William L. Craig and Christopher Hitchens: Does God Exist?

Christopher Hitchens in 2010 (Wikipedia)

On April 4, 2009, William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens met at Biola University to debate the question of God’s existence. Craig is one of the world’s foremost Christian apologists. The late Hitchens was a leading spokesman for the “new atheism” movement.

I was assigned to watch and critique this debate in my graduate apologetics class at Maranatha Baptist Seminary, long ago. I’ll always remember the pure intellectual joy I had when I watched this outstanding debate between two brilliant men. I’m still grateful to Professor Tim Miller (who now holds two PhDs and teaches at Detroit Seminary!) for tasking us with this assignment. 

This is Hitchens’ opening statement:

Here is the cross-examination between Craig and Hitchens, where dogmatic statements are tested by direct questions:

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There are 11 Comments

AndyE's picture

If anyone has not read the book by Larry Taunton, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, I would heartily recommend it.  Taunton used to help set up these debates and became good friends with Hitchens, even though Hitchens was a militant atheist and Taunton a believer.  God used that friendship and Hitchens' cancer to bring about some amazing witnessing opportunities between these two men -- things you would literally never expect.  It shows that no one is out of reach of God's grace and the convicting power of God's word. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Haven’t read it, but thanks for the tip. Here’s a link.

I have just finished reading Craig’s On Guard. It was not quite what I expected, though certainly well reasoned. Maybe I’ll find time to write up a review. After reading Francis Schaeffer and Alvin Plantinga earlier this year, Craig seemed a bit dull. But the book certainly has its strengths as well. I have finally stopped thinking (and in some contexts, saying) that it’s really not possible to prove the existence of God. It certainly is, beyond reasonable doubt. What is impossible is convincing anyone that there is a God. There’s a big difference, and Craig acknowledges this. But if both rational proof of the existence of God and more presuppositional persuasive efforts are incapable of convincing anyone, why should we believe there is something wrong with the former?

Well, for one, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” But this is not a reason to refrain from reasoned argument on the subject. It’s a reason for recognizing that reasoned argument is not enough.

GregH's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Haven't read it, but thanks for the tip. Here's a link.

[amazon 0718091493 thumbnail]

I have just finished reading Craig's On Guard. It was not quite what I expected, though certainly well reasoned. Maybe I'll find time to write up a review. After reading Francis Schaeffer and Alvin Plantinga earlier this year, Craig seemed a bit dull. But the book certainly has its strengths as well. I have finally stopped thinking (and in some contexts, saying) that it's really not possible to prove the existence of God. It certainly is, beyond reasonable doubt. What is impossible is convincing anyone that there is a God. There's a big difference, and Craig acknowledges this. But if both rational proof of the existence of God and more presuppositional persuasive efforts are incapable of convincing anyone, why should we believe there is something wrong with the former?

Well, for one, "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God." But this is not a reason to refrain from reasoned argument on the subject. It's a reason for recognizing that reasoned argument is not enough.

I recently listened to a fascinating series of lectures on Audible (which I heartily recommend by the way because it really clearly traces the philosophical paths from Descartes to post-modernism in a way I can understand). One thing I found interesting was that with a few exceptions (such as Hume), until the past century, most of the prominent philosophers through history believed in some form of a God and went to great lengths to try to prove it. It is also easy to see the progression that occurred that led philosophy and the broader culture away from the concept of God in the 20th century. I have been greatly helped by studying that historical progression from philsopher to philosopher because it helps me understand where people are coming from today both in and out of Christianity (I am not sure there is much difference).

josh p's picture

Greg, another helpful audible offering is Bertrand Russell’s, “A History of Western Philosophy” if you haven’t read it. He comes from a pretty strong bias obviously but it’s good. Sproul’s, “The Consequence of Ideas” and the Durant’s book “The Story of Philosophy” are also good and on Audible.

josh p's picture

Thanks Aaron. I have read the first of those but not the second. I’ll add it to my list. Thanks too Greg for the recommendation. I love Audible. I have over 200 books on it and have learned a ton.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Rather than pay for Audible, check out mp3 audio books from your local library using its app. Free, same thing!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

josh p's picture

Yeah it is a good option but Audible has a much larger library. Librivox is also good for free older books.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Did anybody notice during the debate:

  • Craig argues for generic theism, in keeping with his evidentialist, minimalist approach to apologetics. During the Q&A he cites Calvinism as a particular danger.
  • Hitchens is an orator without much substance here. He actually says little. His British accent and his charm can't mask the shallowness of his statements. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

GregH's picture

TylerR wrote:

Did anybody notice during the debate:

  • Craig argues for generic theism, in keeping with his evidentialist, minimalist approach to apologetics. During the Q&A he cites Calvinism as a particular danger.
  • Hitchens is an orator without much substance here. He actually says little. His British accent and his charm can't mask the shallowness of his statements. 

I watched the debate today. In general, Craig was more prepared. Hitchens to some extent just played defense as I see many atheists do because as he states correctly, it is impossible to prove the negative (that God does not exist).

I was bothered by two things in Craigs' presentation from a rational, philosophical standpoint since that is how Craig stated he was going to argue.

First, 3 of his 5 arguments were weak in my opinion.
* It is not necessary for morality to be objective to at least resemble morality. Craig did not acknowledge the modern/postmodern approach to morality which even if false, does address the objections he was bringing up.
* The resurrection of Jesus argument he was making is just very easy to deal with and discard logically.
* The innate knowledge of God argument. Admittedly, this not far from what Descartes argued, who was not even a Christian. However, the modern philosophical framework has ways of dealing with this that cannot be ignored.

Secondly, there were times where I got the impression that he either really does not understand the position of Hitchens and similar philosophers or was misrepresenting him to score cheap points. Sometimes, I think he was speaking more to the Christian audience than Hitchens. 

On the positive side, his first two arguments seem logically sound and have been around for a long time. In fact, even secular philosophy has been historically more on the side of Craig than the side of Hitchens.

For me, the "something out of nothing" argument is pretty much airtight logically. However, it is important to remember that using logic to prove the existence of a God is a far cry from using logic to prove Christianity. Personally, I believe the first is possible but not the second. I thought it was interesting to see Craig give away creationism quite quickly in an attempt to try to do so. 

PS: in regards to the Calvinism, I thought it interesting that when Hitchens tried to get him to condemn sects within Christianity, Craig brought up Calvinism rather than Catholicism or Mormonism. I wonder why. Perhaps because it gave him cover to claim that the issue was just a friendly debate among friends rather than a significant split between Christianity that puts some in the religion on the wrong side of orthodoxy. I thought that was a dodge.

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