Misconceptions of Debate

I’m writing this article on the spur of the moment after having searched the internet for how the debate between Lawrence Krauss and William Lane Craig went. Last week when this debate happened, I saw William Lane Craig post on his Facebook page that Krauss was hitting a buzzer when he heard something he disagreed with from Craig. Apparently Krauss has resorted to playing games that we’d play in 3rd grade to tick off our fellow students in front of the class. However, that is what initiated my search of the internet to see if I could find a video of the debate. Unfortunately, the venue hasn’t yet released the video but it sounds like they will soon be releasing it for public viewing sometime next week.

While there wasn’t a video to be seen online, there were some reviews of the debate conducted by those that were present. To my surprise, Krauss was deemed as the victor by most of the reviewers. This was odd to me at first given how dominant Craig was in his debate with Krauss in 2011. Nonetheless, I’ve heard of stranger things happening. Until I started reading a common thread among all of the reviews, which was that Krauss was “in control” of the debate while Craig wasn’t making “a strong case” for Christianity. Huh? If anyone else is as familiar with Craig’s work as I am, does it sound characteristic of Craig NOT to provide a “strong case” for Christianity? Absolutely not.

While this thread was consistent in many of the reviews, it was also consistently said that Krauss was overbearing, disrespectful, and issued multitudes of personal attacks against Craig and all believers in God. Like I said in the first paragraph, Krauss resorted to buzzing Craig while he was talking. Is this type of behavior reflective of someone who wants to have a sincere and honest debate? Absolutely not. This is coming from a man who is trying to win the audience by attempting to act comical, which he hopes will throw Craig off his path towards having an intellectual debate.

For instance, I had a discussion with an atheist relative of mine a couple of weeks ago on whether God exists. Instead of having a civilized discussion, she turned the conversation into a mockery of both her worldview and mine. She failed to take any of the evidence seriously for theism and denied that any evidence could exist that would lead anyone to an evidence-based faith in any God. Anytime I could get a word in, I’d be interrupted and a personal critique of my character would be issued. If people had been listening, they may have felt that the person issuing the disrespectful comments to evade the legitimate objections might somehow be “in control” however, intellectually, I was completely in control because I kept my cool and I persisted in discussing the topic at hand without letting her lead me astray with unrelated remarks.

From those that wrote these reviews of the recent Craig-Krauss debate, they did commend Craig for being gracious throughout these attacks by Krauss and didn’t let it unbalance him. However, they didn’t seem to offer the appropriate criticism of Krauss for acting in the manner that they described.

I say all of this without having viewed the debate. After seeing it, maybe I’ll feel a little differently. The point of this article is to remind people that civilized debate is judged on the merits of one’s argument. An argument doesn’t become better by being disrespectful towards your opponent. By the sound of it; Krauss “took control of the debate” at the expense of harnessing the volume of ridicule to extinguish the voice of Craig. While those on the atheistic side may have gotten a few cheap laughs but a fruitful opportunity for legitimate debate was squandered. If Krauss was the professional that he declares to be, he’d have enough respect for everyone to lay out his case for Craig and those viewing the debate to articulate an honest critique so that these topics may be objectively discussed.

It is a huge misconception that debates are won based upon who is the most entertaining, who is the better rhetorician, who is the most popular, who sells the most books, and the like. Debates are won by who has the best argument. Those that judge debates should evaluate the arguments honestly and objectively without being persuaded by side comments completely unrelated to the topic at hand. I’ll be interested to see the debate between Craig and Krauss so that I may have the opportunity to judge for myself who issued a better argument for their worldview.

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4 responses to “Misconceptions of Debate

  1. The only relevant thing to look for in any of the four debates Krauss & Craig have had is whether Krauss (the cosmologist) ever schools Craig on cosmology and thereby falsifies one or more of his premises. On comportment, I expected Krauss to be polite, professorial and patronizing if he thought he had the goods to refute Craig. Yet it seems that Krauss never really engaged (at the highest level) on the cosmology and as you point out, his comportment was abominable.

    This is interesting. The best Krauss ever did was point out that a theorem derived from the General Theory of Relativity (Borde-Vilenkin-Guth) would have a ‘classical’ background. This question is relevant regarding whether the universe has a beginning.

    Apparently Krauss wished to claim that all results from GTR are irrelevant and thus folks like Vilenkin are apparently wasting their time. It should be intuitive that there is something wrong with this claim. To see what it is see Isaac Azimov’s article “The Relativity of Wrong” at http://chem.tufts.edu/answersinscience/relativityofwrong.htm . There is clearly an error in regarding all physics as “wrong” just because a new type of model may appear in the future.

    But even if you concede Krauss the point, think about what his point is. He is saying there is a “classical background” to the relevant theorem which simply means you have a spacetime. You have space & time. Suppose we grant Krauss that space and time may be destroyed as we look to the past and the universe approaches Planck level curvature (thus requiring a quantum gravity theory). Well, if time is destroyed then you still have a beginning! It actually doesn’t matter what form the ultimate new theory might take if your “classical background” is destroyed. So the fact that “we don’t know the right questions to ask” about the nature of the new theory is irrelevant.

    Lastly, regarding Krauss’s comportment, I think it is revealing that he decided to bring his act (buzzer included) to the first Australian debate. That implies to me that he didn’t think he was going to beat Craig in a fair exchange of views. If he thought that, he should have been polite, professorial and patronizing. Instead he brought a circus act. Think about this. When Craig’s opponents brought there best (a professional cosmologist) shouldn’t they have been thinking they were going to win on the facts? One can imagine their pre-debate strategy session. The first suggestion was for Krauss to buzz Craig like Pavlov’s dog? The atheist side could have gotten any buffoon to stand before Craig and use a buzzer. They needed a cosmologist for this?

    Really, I think Krauss-the-emperor turned out to have no clothes. After four debates, this seems like a sound conclusion.

  2. Hmm, disappointing to hear. Ultimately though, it does show that often what is stopping someone from accepting God is a heart issue, not just an evidential issue. Although people like to pretend it is just a question of evidence, I find that is often not the case. This leads to double standards like what the author describes above. If Craig had acted like Krauss, he would be lambasted, since it was Krauss, he largely get a pass.

    Don’t misunderstand my point, I think apologetics is very valuable. I think it can help break down walls and reveal to people that their real issue is a heart issue, not an evidential one. I also think it can help strengthen a believer’s faith. I just also always try to remind myself that I can’t “argue someone to Jesus” and that ultimately, it will take Him working on their hearts. Which, really, is the same no matter what form of evangelism you use. I just wish more Christians were schooled in apologetics, when you watch someone like Craig handily and casually handle his critics, to the point that they have to resort to schoolyard antics to “win”, it just really shows how strong the case for Christianity is. We simply do not have to be afraid of atheists and other critics. Sadly, it seems not enough Christians realize this.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more! Apologetics is under-valued in many Christian demographics, which I find saddening. As Christians, we should be preparing everyone to know the reasons for their faith and to communicate those reasons persuasively to others.

      Thanks for your comment. I really enjoyed it!

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