Invitation to a debate

July 11, 2013 • 2:25 pm

I got this email a short while ago from a religious publisher:

Dear Dr. Coyne,

My name is [name redacteed] and I lead the [name of division and publisher]. Dr. William Lane Craig is one of our authors and we are planning to organize a debate next April or May in Chicago, and would like to invite you to participate as his opponent.  I let Dr. Craig know that I was planning to contact you, and he welcomes the opportunity to debate, and has suggested this topic:  Are Science and Religion Incompatible?  We think this will be a good opportunity for two opposing positions on this issue to have a fair hearing, and to benefit a wide audience both in person and online.

If you’re interested we can discuss additional details, but I wanted to first share the idea and hear your thoughts.

Thanks, Dr. Coyne.
[name redacted]

My response:

No thank you. It would look good on his c.v., but not so good on mine.


154 thoughts on “Invitation to a debate

  1. I attended a debate on this question here in Milwaukee a year or two ago put on by some religious organization near the university. Lutherans, I think. They had a local philosopher (himself religious) debating a traveling theologian. What a joke.

      1. Kind Sir, I take it that you are sincerely interested in debating Mr. Craig. Perhaps you would care to extend him an invitation.

        (You are on my very long “To Read” list. All the best to you.)

        Can anyone here offer a reasonably good reason why Mr. Loftus should not debate Mr. Craig, so long as he can bear up under what I find to be Mr. Craig’s particular, unique irksomeness? Why not add to the evidentiary audio visual documentation (Harris, Hitchens, Krauss, etc.) of opponents raking Mr. Craig over the coals? I myself can abide Mr. Craig’s irksomeness in order to regale in his opponents’ rhetorical rapier flourishes.

        1. It is there: It would look good on the c.v. of creationism, but not so good on science’s.

          There are less controversial ways to pull over fence sitters, than what looks like silly game of “I dare you” [visions of car movies, where the cars meet front end to front end] and above all gives undue credit to ‘alternatives’. Say, movies and books.

          Especially it gives undue credit to their methods too. Dialectics is the age old game of the religious and their theologians. It is not much a method of Enlightenment outside of democracy and its unfortunate game board of party ideologues.

          Granted, you will reach some that you wouldn’t else. And no one can block you. Just try to dissuade.

      2. I ‘m reading “God or Godless”. It’s the first book of yours that I’ve read, and I’m enjoying it and the engaging style of the book even though your co-author’s apologist arguements are making me seriously roll my eyes.

        1. Same here. I am on chapter 19 of 22. His co-author Randall, who is trying to defend the “God” side, is dishonest, infantile and has little knowledge of science. Like all theologians he makes things up and tells outright lies.

    1. Actually, I think this is a classic example of being recognized as a worthy target by the opposition being a compliment.

  2. “I let Dr. Craig know that I was planning to contact you, and he welcomes the opportunity to debate, and has suggested this topic: Are Science and Religion Incompatible?”

    Why don’t they just man up and admit they’d much rather debate: Is Creationism and Evolution Incompatible?

    To which the obvious answer is yes.

      1. The comment below the article is hilarious:

        “Her entire argument for Creationism is that the Bible is more entertaining than The Origin of Species. Okay, then I believe in faster-than-light travel because Star Trek is more entertaining than Einstein’s “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies.” ”

        Having read On the Origin of Species, on the electrodynamics of Moving Bodies, as well as some supposedly entertaining parts of the Babble, I would disagree. I find Origin much more entertaining than the bible.

  3. I’m not sure I’d be capable of a cordial debate with WLC, what with his abominable endorsement of mass genocidal rape and all. Sure, sane and rational people know that Numbers 31 is purest fiction, but WLC not only argues that it isn’t, but that the real victims weren’t the slaughtered Midianites and the raped pre-pubescent girls and the enslaved pre-pubescent boys, but the poor Israelite soldiers who had to do all the slaughtering and raping and enslaving.

    The man is a monster, not fit for civil society and polite company.

    Thank you for refusing to give him a platform from which to spew his vile and hateful propaganda.



        1. I’m with Ben, here.

          One gets the impression from watching him debate god and morality that he harbors a barely-concealed, perverse lust to enjoy the “freedoms” he’s always ascribing to other animals.

          It doesn’t seem to me that one can make the arguments he does, and simply ignore the refutations provided by Harris, Kagan, etc, with a fully functioning sense of empathy.

    1. “Sure, sane and rational people know that Numbers 31 is purest fiction, but WLC not only argues that it isn’t, but that the real victims weren’t the slaughtered Midianites and the raped pre-pubescent girls and the enslaved pre-pubescent boys, but the poor Israelite soldiers who had to do all the slaughtering and raping and enslaving.”

      Well, that does make perfect sense, if you truly believe and accept what is in the christian bible. In a way I find it refreshing when a WLC commits so completely to his religion.

      The very disgust that his positions engender in most decent people, and I am sure many christians are uncomfortable with many of his arguments, nicely illustrate how fucked up christianity is.

      WLC is a True Christian™. He clearly demonstrates for all to see, granted if they are capable of it, that the closer you adhere to the word of the christian god the more morally reprehensible you will need to be.

  4. Always a pleasure to see Dawkins’ great put-down in use against WLC. Nevertheless, I still harbour a small desire to see the likes of you or Dawkins demolish him in debate.

    Although, these events seem less about debate, and more about offering up good one-liners for each camp to repeat to one another afterwards. I’ve watched WLC debate Sam Harris and the Hitch – both times thinking WLC was left dumbfounded.

    Ask a Christian, however, and they’ll likely think WLC came up on top! This astonishes me, and highlights the differences in perspective that permeates even our most basic judgements. I adore watching the Hitch at his best, but how many people in those theology school did he really have any impact upon?

    Perhaps time will be better spent at delivering an early vaccination against these sorts of ideas, rather than the hope that one can deliver a decisive cure.

  5. As to the proposed debate topic, “Are Science and Religion Incompatible?”

    Define “compatible.”

    They are logically incompatible, in the sense that science is the enterprise of apportioning belief in proportion with a rational analysis of empirical observations, and religion is the business of apportioning belief based upon anything but a rational analysis of empirical observation.

    They are compatible in the sense that many humans are capable of exercising doublethink and holding to both religious and scientific ideas simultaneously. However, in this sense, one must also consider marriage and adultery to be compatible.

    And science is also quite capable of empirically observing and rationally analyzing the human practices of religion — especially the sciences of anthropology and psychology. And religion generates equally useful answers to any questions it asks, so it should come as no surprise that religious perspectives on science are as incoherent as religious perspectives on any other topic. If all that constitutes compatibility, then so be it.

    If there’s anything else interesting to consider on the subject, I can’t imagine what it could possibly be. For me, that would mean a two-minute opening statement to say exactly what I just wrote, and the rest of the time would be spent playing defense to WLC’s Gish Gallop Bible thumping. Great for his cause, but otherwise a thorough waste of time.



    1. “If there’s anything else interesting to consider on the subject, I can’t imagine what it could possibly be.”

      Exactly right. It’s like debating abortion- there is absolutely nothing new to say on the subject.

      1. “It’s like debating abortion- there is absolutely nothing new to say on the subject.”

        How about, is making birth control comprehensive and dependable enough to make abortion largely unnecessary, a worthy societal goal? And if birth control is dependable and easily accessible, then should people bear the responsibility of pregnancy and abortion made illegal (in most cases)?

        The question would at least separate the the catholic types from those who genuinely believe that abortion is immoral but birth control is not.

        For the record, I’m pro-choice. It’s just that i can still come up with some interesting hypotheticals,IMO.

        Regarding creationism, I can’t come up with anything new.

      1. And JAC’s fan club will say there’s no need to publicly humiliate WLC again since he has lost every debate against an atheist thus far.

        1. That’s simply not true. WLC usually makes the atheist look like an inarticulate idiot who can’t address the points Craig raises – notable exceptions being Sam Harris and especially Shelley Kagan.

          His arguments are almost always completely fallacious but this is disguised through his expert grasp of debating tricks. This is the reason not to debate him, it’s because it’s just a game to him.

          1. You’re so right, it’s just a game to him, and he’s very good at playing it. I’ve long thought that the best thing rational people can do with WLC is ignore him. Jayne

  6. It was funny when Arif kept asking him to specifically lay out the argument for fine tuning and he kept quoting or giving analogies instead.

  7. jerry wish you would …i was hoping you would call bob dutko of wmuz radio in detroit and defend evolution…i was on with him and a guy named dr brady mcmurtry …we need people like you to put those people in their place …THE TRUTH NEEDS TO BE AMPLIFIED THROUGHOUT …IF YOU KNOW YOUR MATERIAL , YOU AND DR ROBERT SAPOLSKY SHOULD STAND UP AND FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT …

    1. No way should Jerry legitimize this “offer”. It’s specious. It’s not even a fight, nor would it “amplify” any facts possessed by Jerry. It would be like debating “Gravity, or Anti-Gravity? Which do you prefer?”

      All legitimate stuff would be lost in the emotional amplification of falsities.

    2. …and Jerry aside, Dr. Sapolsky has WAY better things to do with the limited time he has. To piss away precious minutes would be criminal. Inexcusable.

  8. Ha! Dawkins, too.

    Richard declined the charms and persuasions of the not-so-eminent ‘philosopher-of-religion’ and “…Craig now proposes to place an empty chair on a stage in Oxford next week to symbolise my absence. The idea of cashing in on another’s name by conniving to share a stage with him is hardly new. But what are we to make of this attempt to turn my non-appearance into a self-promotion stunt?”

  9. This type of request for a “debate” on this subject is a parallel to the Iranian President Amadinejad’s promotion about a “debate” on whether the Holocaust ever took place. Despite the overwhelming number of eye-witnesses, photos, and physical evidence (including correspondence, building blueprints, etc), how could a “debate” do anything but fractionally legitimize an absurd fiction: to wit, that the Holocaust “never happened”.

    This type of debate request is in the same vein: despicable.

  10. Well, this was a missed opportunity. Dr. Craig so rarely debates against qualified scientists, especially ones who are specialists in biological evolution. This could have been something really interesting!

    1. “Dr. Craig so rarely debates against qualified scientists…”

      Maybe there’s a clue in there somewhere. 😉

    2. No, it would have been a train wreck.

      Craig doesn’t debate. He preaches. And his “debating” style is what’s called the “Gish gallop.” He throws out, as fast as he can talk (which is quite fast), as many different lies and misconceptions and distortions as he possibly can. Attempting to properly set the record straight on just one would take longer than your allotted time, and he’ll toss out dozens such — and use your failure to address all his points as proof of victory.

      The only way to win a debate with him would be to get right down there in the muck with him. I could possibly pull it off by painting Christianity as the idiotic primitive superstition that it is — magic garden with talking animals and angry wizard, talking plant giving magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero, zombie who gets his kicks from having his intestines fondled through a gaping chest wound — but it would get really ugly really fast, and I’d probably get lynched in the parking lot by all the Christians who had never heard anybody say anything like that before.

      Make no mistrake: Jerry would have to have been even more of an idiot than WLC to have accepted this “challenge,” and Jerry’s mama didn’t raise no dummies.



      1. Laurence Krauss is having a “moderated discussion” with Craig in Melbourne soon. It’s not a debate, and the title is “Is it reasonable to believe there’s a god?” which may slow his galloping down, hard to say.Craig is called upon to justify his position with this topic, so maybe he’ll have to say something concrete instead of just telling lies about science. I am torn because I’d love to see Laurence, but the thought of listening to Craig makes me feel queasy.

        1. I think I’m torn about that, too.

          On the one hand, I don’t think WLC deserves to be granted the respect of civility in polite company.

          On the other hand, if there’s anybody capable of ripping WLC a new one, it’s Krauss…and if there ever were the perfect debating question for such a take-down, it’s this one.

          Krauss, after all, quite literally wrote the book on a universe from nothing. And if we don’t need universe-creating gods, what’s the point in obscure provincial gods like Jesus? The only remaining gap one could possibly try to shove a god in is the origins of the laws of nature, and that’s pretty self-evidently absurd. So we don’t need gods to explain 99.9999999999% of the universe, but we need a god to explain that last smidgen?

          And Krauss isn’t afraid of plain speaking and calling people out on their stupidity.

          If Krauss truly goes biblical on WLC’s ass, as one might hope he would, it could potentially be a game-ender for WLC. Exposing him as the ignorant, superstitious foolish snake oil salesman he is would be a payoff suitable for the risk of granting him an appearance of legitimacy.

          But it’s still a risk, and the payoff is by no means guaranteed.

          On another note, WLC is billed as a “Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology.” One wonders what research he’s done in the two decades he’s been there. But only because one is irresistibly drawn to train wrecks.


        2. Craig relies on the structure and script of a formal debate to make it look like he knows what he’s talking about.

          Get him off script and trying to deal with points/refutations as they come up in a conversation and he really comes off as being at a loss. Cf the discussion with Shelly Kagan someone recommended in a thread a week ago or so.

  11. I had to Google him because I didn’t know who he was. The top Google predicted search: “William Lane Craig idiot”

    For Jerry Coyne, “Jerry Coyne blog”

  12. WLC’s arrogance and special pleading in debate with Bart Ehrman helped push me off the fence and interrogate Christianity as a critic, rather than a believer, which has led to my apostasy and atheism. I am grateful for his superciliousness – it helped free my mind from magical thinking.

    I’m also glad you shot him down. I think the best response to apologists who want to debate the veracity of their beliefs is to position them as the fairy-tales they are. They want to believe that they are engaging in an effort of knowledge building but, in reality, they are nothing but self-rationalizing their preferred propaganda. It is quite obvious to anyone who finds the stories they believe to be legend instead of history.

    John Loftus’s point that apologists desire to debate topics of faith causes them to lose the debate prior to having it. If they need to debate the reality of their faith then it is not as self-evident as they claim and probably is a product of their imagination.

  13. Pilfered from his wiki page:

    Mr. Craig is a critic of the “New Atheism” as well as “active homosexuality”.

    Wiki also tells us that Craig “examines New Testament material dealing with the resurrection, and concludes that the resurrection is the most plausible explanation of the historical data.”

    1. “Craig “examines New Testament material dealing with the resurrection, and concludes that the resurrection is the most plausible explanation of the historical data”

      I wonder if he uses the same “logic” to conclude that Heracles really must have been sired by Zeus, otherwise how else could he have completed those 12 Labours?

        1. Spot on! The religious are too happen to use logic and other criticisms against other religions, but they are or pretend to be blind that those arguments equally apply to their own religion as well.

  14. If you change your mind I can offer you some tips in dealing with WLC especially when it comes to evolution. He makes the same basic arguments over and over again. He for example, thinks evolution was a miracle caused by god because of how rare it is for humans to have evolved. What you have to do with Craig is press really hard to make him squirm on animal suffering caused by evolution and know what tricks he’s going to use to get out of it.

    1. “Animals don’t have souls. They’re just faking suffering.”

      That’s basically his response.

      Really, unless you’re a Hitchens level rhetorician, there is no reason to bother with Craig. He drags you down to his level and beats you with experience.

      The only possible alternative is to just ignore the topic of discussion, and attack Craig for his adamant declaration to never change his mind, and his defense of mass child murder. Screw the rules of the debate, and just call him out for the amoral, dishonest person he is.

      Sure, it’s an emotional appeal that ignores the actual arguments… but really, that’s exactly what Craig is doing. Fair game at that point.

    2. Yes, nail him to the wall on animal cruelty–show some videos of animals in pain. Remind the audience that the anxiety they feel is called “compassion” and “sympathy” which are innate human attributes, present in other soulless and pain-impervious primates. Show a video of Damien Aspinall being reunited with a gorilla after 5 years. Nail him on the hominid family tree and ask why God elected to rest on the 7th day and extended that sabbatical for 4,599 million years before even bothering with human beings.

      1. Remind the audience that the anxiety they feel is called “compassion” and “sympathy” which are innate human attributes…

        Ah, but then William Sociopath Craig will refute that by demonstrating by saying that he has demonstrated in debate after debate that he doesn’t possess an ounce of compassion – ergo, it isn’t inate. Checkmate.

    1. Worse still, he argues that those who murder children actually do them a great service: the children go straight to heaven and spend the rest of eternity in incomparable joy. No real harm there, and everybody has a lot of fun.

      1. Even more worse still, he wants us all to have sympathy for those doing all the raping and murdering, because of the traumatic memories they’ll have to endure for the rest of their lives. Isn’t their love for YHWH so impressive that they’d be willing to do that to themselves just because he asked it of them?

        Brain bleach…where’d I put the fucking brain bleach….


    2. I’d respond, “With whom?” WLC is like Ann Coulter. He’s on the “fleece the right wing devout Xians” bandwagon. Now I’m torn: I’m all for fleecing the right wing devout Xians; however, these people have about as much integrity is your traveling roofer.

  15. I remember hearing* Craig say that he opposed evolution for scientific reasons. It’s *that* kind of person one would be dealing with.

    *Think it was in his debate with Hitchens

    1. Well, you could always tell him he’s a motherfucking sonofabitch cocksucking asshole — not that there’s anything worng with that — but that’s not exactly Jerry’s style.



  16. Bravo!! I’ve always felt that debating people like Dr. Craig only lends legitimacy to their lunacy.

  17. You should just put a variation of that as your standard email signature and reply “see signature”. 🙂

  18. You’ll talk, write and blog about it – even claim we should change official stances about it – but not debate it. Doesn’t seem genuine.

    1. Exactly. Reading stuff gives you the chance to think about what you’ve read, mull it over, etc.

      On the other hand, debates often degenerate into sports where the advantage goes to those with “debating skill” rather than to those who have actual evidence on their side.

      Example: some of the best debaters are members of the Flat Earth Society.

  19. Hi Jerry — This is interesting. I just reached out WLC a couple of days ago to invite him to debate me. He declined, on the grounds that he cutting back on speaking and debates so that he could finish a book, part of which will be delivered as a series of lectures in 2015.

    Maybe now that he won’t be debating you, he will have the time to debate me?

    1. Carl Zimmer –
      “Thanks to everyone for their patience this afternoon. I just want to end my thread by explaining why I couldn’t stop responding to @page88 & her column “Why I Am A Creationist.” (via TwitLonger) See, I was an English major in college, where I was exposed abundantly to the sort of “everything is a text” talk that Heffernan indulged in today. I now see great value in looking at the rhetorical structure of science, but I came to realize that to a lot of people, it became a way to not really have a stake in anything. I have my belief, and you have yours. We can all get along in our own little belief bubbles. Even when it comes to science. And then the creationists grabbed onto this & said, “We look at the same evidence & see it differently.” That is not true. And we have ways of demonstrating that. Creationism–be it young Earth or Foucaultian or aesthetic–doesn’t lead us to appreciate the world. Evolutionary insights let us see marvels in bumblebees (my own obsession today) and the rest of nature. This principle applies to medicine–see the alternate reality of anti-vaxxers–and many other areas. Heffernan’s column is not very important in itself, but it speaks to broader attitude that is worth taking on. Her tweets today helped to make this all the more clear–I hope.”

      1. No problem – I hope Jerry takes note of this. Zimmer is a great writer – very thoughtful. I think he did a great job of taking Heffernan apart.

  20. Dr Coyne, I’m not sure what turned you off debating the eminent Dr Craig. Is it because the flawed debate format is the only way that someone devoid of actual arguments (like Craig) can come off looking decent? Is it the fact that the audiences for these things are stacked with his sycophants? Is it because he recycles 30 year old cosmology arguments that were retracted 20 years ago? (ie, Hawking’s singularity at the big bang). Is it because he will get roundly thumped in a debate by the likes of Krauss, Hitchens and Harris, then try to spin it to make himself look like the winner? Or is simply because he is an apologist for infanticide and slavery? Which one put you off?

  21. Exegesis from holy books, mindless faith, supernatural causation (miracles), and fantasies v. directly looking at reality, scientific induction, natural causation, and real knowledge–100% incompatible! The issue is the same in every sphere of thought about the universe or human life within it. Ever notice the misology in Bible? I’ve never seen a science book threaten its readers with eternal torment if they didn’t believe it on faith.

  22. If you read Don Prothero’s excellent “Evolution: What the Fossils Say” (still amazed I got a Kindle version of it for $3.98!), he gives a thorough summary of the tactics used by these clowns when they “debate” someone.

    Serious scientists know better and wouldn’t go near the guy. Happy to see Jerry do the same. And Jerry you must have enjoyed using that line!

  23. Any opportunity to debate (kick ass) the likes of WLC or any of his ilk must be siezed, regardless of the inherent silliness of the endeavor, Mr Loftus would be an excellent opponent as well, almost finished his latest offering,”Why I Became an Atheist”, i highly recommend.

    1. That isn’t Loftus’ latest offering.

      “The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True” is a year newer, as is “God or Godless?: One Atheist. One Christian. Twenty Controversial Questions” written with Randal Rauser (who is blown away by John).

  24. “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience”.

    Origin uncertain, I’ve seen it attributed to Mark Twain.

    1. Like it!

      One of my favourites is along the lines of not being right to get into a battle of wits with an unarmed man.

      Not certain if WLC qualifies as “unarmed” though.

  25. Well, I’d say that if you have a bit of time to set aside for this little farce Jerry, go for it!
    There is a real benefit to having these little contests…
    1) It demonstrates to the WLC followers that atheists have a rational, coherent and very powerful set of arguments that contradict their own world view. I’m sure that this MUST sow a seed of doubt in even the most fervent faithhead. If only a few such have seeds of doubt are planted, I’d say it’s still worth the effort.
    2) It shows that atheists are moral, humane,loving and engaged members of society. And that they ENJOY their life. This is something that we need to drive home as much as possible.
    3) Every atheist attendee will pick up something from the arguments you pose against WLC, giving them good counter arguments if they ever run into a similar debate. And it possibly gives the atheist the confidence to speak up in such circumstances.

    Arguing EVOLUTION vs. CREATIONISM gives a respectability to creationism that it in no way deserves. Arguing against religion or the religious outlook is TOTALLY DIFFERENT. I really don’t think we gain anything much from not participating participating in such debates.

  26. Thank you JC for not endorsing the ridiculous position held by religion. Craig aside, I think it an absolute mistake to continue to engage in debates of this nature. Such as a recent debate I viewed on line wherein Dawkins participates in an “Is there a god” debate. How stupid would it be for an evolutionary scientist to debate Ken Hamm? Would it really qualify as a debate. Craig is just a bit more polished but his position is just as fabricated.

    Let’s make this really clear, THERE IS NO DEBATE! We have ignorance on one side and reason and evidence on the other. Any event where an atheist engages in these so called “debates” offers implicit credibility to the their ridiculous arguments. Let’s use JC as the guide here and suspend all such nonsense permanently.

  27. Since it appears that the proposed debate will not happen, here’s my complete and unabridged answer to the proposed debate question:

    Science and religion are incompatible. Their methods are incompatible. Science relies on evidence, experimentation, and logic; religion on authority, tradition and faith. Their results are incompatible; see any book on science for details. “That principle, the separation of the true from the false by experiment or experience, that principle and the resultant body of knowledge which is consistent with that principle, that is science.” (Richard Feynman)

  28. Atheists should consider debating professional apologists such as William Lane Craig, but insist it take place in print.

    It’s a lot more difficult to win by performance over quality of argument in the written medium.

    1. I would add that violations of the rules will still happen, so I’d get them agreed on beforehand, including agreement on a moderator. The problem is, how can you find a seemingly appropriate one? Doug Hofstadter I think it is points this out in the context of the dialogues of Galileo; how do you have an impartial third party when one of the other two is so obviously dishonest, etc. (Or alternatively, “biased against”, from the perspective of the WLC side, to be fair.)

      1. If it’s a series of back-and-forth letters to each other you’d don’t need a moderator. The model is the Andrew Sullivan-Sam Harris debate. Obvious dishonesty or obscurantism has a way of sticking out more clearly in print. In oral debate it’s easier to keep talking while the audience can’t immediately check the record.

  29. Craig wants to debate biology now, does he?

    Normally he has a list of subjects he will automatically blackball and refuse to defend.

    Perhaps he is changing and realising that he has to defend his beliefs, rather than refuse to debate any topic where he feels he cannot defend what he believes.

  30. Lawrence Krauss is debating him in 3 cities in Australia. I’ve seen him on YouTube – that’s enough. Wise decision and brilliant riposte.

  31. “We think this will be a good opportunity for two opposing positions on this issue to have a fair hearing, and to benefit a wide audience both in person and online.”

    No, no, and no.

  32. The invitation to debate is a religious trick to pretend that all beliefs are equivalent. But it’s like a native tribesman coming out of the jungle with a bucket of chicken entrails, then flying to New York to debate with a heart doctor the best way to diagnose heart disease!

  33. Socrates/Plato characterized sophistry as the rhetorical ability to make the weaker argument appear the stronger. To be an accomplished sophist is to use words to convince, independent of either subject or knowledge about the subject. This is why sophistry is the enemy not only of truth but of democracy: because politicians and religionists employ it so effectively among the ignorant.

  34. Why does he want to debate whether science and religion are compatible? Since Craig rejects evolution he would have to agree with Jerry that they aren’t compatible. By the way, John Loftus would be the worst person to debate Craig. Loftus made a fool of himself in his previous efforts. Jeffrey Lowder would be a much better bet.

    1. Thomas, Thomas. The “worst person” to debate Craig is the person who says that I am the “worst person” to debate Craig. So at least I’m not the worst person after all. Whew, that’s a step in the right dirertion for me. You can’t possibly be serious.

        1. John, sorry for any offence. I am a genuine fan of your work, but I don’t think debating is your forte.

          As I said, a debate with Craig on the compatibility of science and religion is pointless. If Craig was honest he would have to admit that he doesn’t think they are compatible, in which case he would be in agreement with Jerry. A more interesting debate would be one on that subject between Jerry and a Christian who also accepts evolution.

          1. Thomas, if I watched you learn to ride a bike would it be reasonable for me to tell you, as you did badly, that riding a bike is not your forte?

            All you offer is assertions. I linked to a recent debate. No more mere assertions. Give specifics on why you make your assertions or cease making them.

            1. John, since we are on the subject of evolution here’s a little challenge: one piece of evidence for evolution is the similarity of the bones and their relative positions in the forelimbs of humans, bats, dogs etc. The standard creationist argument against this is that this similarity simply reflects the fact that God designed all of these creatures.

              I think the creationist argument can easily be refuted. What would you say to this argument in a debate?

              1. This would be my answer: we test a scientific theory by seeing whether it can explain facts about the world. The more facts a theory can explain, particularly different kinds of facts, the more successful a theory is. We also try to see whether the facts in question can be explained as well by any other scientific theory; note the word “scientific”.

                In my example, I pointed to just one of the many facts that are explained by the theory of evolution. The creationist response is to say that the theory of divine creation explains this fact just as well. There is a simple reason why the creationist response is not permissible: creationists are putting a hurdle in front of the theory of evolution that no other scientific theory has to face. They are refusing to accept evidence for evolution because the evidence is equally well explained by a supernatural theory. That doesn’t happen to any other scientific theory. No one doubts Einstein’s theory of general relativity on the grounds that God might be causing matter to move in such a way as to suggest that space is curved.

                John, feel free to offer your own response. Since you offered to take Jerry Coyne’s place in a debate I assume that you would be happy to debate questions about evolution.

              2. Thomas, I would not debate evolution. It isn’t my speciality. I know my limitations. Tell me this, why must people debate issues outside their specialty before they can debate effectively? Would someone like Jerry Coyne be a good debater if he could not debate the coherence of the incarnation, trinity, the atonement, or the resurrection claims about Jesus?

                I don’t need fans like you.

            2. John,

              “Thomas, if I watched you learn to ride a bike would it be reasonable for me to tell you, as you did badly, that riding a bike is not your forte? “

              Actually, yes it would…wouldn’t it?
              “Forte” means a person’s “most highly developed characteristic, talent, or skill.

              If you are still at the learning-to-ride stage, it entails that riding a bike is not your forte. (That’s even more the case if your initial attempts show no particular aptitude for that activity).

              It would also be the case that someone just learning to ride a bike is not ready to enter a race against Lance Armstrong.

              Someone just learning to debate is not a good candidate to enter debate with one of the world’s best debaters.

              Some of the writing I’ve seen from you John is certainly terrific, including The Outsider Test Of Faith. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned, painfully, from the Craig debates is that simply being on the right side of the issue, or writing well about the issues, isn’t remotely enough. Public debate is simply a different animal.
              Craig wins on skill and style (and sometimes substance – even when his own arguments aren’t sound, he’s skilled at picking up real weaknesses in how his atheist opponent has presented an issue).

              The thing is when an atheist debates a theist, especially someone as public as Craig, it’s not just you in there, it’s us.
              You can’t help but represent the arguments-for-atheism. And every time an atheist looks bad in a debate, it can make atheism look bad (if one isn’t carrying a flag for one’s side, what’s the point of these *public* debates, vs arguing over beers in the pub?)

              So like most atheists, I cringe at the idea of sending yet another not-ready-for-prime-time debater for Craig to slaughter. And I think this sentiment is understandable.

              I’ve watched Craig for the last 13 years or so and I am damned positive I know how to rebuff his arguments and feel like I’d know the correct strategy to nail him down.
              But I also know I’d be spanked in a public debate with him because I simply don’t have
              THAT skill.

              No one is saying you ought to stop building your public debate skills, John.
              And surely they will improve. But just the same reasonable to conclude someone still learning how to debate isn’t ready for Craig.



              1. You again, eh?

                Do I get to tell you what to do? Why do you, an anonymous commentor who does’t have to take responsibility for your comments, and who takes pots shots at real people who use their real names?

                When it comes to debates Craig is the expert of our day. No one on our side is ready for prime time, so to speak. If that’s the criteria then no one is ready, most certainly not Lowder, who only has one debate with an ignoramus of an opponent. So why single me out?

                You do realize that debating doesn’t settle the truth, right, or are you under the mistaken notion they do? They are simply entertaining like a boxing match. The only question that matters is whether people want to see the fight. I take it you don’t. okay, then when it happens, if it does, do not watch it.

                You should know that the reason he doesn’t want to debate me is because doing so will introduce my works to his audience and I don’t think he can answer them, even if debate judges might say he won more debate “points.” That’s the point. Get it.

              2. John,

                I haven’t told you what to do.

                I have only made an assessment from what I’ve seen of your debates, that it’s unlikely you would do well against Craig at this point.

                I’m not “taking pot shots.” I’m looking at your reply and noting that it didn’t make sense as a reply to someone saying debate was not your forte. The logic of your own response – depicting yourself as a still learning beginner – implies you are not ready for Craig.

                And I feel the same way about your debate skills, from the debates I’ve seen, as well. Not polished. Not ready yet.

                I don’t comment on Lowder because I haven’t seen him debate. Some people DO show an aptitude for debate very early. The first time I heard Sam Harris I thought *holy sh#t this guy speaks so logically, cogently and strings together arguments so effectively, I want to see this guy taking on theists in debate* and he generally moved from strength to strength in debates.

                (Though some criticized Harris’ tactic in his debate with Craig, he at least made his own case with great effectiveness and cogency, and I actually think he prevailed in the debate over Craig – the criticisms of Harris I feel tend to miss what Harris actually did in the debate).

                I’m sorry if the debates I’ve heard thus far from you don’t provide me with such confidence, but that’s my assessment and forgive me but I’ll dare to have an opinion on this.

                “You should know that the reason he doesn’t want to debate me is because doing so will introduce my works to his audience and I don’t think he can answer them, even if debate judges might say he won more debate “points.” That’s the point. Get it.”

                Do you have any good evidence for that claim?

                Until I see evidence, I see no reason to think it true. Craig has been debating top experts on all aspects of the bible and Christianity – not just atheists but well regarded biblical scholars in their own right who bring lots of ammo to the table. Craig even has the hubris to publicly debate physics against a physicist, Victor Stenger! I haven’t seen anything in your debates that suggest you have material Craig hasn’t encountered before, and I can not imagine, given that Craig has been happy to take on any big name – – that your performances in debates thus far have struck fear into Craig’s heart.

                I’d love for you to be able to take Craig apart in a debate. But we atheists like to infer from the evidence we have, and I don’t see the evidence suggesting Craig is afraid of you, or that you would do well in debate with him (at this point).

                That said, I note that your new book God or Godless is getting some good notices for your part of the debate. So kudos there.

                Also, I’ve just begun listening to the debate with Randal Rauser. I felt so far you have started off making sharp points!
                It suggests you are indeed improving. And I’ll be the first to come back and say “I think John is ready for Craig” if I’m left with that impression at the end of the debate.

                Not that it would matter I guess. Even while praising your writing on these issues, if one also voices skepticism about your current debating skills pitted against Craig, one goes immediately in your blacklist anyway.


              3. mr loftus is a brilliant thinker …have read and engaged him several times …yes wlc is a good debater…BUT if he is wrong, then all we have to do is stay on point, take the offensive and re-iterate over and over the same point, where craig is wrong and go from there…kalams cosmological argument is his tour de force …but can easily be overcome …do not leave this argumentative stance until you can convince craig and the audience where craig is wrong !!…and ultimately demonstrate that every position that craig posits after this fact….IS WRONG !!…BECAUSE HIS IRREDUCIBLE AXIOMS ARE UNTENABLE ….

              4. Vaal, John Loftus thinks we are the same person; that’s why you got both barrels. That sort of paranoia is unfortunate. I tried to apologize to him for the harshness of my original comments but the damage was already done. He has now put me in the category of enemy.

                I think it would be a mistake for Loftus to debate Craig even on subject on which Loftus would feel comfortable. But since Loftus has offered himself as a replacement for Jerry Coyne, Craig would be entitled to request a debate with Loftus on the originally suggested subject, i.e. the compatibility of science and religion. This would be a terrible massacre.

              5. @ Thomas
                Really? First Loftus has a “blacklist” that you’re on, now you’re his “enemy”? Are you sure you’re not taking yourself a little too seriously?

      1. John, on reflection I think that you are right and my remarks were ill-considered. I apologize unreservedly. I’m still a fan, by the way.

        1. John, I get the impression that you think I’m Vaal. I’m not. I assume that you don’t accept my apology. Fair enough. As I said, I think on reflection that it was wrong to denigrate your debating skills. However, I don’t see anything wrong in thinking that your talent lies in an area other than debating.

          Remember again that Craig challenged Jerry Coyne to a debate on the compatibility of science and religion. You said that Craig should debate you instead. That implies that you would want to debate Craig on the same subject. You have already shown that you wouldn’t be qualified to do that.

          1. Thomas, Vaal had commented earlier. When he did so again I responded to him, not you. That should be obvious. Hint: It’s not all about you. I’m glad I didn’t thank you for your apology since I now see I shouldn’t. I see you are still making assertions without looking at the evidence from my recent debate. And I never said I would debate Craig on the topic he wanted to debate Jerry on.

            Stop your madness. Stop telling me what I should do or else I should have the same priviledge to tell you what to do. Since you persist I’ll have assume I can. so here goes. Learn how to think instead.

            As I said, I don’t néed fans like you.

              1. John this conversation is very strange.
                Your replies don’t seem to bear much relation to what I’m writing. Nowhere have I argued, or implied, you need my “permission” for anything. That’s a non-sequitur.

                Than, after implying I’m telling you what to do (which I’m not), you tell me I am not to respond. Well, since you posted the evidence I asked for, and even though I haven’t your permission to respond :-)….

                Looking at that second-hand report of Craig’s
                response, and given he apparently hasn’t read your book, and given what I’ve seen previously in your debates, I see little reason to doubt Craig’s response. I don’t think he sees you as Big Fish.

                I like your outsider’s test, but it’s essentially a re-iteration of what atheists have been arguing for a long time.
                It’s well stated! But…not groundbreaking.
                And I did not see in your debates that you have raised issues that Craig is not aware of or hasn’t encountered in some form or another in his many debates, including written debates. Given all this, and given Craig’s willingness to take on so many esteemed opponents before, it remains implausible to me that Craig is dodging you out of fear of encountering some new arguments he feels he can not deal with.
                He’s THE most confident, hubris-filled debater I’ve ever seen.

                I don’t think there is little new atheists can bring to the table, therefore it seems to me that it’s more about which tactics (using sound arguments of course) are most likely to expose Graig’s weaknesses.

                P.S. I hope your book does well, and that you continue to hone your debate skills. Though I may be skeptical of it happening at this point, it would be great to see you eventually pull the rug out from under Craig.


              2. Whoops, should have been: “I think there is little new *that* atheists can bring to the table,…”

                Personally I think one of the main strategies should be to establish ground rules right at the outset of one’s first statement: to flag the fact that Craig is going to often slip between evidential reasoning and simple appeal to a logical possibility (Here’s something you can’t PROVE to be untrue!), and that arguments that appeal to mere logical possibility are
                irrational and not to be taken seriously. While this is a point many atheists in debate raise at some point, I rarely see it hammered home, really clearly, with many real-world examples showing how we’d reject it as irrelevant or irrational.

                Sam Harris is one of the few who make this point quite clear, which I think is one key to his effectiveness in debates.


            1. John, how many times shall I forgive my brother? Was that the real reason why you became an atheist? Was forgiving people too hard? Did the bitterness eat you up inside?

              1. Thomas, you’re hilarious to me. You don’t get it. I do not know who you are. You are anonymous to me. I no more need to forgive you than a bum on the street. Why then should it bother you at all if I don’t?

                Stupid stupid people.

              2. John, so it would be meaningless to forgive an anonymous person but it makes sense to be deeply offended by a comment from an anonymous person?

                Remember that you were trawling through the comments on this post looking for references to yourself. Would you deliberately go to where bums congregate to see whether they show you respect then become enraged if they offend you?

              3. Speaking strictly as an disinterested reader…. IMO, this Thomas/Vaal/John squabbling might be more appropriately dealt with elsewhere.

          2. Thomas,

            I didn’t take John Loftus’s comment that Craig should debate him instead to mean “on the subject of evolution.” John just expressed a desire to debate Craig. I presumed the topic would be one in which John feels confident and competent – not just jumping into Jerry’s specialty.


  35. It’s obvious the challenger has everything to gain and the challenged has nothing to gain. Craig brings up the same points in every debate even though they have been completely demolished in a previous debate. A debate earns him money and prestige among his following and that is all he cares about. Even if a jury votes he has lost, he still wins with the hardcore faithful. He can’t lose even if a few fence sitters abandon Creationism. He does not care about losing a few doubters. It’s like pruning a tree of dead branches, it’s good for the tree. We should not waste our time with the hardcore believers like Craig. We should carefully pick those situations and debaters that might do some good to the fringe believers, like in a non-religious university or scientific environment.

  36. As much as we’d love to think a fine atheist thinker like Jerry might prevail over Craig, the outcome is rigged very heavily in Craig’s favor.

    Too many atheists enter debates with Christians like Craig thinking it ought to be easy, because after all the other guy has to defend having a wacky idea like having some Invisible Friend.

    But Craig has essentially been a professional debater for many decades. He prepares rigorously and has a lot of help. Even months before a debate he has students pour over material written by his opponent and they come up with a huge number of possible counters, written down for Craig (on his laptop, etc) should the objections be raised. In this way Craig can ALWAYS be seen to have “answered” the other side, at least in a way that puts the other side in question, there never being enough time to refute every argument, or counter argument, Craig has raised.

    Craig would have looked at Jerry’s writing on various topics, picked up on all the weak points, and would make sure to drag the debate to wherever Jerry appeared weak.
    (And by appearing weak, I mean that Craig will try to drag the debate to philosophy and metaphysics. Since there is dispute even among secular philosophers about these matters, Craig can always find some big name secular philosophers who disagree with the stance Jerry has taken, so he can say “It’s not just I, from my theistic worldview who finds Jerry’s position untenable, even SECULAR Philosophers such as (fill in blank) have pointed out that such arguments are untenable. Begin the quote-mining…)

    It seems almost the only way to truly “beat” Craig, that is to reveal to the audience his weakness, is to narrow the ranks. You need a format where you can keep pressing Craig *on the same subject,* chasing that rabbit down the hole until he has nowhere else to move. And a more conversation-style debate
    is the best way to do this. The Craig vs Shelly Kagan discussion/debate was a perfect example, where Kagen was able to keep pressing Craig on “but what do you MEAN by that and why should I believe it?” Craig bottomed out and most people saw Craig as the loser in that contest.

    That said, one does need the resources and likely the philosophical chops to chase down Craig’s rabitts, which Kagen had.


  37. “Are Science and Religion Incompatible?” That depends on how you define “compatible.” In the broadest and weakest terms, that could mean “without contradiction.” Thus religion could be compatible with science if the former either makes no testable claims, or the testable claims it does make are not refuted by science. However, the scientific method (evidence and recognizing we don’t have the answers for some things) IS incompatible with the religious method (“revelation” and god-of-the-gaps).

  38. Meaniehead. That’s it; I’m becoming Christian. They’re so much nicer than you atheists.

    (…except when they defend genocide, slavery, and the persecution of homosexuals.)

  39. WLC has always seemed like a grade grubbing adolescent looking for a gold-star, not a serious man looking to wrestle with serious existential or moral questions.

    His adolescent mind-set is very much of the type I embodied and experienced while involving myself in the Evangelical world.

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