Another Atheist Refuses to Debate William Lane Craig

Polly Toynbee, president of the British Humanist Association, has pulled out of her scheduled London debate with Craig. Three prominent members of the BHA, the President and two Vice-Presidents, have now refused or withdrawn from publicly contesting the claims of theism with the Christian philosopher. Read the Reasonable Faith press release here.

8 replies
  1. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I see the note here says “Stephen Law, atheist lecturer in Philosophy at Heythrop College, London and Editor of THINK, the magazine of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, has agreed to replace Polly Toynbee for the debate on Mon 17 October at Westminster Central Hall.” That should be better than Polly Toynbee.

  2. Jason
    Jason says:

    That’s good news.

    I’m really looking forward to Craig’s Manchester debate with Oxford scientist Peter Atkins. Hopefully Atkins doesn’t pull out at the last minute either.

  3. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    It’s rather unfortunate that Toynbee has pulled out. I had praised her as having more balls than Richard Dawkins. Turns out that the joke doesn’t work anymore :(

  4. Bob
    Bob says:

    I’m wondering if Christians aren’t in danger of placing too much stock in the apologetics of WLC? If he were ever to fall in some way …

    I ask this as one Christian to another.

    On a personal level I don’t find Craig’s formal arguments to be very convincing. Bayesian probability just doesn’t get my juices flowing. Perhaps this is because I literally understand nothing about such things. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been unduly influenced by the clamouring and deafening (largely) atheist negative critique of Craig. With such analysis he is as likely to be described as dishonest as irrational. Conversely, his enthusiastic (largely) theistic supporters are generous to him in inverse proportion to the harsh critiques of his detractors. What is one to think?

    I’ve been looking a little more into the cornerstone of Craig’s apologetic, the Kalam cosmological argument (Edward Feser, while often excessively prickly, gives a brilliant overview of the common mistakes and error prone expressions of the cosmological arguments here) and I’m left unmoved because I’m not sure who is making sense in all this – the proponent of the argument or the detractor.

    Firstly, I just don’t know if I’m capable of being swayed by this type of abstraction; I guess I’m more into stories than formal logic.
    Secondly, I don’t know how it stacks up on a philosophical level. It seems to me that one can as likely take the cosmological argument (at least in some forms) and posit the universe as a “brute fact” – it just exists – as one can posit that God is the uncaused cause behind everything.
    Thirdly, I have absolutely no idea how it stacks up against the science. I’ve heard people state that radioactive decay is an uncaused event. (I understand that decay happens because of the wave function exceeds the potential barrier which allows protons and neutrons to tunnel out of the nucleus. All radioactive elements will decay. It’s just a matter of time. This does not sound like it an uncaused event to me. ) But I’ve been left flabbergasted by Lawrence Krauss’s explanation of “nothing” in his debate with Craig. It seemed like pure sophistry on his behalf.

    The truth of the cosmological argument must lie in the answer to the question “is the universe caused or uncaused?”. Until that is answered it is surely a matter of metaphysical opinion and nothing more?

    It’s the same with the fine tuning argument. People like Krauss would have us believe that in an extended multiverse our universes existence is an inevitability (or some such). Craig and many other theists would counter this. I just find it all very unsatisfactory and frustrating.

    Any advice?

    Additionally, I wondered if you guys ever considered doing a critique on Craig from the perspective on one of his detractors? I guess I ask this because I think that this type of potential painful analysis could be quite beneficial to someone in my position.

  5. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hi Bob,

    If Craig were to fall away, that wouldn’t do anything to the strength of the arguments he champions. It would be a blow to the Christian community, for we would be deprived of his future service, but it wouldn’t do anything to his arguments or apologetic method. It’ll always be an embarrassment when ambassadors fail or heros disappoint, but egg on the face gives no permanent damage.

    The truth of the kalam cosmological argument lies in the truth of the premises (the question you ask of the argument is the question the argument answers). If you were being rational, and were convinced of the truth of those premises, then you should find the kalam cosmological argument convincing.

    So you don’t find the arguments convincing? Perhaps you’re not a rational thinker. You could be an emotional thinker – i.e. have a tendancy to be convinced more on the basis of emotive mediums. This type of thinker is usually captured by colourful stories and moving illustrations, rather than the more abstract philosophical concepts. This isn’t meant to be a slam. Rather its just a recognition that God has wired people differently. Well… there are other apologists who are very good at making Christianity reasonable in this way as well. I think immediately of C. S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias, for instance.

    I would admit that it would be difficult to think through the arguments if you are steeped in the village atheist crowd’s ill-thinking detractions and were not well aquanted with the logic of the argument and counter-arguments. So it seems to me that the cure to your worries and confusion is a strong dose of logic, to abstain from the morass of infidels on the internet, to learn to evaluate the realiability and expertise of the sources you read (esp. on the internet), and to angage sufficiently with the more scholarly responses and rebuttals offered by actual experts in the field who, despite their disagreement with Craig’s conclusions, treat the arguments seriously.

    As for critiques of Craig, of course we’re open. Its just that I’ve found it really difficult to find fault with such well-reasoned arguments, and a scholar so edudite as William Lane Craig.

  6. Bob
    Bob says:

    Thanks for the reply, Stuart.

    If Craig were to fall away, that wouldn’t do anything to the strength of the arguments he champions. It would be a blow to the Christian community, for we would be deprived of his future service, but it wouldn’t do anything to his arguments or apologetic method. It’ll always be an embarrassment when ambassadors fail or heros disappoint, but egg on the face gives no permanent damage.

    Glad to hear it!


    So you don’t find the arguments convincing? Perhaps you’re not a rational thinker. You could be an emotional thinker – i.e. have a tendancy to be convinced more on the basis of emotive mediums. This type of thinker is usually captured by colourful stories and moving illustrations, rather than the more abstract philosophical concepts. This isn’t meant to be a slam. Rather its just a recognition that God has wired people differently. Well… there are other apologists who are very good at making Christianity reasonable in this way as well. I think immediately of C. S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias, for instance.

    Not really! I just find there is a disconnect between abstract argument and the type of thing that moves me emotionally. The problem is that I actually think that I fall in between two stools – the emotional and the logical. While I really enjoy someone like Ravi I think that he is perhaps a little lightweight at times. That’s not a criticism of his intellect, his ability as an apologist or his audience. I applaud him on making some very accessible and moving arguments for the reality of Christ. Sometimes I just want a little more! John Lennox, Os Guinness, Tom Wright and Vinoth Ramachandra (to name a few) all seem to fit the bill. It’s just the other Bill that I don’t get.

    I would admit that it would be difficult to think through the arguments if you are steeped in the village atheist crowd’s ill-thinking detractions and were not well aquanted with the logic of the argument and counter-arguments. So it seems to me that the cure to your worries and confusion is a strong dose of logic, to abstain from the morass of infidels on the internet, to learn to evaluate the realiability and expertise of the sources you read (esp. on the internet), and to angage sufficiently with the more scholarly responses and rebuttals offered by actual experts in the field who, despite their disagreement with Craig’s conclusions, treat the arguments seriously.

    Your advice is good. Unfortunately, I’m currently in a role that means I’m surrounded by infidels, not one of which has the least bit of respect for Craig at a professional (and probably personal) level. Would you have any recommendations for introductions to logic?

    As for critiques of Craig, of course we’re open. Its just that I’ve found it really difficult to find fault with such well-reasoned arguments, and a scholar so edudite as William Lane Craig.

    Would you guys be willing to put him in the dock, so to speak? Play both prosecution and defence? The reason I ask is because – for whatever reason – I would think that this type of self critique is potentially much more trustworthy than the usual “colours to the mast” analysis. For example, I mentioned that I was stunned by Krauss’s “nothing” obfuscation and I found this damning analysis from an atheist to be more potent because there clearly wasn’t any colours being nailed to the mast. (I note that he also has a number of blog entries on Craig that I must read.)

  7. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I just find there is a disconnect between abstract argument and the type of thing that moves me emotionally.

    Realize that the purpose of the arguments is not to move you emotionally. Neither are they to compel you (or anyone else) to believe. Neither are they to ground your belief in God (so it really doesn’t matter if at the end of the day you
    re unimpressed by Craig’s positive arguments for theism). For the person who has an open mind and an open heart, and seeks after God, they will find him. And one way God chooses to reveal himself is through rational (even philosophical) argumentation. But this certainly isn’t the only way God uses. Christ makes sense of all of life, including but not limited to the mind’s readiness to think.

    The problem is that I actually think that I fall in between two stools – the emotional and the logical.

    Probably every human is like that. Its a lesson to you that the atheists you find yourself surrounded with are also not being completely or coldly logical as well. the influence of emotive factors also factor the conclusions they make. All of us are prone to this, so the best one can do is go with the arguments that at the end of the day seem to you to be the most reasonable, and occasionally review your reasons for believing what you previously have believed. For instance, Craig’s moral argument to me didn’t convince me as cogent at all at first, but when I studied it more closely I came to think it was actually pretty good.

    One clue I find helpful which tips me off that atheists aren’t being completely rational is when they get angry – their face gets red, their voice gets shrill, maybe their fists clench and start to shake. If atheism were really true, it wouldn’t matter if people believed harmless falsehoods like Christian theism. (Christianity has assuredly done more good than evil for society in history and today, so why rail against it?) It seems to me that the only rationale for getting all spurred up like that, as some atheists do, is found within the Christian perspective. This is that men in darkness despise the light lest their guilt be exposed. Again, this is to say that sin has separated us from God. But perhaps the atheists you meet aren’t of the angry variety, when any mention of religion ignites their wrath.

    Introductions to logic.

    I think the chapter on logic by J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview is extremely accessible for the average reader and blessedly concise.

    Here is an introduction as to what makes a good argument.
    http://thinkingmatters.org.nz/2009/01/what-makes-a-good-argument/

    The series Fallacy Friday by Matthew Flannagan is at http://www.mandm.org.nz, and and an audio version is produced by Apologetics 315 http://feeds.feedburner.com/FallacyFriday

    If you want to get technical and cover all your bases, there are plenty of books out there – I am going through Roderic A. Girle, Introduction to Logic 2nd ed. and this seems like a good text to me.

  8. Bob
    Bob says:

    Again, thanks for that, Stuart.

    It’s funny that you should mention the angry atheist type because I happen to live in a country where such anger runs deep amongst the large parts of the population. I at least try to step back and view the good and the bad. Many of the people I mention above would absolutely deny the claim that Christianity (and their understanding of Christianity comes from the shoddy Catholic religious education they reluctantly received in school) has done more good than bad. Hence the anger. Most have never stopped to actually consider their position because it’s purely reactionary. A gag reflex to something they can no longer accept. With this in mind, and as a evangelical Christian, I can’t help but think there is more driving the protests at the Pope’s visit to Madrid than outrage at the cost involved.

    BTW, I messed up the link in my last post. Here is the critique of Krauss’ view of “nothing” that I was talking about:

    http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/of-nothing/
    http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2011/04/16/more-sweet-nothings/ (follow-up)

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