Given how yesterday’s debate between William Lane Craig and Sam Harris went, imagine my surprise when I read John Loftus’s comments on the debate, over at his comically-named Debunking Christianity blog:
Bill has once again showed himself as the best debater of this generation, that’s for sure. He had a great opening statement and kept coming back to it in his rebuttals, assessing what Sam might might have said against it, pointing out when Sam didn’t answer him, and if he did, why he was wrong. Bill was out to score points. That’s what he was taught in his High School debate team. Score points. If a debate judge was doing that, then she would add up the arguments and the counter arguments and this would tell her who won. On a points basis Craig won. This is what Christians are probably crowing about. I talked to a guy named Phillip, who has commented here before, who said Craig won and I suspect it’s because of this.
But Sam’s arguments were clearly better even if he didn’t answer everything Bill said, by far. So Sam did what any debater against Craig should do, put out on the table some serious objections for Christians who would never read his books. He did that most emphatically. That’s why debates are important even if a debate judge might score on Bill’s behalf.
Loftus’s appraisal of the debate highlights the kind of fantasy world that many of the more militant, more preening atheists—New Atheists—live in. Harris’s arguments were not “clearly better” precisely because he didn’t answer everything Bill said by far! And Craig’s arguments are precisely what made him the better debater. Indeed, since points are scored on the basis of how well each person presents and defends his case with argumentation, if we are not going on “points” to judge who won, then what, pray tell, are we going on?
As Steve Hays has observed, Craig is in a no-win situation when it comes to his evaluation before New Atheists. If he wins—as he always seems to—it’s either because he was a “better debater”—as if that is completely unrelated to his arguments—or if that won’t fly because, say, Hitchens is a brilliant speaker, then it’s because his opponent was unprepared. Curious. The arguments never feature in their appraisal.
In fact, Harris presented almost no argument on the topic throughout the entire debate. In addition, Craig completely dismantled Harris’s entire theory of ethics, revealing his utilitarianism as a fraud. What various “arguments” Harris did present were facile—the sort of stock objections, more assertions than anything, that you’d expect from a high schooler who hasn’t had time to learn better; not from a Stanford philosophy major and world-renowned author-speaker. It’s almost as if Loftus thinks, and approves, that Harris used this debate as a pretext for simply presenting as many emotive, off-topic arguments as possible, in the hope that uncritical or uneducated audience members would be swayed against Christianity.
While I doubt this was Harris’s intention, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was how Loftus would go about things. He isn’t interested in the truth—he is interested in showing everyone how amazing he is, as if this will validate his incredibly lame arguments. I mention this lest you ever get involved in a discussion with him, because it makes reasoned debate quite impossible in the normal sense—he doesn’t have the same motivations as most people. He isn’t interested in addressing the issues as truthfully as he can: for example, look at how, in his post, he makes transparent efforts to emphasize his own importance. Notice how he uses Craig and Harris’s status to his own advantage, calling them by their first names as if they are old friends, going to great pains to mention how he talked to both of them, how Harris knew of him, and how he curried Harris’s approval; how a biblical scholar has told him things about Copan’s book, and how he had free tickets to the event. Loftus has tried to goad Craig into debating him on numerous occasions; Craig declines on the basis that Loftus was once his student (what disappointment he must feel about that). But I suspect Craig would demur in any case, for there is no way an adult can give an annoying, incorrigible, retarded child a clip around the ear without the spectacle leaving him worse off in the eyes of his on-lookers.
Returning to Harris, I think this debate illustrates how confident Christians can be, and how we shouldn’t over-react to the New Atheists just because they are loud. If this is the best they have to offer, their cause will always remain a fringe movement, producing a lot of noise but very little heat—much like Islamic Jihadists. In the vacuum of sensible arguments or rational discourse, more people will be moved to Christ than to atheism—and that’s something to be thankful for.