Morality needs God

Ron Smith vs Matthew Flannagan | “Morality Does Not Need God” | Waikato University

Hello readers, today we have uploaded the the debate with Dr Ron Smith and Dr Matthew Flannagan to YouTube, though some of you may have noticed it floating around Facebook. It was a well-attended debate, in total 200 people came along and participated.

This sort of event is what we like to see at Thinking Matters, people from both sides of the “God” debate coming together and engaging in a civil and intelligent conversation. You will be able to tell that Matthew and Ron disagreed with each other, yet they disagreed with “reverence and respect”, showing that disagreements over religion do not necessarily divide. In addition, the questions that were asked of the interlocutors, were penetrating but at the same time, cordial. No one got offended and everyone was calm.

In his opening remarks Dr Frank Scrimgeour, the moderator commented:

“It is an important occasion, and an important topic that befits a university, particularly a contemporary university that seeks to place more moral claims on its students, more than was the case when I was an undergraduate student … I trust that it will be a fun evening and I look forward to crowd response, but I request that it will be done with dignity and good nature. I am sure that enhances the quality of the conversation … I am not interested in moderating a debate where people cannot hear the participants. So I guess the more you disagree with someone, I challenge you to listen harder and be ready to ask the insightful question at the appropriate time … Think hard and enjoy yourselves.”

Ron echoed this sentiment saying:

“I was an easy target for the invitation to speak in this because I have become increasingly concerned, to be frank, about the extent to which the university has attached itself, and areas within it, to particular ideological views, and really shutdown discussion in a variety of areas … where discussion is inhibited. Now if there is anywhere in the community where discussion ought to proceed without persons needing to be protected against the possibility that arguments don’t sit well, it’s a university. The university has failed to live up to its obligation, so this is the test of the principle.”

Both of these men understand how important debates on the existence and nature of God are, and have identified that a university ought be a perfect place for such a discussion to go ahead. One of the key reasons why the debate was a true victory, was because it showed that people can disagree about the most important things in life and still part on good terms. Matthew defended the Christian conception of God and Morality in the true spirit of 1 Peter 3:15-16, where St Peter commands:

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

May this also be something we never forget.

William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll debate God and Cosmology


If you missed the livestream of this year’s Greer Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum on Faith and Culture, Tactical Faith have begun to make the videos from the event available.

The main debate, titled ‘God and Cosmology: The Existence of God in Light of Modern Cosmology,’ was between Christian philosopher William Lane Craig and atheist physicist Sean Carroll.  The forum also featured a second day of lectures by Tim Maudlin and Alex Rosenberg (arguing in favor of Carroll’s side of the debate) and Robin Collins and James Sinclair (for Craig) addressing issues brought up in the debate.

Here’s the final session with summary remarks and Q&A with all the speakers.

I’ll update the post when more videos go online.

For commentary on the Craig/Carroll debate, check out Wintery Knight and Randy Everist’s reviews.


Same-sex Marriage Debate with Colin Craig, Louisa Wall and Matthew Flannagan

On Tuesday, 2 October of 2012, The Auckland University Students Association (AUSA) held a debate on the controversial topic of same-sex marriage. The moot for the debate was “This House supports the legalization of same-sex marriage in New Zealand.” Those who filled the 600+ seat lecture theatre to capacity were treated to an electric atmosphere and night of stimulating arguments and counter-responses. Both teams had three participants each.

On the affirmative team

  • Louisa Wall Labour Party MP and the drafter of the bill to legalize same-sex marriage
  • Levi Joule Queer Rights Officer of AUSA and the Auckland Regional Chair for Young Labour
  • Bonnie Hartfield Co-chair of Legaliselove

On the negative team

You can view the debate in full here. [1] Intelligent comments and questions are welcome below, but keep it civil.


A summary of the debate from my perspective.

From my perspective the debate was a success, and credit to Max Lim who organized the event with his team from the AUSA is due. Though the crowd was clearly for the motion and came with a biased and unbending predisposition, the weight of the arguments fell on the negative side.

On the affirmative side of this debate, Labour MP Louisa Wall’s opening speech was bafflingly structured to emphasize the history of the struggle for same-sex marriage. Her sole arguments for the moot seemed to be that widening the scope of those who can marry to include same-sex couples is advancing human rights, equality and tolerance, and is timely reflecting today’s New Zealand society. She pre-empted a possible criticism by strongly stating that her bill would not legitimize polygamous and incestual relationships such as others have claimed, and that those who say so, she believed, were being disingenuous and propagating propaganda based on fear and hatred. Bonnie Hartfield and Levi Joule neither added to affirmative’s case nor responded to the negative team. Hartfield began with a pretext of responding to Colin Craig, but then began on an awkwardly scripted, though humorous nevertheless, pro forma discharge of hot air. Her one point, unaddressed by the negative team, was that the marriage of same-sex couples would not change the significance of other married couple’s commitment to eachother.[2]

The negative team was far more decisive. Conservative Party leader Colin Craig played to audience in a kiwi-bloke-ish style, perhaps obscuring the substance of his arguments but with a flair that was certainly entertaining. This substance was that one cannot simply change the nature of something we all know and recognize with legislation, and that the current law was adequate for maintaining equal treatment for same-sex couples while appropriately and intelligently maintaining the difference between them.

Auckland University Student Chaplain Auimatagi Joe Moeono-Kolio (“Joe”) – my personal highlight – in the style of philosopher William Lane Craig, clearly stated the contentions they were defending,

1. there are no compelling reasons to support the legalisation of same-sex marriage, and 
2. there are good reasons to oppose it.

Then he exposed the affirmative teams arguments both as fundamentally flawed (for marriage is not a universal right) and as emotive sloganeering (for “marriage equality” does not recognize what marriage actually is, which is more than just romance), then summarized his arguments with the following two syllogisms.

A) Universal human rights are universal rights
B) Marriage is not a universal right (since there are exceptions to those who can marry)
C) Therefore, traditional marriage does not deprive same-sex couples of a universal human right.
A) A component of marriage’s definition is the ability, in principle, to pro-create.
B) A same-sex couple cannot pro-create, whether incidentally or in-principle.
C) Therefore, same-sex couples do not fit within what marriage actually is.


Overall Joe’s presentation was irenic and well-received, clear and focused, and scored some major hits to which the affirmative team would not recover. The sounding of the warning timer appeared to fluster him and diminished the overall impact of his argument. It appeared as if he edited down his speech on the fly to finish sooner. However, he recovered well and finished strong. The wording of the syllogisms could be tightened up a little and would have been a hundred times more impacting had the premises and conclusions been projected for all to see on the screens behind him.

Dr. Matthew Flannagan, an associate of Thinking Matters, first gave three reasons to not support same-sex marriage in New Zealand.

1. If equality is a valid basis for accepting same-sex marriage, then it is a valid basis for rejecting the proposed legislation, for the bill is still discriminatory against other couples.[3] Thus the appeal to equality is contradictory and a red-herrings.

2. But even if the appeal to equality were sound, it wouldn’t justify the conclusion to legalise same-sex marriage, for same-sex couples already have all the rights of married couples[4] and giving something a different name doesn’t change the substance of what it is.[5] 

3. Doing so has the potential to restrict others civil liberties, for should the legislation be passed, people who provide services for wedding ceremonies would be compelled by NZ law to provide those services to same-sex couples as well despite their religious objections.[6] This is a paradigmatic example of restricting the freedom of religion.

Dr. Flannagan then dismantled the affirmative team by showing they had no basis for justifying the legislation. Three examples are as follows. That the law should reflect the people in society, stated by Louisa Wall, is not a good reason to pass the legislation, because there are a lot of single people in society and marriage should not apply to them. That the law should not tell us who we can and cannot have sex with, as raised by Bonnie Hartfield, is not a good reason to pass the legislation, for neither the debate nor the legislation is regarding the decriminalization of homosexuality. That a large number of people believe in this is not a good reason to pass the legislation, because it assumes that because a large number of people believe in something then it is must be just, but the assumption is false and, moreover, not even believed by the affirmative team.

Overall Dr. Flannagan’s presentation was brilliantly thought-out and responsive to the opposing team, cementing their victory over them. Though rushed, it lacked only the polish of presentation one could expect from a seasoned public speaker.

The closing statement of the negative team by Colin Craig, though off-the-cuff, summarized adequately the debate and the arguments, but in doing so lost the overall clarity of the negative team’s coordinated case. The closing statement of the affirmative team by Louisa Wall began more as a first rebuttal, first responding to Colin Craig’s citation of European Court of Human Rights from his first speech, then referencing Section 29 of the current Marriage Act (a flailing attempt to subvert Dr. Flannagan’s third point), and then gave a reason each to discriminate against polygamous and incestual relationships (ostensibly “central to negative’s case,” but in reality not central at all – not even central to Dr. Flannagan’s first argument to not support same-sex marriage in NZ). Her closing however soon collapsed into an impassioned but irrelevant speech about “growing up” as a society, having “grown-up conversations” like other countries, and being able to provide young people, like Levi – who  apparently don’t have the freedom to be safe when exploring their sexual self-determination – with some value and respect.

The question and answer period which followed really made plain the mood of the crowd. There was a barely restrained mixture of anger and amusement, and an unreasoning obstinacy from those, both for and against the moot, who had come to the debate an immovable conviction. To me this showed the incompetence of university students ability to adequately evaluate debates of this sort. It showed the inroads that have already been made by the affirmative team’s powerful but empty rhetoric. The question and answer period further revealed Lousia Wall as a skilled politician as she dodged some very pointed questions and even failed to comprehend pertinent issues that were raised. (Had I not been on the camera, I would have liked to have asked for all the talk about inequality, what universal or human rights do NZ same-sex couples lack?).

The debate overall showed Dr. Matthew Flannagan to be a first-class apologist as he presented his own logical arguments and the logical fallacies and assumptions used by the opposing team, and answered questions from hostile people in the crowd. It also showed me Auimatagi Joe Moeono-Kolio has a very promising future as an apologist and public speaker. I look forward to seeing where Joe goes from here.

The response card and its results I see as irrelevant and a waste of time.



[1] Thinking Matters was there to record the event in order to make a resource, particularly for our New Zealand followers who will face the question of the
legalization of same-sex marriage in the coming year. As this subject is also of great interest internationally, and since we have noted a scarceness of good resources generally available with a lack of civil, constructive and intelligent dialogue on this issue, it is also intended to be a resource for our international followers. Much of
the content is specific to the New Zealand context, however most of the arguments offered here can be translated to other contexts without great effort. It is also our hope that providing this full and unedited account of the proceedings that any inclined to misrepresent the debate after-the-fact will be silenced, and those responsible for misinforming the public will be held accountable.

[2] Though since it would change the meaning and significance of the social and civil institution of marriage in NZ for all New Zealanders, the point was indirectly addressed.

[3] Dr. Flannagan mentions there are 15 other types of couples which Louisa’s bill discriminates against.

[4] Two exceptions were mentioned. The first was recognition of relationship status outside NZ (which NZ does not have control over). The second was the right to adopt children (a right which could be obtained by same-sex couples by changing the adoption act, which is already in the process of being done).

[5] Bonnie Hartfield and Levi Joule both put forward the argument that same-sex couples were not currently able to attain the social-status of other married couples had because of the institution’s history and tradition. The argument is unsound, for by attaining the name they would deny that history and tradition.

[6] This was reportedly based on 3 separate legal opinions. For more information visit here

Closing Thoughts on the Resurrection Debate

Over the last few months we’ve been hosting a formal written debate between myself and Malcolm Trevena on the historicity of the resurrection (see here, here, and here). Unfortunately I have decided to formally close the debate.

Before setting out on the exchange, Malcolm and I both agreed to several rules or guidelines for the debate. One of these was that we would reply to our opponent’s posts within five days. At the time, this sounded like it would afford plenty of opportunity to respond adequately to each other and keep the debate moving swiftly. While writing my opening statement however, I quickly realized that this would be a struggle to maintain. I therefore suggested to Malcolm that if he wanted to take a week or two to write a good response, then this would be fine with me and we could count the original guideline as flexible. Afterall, we are both active people with full, active lives. However, it has now been 5 weeks since I have heard anything from him. Not just a response to my first response, but any communication whatsoever. And so I believe it best that we close the debate and open it up to the readers for their comments.

I thought I would offer four reflections on the debate ending.

Read more

Part 3: In Defense of the Historicity of the Resurrection

This is the first reply in a formal written debate between Stuart McEwing and Malcolm Trevena. The question of the debate is “Is the resurrection of Jesus fact or fiction?”


I would first like to thank Malcolm Trevena for his opening statement responding to my defense of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. I am grateful for the importance he places on the truth of the matter and that he chose to attack my arguments without attacking me. I hope to replicate this gentlemanly manner.


To begin I would like to look back and recall my opening statement.

In support of my first contention that there are at least four facts which any adequate historical hypothesis must explain, I offered four facts, namely, the burial of Jesus after his crucifixion, the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and that the disciples radically came to believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, and also outlined the reasons why each of those facts are commended to us by the majority of experts in the relevant fields.

In support of my second contention, the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead  is the best explanation of the aforementioned facts, I assessed that hypothesis using the conventional criteria historians use for determining the best explanation.

I concluded that Trevena, in order to establish that the resurrection of Jesus did not occur, in the absence of some overwhelming proof of atheism, must propose an alternative naturalistic explanation of those facts which exceeds the resurrection hypothesis in fulfilling those criteria.

Read more

Part 2: A Case for the Non-Historicity of the Resurrection

This is the second opening statement in a formal written debate between Stuart McEwing and Malcolm Trevena. The question of the debate is “Is the resurrection of Jesus fact or fiction?” Trevena makes his case for the resurrection being fictitious.

Thanks to Stuart McEwing for the chance to respond to the premise on the truth or lack thereof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Why would I state that I don’t think Jesus was resurrected?  Is this a question that should even be debated in the first place?  Am I the Devil himself for even entertaining the thought?

There is a truth out there in the universe.  Either Jesus was or was not resurrected.  Mr. McEwing is either 100% correct or 100% wrong.  There is no middle ground here.

Read more

Part 1: A Case for the Historicity of the Resurrection

This is the first opening statement in a formal written debate between Stuart McEwing and Malcolm Trevena. The question of the debate is “Is the resurrection of Jesus fact or fiction?”


First, I would like to thank Mr. Malcolm Trevena for agreeing to debate me. I hope this exchange will benefit the both of us, as well as all the readers who persevere through to the end of this exchange. I will refer to my opponent from this point on by last name only, and hope that this convention for scholarly and professional decorum will not undermine the geniality of our exchange.



The scandal of Christianity is that it is a religion grounded in historical events, which if they can be demonstrated to be false, would empty it of all meaning and power. Chief among those historical events is the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.[1] Accordingly, if Christians are to maintain that their faith is reasonable in the current mental environment, it will be crucial to establish the resurrection of Jesus is a true fact of history against critics who argue otherwise.

Most people when they come to Christ do not do so on the basis of historical research. Rather, they come to know the great truths of the gospel, such as God’s existence, of Christ’s atoning life, death and resurrection, on the basis of an experience with the risen Lord Himself. This experience I take as veridical, and a fully legitimate grounding of knowledge. Even though the Christian is warranted in believing what happened 2000 years ago without studying history or philosophy, throughout the course of this debate I will be making my case without reference to this appropriate ground of knowledge. Instead I will be attempting to show that Jesus was raised from the dead in a manner that any responsible and fair-minded historian could accept when this received revelation is absent.

In this debate I will be arguing that there is credible evidence for regarding Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as historical. Malcolm will be arguing the opposing position that Jesus’ resurrection should be regarded as unhistorical. Notice that between fact and fiction there is a third position possible; namely, that Jesus’ resurrection should not be regarded as historical or unhistorical, but rather that any determination of the sort should be regarded as unjustifiable on historical grounds. This agnostic position is compatible with Christianity, since Christians, as I have already noted, do not generally accept Christianity on the basis of historical research or philosophical speculation. What this shows is that no one in this debate is without a burden of proof. With this in mind, I will be defending two main contentions.

(1) There are at least four credible facts that any adequate historical hypothesis must explain, namely, the burial of Jesus after his crucifixion, the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and that the disciples radically came to believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead.

(2) The hypothesis God raised Jesus from the dead is the best explanation of those facts.

In this opening statement, I will first look at the historical data that can be recovered from that first Easter weekend. I will then evaluate the resurrection hypothesis: “God raised Jesus from the dead,” using the criteria for the best explanation.

Read more

The Cambridge Union Society Debate: Is God a Delusion?

William Lane Craig and Peter S. Williams contend for the motion, “This House Believes that God is not a Delusion”. Arif Ahmed and Andrew Copson argue against the motion. The debate took place at the Cambridge Union Society on 20th October 2011, as a part of Craig’s Reasonable Faith 2011 UK Tour.

HT: Brian Auten

The Cynical Anti-Intellectualism of Dawkins

Daniel Came:

[pk_box width=”600″ align=”center” text_align=”left”]”… it is quite obvious that Dawkins is opportunistically using these remarks as a smokescreen to hide the real reasons for his refusal to debate with Craig – which has a history that long predates Craig’s comments on the Canaanites.

As a sceptic, I tend to agree with Dawkins’s conclusion regarding the falsehood of theism, but the tactics deployed by him and the other New Atheists, it seems to me, are fundamentally ignoble and potentially harmful to public intellectual life. For there is something cynical, ominously patronising, and anti-intellectualist in their modus operandi, with its implicit assumption that hurling insults is an effective way to influence people’s beliefs about religion. The presumption is that their largely non-academic readership doesn’t care about, or is incapable of, thinking things through; that passion prevails over reason. On the contrary, people’s attitudes towards religious belief can and should be shaped by reason, not bile and invective. By ignoring this, the New Atheists seek to replace one form of irrationality with another.”[/pk_box]

James Barham:

[pk_box width=”600″ align=”center” text_align=”left”]”Now, it is understandable that Dawkins should disdain to debate someone so far below his own celebrity star-power as Professor Craig. On the other hand, by that criterion, he really ought to limit himself to appearing with other bona fide media stars, like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (not that they would find much to disagree about).

If, however, Dawkins’s principal concern were the truth, as opposed to protecting his celebrity status, then he ought to jump at the chance to debate Craig. If modern science really has put the question of the existence of God to rest once and for all, then what better forum to get this across to the public than Oxford’s venerable Sheldonian Theatre next Tuesday? It really is a pity, because for many of us interested in the question of the existence of God, such a match-up would have the quality of a real clash of the titans.”[/pk_box]

HT: Uncommon Descent

Richard Dawkins for Prime Minister

I hear the best politicians these days are the ones who can unashamedly equivocate on the meaning of “is”, or tell the filthiest lies with a straight face and a slick smile.

On the assumption that there’s a shortage of such people in the world, I think it’s imperative we begin the Dawkins for Prime Minister Campaign immediately.

I was tipped off by an editorial in The Guardian yesterday, where Dawkins gives the final word on why he refuses to debate William Lane Craig. It’s a masterful piece of political spin-doctoring. “Don’t feel embarrassed if you’ve never heard of William Lane Craig,” he begins. “He parades himself as a philosopher, but none of the professors of philosophy whom I consulted had heard his name either. Perhaps he is a “theologian”.”

Now, just last night I was watching Stephen Fry’s Planet Word, where he talks about the masterful way Goebbels used language to make the industrial-scale elimination of the Jews seem a perfectly reasonable thing. In fairness, Dawkins is no Goebbels, but he would have made a good propagandist.

Notice how he deftly frames his entire piece with aspersions on Craig’s credentials. From the alleged ignorance among his philosopher friends of Craig’s name, to the scare quotes around “theologian”.

Of course, if Dawkins’s audience were savvy enough to check for themselves, as hopefully at least some of them are, a simple Google search would show what utter garbage this is. Here’s how Wikipedia, hardly a sympathetic source, introduces Craig:

…an American analytic philosopher, philosophical theologian, and Christian apologist. He is known for his work on the philosophy of time and the philosophy of religion, specifically the existence of God and the defense of Christian theism. He has made major contributions to the philosophy of religion and his defense of the Kalam cosmological argument is the most widely discussed argument for the existence of God in contemporary Western philosophy. He has authored or edited over 30 books including The Kalam Cosmological Argument (1979), Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology… [etc]

What should we conclude from the fact that Dawkins’s professors of philosophy haven’t even heard of Craig?

Either that these fellows are quacks, or—more likely—that even in an underpopulated field like philosophy the chances of knowing a fraction of the professionals in your discipline is pretty small. For example, I have a three-pronged profession: copywriting, marketing, and web design. Those combine into a fourth profession called conversion-rate optimization. Do you think I’ve heard of even one tenth of the most successful copywriters, marketers, web designers, and CRO experts? I seriously doubt it.

For some years now, Craig has been increasingly importunate in his efforts to cajole, harass or defame me into a debate with him. I have consistently refused, in the spirit, if not the letter, of a famous retort by the then president of the Royal Society: “That would look great on your CV, not so good on mine”.

What Dawkins means to say is that ever since Craig destroyed the sophomoric arguments in the The God Delusion he has wanted to advance the discussion with Dawkins, and hopefully reveal to all his slavering fanboys how little substance there is to his position. Craig doesn’t want people believing lies—more than can be said for Dawkins, given the rank disingenuousness of his editorial.

Dawkins of course has consistently balked at debating Craig, presumably because he doesn’t want it to be publicly revealed that his arguments haven’t the slightest ability to stand up to rigorous analysis. It wouldn’t look good on his CV.

Craig’s latest stalking foray has taken the form of a string of increasingly hectoring challenges to confront him in Oxford this October. I took pleasure in refusing again, which threw him and his followers into a frenzy of blogging, tweeting and YouTubed accusations of cowardice.

One of the greatest “refutations” you can employ is simply to state the facts with a sarcastic slant that implies only an imbecile would accept them. But the accusations of cowardice are perfectly accurate. Dawkins is a coward in the same way he is a bully. He enjoys notoriety and taking shots at Christianity in a medium where he’s got all the control. He can feel like a big man publishing best-selling books aimed at people with even less schooling in critical thinking than he has. But like any bully, if you confront him and threaten him with a bloody nose, he’s quick to disappear.

Dawkins reminds me of Draco Malfoy after Hermione socked him in the kisser in The Prisoner of Azkaban. “Not a word to anyone, understood? I’m gonna get that jumped-up mudblood, mark my words!” he rants to his friends as they beat a sniveling retreat. Yeah right Malfoy.

I turn down hundreds of more worthy invitations every year, I have publicly engaged an archbishop of York, two archbishops of Canterbury, many bishops and the chief rabbi, and I’m looking forward to my imminent, doubtless civilised encounter with the present archbishop of Canterbury.

Strange—aren’t these people “theologians” with scare quotes? So why are they more worthy than Craig? Could it be because they’ve got less credentials than him? Because they haven’t already published work that obliterates Dawkins’s arguments against God? I guess it’s probably something like that.

After some more accusations of self-promotion, which ring about as hollow as a pot beating on a black kettle, Dawkins turns to Craig’s “dark side”.

You might say that such a call to genocide could never have come from a good and loving God. Any decent bishop, priest, vicar or rabbi would agree. But listen to Craig. He begins by arguing that the Canaanites were debauched and sinful and therefore deserved to be slaughtered.

He then quotes Craig’s defense of God’s actions toward the Canaanite children, concluding: “Do not plead that I have taken these revolting words out of context. What context could possibly justify them?”

Well, not to state the obvious, but an evolutionary context justifies them pretty well. Surely Dawkins can’t have forgotten writing about how “a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make[s] nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not.” Surely he can’t have forgotten that “any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused’s physiology, heredity and environment.”

If a truly scientific view of the world makes nonsense of blame and responsibility, then certainly there’s no sense in which genocide, or the defense of genocide, is unjustified. There’s no moral dimension to it whatsoever. So why is Dawkins borrowing moral norms he inherited from Christianity to judge Craig, instead of taking the rational approach and admitting there’s no reason whatsoever to condemn genocide, given what he believes?

Well, I suppose it’s because that wouldn’t make for a very good smear campaign.

Would you shake hands with a man who could write stuff like that? Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn’t, and I won’t.

This seems oddly forced coming from the man who looks forward to the day when religion is only tolerated behind bars at zoos. But then, it’s all a giant smokescreen anyway; a diversionary tactic. Dawkins needs to use sleight of hand to direct his audience’s attention toward Craig’s character assassination, so they won’t notice how Craig has already assassinated Dawkins’s arguments—and would do so again given half a chance.

Dawkins is clearly cut out to be a master politician. Let’s get him out of the intellectual sphere and put him where he belongs. Dawkins for Prime Minister!

Update: James Anderson and Oxford historian Tim Stanley have also weighed in with their comments. Anderson is typically incisive, concluding that “In the end, all Dawkins has really told us is that he won’t debate Craig because he finds Craig’s views personally offensive. It’s not that Craig’s views are unethical… It’s just that Dawkins…is disgusted — and that’s all there is to it. Even if that were the real reason for his refusal to debate Craig, it would hardly be a compelling one.”

How Stephen Law Failed in His Debate with William Lane Craig

Several others have already offered their reviews of the recent Craig/Law debate (see Wintery Knight’s post, J.W. Wartick’s analysis, Randal Rauser’s comments, or Stephen Law’s own thoughts here) and so I’ll restrict my comments to Law’s debating strategy. In my opinion, his line of argument was totally inadequate to the task. Here’s a few reasons why:

1) He only gave the briefest and most perfunctory of treatment to the cosmological argument and the historical case for the resurrection, focusing almost exclusively on the moral argument and his own evidential argument from evil for the probability of atheism.

2) He didn’t understand what a cumulative argument is or how it works. It’s simple to understand really. Argument 1 gives reason to think there is a being with properties A B and C. Argument 2 gives reason to think there is a being with properties C, D and E. Argument 3 gives reason to thing there is a being with properties C, F, and G. The fact that argument 2 doesn’t give any reason to think that the being in question has property B is not an indictment of that argument, nor a weakness of the whole case.

3) These two failures, combined with the way he proceeded, meant he was really not on the atheistic side of the debate. The totality of his arguments (even if successful) allowed room for a type of theism, such as Deism.

4) His strategy of comparing the problem of evil for a good God with the problem of good for a ‘malevolent God’ (a ‘square circle’ makes just about as much sense – let’s say he meant ‘malevolent creator’) relies on Manichaeism, which is false if Christianity is true. Thus the Christian has no reason to entertain Law’s counterargument.

On the Christian view, there is no such THING as evil. Evil is rather a privation – an absence of a good that should be there. Evil is ontologically posterior to goodness, thus for there to be evil, there must be a good. Christians not only believe that God does good, but that God’s very nature is goodness itself. He IS the standard. But when evil and goodness is understood this way (and not as a Manichean would conceive of good and evil: as two forces opposing one another), you can see that there cannot be a evil being comparable to a good God. Such a being would have no being.

5) He was totally inconsistent in his use of mystery, allowing it to feature particularly in his own answer to the problem of the origin of the universe (and also in his explanation of the existence of objective moral values and his dismissal of the resurrection as the best explanation for the historical facts about Jesus and the disciples), but not allowing Craig to ostensibly have it in his answer to the problem of evil.

6) More to the point, Craig was not using mystery to answer the problem of evil. He was saying that it is not unreasonable to expect, given the nature of our situation (a transcendent God and human beings with cognitive limitations in time and space), that we would be unable to perceive God’s sufficient reasons for allowing evil. The atheist therefore is in no position to assess the probability of a good God allowing the evil he sees in the world. Thus, it was Laws that failed to carry his argument.

7) Finally, it was noticeable how Law mentioned in his first speech that he would respond to Craig’s arguments in his next rebuttal, but deferred responding to Craig’s arguments until his third speech. This only allowed Craig the opportunity to rebut Law’s counter-arguments in his closing remarks. If Law wasn’t so soft spoken and didn’t have all the appearances of a genuinely nice guy, I’d suggest this deferral was an intentionally underhanded debating trick. Whether or not this was the case, it was evident that Law, although he had done careful research beforehand (unlike so many of Craig’s interlocutors), could not respond effectively to Craig’s cosmological and historical arguments, as well as Craig’s own response to the problem of evil.


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.