Dr. William Lane Craig recently completed a tour of Australia. Within this tour, Dr. Craig debated Dr. Lawrence Krauss in a series of three debates. However, there was not much debate on the side of Krauss. Instead, there were relentless attacks upon Craig’s character. In addition to this, Krauss did not initially grant permission for the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company) to air the debates. What was Krauss’ fear in having the debates aired on live television? Well, it appeared that Krauss did not have an argument to bring. Krauss acted like a juvenille throughout the entire series. Sometimes, he would make silly faces as Craig was giving his talk. Other times Krauss would hit a buzzer during Craig’s talk. Has the atheist debate scheme lowered to this level? This is nothing new. Here of late, it seems like other beacons of atheism have lowered themselves to these childish tactics such as Alex Rosenberg. Richard Dawkins refuses to debate Craig but offers retorts against Craig claiming that Craig is an immoral man. Dawkins posted a nasty retort on Craig’s views of the Old Testament and the Canaanite slaughter, “And if any of my colleagues find themselves browbeaten or inveigled into a debate with this deplorable apologist for genocide, my advice to them would be to stand up, read aloud Craig’s words as quoted above, then walk out and leave him talking not just to an empty chair but, one would hope, to a rapidly emptying hall as well” (Dawkins, The Guardian). But, the series of debates were not on the Canaanites but rather a rebuttal of Dawkin’s own book The God Delusion. And if Dawkins thought Craig to be such a villain, would he not want to have a debate with Craig on the Canaanite dilemma? As I see it, there are a few signs that indicate that the intellectual integrity of the New Atheism is crumbling.
As mentioned earlier, William Lane Craig (Christian apologist, professional philosopher, and research professor of philosophy at Biola University) debated Lawrence Krauss (Atheist apologist, theoretical physicist, and professor at Arizona State University) in a series of debates in Australia. On a recent podcast of Reasonable Faith, Kevin Harris, co-host of the show, said to William Lane Craig concerning the debate in Brisbane, “The first debate is one that everyone is talking about. It became a symphony of personal attacks upon (Craig) by Dr. Krauss and it has really distracted from the issues being debated” (Craig and Harris, Reasonable Faith Podcast). The debate was on the topic, “Has Science Buried God.” Yet, Krauss insisted on attacking Craig’s integrity. Krauss did not focus on the issues at hand, but went after Craig. This is nothing particularly new. Alex Rosenberg did quite the same (although to a much lesser degree) in a previous debate with Craig. This seems to be a going trend.
But it must be asked, “Why use such tactics?” If the arguments of the New Atheists are so potent as purported, why not lean upon those arguments instead of attacking the person? In fact, the attack of a person instead of the argument is an error in logic called “ad hominem.” The phrase “ad hominem” means “against the man.” This occurs when the person has no grounds for defending one’s position and is therefore left attacking the integrity of the person. This is also a courtroom tactic. When there is little evidence to support one’s case, the integrity of the witnesses are attacked. If the witness can be shown to be untrustworthy, then their testimony is thrown out of court. However in debates, this is a bad tactic especially when an argument is on trial. I do not agree with the personal attacks on Dr. Craig. I met Dr. Craig at a conference. Although I do not know him personally, I can attest to the integrity of his work. Having met him the one time, I can say that he was very gracious and kind. I am a pretty good judge of character and I do not see him being the charlatan that Krauss and others purport him to be. But that is besides the point. The strength of Dr. Craig’s arguments are found in the sound logic contained within. Even if he were a charlatan, that does not change the integrity of his claims. Being that he is an honest person and a logically sound person, he has become dangerous for the proponents of New Atheism.
Side Note: I have seen the use of “ad hominem” attacks firsthand. First a person will argue with you on the grounds of your argument. If they cannot overcome the soundness of one’s argument, then the person will get others to attack the same argument. If the argument still stands, then the “ad hominem” attacks begin. “Ad hominem” attacks are a sign that the person does not have a solid foundation on which to stand. This is not only true in theology and philosophy, but true in all areas.
Harris noted, “I have picked up on snippets of this that there is some coaching going on how to debate William Lane Craig. We know that he is going to be civil and he is not going to interrupt you. So take advantage of that” (Craig and Harris, Reasonable Faith Podcast). I think Harris is correct in his assessment. Multiple debaters accuse Craig of only possessing five arguments. One such debater accused Craig of this when Craig listed over eight arguments in the same debate. Regardless of whether Craig has five or fifteen lines of argument, it would appear that the accusers would attack the arguments instead of the number of Craig’s arguments. For Krauss, his tactics bordered on the ludicrous. He had a buzzer and would buzz Dr. Craig during Craig’s argument. Krauss would make obnoxious gestures during Craig’s speeches. Does this show the sign of a great intellectual or the sign of an aged child who has no better argument to bring than to use the tactics of a first-grader on a playground?
As a preacher, I have seen much of the same. Some individuals will approach the pastor and say, “I wish you had more fire in your messages,” “I wish you would preach like Charles Stanley,” or “I wish you were more like Billy Graham.” Not to be harsh, but it would seem that the person would gain much more by listening to the content of the message instead of focusing on the method of delivery. The same holds true to these debates. Much more would be gained if the debate focused on the actual argument instead of ridiculous tactics used to simply gain the “cool” factor. It is not about being “cool.” It is about being correct.
Craig said that there was a use of “red herrings” in the debate in order to “try to move the audience emotionally” (Craig and Harris, Reasonable Faith Podcast). There is nothing inherently wrong with being a charismatic person and letting that charisma show in a debate. Krauss has a colorful, charismatic side. Can you imagine how effective Krauss would be if he were a Christian evangelist? However, the point is that the colorfulness evoked is many times a ruse to suppress intellectual dialogue. Krauss refused to have a formal debate. Why? He refused because he wanted a format in which he could bully, manipulate, and put on a public spectacle. But does such an exchange allow for solid intellectual dialogue? No. It becomes more the likes of a WWE show than it does a serious collegiate debate. Do you smeeelll what the Pastor is cooking? (My apologies to the Rock.) This shows a serious problem with the New Atheist movement. If the tactics of Rosenberg and Krauss are indicators of what the New Atheist movement is becoming, serious searchers for truth will notice that the foundation of this movement is crumbling.
I am an evangelical Christian. I make no bones about that. However, anyone who knows my testimony knows that I nearly lost my faith by the claims made by the Jesus Seminar before being exposed to the case FOR Christianity. When the case for Christianity is presented intellectually and logically and is heard with an open mind and an open heart, a person will be led to the fact that Christianity is based on truth. Christianity holds up to the test. It is endures 2,000 years after several adversaries (with the same mentality of the New Atheists) proclaimed it dead. Those adversaries are long gone while Christianity lives on.
I cannot speak for anyone else. But, if I were a seeker searching for the truth, I would be persuaded to be a Christian theist over an atheist simply by the tactics being used for atheism (or a deist at the bare minimum). If it seems like there is something that the New Atheist debaters are wanting to hide, there is good reason. It seems that they want to hide the illogical nature of atheism. Even Trey Parker, a skeptic and co-creator of the irreverent cartoon South Park said, “Out of all the ridiculous religion stories — which are greatly, wonderfully ridiculous — the silliest one I’ve ever heard is, ‘Yeah, there’s this big, giant universe and it’s expanding and it’s all going to collapse on itself and we’re all just here, just ‘cuz. Just ‘cuz. That to me, is the most ridiculous explanation ever” (Parker, ABCNews). Parker, who is no friend to religious belief and an equal opportunity offender, admits the illogical nature of atheism. Even if his point is sarcastic (which it doesn’t seem to be the case in this interview), Parker is correct in that the atheist belief that the design, structure, and existence of all things is simply based on an accident is a difficult idea to digest.
The fact is: most atheist debaters cannot stand up to William Craig, John Lennox, and Ravi Zacharias on their intellectual grounds of logic alone. They must use other tactics. This shows a weakness not so much in the debaters for atheism, but rather in the arguments for the New Atheism. Like the Berlin Wall, the intellectual integrity of the New Atheism is crumbling. This does not mean that there will not continue to be New Atheists who are just as dogmatic as ever. But what this does present is a great irony; the irony that the New Atheists hold to their belief by faith…a term that is despised in the New Atheist community.
ABC News. “Secrets of ‘South Park.’ (September 22, 2006.) Accessed September 30, 2013.
Craig, William Lane, and Kevin Harris. “The First Debate with Lawrence Krauss in Australia.” Reasonable Faith Podcast. (September 30, 2013). Accessed September 30, 2013.
Dawkins, Richard. “Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig,” The Guardian. October 20, 2011. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/oct/20/richard-dawkins-william-lane-craig. (Accessed September 30, 2013).