08 Feb 2015

Hitchens vs. Craig: Does God Exist?

Religious 27 Comments

My son and I are watching this debate between the famous atheist and a renowned apologist:

As you can imagine, I now think that Craig has the upper hand, but–as I admitted to my son when he asked about it–if I had watched this same debate when I was in college, I would’ve thought Hitchens destroyed his opponent.

The interesting thing is that both now and back then, I can appreciate the merits of the particular points. What has changed is my opinion on which points are stronger in the balance.

For example, considered by itself, it is nutty that God would be upset with humanity, and would only take us back after we had murdered His Son. Thinking about this point (from Hitchens) makes you reject Christianity as an absurd myth–no rational, loving God is at work here!

However, if you focus on Craig’s arguments about the fine-tuning of the universe and the early Christian martyrs, then you seriously entertain the hypothesis that Jesus was exactly Who He claimed. And if that’s true, then you’re going to interpret the crucifixion as a further evidence of God’s generosity and sacrifice–not as evidence of His warped morality.

Two last comments to show that (I hope) I’m being fair while watching this: Craig is much more methodical in his debating style, but I think he botched his discussion of the multiverse in his opening statement. My son and I replayed it, and we still couldn’t even understand how Craig thought he was defanging the argument that the fine-tuning of the universe exists because we are in one of an infinite number of possible universes, and of course it must support life if we’re looking around measuring the charge on an electron and the speed of light.

27 Responses to “Hitchens vs. Craig: Does God Exist?”

  1. AnonyMouse says:

    Off topic but great fun, just the same


    The Culture Wars:Post-Keynesian Edition.
    Episode 3: Trouble in Paradise!

  2. Major.Freedom says:

    “However, if you focus on Craig’s arguments about the fine-tuning of the universe and the early Christian martyrs, then you seriously entertain the hypothesis that Jesus was exactly Who He claimed. And if that’s true, then you’re going to interpret the crucifixion as a further evidence of God’s generosity and sacrifice–not as evidence of His warped morality.”

    I don’t see how that refutes or challenges the “warped morality” thesis. Seems to me it is just saying “OK OK, sure, 200K years of pain and suffering in human life and only then does God send a redeemer. But that just shows how generous he is!!”

  3. LK says:

    The fact that Christian texts say that some early disciples were prepared to die for the beliefs provides no good evidence that they were true. All sorts of religious lunatics are prepared to die for their beliefs, but they are deluded.

    In reality, we do not even have good evidence that Paul or Peter were martyred. Not even Acts says Paul was martyred! All we have are later Christians myths and legends and rumours, evidence that is itself questionable because it is written by fanatics.

    • guest says:

      They claimed to be eyewitnesses, and were still prepared to die.

      • LK says:

        “They claimed to be eyewitnesses, and were still prepared to die.”

        You mean we have texts written decades after the events they purport to describe referring to people who never speak for themselves in which **it is said that some died or were martyred as Christians.**

        Mainstream New Testament scholarship has concluded — rightly in this case — that the gospels were written decades after Jesus’s death and not by eyewitnesses.

        In fact, only one gospel — the gospel of John — claims to be an eyewitness account and virtually everyone agrees it was written about 100 AD and is the most unreliable and most obviously fictitious.

        Some “evidence”.

        • guest says:

          “You mean we have texts written decades after the events they purport to describe …”

          That’s more the kind of argument you’d have to use since the same text that tells you about the “religious lunatics” who were “prepared to die for their beliefs” also says that they were eyewitnesses.

          A Short Argument for Early Dating of the Gospels

      • knoxharrington says:

        “They claimed to be eyewitnesses, and were still prepared to die.”

        If they claimed to be eyewitnesses then they were lying.

        People die for lies all the time. Heaven’s Gate, the People’s Temple, Order of the Solar Temple to name just a few. And those are just religious lies. Secular lies even more so – I’m not exempting them. The point is this – the fact that people die for beliefs does not mean that those beliefs are true. This is fairly obvious but Christians, for some reason, think this is a powerful argument for the truthfulness of their claims.

        • Robert H says:

          So you know they are lying? And you base this on what? You’re surety in making that claim is good evidence of bias and lack of intellectual honesty.

          Regarding the disciples and followers death you have missed the point entirely. The point is not that they died therefore it is true it is since they were willing to die for something that gave them abuse, grief, and nothing to gain that they believed it was true. Paul (Saul of Tarsus) had a great position among the Jews and literally gave up his high standing for his belief in his encounter with the risen Jesus. Remember, he was beating Christians, seeking where he could find them to do terrible things to them, and even witnessing their deaths. That he left that and became a Christian is something to strongly consider.

    • anon says:

      It’s always fascinating to see talented people transform the improbable into something at least mildly respectable via rhetoric and argumentation. Aquinas is the gold standard for that, but Craig has always struck me as an impressive rhetorician who could stir at least some enthusiasm for any position, no matter how odd it might sound at the outset to non initiates. Now for the knives:

      “If you’re sincerely seeking God, then God will make his existence evident to you.”

      Trivially false; insultingly false. If Craig’s contention were true, all sincere Muslims would convert, as would all sincere Buddhists, Vedic scholars, Catholics, etc. They don’t, because God isn’t a person out there who pops into people’s lives when he feels they deserve it. People suffering on their deathbeds have cried out to their gods for hundreds of generations, and they have always been met with silence precisely because their notion of who or what god should be doesn’t conform to the world that is. There are some terrific medieval stories about people being tortured to death by religious authorities crying out to Jesus for salvation. You might guess how many times Jeshua ben Joseph (or any supernatural being–I doubt the torturee was particular about which deity might save him) intervened.

      Though to be fair to Bill, it’s possible that the torture/murder victim was not sufficiently sincere in his seeking of God at the moment of his greatest suffering, unlike a well-fed, literate 21st-century protestant like Craig whose beliefs are the consequence of pure, Randian rationality.

      The implied corollary that the real reason Buddhist and Hindu monks haven’t converted to Christianity is their lack of sincerity in seeking out some absent deity who watches silently while children, animals, and other innocents suffer and die left and right is why everyone but a cultural Christian rejects Christianity so quickly. If you can understand why you wouldn’t waste your time on an LDS member who doubts your sincerity on the basis of your non-Mormonism–that is to say, on the basis of his own unacknowledged tribalism, which is so apparent to everyone but him–you might understand why Craig is easily dismissed as an unnuanced cultural chauvinist.

  4. LK says:

    The fine tuning argument is also unsound. We do not need a multiverse to reject fine tuning.

    In fact, we do not even know if the universe is probable. To assume that it is improbable is already a unproven speculation:


  5. Z says:

    Is there a debate between a leading secular humanist and a leading moral nihilist? Now that would be a great debate.

  6. Daniel Kuehn says:

    So on the martyrs thing, what’s your take on suicide bombers? Evidence for the truth of the Koran?

    That’s not supposed to be snarky either – all religions have their martyrs. What do we do with that?

    • Fake Herzog says:


      Good question. Martyrdom by itself cannot be the criterion by which we judge a particular belief — we also have to look at the beliefs in question, the motives of the individual involved, what else is at stake, the context, etc.

      The original apostles (and Paul) which church tradition tells us were all martyred for their beliefs seem to be otherwise rational individuals who give up their previous “normal” lives (and in Paul’s case, his zealous life of Christian persecution) to follow Christ and preach the good news even though it will cost them a lot — eventually their life. This seems odd for a belief that doesn’t provide any sort of material or social gain (which is what Islam was all about and is still about to this day — go out and kill the infidel for Islam and gain prestige and glory) or for a belief that provides some sort of cult-like benefit (usually women for modern cults — see Mormonism as one good example).

      You people (not just you Daniel) need to spend more time on Christian apologetic websites. Try this paper on for size as a start:


      • Daniel Kuehn says:

        Fake Herzog –
        I’d suggest that many of the distinctions you see between Islam, Christianity, and Mormonism are mirrored by the distinctions that they see. In other words I’d get much the same response from them explaining their particular situation.

        In Islam it doesn’t seem to be about prestige and glory but submission, much in the way Christians see themselves. Christianity seems to me to offer cult-like benefits very comparable to Mormonism (and Islam for that matter). It doesn’t seem that way to you but of course it wouldn’t.

        • Fake Herzog says:


          Sure Muslims will tell you they are all about submission — submission to the will of Allah as interpreted by Muhammad. Look, there are indeed objective historical facts we can both analyze — did Arabic Islamic tribes sweep across the Middle-East conquering tribes and people and forcing them to convert on the penalty of death? Why yes, they did. What did Christianity do for its first 300 plus years to convert people to their cause? Pray, tend to the sick, pray, tend to the poor, etc. Sure both religions spread by the sword — the question is which way was the sword pointing!

          Likewise with Mormonism (did early Mormons practice polygamy or not?) Could you point to other aspect of the Christian religion that are superficially like Islam or Mormonism? Yes, of course you could — you could also point to Hinduism or Zoroastrianism or Taoism and find elements that are similar — that’s because God reveals Himself to pagans in certain ways that are written on the heart so most great world religions will have elements of truth in them. This is something Paul realized when he wrote his famous letter to the Romans.

          The key issues remain how is Christianity different than all those other religions and why.

          • NonPlusUltra says:

            Isn’t the world beautiful when we just ignore facts?

            Fake Herzog,

            “objective historical facts” you said. So Christianity spread because god’s will I guess, not because the Roman Empire adopted it as the official religion of the state, right?

            That in early 300 “Constantine supported the Church financially, built various basilicas, granted privileges (e.g., exemption from certain taxes) to clergy, promoted Christians to some high-ranking offices, and returned property confiscated during the Great Persecution of Diocletian” has nothing to do with it for sure.

            Neither helped that “on 27 February 380, with the Edict of Thessalonica put forth under Theodosius I, the Roman Empire officially adopted Trinitarian Christianity as its state religion.” Naaahh, it couldn’t be because the Roman Empire was just a tiny percentage of the know world, right? it was god.

            Not to mention the Crusades nor the Inquisition, that didn’t help either.

    • Z says:

      Most secular philosophies also have their martyrs. What do you think the tomb of the unknown soldier represents?

  7. Levi Russell says:

    WLC is like a force of nature.

  8. Innocent says:

    Lol, debates like this are hilarious. Okay, what is the only thing that allows us to ‘know’ anything? Perception. Perception is unfortunately… imperfect. Hence the issue at hand.

    I have spoken to ‘God’ He has spoken back. Now you can say this is the delusion of a fevered mind, or the misinterpretation of stimulus. Both of which could be possibilities. Or it could be that God exists and speaks. Though in no way that we can ‘measure’ as of yet.

    A better way to talk about ‘when’ Christ came and ‘paid’ for everything and why at that time. Well lets look at our own world for this. If the ‘time’ when Christ came was irrelevant but the act was then we could look at it more along the lines of this.

    Imagine a family business that for generation upon generation creates a debt to a debtor. Then one day a man comes along and pays all debts, past, present and future that the business has or will accumulate. Does it matter that it happened 5 generations or a thousand generations into it or simply that the act occurred?

    In this case we have prophecy talking about Christ coming before he did. Now you can always claim that this is revisionist history. That it was not ‘Christ’ that the scriptures spoke of. Okay, if not Him then who?

    Well in an atheists case, no one. Regardless the issue with religion is that in order to know if something is ‘true’ you must experience it. This makes the debate both easy, and difficult. As a scientist I know how difficult it is for others to ‘test’ something that has little ’empirical’ evidence.

    Know this. God is, He has created a great method for others to get to know Him but it does not mean it is an ‘easy’ path. Especially when most other perception and current cultural understanding suggests there are other explanations for life the universe and everything.

    One last thought. Given enough time, what will man become? What would we be if we overcome the boundaries of mortality? For the Glory of God is intelligence.

    People ask the question ‘What about the suffering people feel?’ Well if you as God know that death is nothing more than a passage from one state of existence to another would you really be ‘concerned’ over it for others? What seems terrible to us ( well some of us ) is more like seeing a person go from kindergarten to first grade for God. He may even be pleased about ‘death’ since he has made it a pretty central part of ‘life’.

    A better question would be why would ‘biology’ create organisms that die? Would not the ‘best’ method of perpetuation be to ensure that death never, except through accident, occur? Yet we see this, not at all in nature ( that I am aware of ).

    Anyway enough of my own rambling. I can only tell you that despite all the evidence to the contrary there is a God, that you can know Him, and that once you do your life will be more full. Not only that you will learn more than you ever thought possible. Now that does not mean you will not still misunderstand Him, or old texts, or struggle to know when people wrote of their ‘culture’ rather than of ‘God’ in old texts. But at least you will have a proper heading.

    • knoxharrington says:

      “I have spoken to ‘God’ He has spoken back.”


    • Harold says:

      On the biology point, and organism without death could not evolve. It would be replaced by those organisms that replaced each generation with a new one, possibly with slightly different characteristics. The old must make way for the new in a successfully evolving species.

      Immortality is therefore very rare in nature – possibly unique among animals. There does exist an immortal jellyfish – after a fashion – the Turritopsis dohrnii. This can revert to an immature form after reproducing, and could in theory continue to do so, thus never die of old age. In practice most are predated before they can revert.

  9. Tel says:

    I accept there’s no way to prove the absence of a God at all. These things always turn up in the last place you look, so only a completely exhaustive search of the universe (and possibly beyond) could constitute actual proof.

    I think it’s a bit more reasonable to say, “We looked in all the obvious places and couldn’t find proof of God in those places, and we keep looking from time to time if new territory opens up, but at this stage the answer is leaning toward a negative.”

    I mean, maybe faster than light communication also exists, you can’t conclusively prove it doesn’t exist, but I’d lean toward the negative on that one as well, for the same reason… lots of people have looked, there’s big profits to be had if you can find it, but so far no one has.

    I think the argument that the universe must be caused, therefore a God must exist (who is uncaused) is pretty dicey. If you believe that events have causes then fair enough, but normally events happening inside space and time have causes that are also inside space and time. There’s no “escape hatch” that we know about, and we don’t currently know all that much about what happened in the short space just after the “big bang” either.

    As for “fine tuning”, Craig cannot back up his assertion about which universes are suitable for life, because he can’t have tested that. The climate scientists tell us that a few degrees change in global temperature will cause untold damages, the world will become virtually unlivable, crops will fail… pure supposition. The bankers tell us that the entire global economy will grind to a halt if their bank doesn’t get a taxpayer funded bailout… but they would say that.

    We don’t even really know which constants are “consistent with nature’s laws” because the only laws we have access to are human approximations found by observation of nature. There may still be deeper laws that we haven’t found yet. I don’t accept statistical argument either, without a measured sample size greater than one.

  10. Tel says:

    I might point out that using rape as an example of an absolute moral principle for all time is a bit fraught when for large parts of history, rape was accepted and condoned under many circumstances. It still is in some parts of the world.

    That’s at least one topic where we do have a reasonable sample size, and the modern aversion to rape is the unusual condition.

    I think it’s impossible to study history or anthropology without noting that morality does change from time to time and place to place. Maybe we can argue that our current morality is better (based on out own definition of what’s better) but in 100 years whoever us around will be arguing for something else.

  11. OFelixCulpa says:

    Wow. I have always appreciated Craig, but I didn’t find his opening statement appealing at all. His arguments were mostly unconvincing, and (I never noticed this before) doesn’t he look eerily like Richard Nixon?

    What do you think of Plantinga’s or Van Til’s approaches? I find them more convincing than Craigs (mostly) evidentialism.

  12. OFelixCulpa says:

    In fairness, Craig’s rebuttal is better than his opening argument.

  13. Gil says:

    “Does God Exist?”

    The correct answer is naturally: no, of course not, what kind of question is that anyway?

    After all? Which God? The God of Judaism? The God of Christianity? The God of Islam? What of the religions that don’t have God in it? You picked up on one version of some 48,000 versions of Christianity and suddenly you believe you version of God exists and be damned those who doubt you?

    On the other hand, how is the Earth perfectly suited for life? Outside of your cosy modern Western bubble life on Earth is quite harsh and fleeting.

  14. Robert H says:

    You might find this interesting: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=1230 He says, “Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child.”

    I know I have mentioned Dr. Craig in your comments a lot, not sure if you noticed. Hes awesome. He has a huge amount of top quality material!

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