Andrew at Evaluating Christianity has put up some excellent posts of advice on how to debate William Lane Craig (one, two, three, four, five). The reason Craig wins all his debates with atheists is not because his arguments are sound, but because he is a masterful debater. Craig has been honing his debate skills literally since high school. Not only that, but he is a Ph.D. philosopher and encyclopedic historian: an expert on the two subjects he debates, the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus.
Let me repeat. Craig has done 20+ years of Ph.D+ level research in the two fields he debates, has published hundreds of academic books and papers on both subjects, and has been debating since high school.
So yeah, that’s right. You are not qualified to debate William Lane Craig. Richard Carrier? Austin Dacey? Quentin Smith? Bart Ehrman? You are not qualified to debate William Lane Craig. Louise Antony? Christopher Hitchens? Eddie Tabash? You are not qualified to debate William Lane Craig. Frank Zindler? Gerd Ludermann? Hector Avalos? You are not qualified to debate William Lane Craig.
“What about some people who would like to debate Craig?”
“Okay, well, is anyone qualified to debate William Lane Craig?”
Nobody comes to mind…
The atheist’s only hope in debating William Lane Craig is to offer better arguments. Remember, Craig is defending the theory that an ancient Semitic sky god created the universe with his magical powers, let it evolve in violence and meaninglessness for billions of years, then intervened quite recently by sending a man-god to earth, who rose from the dead into a new body with superpowers and now talks to you and grants you wishes as your invisible friend. That is literally what he has to defend, so one would think that even without equal debating skills an atheist would stand a chance to defeat that theory.
But here’s the thrust of what Andrew and I are trying to say: You can’t just know the arguments to win a debate (though many atheists fail at even this, anyway). You must also know how to debate. It’s a skill. If you haven’t specifically studied and practiced debating for several years, then you suck at debates. You might think you can debate because you “win” little arguments with uber-ignorant Christian fundamentalists, but trust me: you suck at debates. Your suckage will be especially obvious if you debate a master like William Lane Craig.
How to win
So, how should the atheist debate William Lane Craig?
- Know the arguments. Craig always uses the same 5 arguments, so it’s not too hard. In fact, you should map these arguments. Know what every supporting argument is, what the best rebuttals are, which rebuttals lead to dead ends, etc. I’ll be doing much of this for you, if you’re patient. I’ve started mapping Craig’s most famous argument, the Kalam Cosmological argument, here.
- Know how logic and argument work. If possible, get a Ph.D. in philosophy. Be able to call out logical fallacies and explain them in a few words. Know how to rip apart a poor analogy. Understand entailment, set theory, propositional logic, and probability theory. I’ll be covering all these topics – in plain talk – in my Intro to Logic series.
- Practice writing. Know how to make a point as forcefully, memorably, and quickly as possible. Know how to organize and repeat your thoughts in the most effective ways. Master your rhetorical skills. Train yourself to use simple words and short sentences.
- Practice speaking. Be comfortable speaking to large groups of people. Master your body language, vocal tonality, and speaking pace. Project confidence and comfort. Be loud. Join Toastmasters and go from zero to hero.
- Practice debating. Debating is a difficult skill, and requires years of willful practice. If you don’t enjoy it, you probably won’t master it. Read the Ultimate LD Debate Handbook. After that, take debate classes, judge Lincoln-Douglas style debates, and get a few debating coaches.
Now that’s a lot to ask. Nearly impossible, you say. And I agree. But in that case, you are not qualified to debate William Lane Craig. You may not like that it takes long years of hard work to be qualified to design a nuclear power plant, but guess what? If you don’t make the cut then you are not qualified to design a nuclear power plant. The same goes for debating a Jedi Master like William Lane Craig.
But if everybody took my advice, then there might just be nobody debating William Lane Craig. Is that what I want?
Debating Craig brings the atheist viewpoint to lots of people who would otherwise never listen to atheistic arguments in their entire life. Especially in the USA. In a Christianity-saturated culture, presenting Christianity does very little, but presenting atheism does a lot.
So, my advice to Mark Smith, John Loftus, and others who want to debate Craig? Go for it! But first, spend as much time as possible on the 5 steps above. Especially the last two steps, since those are the ones usually neglected.