Friday, August 7, 2015

Craig vs Law - Does God Exist? October 2011 CHECK

This debate ( audio | video | transcript | 2:15 ) took place in 2011 between Craig and English Philosopher Stephen Law. The question was: Does God Exist?

4.25 stars: Law gives a good show considering his more subtle style, making for a more fulfilling debate experience.


Other Reviews
Hallq discusses the debate
JJ Lowder review: Law won
SkepticInk review: part 1, 2 & 3
WK review: Xians always win
JW Wartick review: Craig won
Almost Atheist review: Craig won
CoaDT review: Craig won?
Randal Rauser review
Think Matters: Craig won
ApologiaPad review: Law won

As you can see...a lot of people had a lot of opinions on this debate.

This debate at first annoyed me and I put off finishing it. I am so used to Craig's debating style and find it to be pretty persuasive sounding. A perk of this style is that if the opponent doesn't follow the same style or isn't as structured/organized, then they usually come off weaker. In essence, Craig is great at framing the debate - he's great at guiding the format in his favor. This is pretty effective because it meant that I immediately became disgruntled when Law started his presentation.

However after looking over all the reviews of this debate I was surprised by how many thought Law came out on top. Even theists thought Craig dropped the ball on this one. There wasn't even the usual qualifying that Craig sounded better or was more organized, either. So I listened to the debate again and came to the conclusion that Law (without some faults, or course) pulled ahead in this one.

But how?

First I'll explain what I didn't like about the debate when I first heard it. Law mumbles so much. I was listening to the debate in the car and could barely hear him. So this bugged me and of course I couldn't hear everything he said. Also, Law didn't address Craig's arguments in a structured manner. And Craig actually narrowed his arguments down to just three, something I am sure people like Carrier or Craig's resurrection-debate opponents would have killed for.

But then I re-listened to the debate and went through JJ Lowder's review of the debate and, more important to changing my mind, the comments in that review, specifically Keith Parsons' comments.

The debate was on the existence of god. It wasn't specifically on the existence of the Christian god. Craig often employs the following clever maneuver (terms Tooley): Craig presents arguments to support the existence of the Christian God or a theistic concept of God (KCA, FTA, Ontological Argument, DCT, the resurrection, and personal experience) but will retreat to claiming he is defending a more vague conception of God in light of his opponent's arguments. He contends that it's a cumulative case in total, that taken together, his argument supports the existence of a God and that said deity is the Christian God.
Now, Law's entire presentation rested on presenting his articulation of the evidential problem of evil and then busting out his Evil God Challenge. In short, any arguments that support the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-good god can just as easily be used to support the existence of an evil god.

Basically, after hearing this argument, it appears that Law has given us a nice and simple argument we can make to render the apologists' arguments that attempt to prove the existence of some generic deity. This is because the KCA, FTA, all that stuff, who's to say that such a celestial being guiding it isn't just a total douche? Well, theists do have arguments that attempt to say such a being isn't a douche, but they're pretty lame. That's unfortunate, however, because the EGC means that those are the arguments the theist have to rely on.

Now this argument is slightly less forceful sounding against the vague philosopher's god, than it is for the Christian god. Craig knows this and that's why he does the clever slide mentioned earlier. However, Law is pretty steadfast in his claims throughout the debate. Several times he mentions that Craig has failed to account for key points made in the EGC and he even presents a pretty good, if a bit belated and simplistic criticism of the resurrection. He also gives a good argument against Craig's moral argument, though I think he could have spent a bit more time on it.

Craig just seemed a bit perplexed after his first rebuttal, too. As the debate went on, he kept upping the rhetoric, saying several times that Law's form of atheism is unworthy of the title if it's fine with positing the existence of a creator being behind the cosmos that might be good, evil or indifferent. However it started to become comical that Law came back to his make his responses seemingly uninterested in addressing Craig's criticism.

Ultimately though, Law probably would have came off a lot stronger if he made it more explicit that Christians (at least those that Craig is arguing for) are required to reject the idea of an evil god as absolutely absurd. If you read the reviews I posted, a lot of people didn't understand how Craig screwed himself over. I didn't even, at first and it wasn't until I gave the debate a second try that it became a bit more obvious. But it isn't a great public debate strat to debate for people who have the time to relisten to it again and again.

But one last thing that made Law come off strong was that Craig didn't perform with his normal A-game. He made a few mistakes and came off as unable to address certain points. Specifically, he spent too much time on his weird animal suffering views and as always, he floundered in the more informal Q&A part of the debate. This last part was pretty crucial because it was pretty long and unstructured. It was moderated by Justin Brierley, who pretty much moderated the way he does on his Unbelievable radio show. Informal debate would seem to be the bane of Craig...though to be fair, I should listen to more of Craig's informal debates to officially conclude that.

So there you have it, I'd say Law came out stronger than Craig but that he could have done more damage and been more rhetorically persuasive.

Technical: Great AQ and I am sure the VQ is pretty good, too.

A list of mini-reviews of Craig's debates can be found here! 

7-20-2013: I decided that Law's style caused me to think so much that it should get a .25 higher score.
8-4-2015 Tightened the review up and took it out of the drafts grave in my blogger dashboard.

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