Summary of the William Lane Craig vs Christopher Hitchens debate: Does God Exist?

UPDATE: The video of the debate has been posted:

TOPIC: DOES GOD EXIST?

MY NOTES ON THE DEBATE: (WC = William Lane Craig, CH = Christopher Hitchens)

WC opening speech:

Introduction:

WC makes two contentions:
– there are no good arguments for atheism
– there are good arguments for theism

These topics are IRRELEVANT tonight:
– social impact of christianity
– morality of Old Testament passages
– biblical inerrancy
– the debate is whether god (a creator and designer of the universe) exists

1. cosmological argument
– an actually infinite number of past events is impossible
– number of past events must be finite
– therefore universe has a beginning
– the beginning of the universe is confirmed by science –  universe began to exist from nothing
– space, time, matter, energy began at the big bang
– the creation of the universe requires a cause
– the cause is uncaused, timeless, spaceless, powerful
– the cause must be beyond space and time, because it created space and time
– the cause is not physical, because it created all matter and energy
– but there are only two kinds of non-physical cause: abstract objects or minds
– abstract objects don’t cause effects
– therefore must be mind

2. teleological argument
– fine-tuned constants and ratios
– constants not determined by laws of nature
– also, there are arbitrary quantities
– constants and quantities are in narrow range of life-permitting values
– an example: if the weak force were different by 1 in 10 to the 100, then no life
– there are 3 explanations: physical law or chance or design
– not due to law: because constants and quantities are independent of the laws
– not due to chance: the odds are too high for chance
– therefore, due to design
– the atheist response is the world ensemble (multiverse)
– but world ensemble has unobservable universes, no evidence that they exist
– and world ensemble contradicts scientific observations we have today

3. moral argument
– objective moral values are values that exist regardless of what humans think
– objective values are not personal preferences
– objective values are not evolved standards that cultures have depending on time and place
– objective moral values and duties exist
– objective moral values and duties require a moral lawgiver

4. argument from resurrection miracle
– resurrection implies miracle
– miracle implies God
– 3 minimal facts pass the historical tests (early attestation, eyewitness testimony, multiple attestation, etc.)
– minimal fact 1: empty tomb
– minimal fact 2: appearances
– minimal fact 3: early belief in the resurrection
– jewish theology prohibits a dying messiah – messiah is not supposed to die
– jewish theology has a general resurrection of everybody, there is not supposed to be a resurrection of one person
– jewish theology certainly does not predict a single resurrection of the messiah after he dies
– therefore, the belief in the resurrection is unlikely to have been invented
– disciples were willing to die for that belief in the resurrection
– naturalistic explanations don’t work for the 3 minimal facts

5. properly basic belief in god
– religious experience is properly basic
– it’s just like the belief in the external world, grounded in experience
– in the absence of defeaters, those experiences are valid

Conclusion: What CH must do:
– destroy all 5 of WC’s arguments
– erect his own case in its place

CH opening speech:

1. evolution disproves biological design argument
– evolution disproves paley’s argument for a watchmaker

2. god wouldn’t have done it that way
– god wouldn’t have waited that long before the incarnation
– mass extinction and death before Jesus
– god wouldn’t have allowed humans to have almost gone extinct a while back in africa
– why insist that this wasteful and incompetent history of life is for us, that’s a bad design
– the universe is so vast, why would god need so much space, that’s a bad design
– there is too much destruction in the universe, like exploding stars – that’s a bad design
– the heat death of the universe is a bad design
– too many of the other planets don’t support life, that’s a bad design
– the sun is going to become a red giant and incinerate us, that’s a bad design

3. hitchens’ burden of proof
– there is no good reason that supports the existence of god
– all arguments for god can be explained without god
– atheists can’t prove there is no god
– but they can prove there is no good argument for god

4. craig’s scientific arguments don’t go far enough, they only prove deism, not theism
– the scientific arguments don’t prove prayer works
– the scientific arguments don’t prove specific moral teachings of christianity

5. if the laws of physics are so great then miracles shouldn’t be allowed
– good laws and miracles seem to be in contradiction

6. extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence
– none of craig’s evidence was extraordinary

7. science can change, so craig can’t use the progress of science
– it’s too early for craig to use the big bang and fine-tuning
– the big bang and fine-tuning evidences are too new
– they could be overturned by the progress of science

8. craig wrote in his book that the internal conviction of god’s existence should trump contradicting evidence
– but then he isn’t forming his view based on evidence
– he refuses to let evidence disprove his view
– but then how can atheists be to blame if they don’t believe
– so evidence is not really relevant to accepting theism

9. the progress of science has disproved religion
– christianity taught that earth was center of the universe
– but then cosmology disproved that

Response to the big bang and fine-tuning arguments:
– was there pre-existing material?
– who designed the designer?

WC first rebuttal:

Reiterates his 2 basic contentions

CH agrees that there is no good argument for atheism
– then all you’ve got is agnosticism
– because CH did not claim to know there is no God
– and he gave no arguments that there is no God

CH’s evolution argument
– irrelevant to christianity
– Genesis 1 allows for evolution to have occurred
– christianity is not committed to young earth creationism
– the origin of biological diversity is not central to christianity
– st. augustine in 300 AD said days can be long, special potencies unfold over time
– also there are scientific reasons to doubt evolution
– cites barrow and tipler, and they say:
– each of 10 steps in evolution is very improbable
– chances are so low, it would be a miracle if evolution occurred

CH’s argument that god is wasteful
– efficiency is only important to people with limited time or limited resources
– therefore god doesn’t need to be efficient

CH’s argument that god waits too long to send Jesus
– population was not that high before jesus
– jesus appears just before the exponential explosion of population
– conditions were stable – roman empire, peace, literacy, law, etc.

CH’s argument that Craig’s scientific arguments only prove deism, not theism
– deism a type of theism, so those scientific arguments work
– all that deism denies is miraculous intervention

CH’s argument that Craig has a burden of proof
– theism doesn’t need to be proven with certainty
– must only prove best explanation of the evidence

CH’s citation of Craig’s book saying that evidence should not overrule experience
– there is a difference between knowing and showing christianity is true
– knowing is by religious experience which is a properly basic belief
– showing is done through evidence, and there the evidence does matter

CH’s rebuttal to the big bang
– there was no pre-existent material
– space and time and matter came into being at the big bang
– the cause must be non-physical and eternal
– cause of universe outside of time means = cause of universe did not begin to exist
– this is the state of science today

CH’s rebuttal to the fine tuning
– CH says scientists are uncertain about the fine-tuning
– craig cites martin rees, an atheist, astronomer royal, to substantiate the fine tuning
– the fine-tuning is necessary for  minimal requirements for life of any kind
– the progress of science is not going to dethrone the fine-tuning

CH’s argument about heat death of the universe
– duration of design is irrelevant to whether something was designed
– cars are designed, yet they break down
– design need not be optimal to be designed
– ch is saying why create if we all eventually go extinct
– but life doesn’t end in the grave on christianity

CH’s rebuttal to the moral argument
– CH says no obj moral values
– but CH uses them to argue against god and christians
– but CH has no foundation for a standard that applies to God and Christians

CH’s rebuttal to the resurrection argument
– empty tomb and appearances are virtually certain
– these are minimal facts, well evidenced using standard historical criteria
– best explanation of these minimal facts is the resurrection

CH’s rebuttal to religious experience
– prop basic belief is rational in the absence of defeaters
– so long as craig has no psychological deficiency, experience is admissible

CH first rebuttal:

it’s not agnosticism
– if there are no good arguments for theism
– then there is no reason for belief in god
– that is atheism
– everything can be explained without god

god wouldn’t have done it that way
– homo sapiens is 100K years old
– for 98K years, they had no communication from God
– lots of people died in childbirth
– disease and volcanos are a mystery to them
– life expectancy is very low
– they die terrible deaths
– their teeth are badly designed
– their genitalia are badly designed
– why solve the problem of sin by allowing a man to be tortured to death
– that’s a stupid, cruel, bumbling plan

lots of people haven’t even heard of jesus
– many of them die without knowing about him
– they cannot be held responsible if they do not know about jesus

the early success of christianity doesn’t prove christianity is true
– because then it applies to mormonism and islam, they’re growing fast

objective morality
– belief in a supreme dictator doesn’t improve moral behavior
– i can do moral actions that you can do
– i can repeat moral positions that you can say

religious people are immoral
– genital mutilation
– suicide bombing

moral behavior doesn’t need god
– we need to act moral for social cohesion
– it evolved for our survival
– that’s why people act morally
– it’s degrading to humans, and servile, to require god for morality

free will
– i believe in free will
– i don’t know why, because i can’t ground free will on atheism
– a bossy god seems to reduce free will because then we are accountable to god

WC cross-examination of CH:

WC why call yourself an atheist when you have no reasons?

CH because absence of belief is atheism

WC but agnosticism, atheism, verificationism all don’t hold that belief, which are you?

CH i think god does not exist

WC ok give me an argument for the claim you just made to know god does not exist

CH i have no argument, but i don’t believe in god because it depresses me to think he might be real

WC would you agree that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence?

CH no i don’t agree

WC moral argument: it’s not epistemology it’s the ontology – have you got a foundation for moral values and duties?

CH i do not, it’s just evolution, an evolved standard based on social cohesion

CH cross-examination of WC:

CH you said that the historical reports of jesus doing exorcisms are generally accepted – do you believe in devils?

WC i commit to nothing, what I am saying there historical concensus on the reports that jesus did exorcisms

CH what about the devils going into the pigs, do you believe that?

WC yes i do, but the main point i’m making is that the historical reports show that jesus acted with divine authority

CH do you believe in the virgin birth?

WC yes, but that’s not historically provable using the minimal facts methods, and i did not use the virgin birth in my arguments tonight, because it doesn’t pass the historical tests to be a minimal fact

CH do you believe that all the graves opened and dead people all came out?

WC not sure if the author intended that part as apocalyptic imagery or as literal, i have no opinion on it, have not studied it

CH do exorcisms prove son of god?

WC no, i am only saying that the historical reports show that jesus exercised authority and put himself in the place of god

CH  are any religions false? name one that’s false

WC islam

CH so some religions are wicked right?

WC yes

CH if a baby were born in saudi arabia would it be better if it were an atheist or a muslim?

WC i have no opinion on that

CH are any christian denominations wrong?

WC calvinism is wrong about some things, but they are still christians, i could be wrong about some things, i do the best i can studying theology so i’m not wrong

WC second rebuttal

Response to CH arguments:

no reasons for atheism
– no reasons to believe that god does not exist
– ch withholds belief in god

why wait so long before contacting humans with jesus
– population matters, not time – jesus waited until there was about to be a population explosion
– there is natural revelation (Romans 1) for those who lived before christ

what about those who never heard
– (Acts 17:22-31) god chooses the time and place of each person who is born to optimize their opportunity to know him based on how they will respond to evidence (this is called middle knowledge)
– those who haven’t heard will be judged based on general revelation

WC re-assess the state of his five arguments:

cosmological argument <signal loss>
– heat death of the universe won’t happen on christianity

moral argument
– if no objective moral standard, can’t judge other cultures as wrong
– no transcendent objective standard to be able to judge slavery as wrong

name an action argument
– e.g. – tithing
– the greatest command – love the lord your god your god with everything you’ve got
– atheists can’t do that, and that is the biggest commandment to follow

moral obligations
– there are no objective moral obligations for anyone on atheism
– on atheism, you feel obligated because of genetics and social pressure
– on atheism, we’re animals, and animals don’t have moral obligations

resurrection <signal loss>
– the belief in resurrection of 1 man, the messiah is totally unexpected on judaism
– they would not have made this up, it was unexpected

religious experience
– experience is valid in the absence of defeaters

CH second rebuttal:

faith and reason
– Tertullian says faith is better when it’s against reason

it’s easy to start a rumor with faith-based people
– mother teresa: to be canonized she needs to have done a miracle
– so there was a faked miracle report
– but everybody believes the fake miracle report!
– this proves that religious rumors are easy to start
– the resurrection could have started as a similar rumor by people wanting to believe it

name an action
– tithing is a religious action, i don’t have to do that

moral argument
– i can be as moral as you can without god
– i can say that other cultures are wrong, there i just said it
– without god, people would still be good, so god isn’t needed

religious people did bad things in history
– this church did a bad thing here
– that church did a bad thing there
– therfore god doesn’t exist

religion is the outcome of man’s struggle with natural phenomenon
– that is why there are so many religions

WC concluding speech

no arguments for atheism presented

What CH has said during the debate:
– god bad, mother teresa bad, religion bad

atheism is a worldview
– it claims to know the truth
– therefore it is exclusive of other views

what does theism explain
– theism explains a broad range of experiences
– origin of universe, CH has dropped the point
– fine-tuning, CH has dropped the point
– moral, CH says that humans are no different from animals – but an evolved standard is illusory, there are no actual moral values and standards, it’s just a genetic predisposition to act in a certain way – that’s not prescriptive morality
– resurrection, CH has dropped the point
– experience, craig tells his testimony and urges the audience to give it a shot

CH concluding speech

HITCHENS YIELDS HIS ENTIRE CONCLUDING SPEECH!

A question & answer Period followed end of the formal debate

Further study

Check out my analysis of the 11 arguments Hitchens made in his opening speech in his debate with Frank Turek. You can also watch or listen to a preview debate that was held in Dallas recently between Craig, Hitchens, Lee Strobel and some other people. Biola also officially live-blogged the debate here.

Philosopher Doug Geivett’s review is here. He attended the debate.

For more on the arguments used in the debate, see my index of arguments here.

59 thoughts on “Summary of the William Lane Craig vs Christopher Hitchens debate: Does God Exist?”

  1. Hitch tried his typical “I’m going to throw out a lot of low-level attacks really quick and hope some stick.” He already knows exactly how the theist is going to respond, and that some of his arguments are very weak, but he still throws them out there quickly hoping one will stick. He’s a master of rhetoric…I really enjoy listening to him.

    I had wondered how Craig would respond to Hitch with this tactic. Craig is very good at making notes of his opponents speech and attacking them one by one. A rebuttal is not enough time to respond to a tactic such as Hitch where the listener is bombarded with a bunch of speculative attacks without presenting evidence (i.e. if God existed he wouldn’t do it this way…pray doesn’t work…atonement is silly, etc.). Craig did very good in response, hitting them point by point in a brief period of time.

    Hitch proved the many critiques of new atheists tonight. So many have written that they sound like fundamentalists because they adequately present their case with vigor and rhetoric, but show almost total ignorance of their opponents case, and do not appear open to hearing it. Many of Hitchens arguments were actually theological in nature (i.e. if God exists, why did he allow this? If I were God I wouldn’t have used an atonement…that’s silly.). I think his arguments would be so much stronger if he even had a basic understanding of Christian theology.

    Although Hitch seems like a good guy, and is fun to listen to, his arguments (often more speculations and ridicule than formal arguments) are only convincing to those who are already disbelieving, or possibly to the ignorant in our uneducated churches, who are functional atheists already.

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    1. I felt sorry for him tonight. My favorite commenter, ECM, e-mailed me and I told him that I wanted Craig to win Hitchens over. And I am interpreting Hitchens downcast attitude as total defeat. The fact that he yield his conclusion speech! Amazing! He was totally destroyed. I tell you, I have high hopes that a defeat like this will win him over to our side. I like him, and I hope we can win him over with our arguments.

      During the Q&A, Hitchens asked a question that I think we Christians should reflect on, because it shows how atheists think – what they want. They want a goodness apart from god, so that they don’t need to be forgiven. Why oh why they want this I have no idea. But when Hitchens asked Craig whether a muslim baby being born in saudi arabia was better than an atheist baby, that’s what he was asking: tell me I’m good, Dr. Craig.

      Well, Mr. Hitchens, I like you. But good people don’t go to heaven. BAD PEOPLE go to heaven, sir. Bad people who know they are bad and throw themselves on the mercy of Christ, the only savior. He is the only way we are getting out of this mess. And it’s OK to ask him for forgiveness… because he loved us first. Where is the shame in that? He loved us first, so I can ask him for forgiveness with confidence.

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  2. I’m an ethical noncognitivist, but if I were asked what is the closest thing there is to an objective moral law, I might well say “don’t kill defenseless babies.” Yet this is exactly what the “God of the Bible” commands, e.g. in 1 Sam 15:3. It’s hard to take Christian claims about the ethical perfection of God seriously.

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    1. Understood. This kind of question isn’t my specialty. The first thing I would say is that Israel was a theocracy at that time, so those commands no longer apply to us since neither Christians nor Jews are in a theocratic government today.

      Other people have tried answer these kinds of questions: here is an article from Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason that tries to answer this question.

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  3. Is it objectively correct to wipe your bottom after going to the toilet?

    Or is it purely subjective, so that Christians cannot say it is wrong not to wipe your bottom after going to the toilet?

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Mr. Carr. I must say, your reputation precedes you!

      Unfortunately, your example is not a moral action, so it is irrelevant to the moral argument. What we are interested in here is the question of prescriptive moral rules. What is the foundation of prescriptive moral rules on atheism? There is only personal preference and social custom, which varies by time and place, and is therefore as arbitrary as culinary or dress preferences.

      In short, atheism does not rationally ground self-sacrificial acts of goodness. Atheists can only engage (irrationally) in such acts for one of two reasons: personal pleasure or to avoid being caught by social authorities. But this not what theists mean by morality. What we mean by morality are the objectively-grounded rules that are prescribed for us by a designer.

      In particular, on Christianity, the purpose of following these rules is two-fold. 1) we appreciate Christ’s sacrifice to us while we were still sinners, and we try to integrate his views and priorities into our decision making as a result of this gratitude and admiration. 2) we believe that the real “good” in the universe is modeled after Christ’s example of bravery and obedience to God, and we want to imitate these qualities, in order to focus our lives on what is really good.

      On atheism, you guys are basically majoring in the minors and neglecting the majors. The number one commandment in Christianity is “love the Lord, your God”. That’s the one we’ve all got to be focusing on. And what you find is that the most difficult part of doing that is going to be the humiliation and sometimes violent opposition that you’ll face from your neighbors, particularly when you have a graduate education as I do. But this is exactly the point.

      There is enormous non-rational pressure on Christians to distance themselves and their lives from God, revealed in Christ.

      We are imitating Christ by allowing ourselves to be humiliated by the insults of the world. If there is a debate, we have the facts, so we win these debates. Your side has to resort to universes popping into being from nothing, unobservable multiverses, asserting moral capabilities on a physicalist anthropology (biological determinism), or that Jesus had an unknown identical twin brother who appeared after he was killed. (Or irrelevant bathroom humor designed to detract from serious discussions of the evidence)

      So, my friend, let us be clear. What morality is is sticking with the Lord in the face of anti-intellectual challenges, such as the ridicule that Christian students face every day in unequal power encounters in secular public school classrooms. Atheists cannot do imitate Christ by obeying God rather than men in the face of persecution, and this is morality of the highest order. On these rules, you are out.

      I have written several posts on the ability for atheists to reconcile the necessary minimal aspects of morality here. You may search for them if you like. Recall that the things to be explained are as follows:

      1) free will which is needed for moral choices and moral responsibility
      2) ultimate significance of moral choices – do my choices affect where I end up
      3) an objective grounding prescriptive moral rules
      4) an objective grounding for human rights and dignity

      None of these are rationally grounded on atheism. Morality is not rationally grounded on atheism. And in particular, fulfillment of the highest commandment is not available to you on atheism.

      Now, you know as well as I do that there is no difference between atheists and the way I was before I became a Chrsitian. I am not saved because I did more good things than you. I am not morally better than you. The difference is (and I hope my conversion is genuine) that I will not have to answer for my sins, because I have been saved by God’s free gift of grace, the same gift that is available to you. Christ’s expectation on you is that you will not push his sacrifice and a relationship with him away. That is the most important moral obligation we humans have. Don’t shove God back with both hands.

      Thanks again for your comment. I hope I was not mean. I apologize to you that there are not more of us who can supply you with answers. You are welcome here, but please try to keep it clean and civil or I will have to not post your comments.

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    1. I’m sorry. Personal hygiene is not specifically a very important moral obligation in Christianity. However, I find it useful to do in order to love my neighbor, which is morally obligated. And again, I’ll remind you that the question is irrelevant to the moral argument for the existence of God.

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  4. WKnight still won’t say whether one Christian can say to another Christian that they should or should not wipe their bottom after going to the toilet.

    Why is that so hard for him to answer?

    And the Bible was written by human beings, so WKnight has no examples of a god giving any moral commands.

    All he has is society deciding what actions are anti-social, and humanity deciding what actions are inhumane.

    There are no more moral guides built into humans by God than there are guides built into lions or tigers by God not to eat humans,or guides built into bears not to rip human children apart when they call a prophet ‘Baldy’

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  5. Just so you guys know, Hitchens ALWAYS yields his concluding speech. He uses that time instead to take questions from the audience because he wants the audience to be more involved rather than just sitting there. It’s something he does at almost every debate he’s in, it’s not a sign of him being “downcast.”

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  6. Thank you, Wintery Knight, for the link to the Kouki article. I’ve encountered similar arguments before. It seems to me that all of Christian morality ultimately boils down to “Divine Command Theory,” which can be expressed in bumper sticker form: “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Hence the argument that God’s ordering the deaths of infants is moral because “God can do whatever he pleases with His creation.” By this argument, God could order rape and torture, and they too would be perfectly moral. Personally, I think torture is also as close to a universal moral wrong as is baby killing.

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  7. What evidence is there for the claim that “God’s nature doesn’t change”? The Hebrew Bible itself attests to significant changes in theodicy. For example, God “regretted” that he had made man, and sent the flood. The doctrine of personal responsibility in Ezekiel 18 apparently cancels the Torahitic descriptions from Exodus and Deuteronomy of God as punishing wrongdoers to the third and even fourth generation. (As an example of transgenerational punishment, see the (conflate) account of the revolt of Dathan and Aviram, and of Korach, in Numbers 16, or the Achan pericope in Joshua 7.) The rabbis were quite aware of this, by the way. See e.g. B. Makkot 24a: “Moses said ‘Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children.’ Ezekiel abolished it by saying: ‘The soul which sinneth, that alone shall die.'”

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    1. “I am the LORD, I change not.” Malachi 3:6

      Regarding the regretting, you can put that down as an athropomorphism.

      Honestly, I think these questions are unimportant. Let’s talk about the big bang and the fine-tuning and the resurrection. The object of this game is to find out the truth, not to nit-pick about trivial Bible inconsistencies.

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  8. I’m certainly aware of the quote from Malachi. I’m asking what evidence is there for its truthfulness.

    Fine tuning: I’m not particularly impressed with fine tuning arguments. Given the current understanding of eternal chaotic inflation as well as various “multiverse” scenarios, it may well be a case of us holding a winning lottery ticket and thinking it must be a miracle. Our universe does not appear finely tuned for life at all — indeed life seems exceedingly rare from what we can tell. Better for you to argue that the universe is fine-tuned for structure (e.g. galaxies) but as I said it isn’t clear that this is so remarkable.

    Moreover, according to our current understanding, the universe will eventually to the point of there being no structure at all — an eternal lifeless universe. What’s so awesome about that?

    The resurrection: this one is easy. It never happened. In this context, I enthusiastically recommend Bart Ehrman’s very recent book, “Jesus, Interrupted”.

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    1. My comments on the multiverse are here. Warning: snarky. It cites atheist Astronomer Royal Martin Rees saying that the universe is fine-tuned for life.

      My comments on arguing for the resurrection are here.

      Are you familiar with Bart Ehrman’s debate with William Lane Craig on the resurrection?

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  9. With all due respect to Martin Rees, there are many professional physicists who would disagree. Quote mining isn’t going to win the day.

    I did see Ehrman’s debate with Craig and I thought Ehrman made Craig look quite silly.

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  10. I was a little let down; Craig did not live up to the hype. He did well, but was severely out pointed by Hitchens. Craig offered up the same tired arguments Hitchens has been slaying for years.

    I’m surprised by Wintery Knight’s shock in Hitchens yielding his conclusion in order to allow more time for Q&A. This is something he does regularly. WK looks quite silly rejoicing in that maneuver so often employed by Hitchens.

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    1. Hey, can you list for me the arguments that Hitchens gave in defense of the claim “God does not exist”. To win a debate, you need to make some arguments for your claim, otherwise you lose the debate. Be specific – name the premises and the conclusion, in good form.

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      1. For atheism, Austin Dacey and Paul Draper are both really good. But they are more agnostic than atheism, in my opinion.

        Did you read TQA’s commentary on the Licona-Ehrman debate? Ehrman accepted all 3 of Licona’s minimal facts.

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  11. “He did well, but was severely out pointed by Hitchens.”

    There is a difference between throwing out many arguments, many of which are speculative or considered dead by philosophers (like the logical problem of evil), as opposed to offering only a few arguments that can be well defended when challenged. Hitchens takes the former strategy, hoping that some of his plethora of low-level arguments will stick. I think his style and rhetoric lead to his popularity, but atheism has such better defenders like Martin, Oppy, Q. Smith, etc. Atheism on the whole could present a stronger case if its public defenders were more read in their best philosophers, or at least opened themselves to reading some of their opponents.

    Sam,
    You make some good points, but allow me to push back for a moment.

    Have you read Ehrman’s book yet? He actually seems to argue against your claim that the resurrection simply didn’t happen toward a more agnostic perspective. Ehrman is very clear that resurrection (or other miracle claims) are outside of the capabilities of historical investigation. Historians can only present the best case scenario of the evidence they have, which may be a miracle, although history can’t make that claim since it is bound to methodological naturalism.

    He specifically says, “I am decidedly not saying that Jesus was not raised from the dead. I’m not saying the tomb was not empty. I’m not saying that he did not appear to his disciples and ascend into heaven…Historians can only establish what probably happened in the past”

    As for your other points, I would suggest that you keep studying fine-tuning. Put your metaphysical assumptions required for multiverse theory to the test, and see if they have any more grounding than theistic ideals. You may not agree that the universe is fine-tuned for life, but what evidence do you have for that claim? If anything, it goes against the current academic consensus (which I admit may be incorrect even though the evidence points in that direction). That’s why multiverse scenarios are becoming more popular, because they offer a natural response to the current paradigm in research. If your worldview is bound by metaphysical naturalism, then that’s all that can be said. I would also suggest researching fine-tuning in evolution as well…Simon Conway Morris (Cambridge) and Howard Nowak (Harvard) are doing some amazing things in regards to evolutionary scenarios. If anything, it’s becoming very clear that natural selection in our universe cannot help but follow certain paths and arrive at specific, predictable ends.

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  12. “I was a little let down; Craig did not live up to the hype.”

    You got it totally backwards. It was Hitchens who didn’t live up to the hype. I was surprised also when Hitchens gave up his closing statement. I hadn’t seen him do that before so it was a little surprising. Moreover, the way he did it made it look like he was doing so in salutation to Dr. Craig. Anyways, it’s not saying much if you think Craig was “severely out pointed by Hitchens” since pretty much everyone who saw it agrees that Craig won (ie. All theists as far as I can tell, many Atheists, such as those at debunking Christianity and Common Sense Atheism and even professional philosophers who commented on it [Doug Geivett], etc).

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  13. Yes I have read Ehrman’s book, “Jesus, Interrupted” in its entirety. I am also a professional physicist, a researcher and a professor at a large research university. (I am not using my real name here, by the way.)

    I’m not sure what academic consensus it is you refer to. For example, several leading cosmologists, such as Steven Weinberg, are not impressed by fine tuning. I’d commend you to the collection of articles in the volume, “Universe or Multiverse?” edited by Bernard Carr (Cambridge, 2007).

    Multiverse scenarios are quite natural now within the context of string theory and eternal chaotic inflation. It goes without saying that all theories of the early universe are quite speculative.

    As far as evolution goes, the evidence that humans evolved from lower life forms is frankly overwhelming. It is certainly true that naive Darwinian theory is inadequate to describe the rapid rate of evolution in isolated populations, notably Darwin’s finches. (See the recent work of P. and B. Grant at Princeton.) This likely has to do with mechanisms of mutation and gene sharing in small populations. I don’t think that the Grants believe that God is now guiding the evolution of the various Geospiza species.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Sam. Regarding the multiverse and the chaotic inflationary model, I would refer you to this article by William Lane Craig here, in which he argues against that model and other naturalistic cosmologies. For my comments on the multiverse, (warning: snarky!), go here. I’m not impressed by the multiverse and its infinite number of unobservable universes.

      My snarky article on the many discoveries that led up to the big bang – the creation of the universe out of nothing, (cosmic microwave background radiation, etc.), is here. Let me know if you deny any of these discoveries.

      I apologize for the snarky tone, as these 2 pieces are satirizing the new atheists.

      By the way, it might be worth it for you to think about ordering Bill Craig’s debate with Victor Stenger, and his subsequent lecture on the big bang given at UC Boulder. Michael Tooley, Victor Stenger and Arnold Guminski grilled him solidly on the big bang and the fine-tuning in the Q&A.

      Regarding string theory, my understanding of this is not complete, but Hugh Ross and his entire ministry of old-earth creationists seem to really like it. But again, string theory is highly speculative and should not be used to overturn the fine-tuning.

      One last thing – a quote. Martin Rees is an atheist and a qualified astronomer. He wrote a book called “Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe”, (Basic Books: 2001). In it, he discusses 6 numbers that need to be fine-tuned in order to have a life-permitting universe.

      Rees writes here:

      These six numbers constitute a ‘recipe’ for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be ‘untuned’, there would be no stars and no life. Is this tuning just a brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it the providence of a benign Creator?

      His answer is the multiverse – an infinite number of unobservable universes that are not fine-tuned, and for which we have no independent evidence.

      Regarding the finches. I have one question. Do you understand the difference between micro-evolution and macro-evolution? Finches are an example of the former. A good response to your point can be found here.

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  14. Thanks for the response Sam. You are both cordial and intelligent, which I highly respect.

    I’m glad you’ve read Ehrman’s book. I have always found him entertaining, and a nice guy at SBL meetings. Since he writes in my field of study, I can critique him in regards to the content though. For instance, his outstanding Orthodox Corruption of Scripture goes nowhere near as far as his claims in Misquoting Jesus and Lost Christianities. The latter are full of non-sequiturs and question begging. Of course, he simply couldn’t get away with these type of arguments in an academic, peer-reviewed setting, because they would get skewered. Unfortunately, I take this as playing on an ignorant audience. The good of his popular work is that it has increased public awareness of the field of textual criticism.

    As for physics, my argument is that the universe being fine-tuned for life is the current concensus, and for some of us that leads to speculation of a divine cause. That’s actually something Carr agrees with, he says, “If there is only one universe, you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.” It seems that there is a metaphysical presupposition at work beneath his research.

    Weinberg seems to agree with Carr saying that “life as we know it would be impossible if any one of several physical quantities had slightly different values.” He just speculates another answer to it. Of course, anyone well versed in the theistic/atheistic debates from the past 20 years knows full well that Weinberg is no impartial observer of the data…at least no more than a John Polkinghorne or Owen Gingerich on the other side of the spectrum.

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  15. Wintery Knight,
    You may not know, but Martin Rees is actually the president of the Royal Society, which is the most prestigious scientific society in the world with an amazing history.

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  16. Sam,
    By the way, you can have the last word as I simply don’t have time to keep up with the discussion. Thanks for your informative words.

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  17. No, Weinberg does not agree. Weinberg has in particular written and spoken against the biophilic principle. See here, e.g.:

    http://www.counterbalance.net/cqinterv/cq2-7-body.html

    Certainly if there is only one universe, then it is incomprehensibly unlikely that it should be this one. The same argument could be invoked by the winner of a lottery — if there is only one winning ticket, then it is fantastically improbable that he should hold it.

    So perhaps you are misunderstanding me, or, what is more likely, I have been unclear. I think the question is not whether certain constants of Nature in our observable Universe appear to be finely tuned — that much is clear. The issue is how we should react to this, i.e. what conclusions should we draw. Many theists would immediately jump to the conclusion that the initial conditions of the Universe were determined by a “mind” which lies “beyond space and time” and which has desired to create just such a Universe. Leaving aside the extremely problematic issues of what a mind is (the only minds I know of are wholly dependent upon material objects, whether it be human brain or an ant colony) and what it would mean to exist outside of space-time, the conclusion seems much too facile, like that of the incredulous lottery winner.

    While some theists like WL Craig have repeatedly invoked (and quite severely abused, in my view) the significance of various singularity theorems from general relativity and inflationary cosmology, most cosmologists today believe in something called “eternal chaotic inflation”. One consequence of ECI is that there were almost certainly a great many “beginnings” — probably an infinite number thereof. This model (really more a “scheme” than an actual model, since there are many ways of getting inflation to work), when married with string theory and its 10^500 possibilities (cf. Susskind), is extremely suggestive of a multiverse type scenario. In other words, current ideas in cosmology are driving us to think seriously about multiverses.

    But there’s another reason not to let the theist off the hook. One could agree that the Universe, if unique, is highly selected for structure and life. But the obvious next question to ask is “why *this* particular Universe?” Why should it be our fate to expand until all life and structure disappears for an eternity? Is life itself “optimized”? If so, why have the vast majority of species already gone extinct? Why are humans so frail and susceptible to disease? There is no end to such questions. It seems to me that the only answer possible is for the theist to throw up his hands and say, “it is all the will of God, whose mind we cannot know.” But this is extremely unsatisfying and indeed wholly arbitrary.

    Regarding Ehrman, it would help if you could provide some concrete examples of the non-sequiturs you speak of. For example, do you deny that there is an apparent contradiction in Paul’s itinerary between Acts 9 and Galatians 1? My impression is that “Misquoting Jesus” and “Jesus, Interrupted” are simply dumbed-down versions of TOCS for public consumption. I found MJ rather thin, but JI I think is quite excellent, and aside from its theological speculations it deserves a place on the enthusiast’s shelf beside Dick Friedman’s “Who Wrote the Bible?” Ehrman repeatedly points out how the various gospel authors and Paul had different points of view regarding Jesus, Jewish law, etc. and that all the NT writings are historically contextualized and evince change in response to various historical events and also the passage of time. What could possibly be wrong with this point of view? It seems to me vastly more plausible than the naive fundamentalistic POV of evangelical scholars. I suspect in the coming decades NT studies will be increasingly populated by social science approaches (e.g. James Crossley).

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  18. Just a quick note from a drive-by.

    I’ve watched fragments of the debate on teh you tubes, and I’ve read several summaries. I think you might (all) be missing a really interesting point.

    Hitchens was not there to ‘debate’. People aren’t won over that way. Confrontation gets their hackles up, they become instinctively defensive, and you lose, even if you ‘win’.

    Hitchens was there to prosletize. Was it Peter Lombard who first argued that that no one was ever converted through reasonable argument? As Keats put it, “beauty is truth and truth beauty”?

    In any conversion there must be a moment, as for Saul in Acts, where the scales fall from the eyes. Hitchens did not trot out his “I don’t see any reason to believe in unicorns, but it’s ridiculous to then label me an ‘a-unicornist’ and demand proof that unicorns don’t exist.” argument. He avoids engagement.

    Rather, he sowed seeds. Beautiful, funny, human seeds. He scattered about lots of little ideas. In contrast with Craig Lane’s assurance and surety, Hitchens presented no structured argument. It seems to me that his intention is simply to stand up and say “You know. You don’t have to say you believe any of what he’s saying. The world is beautiful and complex enough without it.”

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    1. You hit the nail right on the head my friend. Hitchen’s is a great entertainer. That’s why he went the route of using practicality against what Turek had quoted. Hitchens even said at the end that there wasn’t anything that could change his mind. So, he went there to do just that, plant seeds of what he was saying…

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  19. Sam, you said: “Is life itself “optimized”? If so, why have the vast majority of species already gone extinct? Why are humans so frail and susceptible to disease? There is no end to such questions. It seems to me that the only answer possible is for the theist to throw up his hands and say, “it is all the will of God, whose mind we cannot know.””

    I know that Wintery wouldn’t agree with me here, but those of us who believe that God created a universe that includes an elegant, functional mechanism for life to change and adapt by natural selection, mutation, and drift don’t see your questions above as a problem. :) “Finding Darwin’s God,” by Kenneth R. Miller, is a fun read and addresses this point well.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, and yes, I do strongly disagree with Ken Miller, and I don’t consider him to be a Christian or even a theist.

      I constrain my religious beliefs based on what the Bible says and what science reveals. Naturalistic evolution is supported by neither the Bible, nor by science. Even the assumption of naturalism, without which evolution has nothing to support it, is in contradiction with both Genesis 1:1 and the Big Bang theory. So Darwinism is doubly false. My recommendation for you is to read Signature in the Cell by Stephen C. Meyer, and let the facts govern your religious beliefs.

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      1. How could he not be a theist? Unless he has changed his views since he wrote that book, he frequently mentions his belief in an active God who is “the Creator and Master of the universe.” Maybe you and I have different definitions of “theist.”

        I don’t agree with KRM on everything, and I’m sure you’ve listened to more debates and lectures from him than I have… But from what I recall, he states his belief that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is risen, and he claims Jesus as his Saviour and Lord. A disagreement on the science, philosophy or theology involved in (literally) ancient prehistory doesn’t change that. Maybe you have other bases for calling him “not a Christian,” but I hope you’re not just basing that on the fact that you think he’s wrong about how God set up biology. On second thought, I hope you are just basing it on that, because then KRM is most likely a Christian (whether right or wrong about evolution); his salvation is far more important than our disagreement about the extent of natural selection.

        The mechanism of biological change seems to me to be a fairly important scientific question, and a fairly unimportant theological one. At least, compared to our beliefs about Jesus (“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, and are factually correct about esoteric details of prehistory that will only become an issue in the 20th century, you will be saved.”-Rom 10:9, corrected. ;))

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        1. Ken Miller thinks that humans are the unexpected product of a random process of evolution.

          Ken Miller is cited as follows:

          [E]ventually I think you would also get a large, intelligent, reflective, self-aware organism with a highly developed nervous system. Now it might be a big-brained dinosaur, or it might be a mollusk with exceptional mental capabilities….[M]y point is that I think eventually under the conditions that we have in this universe you would get an intelligent, self-aware and reflective organism, which is to say you’d get something like us. It might not come out of the primates, it might come from somewhere else.

          That’s not Christian theism. That’s process theology.

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  20. Whatever you think of that facet of his beliefs (and, even though I actually believe that God did form organisms using evolution, I do think that KRM is missing some possibilities here), it’s not fundamental to Christianity, one way or the other. I’m not saying he’s correct on this detail – I’m saying that whether he is right or wrong on this, it’s not a salvation issue (i.e., it doesn’t make him “a Christian” or “not a Christian.”) Thankfully, although either you or I must be wrong about the extent of evolution, I’m pretty sure we both follow Christ and are Christians. :)

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    1. Are you familiar with arguments against evolution, such as the argument from biological information in the first living cell, or the origin of all of the phyla in 2-5 million years around the Cambrian explosion. Is it even possible that God intervened to create the first living cell or the the brand new body plans at the Cambrian explosion?

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  21. I said “yes,” so I’m not sure what you mean by the question about the fall.

    I’m familiar with most of the arguments for and against evolution. Although I’m an ecologist, and have a pretty good background in the area, I’m not terribly invested in what people believe on the subject, as long as they know Christ and don’t turn other people away from Him. Incidentally, I do think that the information-theoretic stuff is the most interesting area in the debate, because most other approaches fall into the “you can’t explain this, so it must have been a miracle” category – and I think that is dangerous for a number of reasons.

    I think that it is possible that God intervened to create the first living cell, but honestly, I don’t really think it matters philosophically or theologically. If He is outside of time, and created the universe, then he would know all events at all times in the universe as He created it, and He could create it in such a way as to produce His desired outcome. In other words, if He needed to intervene to create the first living cell, He could – but He could also have specifically created a universe in which he foresaw that the first living cell, and ultimately us, would be produced by the forces that He designed, calibrated, and set in motion. No random chance necessary.

    I absolutely believe that He works miracles, physical and otherwise, and intervenes in the physical universe. However, I don’t think that designing a functional system for biological change is less competent than periodically having to add or subtract organisms out of the blue to keep the thing running – and I must withhold judgement on whether He has ever physically intervened in our evolution or not. I just don’t think the evidence is conclusive for intervention in the course of evolution, and it may never be. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a possibility. If He acted by directing evolution through time, e.g. by causing specific mutations or directing which animal survived a rockslide, it could very well be undetectable.

    Either way, I see no reason that speculations about prehistoric molecules should affect my certainty that Christ came into our history and died for me.

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    1. Do you know that God exists? Or do you just believe in God because you want to, like children believe in Santa Claus?

      Please cite scientific evidence proving that you KNOW God exists, as opposed to mere WISHING. And this evidence has to be objective, detectable without any faith commitment, and rationally compelling against atheism. (I.e. – so they shall know for certain, so they are without excuse) It has to be KNOWLEDGE. Justified true belief, as Plato says.

      Christians KNOW that God exists, on the evidence. I want to see your scientific evidence. Do you have any? Cite arguments and scholars.

      I asked you before what were some arguments that you had looked at in favor of a Designer (i.e. – intelligent design), and you gave me none. What have you read, exactly? Which books have you read by ID scholars? Have you ever seen an ID scholar debate? Which one do you like the best and why?

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  22. Interesting analogy with children and Santa Claus – after all, Jesus said that we must receive the Kingdom of God like little children (Mark 10:15).

    I’m happy to tell you about my personal reasons for believing, but first I have to point out that those who believe in and love Jesus with no intellectual evidence at all are still His. Thankfully, He doesn’t restrict a relationship with him to those people who are intellectually above-average. Children, developmentally delayed, and people who are just not inclined to question the God who has gotten them through life – He doesn’t turn them away. The danger, to me, of not questioning our beliefs intellectually is this: If I had been born into a family that denied Christ, and never questioned my beliefs, I would never know the Truth. However, although I think ultimate truth is a topic which is worthy of serious thought and investigation, those people who know Jesus and never question Him are blessed as well.

    Christians know that God exists, but not always on the kind of evidence that would hold up in court or in a treatise. Some people know because He has touched their lives in other ways.

    I also find it ironic that the verse which you quote from (“without excuse”) implies forms of proof which would probably not hold up to your exacting standards. I’m really not trying to sound snarky here – sorry if it’s coming across that way. I just think it’s contrary to God’s character to throw barriers at people who want to know God, or to tell people that their love for God and following Christ isn’t good enough if it’s not based on science.

    Now, although I almost hesitate to answer your question because a relationship with God certainly does not need to be intellectually impressive to be real:

    I grew up in a Christian family. My Mom had severe health problems for many years when I was a child (ambulances showing up in the middle of the night as she was bleeding out, etc), but God miraculously kept her on this earth. She has one of the most incredibly strong faiths that I have ever seen. My Dad also has an active and complete devotion to Christ, and my parents took many opportunities to demonstrate faith and illustrate the character of God for us. I saw many actual miracles growing up, and saw God active in our lives. In spite of this, and although I would have had to ignore many experiences to deny God, I began to question my faith in college when almost all of my professors were aggressive atheists. (Part of my conflict, btw, was that the evidence for evolution is strong and I had actually been taught by Christian teachers in high school that evolution is stupid. When I saw that that wasn’t necessarily true, well…) I wanted to make sure that I believed something that was logically and historically true, so I needed to do some research.

    Thank God, Christian history is actual HISTORY, and can be investigated – it’s much easier to verify than the religions that involve ahistorical philosophical claims about the nature of reality. :) To make a long story medium, I looked up the textual and historical evidence for all the prophecies foretelling the Jewish Messiah. Then I evaluated whether Jesus fit those prophecies in a way that could not be accounted for by chance. (Yes.) Then I researched what Jesus claimed about Himself and whether our accounts of His teachings and His life are accurate and well-supported by the historical and textual evidence (are the Gospels genuine? etc.) (Yes.) Then, when I had verified that Jesus was who He said He was and that His teachings have been accurately preserved in basic Christian doctrine, I had to do some research on groups that have branched off of mainstream Christianity since Christ (Mormons, Islam, etc.), and see if they were supportable (no). Given that Jesus is, verifiably, the Son of God and the Messiah and that He died and was resurrected for the forgiveness of sins, everything else has to fit into that framework. When my intellectual questions were taken care of, that freed me to fully commit (again) to a faith in the One who saves. My relationship with Him is not founded on intellectual arguments, but I had to deal with that part of myself before I could let myself completely throw myself on Him.

    Since then, I have gone through phases of researching different scientific lines of evidence as well. As the historical and textual evidence was already conclusive, however, that was mostly “for fun.”

    Regarding your request for “scientific evidence” citations, although my background in science predisposes me to think that scientific philosophy is fun, the implication that my submitting a bibliography proves my Christianity is deeply worrying. Now, if you just want to make sure that I’m smart enough to bother having a conversation with, that’s worrying in a different way.

    I think it’s interesting and fun to debate apologetics, but not as a hammer to question other believers’ credentials – only as a matter of curiosity, or as a tool to help those few people who can be opened to the Gospel in that way.

    I hope that I haven’t sounded harsh here. If I did, I am sincerely sorry.

    It also seems to me that your posts address two main points: (1) Who is a Christian, how can they prove it, and what is the role of intellectual debate? and (2) What do you think of ID? I’ve only addressed the first one because it seems more crucial to me and I’m clearly too long-winded to address both. :) If you’d like to switch to (2) we can do that. I have much stronger opinions on (1).

    G’night.

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  23. I don’t intend to resurrect a zombie post/thread, but I have to comment, since I finally watched the Craig and Hitchens debate last night (Reasonable Faith sent me 12 Craig debates on dvd!), telling you how accurate you transcribed Hitchens’ “arguments.”

    No offense to Mr. Hitchens (I like the guy), but he came off simply as an angry atheist. Nothing more. Nothing less. I was wondering how he would do in a debate with the topic “Does God exist?” He’s good at persecuting religion, but I hadn’t heard or read his reasoning for not believing in God.Not being religious? Yes, I heard him tell the crimes of religion (facing off against D’Souza), but never tell what good arguments he had for not believing in God.

    He’s funny, quick, and a good talker, but he didn’t tear down any of the ‘good ol’ classic 5 from Craig.

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