions/assumptions that I would take issue with, and he was overtly stating that "an athesit would concede them." Oh no I wouldn't. One of them was that there is an objective morality! orly?