William Lane Craig is a prolific Christian philosopher, apologist, author, and public debater. He is the best debater – on any topic – that I’ve ever heard. As far as I can tell, he has won nearly all his debates with atheists. When debating him, atheists have consistently failed to put forward solid arguments, and consistently failed to point out the flaws in Craig’s arguments.
I’m not the only one who thinks Craig has won nearly all his debates. For some atheists, it is rather maddening.
Craig is a skilled debater, an encyclopedia of facts and quotes, and a careful rhetorician. If you make a logical mistake, Craig knows exactly how to skewer you for it (and for this, I respect him). He holds prepared and persuasive responses to everything an atheist might say, and atheists usually fail to clearly point out the logical flaws in what Craig has to say. Also, Craig does a great job of summarizing the points and counterpoints that have been raised during a debate, and presents them in a way to show he has decisively won. His opponents are never that organized or clear.
This is especially embarrassing for atheists because Craig’s arguments and debates are easily available, and he uses the same arguments all the time. So it should be easy for atheists to prepare for a debate with Craig.
Atheists underestimate Craig. They think it will be easy to win an argument with anyone who has a wish-granting invisible friend. Atheists do not properly prepare for Craig’s arguments, and they do not prepare for his remarkable skill and experience in live debates.
Personally, I’d like to thank Dr. Craig for raising the level of debate on this issue. Though he makes many patently absurd arguments, they are no less absurd than some of the bad arguments made by his opponents, and they are usually more relevant to the central point. Atheists tend to ramble on about irrelevant topics when they debate Dr. Craig.
Craig’s debates – the good
Craig vs. Sinnott-Armstrong [book]
A superb debate. Craig and Sinnott-Armstrong took statements from two of their debates, then clarified and expanded them to form the back-and-forth chapters of this book. Sinnott-Armstrong is the only one who comes close to Craig’s degree of organization, and he starts off with a bang by pointing out 3 major problems that are common to all Craig’s arguments.
Craig vs. Dacey [video]
Craig gives his usual arguments. Dacey responds with 5 facts that fit better with atheism than with theism: the hiddenness of God, the success of science, the mind-brain connection, evolution, and the abundance of pointless suffering. Craig says that it’s possible to fit all these with Christian theism.
Dacey responds to the First Cause argument by saying that some scientists think the Big Bang does not explain the initial bang, but rather what happened after the bang. That’s true, but there are better arguments against First Cause arguments, and Craig easily dispatches this weak complaint.
About fine-tuning, Dacey says we might someday in the future discover how physical properties emerged from simple rules. There are so many good arguments against fine-tuning, and again Dacey chooses just about the weakest counter-argument he could have picked.
Dacey does a better job of responding to Craig’s arguments from morality and the Resurrection, but he doesn’t have enough time to more fully rebut them.
In general, Dacey does a better job of being clear and organized than most of Craig’s other opponents, but in the end Craig is still more organized and had good-sounding responses to Dacey’s arguments that Dacey didn’t get a chance to rebut.
Craig vs. Dacey (2) [audio]
Dacey gives the same arguments as in their previous debate, and Craig sticks to only 2 arguments: Kalam and the Resurrection. Craig thoroughly rebuts Dacey’s arguments, usually by a retreat to the possible, and Dacey doesn’t really call him on it.
This debate is mostly a repeat of their previous debate, but a little better. Craig seems to win this one simply by presenting more information and argument than Dacey does – basically, by talking faster. Also, Dacey again misses lots of great responses to the Kalam argument, and instead focuses on a mathematical disagreement that ends with “Yes it is.” “No it’s not.” “Yes it is.” “No it’s not.” What a waste. I would ignore the math; it’s irrelevant.
Craig vs. Price [audio]
A great debate between two people who really know their stuff. Price does a good job of pointing out the dishonesty of Craig’s approach, but as expected he does not organize his arguments as well as Craig and thereby loses.
Craig vs. Bradley [audio, transcript]
How can a good God torture forever those who’ve never heard of him? This is a hard question for Craig to answer, and Bradley is a good debater – on both the emotional and intellectual levels. Craig is beaten up pretty badly in the Q&A session. This might be a debate that Craig lost. It’s too bad Bradley never clearly pointed out Craig’s constant retreat to the possible with something like an analogy to Hitler: sure, it’s logically possible that Hitler’s genocide actually resulted in more moral good than evil, but are we rational to think so? Craig survived on the weakness of Bradley’s final speech and the strength of his own.
It’s too bad there’s no video for this one, because both debaters frequently refer to slides.
Craig vs. Parsons [audio]
This is the other debate Craig may have lost. He certainly lost it on logic, though he probably won on rhetoric and organization (as he always does). Parsons is full of logic, common sense, and passion.
Craig vs. Tabash [audio, video]
Tabash does a better job than most, but he spends more time attacking God’s morality and peripheral doctrines like souls and hell than he does debating Craig’s arguments for God’s existence.
Craig vs. Stenger [audio]
A good debate in which Stenger doesn’t let Craig get away with as much bullshit as he usually does, but Craig still wins due to superior skill, speed, and organization.
Craig’s debates – the bad
Craig vs. Zindler [audio, video]
Zindler makes some great points, but he suffers due to the superior organization and rhetoric of Craig’s presentation, which shows most of Zindler’s points to be irrelevant to the immediate topic of the debate. If you make mistakes like this, Craig will make you pay for them.
Craig vs. Crossley [audio, video]
Craig makes his own well-developed case for the Resurrection of Jesus, and then there is some good historical back-and-forth between the two. Again, Craig wins by way of superior organization and rhetoric.
Craig vs. Brown [audio]
At first, Brown rambles and says very little that is relevant to the question “Does God exist?” Craig has the playing field all to himself. Brown stands on the sidelines, watching Craig do slam dunks and yelling “You suck!” By his second speech, Brown begins to engage in the debate, but he cannot possibly catch up.
Craig vs. Cavin [audio]
Surprisingly, one of Craig’s most interesting debates is with someone who defends the idea that Jesus’ Resurrection was faked by an unknown identical twin. Cavin does a decent job showing why Craig’s magical Resurrection hypothesis is even more ad-hoc and implausible than alternative theories, but Craig’s rebuttals show why he is one of the best debaters in the world. In his first rebuttal, Craig demolishes about 20 different points made by Cavin – in a clear, convincing, well-organized way – in the space of 8 minutes. Cavin can’t possibly keep up with that.
Craig vs. Ahmed [audio]
Ahmed opens quite well. His response to Craig’s moral argument, in particular, is perfect: “Dr. Craig says that objective moral values exist, and I think we all know it. Now that might pass for an argument at Talbot Theological Seminary, and it might pass for an argument in the White House, but this is Cambridge, and it will not pass for an argument here.” But starting with Craig’s first rebuttal, Craig starts to pull ahead due to his superior organization, denser content, and better rhetoric.
Craig vs. Avalos [audio]
Craig begins by embarrassing Avalos by showing how Avalos combated a previous opponent by demanding that he be able to recognize Biblical manuscripts by sight – which is not how scholars work with Biblical texts anyway. Avalos comes out swinging, citing very specific parts of Craig’s work and trying to put Craig in uneasy situations. Craig responds calmly and confidently, and reminds the audience that almost nothing Avalos has said (1) builds a case against the Resurrection, nor (2) rebuts the arguments Craig gave in this debate. Avalos focuses on a linguistic disagreement with Craig – but of course nobody in the audience can tell who is right, and it wasn’t even part of Craig’s case in the debate.
Also, Avalos is kind of a dick at certain times, which doesn’t help him. His language attacks Craig more than Craig’s arguments. After Craig gives his final speech, Avalos jumps in on Craig’s applause and says, without any humor, “I very much appreciate your applause for me, thank you.” Smooth, Avalos.
Craig vs. Kurtz [audio]
As usual, Craig argues against the moral ontology of atheistic philosophy, while Kurtz defends the view that nevertheless, atheists can choose to live morally. They are two ships passing in the night.
Craig vs. Draper [audio]
Draper makes a semi-weak case for naturalism, which Craig further weakens. Draper is unable to properly address all of Craig’s arguments. As usual, Craig wins with superior debating skill.
Craig vs. Ehrman [audio, video, transcript]
Craig gives his usual case for the Resurrection. Ehrman mostly argues against the historicity of miracles, and spends very little time refuting Craig’s points. But perhaps because Ehrman keeps his case very simple, he ends up sounding more convincing than many of his predecessors. The first question in the Q&A is from up-and-coming apologist Mike Licona.
Craig vs. Hoover [audio]
Hoover does a good job of rebutting Craig’s claims, but again Craig wins on superior organization.
Craig vs. de Souza [video, audio]
de Souza is a good rhetorician, but Craig is both a good rhetorician and a careful logician. Craig is, once again, better practiced and prepared for anything de Souza can say.
Craig vs. Nielsen [transcript]
This debate on the problem of evil starts out okay, but then Craig brings out his moral argument which, once again, his atheist opponent has no proper response to at all.
Craig’s debates – the ugly
Craig vs. Flew [audio, video, book]
Craig gives his standard arguments (Kalam, fine-tuning, morality, Resurrection, personal revelation). Flew, instead of rebutting Craig’s arguments, goes on a weak, rambling rant about how we can’t know about things outside the universe, and about how eternal torture is bad. Flew’s talks are so confused he seems downright senile.
Craig vs. Cooke [audio, video]
Craig produces his usual arguments. Cooke does not try to disprove God, but instead argues that religious belief is a “barrier,” that it is arrogant, etc. Like many debates, Craig focuses on rational argument, and his opponent focuses on polemic.
Craig vs. DiCarlo [video]
The topic here is not God’s existence, but: “Does God matter?” So, Craig focuses mostly on his “absurdity of life without God” material. DiCarlo seems confused about the topic, for he argues that, “God doesn’t matter because God doesn’t exist.” The whole debate is a mess, with lots of rambling and odd tangents – mostly the fault of DiCarlo.
Craig vs. Edwards [audio]
Not a debate, but a back-and-forth discussion. Edwards asks tough questions, Craig has answers.
Craig vs. Edwards (2) [audio]
Again, Edwards is clearly not prepared to take on such a formidable opponent.
Craig vs. Antony [audio 1 2, video 1 2]
Craig covers more ground and is of course better organized. Also, Antony never even bothers to defend her position that objective moral values exist without God. What is her meta-ethical theory? She never says!
Craig vs. Atkins [audio, video, videotape]
Atkins is more interested in lecturing about the nature and glory of science than in debating the existence of God. Atkins also does himself no favors by speaking with condescension.
Craig vs. Drange [audio, video]
Drange makes almost no case, talking about “hyper-universes” and other weirdness, and Craig walks all over him. Of course, Craig’s arguments are equally bizarre, but Drange does not do a good job of showing why.
Craig vs. Borg [audio]
Borg lectures about metaphor and the nature of the gospels, not once engaging the evidence for or against the Resurrection. Craig has the debate all to himself.
Craig vs. Barrier [audio]
Barrier is polemical and incoherent – especially when talking about morality. Barrier has no college degree – which isn’t necessarily bad – but it really shows here. Craig walks all over him.
Craig vs. Dayton [audio]
A debate on the problem of evil. Dayton has little to say, because he doesn’t think that the problem of evil disproves God, or even that it should persuade Christians! He makes some good points, and shows some good humor, but of course Craig makes more points, with better rhetoric and organization.
Craig vs. Ludermann [audio]
Here it is clear that another of Craig’s advantages is his skill at compressing his arguments. Ludermann says very little in his opening 20 minutes compared to Craig, and never really engages Craig’s arguments. In fact, Ludermann never explains his theory about the Resurrection, so Craig does it for him and then thoroughly smashes it! Meanwhile, Ludermann continues to mumble about assorted points, and doesn’t make it clear how any of them relate to the question of whether the Resurrection actually happened or not.
Craig vs. Ludermann (2) [audio]
Here, Ludermann performs just as poorly as in his previous debate with Craig.
Craig vs. Crossan [audio, book]
Crossan lectures, Craig argues. In the Q&A period, Crossan is particularly incoherent and evasive, refusing to answer such simple factual questions as, “During the Jurassic period, when there were no humans, did God exist?”
Craig vs. Hardin [audio]
Hardin lectures and gives memoirs, whereas Craig debates. Craig wins, hands-down.
Craig vs. Morgentaler [audio]
Morgentaler clearly has little experience in debate, and does not accept the structure and logic of debate. Craig walks all over him.
Craig vs. Washington [transcript]
Washington makes a few good points, but takes too long to make them, and makes them in a rather informal way that looks bad next to Craig’s clear and solid rhetoric.
Craig vs. Jesseph [transcript]
A very typical debate in which Craig’s opponent is not prepared for Craig’s skill, speed, or organization, and things just get worse for Jesseph as things go along and he falls further and further behind.
Craig vs. Curley [transcript]
Curley barely touches the question of the existence of God, instead preferring to argue about specific theological doctrines instead, and so Craig’s position remains mostly untouched by the end of the debate.
Craig vs. Pigliucci [transcript]
Another typical debate in which Craig’s skills totally smash his opponent. Atheists seem to think they need not prepare for a debate with Craig because he is just another wacko with an invisible friend who grants him magical wishes. I think they are all surprised by how plausible Craig can make such an absurd idea sound.
Craig vs. Tooley [transcript]
Tooley gets bogged down in very technical (and actually, wrong) objections to Craig’s arguments – for example he denies the Big Bang. Craig blows past him.
Craig vs. Smith [transcript]
Smith offers a highly technical response to Craig’s typical cosmological argument, one I’m not sure his audience could even appreciate. Craig’s superior rhetoric wins the day.
Craig vs. Smith (2) [transcript]
Even worse than the previous debate. Smith spends lots of time on some technical details, and meanwhile Craig blasts through which is usual train of well-organized and solid-sounding arguments, with a perfectly succinct and impressive rebuttal prepared for everything Smith could possibly say.
Craig vs. Taylor [transcript]
I don’t even understand the point of this debate, since Taylor already agrees with Craig that (1) Christian theism has a coherent account of moral ontology (Taylor just thinks it happens to be false), and that (2) atheistic morality is relative. Taylor tries to defend the idea that relative moral values can actually be something like “objective,” and of course Craig destroys all such attempts.
Craig vs. Payton [video, audio]
The host of the debate has to wring Payton’s neck to force him to offer actual arguments, whereas Craig is eager to demolish his opponent. Not much of a debate, more of a scattered interview.
Craig vs. Wolpert [video]
Wolpert has no idea how to do a debate. Wolpert is merely snarky, and Craig flogs him.
Craig has probably won all his debates. He makes many bad arguments, but so do his atheist opponents. It’s the job of each contender to show the flaws in his opponents’ arguments, and Craig consistently does this better than the atheists do.
He’s also more skilled at debating. Most atheist scholars are not experienced in debating, nor in being an apologist for atheism. On the contrary, Craig is one of the best debaters in the world, and has decades of experience with Christian apologetics.
Of course, another possible explanation for Craig’s success is that his arguments are sound, and God does exist. But I don’t think so, and in a later post I’ll show why. I’ll show how to properly respond to Craig’s arguments.
Note: I have not reviewed Craig’s debates with Muslims, since they are less interesting to me.