Friday, October 07, 2011

Stephen Law versus William Lane Craig

I’m thinking of going to the debate between ‘Christian Apologist’ William Lane Craig, and atheist philosopher Stephen Law:

17th October 2011 from 7:30pm – 10pm
Westminster Central Hall, Storeys Gate, London, SW1H 9NH
Premier Christian Radio Debate on the existence of God against atheist philosopher Stephen Law, who is also editor of the magazine of the Royal Institute of Philosophy THINK.
Law discusses it on his blog in several posts, the latest of which is here. One of the commenters on Stephen’s blog says
This is not being regarded as a game or some dry academic exercise by them. You are there to be beaten, defeated, humiliated and ridiculed, and, by extension, so is the whole atheistic worldview that you represent.
But then again, perhaps not. In what sense one can ‘win’ a debate like this? A show of hands is foolish, given who will be turning up (diehard supporters of Law, diehard supporters of Craig, neither side likely to be convinced by any argument on the opposing side). The only way to ‘win’ at logic is to survive careful analysis of your arguments, performed in a dark and quiet room, for at least five hours, alone. Logic and debate are quite different things, as is obvious from the following comments at an atheist website 

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.e. it is conceded that Craig is a good debater, yet his arguments are flawed.

Also, I was really not sure who to support. I studied Craig as part of my theology diploma, and I thought his arguments were slippery and crowdpleasing. On the other hand, I have a visceral dislike of atheism. In the end, Michael Sullivan decided it for me. In an excellent post here, he says that “One does not reason to Christianity or reason to Catholicism in the sense that philosophy ever proves (in any sense) that the Christian doctrines are true.”

That is entirely Ockham’s position (as I understand it). So I shall support Law against Craig, as if it mattered. Is Michael right? Well, Thomas thought you could reason to Christianity, and perhaps prove it in some sense. And Phillips has this to say:

Just as in S. Thomas's day there were those who maintained that the existence of God is to be accepted by faith alone, and so is not to be demonstrated, so there are also in our own. It is, in fact, felt by those who take this view to be, in some sort, impious to attempt to prove what they firmly believe; and possibly there is mixed with this attitude a kind of false mysticism, as if they had already a kind of direct intuition of God. All that has been said earlier as to the nature of the human intellect and its proper object runs counter to such an idea as this, for we are convinced that we know the immaterial and supersensible by means of the material and sensible; the proper object of man's intellect being the natures of material things. Moreover, it is clear that to say that we know God's existence by faith is to make an assertion which refutes itself, since no one can accept anything on the authority of God, i.e. by faith, who is not first convinced that there is a God. Hence S. Thomas says here in answer to this objection, that the existence of God is not an article of faith, but one of the 'preambula' to the articles of faith, natural knowledge being presupposed by faith, as nature is by grace, and in general that which is perfectible by perfection. (my emphasis)


Michael Sullivan said...

Distinguo. I think that one can reason one's way to monotheism, and that one can convincingly show that Christianity is the most rational of the monotheistic religions, and that it is likely that some existing religion is true. But that doesn't prove the Christian doctrines or the authority of the Church; it only shows that it is not less rational to accept them than any of the alternatives.

I suspect that Aquinas was more confident about the possibility of arguing for the faith because he could not conceive of the kinds of mindsets modern objections to religion stem from. As he says early in the Contra Gentiles, when arguing with people who don't share your religion one must argue on the basis of what both already concede to be true. When the opponent is an Aristotelian-leaning Muslim there's a lot of shared ground from which to argue. But how would Aquinas argue in such a way as to convince a Nietzschean who thinks that the concept of truth is merely an intellectual expression of the will to power? What grounds can settle that debate which both sides would accept?

I suspect that most modern apologetics is at least as much about rhetoric as it is about logic and so as much an appeal to the appetites and the will as to the reason. (Of course this is also true of much or most anti-apologetics, greats like Nietzsche included.) In the end no arguments for religious doctrines are rationally compelling in the sense that a mathematical argument can be - to that extent I agree with Dr Vallicella. The subject-matter doesn't admit of that degree of compulsion. Presenting a valid argument can only go so far if your hearer meets its result with revulsion and contempt and would prefer to abandon any premise whatsoever- the existence of truth, causality, or what have you - to avoid it.

Michael Sullivan said...

Of course, when I say that one cannot give compelling or demonstrative arguments for religious doctrines, I don't include the existence of God among them. As your quote points out, the existence of God is presupposed by monotheistic religion, not (by thinking people anyway) accepted on the authority of religion, and non-sectarian philosophy can provide arguments for it the denial of which, in my opinion, involve either unacceptable contradictions or the unacceptable denial of self-evident truths.

Crude said...

On the other hand, I have a visceral dislike of atheism.

Pardon my ignorance, and if this is too personal just ignore it and trash the comment. But, are you an atheist?

Edward Ockham said...

>>this is too personal just ignore it and trash the comment. But, are you an atheist?

Too personal. But I'll leave your comment.

Edward Ockham said...

But note my post from 5 years ago where I discuss the possibility that all theists are really atheists.

It's a bit like sex. We will never know the truth about sex because everyone lies, consciously or unconsciously, about sex. So for theology.

Crude said...

That doesn't seem to be what your post discussed the possibility of - but you're the one who wrote it, so you'd know the meaning more than me.

Fair enough on the question. Does that mean all atheists also lie about theology, the way you suggest all people lie about sex and all theists lie about theology? And what do you mean regarding your visceral dislike of atheism?

Edward Ockham said...

>>Does that mean all atheists also lie about theology, the way you suggest all people lie about sex and all theists lie about theology? And what do you mean regarding your visceral dislike of atheism?

I'm not sure what any of this means.