Craig –v- Hitchens: Fourth Thoughts – Sleepless in Biola

The third and final part (Part I / Part II) of manicstreetpreacher’s reassessment of Christopher Hitchens’ debate against William Lane Craig will examine the “emotional blackmail factor” that pervades Dr Craig’s case for the Almighty.

When Craig is not appealing to flawed logic, he appeals to common sense and inner feelings to guilt trip his audiences into accepting his arguments as this last post will demonstrate.

Argument from objective morality

After name-dropping atheist philosophers like Michael Ruse who contend that morality is just a by-product of evolution and universal norms such as the wrongness of rape and torturing children have no deeper meaning than assisting our survival, Craig argued that human morality is objective and therefore must come from God with nothing more than “the problem is that objective moral values do exist and deep down we all know it” to back it up.  As he phrases it:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values do exist.
  3. Therefore God exists.

Both of Craig’s premises are flawed, so his conclusion is invalid.  Firstly, objective morals could well exist without God.  They could be hardwired into our genes as an evolutionary survival mechanism.  So clearly, Craig’s first premise is incorrect.

However, objective moral values de facto do not exist.  Not everyone has the same moral standards.  Our perception of what is right and wrong have changed over the centuries with Richard Dawkins has termed “the shifting moral Zeitgeist”.  Indeed, practices in other parts of the World today which are considered the height of piety seem barbaric to Westerners.  You only have to look inside the books of our religions and see what these pronouncements mandate to see that this is the case.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that the moral argument for God is just rank wishful thinking, (how this differs from all other arguments from God, I am not entirely certain).  Perhaps it would be wonderful if there was a list of rules set in stone somewhere in the metaphysical universe, but I simply don’t see any evidence for it.  We just have to feel our around, sometimes getting it right, sometimes making mistakes, always striving for a state of moral perfection regardless of whether that will ever be achieved in reality.

I really wish that Hitchens had raised Craig’s appalling views on the morality of the God of the Old Testament.  I had been very suspicious of Craig declaring the atrocities of the Israelites’ slaughter of the Canaanites to be off-limits in debates, since it was a question of biblical inerrancy, not whether God existed.  I found my answer in an appalling radio interview and then with an article on Craig’s website which I commented on a few months after the Biola debate in which Craig argued that since God sets down moral values, he can arbitrarily overrule them with the result being that murder, torture and ethical cleansing are suddenly all fine and dandy.  Therefore, the Israelites were acting entirely in accordance with the will of God in exterminating the Canaanites and the Bible’s inerrancy is unaffected.

I won’t repeat my piece here; I suggest that it is read in full, but it is a stunning indictment of the theological mind which totally undermines Craig’s argument from objective morality, since he knows that murder, torture and genocide are wrong independent of God’s commands.  It is also a graphic illustration of Plato’s “Euthyphro Dilemma”: if God tells you to torture a baby, it becomes morally right and indeed obligatory to torture a baby.

Resurrection of Jesus

A key component in Craig’s argument for the resurrection of Jesus is that his followers would not have believed in a dying and rising Jewish messiah, much less have died for that belief.  For his second rebuttal after cross-examination, a clearly weary Hitchens invoked Tertullian’s maxim credo quia absurdum: “I believe it because it is absurd”.  He recounted his research on Mother Teresa and the circumstances surrounding her thoroughly discredited post-death miracle that will see her canonised by the Vatican and will in fact contribute to the misery and suffering of millions in the Third World by promoting shamanism and devaluing modern medicine.

A fair point, but I have seen Hitchens do much better on the historical Jesus.  Check out these two clips from his debate against D’Souza at Freedom Fest 2008 in Las Vegas.

On the historical Jesus and the criterion of embarrassment:

On the virgin birth and potency of the story:

Craig is basing his argument on discredited sources that are self-contradictory, written decades after the events that they purport to describe, copied and re-copied over centuries by fallible scribes with their own theological axes to grind.  And as we shall see in the next section, this is not even the reason why he believes in the resurrection at all.

Argument from personal experience

In his opening speech, Hitchens quoted from two editions of Craig’s book, Reasonable Faith, where Craig argues that a person knows that Christianity is true because the “Inner Witness of the Holy Spirit” assures him that it is true.  Whereas reason and evidence can be used to support this proposition they cannot be used to overthrow it.  A person has enough assurances from God with regard to his existence and the consequences that will be metered out for rejecting belief in God are entirely on the shoulders of the non-believer.

Although Craig’s response to this in his first rebuttal was somewhat convoluted, I cannot see how he refuted Hitchens’ interpretation, or even amended it significantly.  According to Craig, all belief in God entails is a warm fuzzy feeling inside that there has to be something more than this veil of tears and all arguments and evidence in support are wholly ancillary.  Atheist theologian Robert Price summed up Craig’s stance perfectly in their 1999 debate on the resurrection:

Dr Craig then freely admits that his conviction arises from purely subjective factors.  To me it sounds no different in principle from the teenage Mormon door-knocker: he tells you that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient Americans because he has a warm swelling feeling inside when he asks God if it’s true.

Craig said that Hitchens had to show that he is delusional; otherwise his belief in God through personal experience is still valid.  Again, this is a prime example of Craig placing the burden of proof on his opponent.  Without access to Craig’s medical records (I’ll avoid making the cheap shot that they would make for interesting reading!), this is an impossible task.

Nevertheless, people have all sorts of personal experiences that seem real to them: out of body, alien abduction, near death.  Without any corroborating evidence, the sceptic is perfectly justified in writing them off as deluded, not matter how sincere they are.  Indeed, virtually all of these experiences can be reproduced on subjects in the lab under control conditions.

So what sort of evidence would corroborate personal religious experience?  As Victor Stenger points out in God, The Failed Hypothesis and The New Atheism, perhaps if someone returned from such an experience with some new knowledge in their heads that they could not have otherwise obtained except through the agency of an all-powerful, all-knowing supernatural being.  If Craig really does have a hotline to the Big Guy in the Sky, then I don’t know why he hasn’t found a better way to spend his evenings than arguing with miserable heretics like Hitchens who are all fire-bound anyway.

Perhaps personal experience of God is something I will address in a future post, but for now I’ll direct Craig to Sam Harris’ take on the argument from meaning and purpose with his “Diamond The Size of a Refrigerator Buried in Your Back Yard” Gambit for him to realise what a risible non sequitur his reasoning is.

The last “Hussar!”

The debate moderator, Hugh Hewitt, posed the final question of the evening to Hitchens and asked why there was such a high public demand for debates on the God question at present.  Hitchens’ reply was that he is part of a small group of people who want to take a stand against theocratic bullying from Islamist regimes in the Middle East who are soon to obtain nuclear weaponry, terror attacks against civilian non-combatants by Al-Qaeda, fanatical Jewish settlers stealing land from Palestinians to bring on the Messiah and fundamentalist American Christians who want junk taught in school science classes.   For the first time that evening, Craig had to wait politely as the audience’s applause died down before he could retort.

Hitchens may well have wanted to debate the wrong topic that night.  The New Atheism may well be a form of “village atheism”; hostile to the social effects of religion rather than appreciative of the subtle nuances of theological “scholarship”.  But I’ll conclude these posts with a thought from my original piece after first watching the debate that I definitely stand by:

I could accept every one of Craig’s five arguments; you still have all your work ahead of you convincing me that the Pope, the holder of the keys of St Peter, Christ’s vicar on Earth is objectively moral to go to Africa and say, “AIDS might be bad, but condoms might be worse”.  This is a sinister and immoral aspect to religion that interests me more than the mere existence of God and the truthfulness of the scriptures; one which Hitchens tackles head on, but Craig wilfully evades.

Craig may have won the battle.  But the outcome of the war might not be so rosy for him.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

18 Responses to “Craig –v- Hitchens: Fourth Thoughts – Sleepless in Biola”

  1. Craig –v- Hitchens: Third Thoughts – Deconstructing William « manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] debate… « William Lane Craig –v- Christopher Hitchens: Second Thoughts Craig –v- Hitchens: Fourth Thoughts – Sleepless in Biola […]

  2. Martin Says:

    >However, objective moral values de facto do not exist. Not everyone has the same moral standards.

    I’ll play “Craig’s Advocate”:

    Then you cannot claim that the Holocaust was wrong. The Nazis, as you say, had different moral standards than you and me. What the Nazis did was right for them. On your view morality is simply an opinion or a preference, like a favorite flavor of ice cream. There was nothing really wrong with the Holocaust.

    >Whereas reason and evidence can be used to support this proposition they cannot be used to overthrow it.

    Thought experiment: You did not commit a crime that you are accused of. However, there isn’t very much evidence to convince the jury, and in fact there is some evidence that shows you did have a motivation to do the crime and that you don’t have a good alibi (let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it’s just coincidence).

    Do you:

    A. Admit that you did in fact commit the crime
    B. Stick to what you know to be true in spite of the evidence

    If you wish to reason as you and Hitchens do, you would choose A. If you wish to reason as Craig does, you would choose B.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Objective morals

      Yes, there was something very wrong with the Holocaust over and above competing viewpoints regarding the flavour of an ice cream.

      The Holocaust caused great misery and suffering and adversely affected the lives of millions. FACT. I doubt whether those 6 million Jews would have been affected so badly if Hitler had demanded they eat vanilla instead of strawberry.

      I think the Nazis knew what they were doing was wrong and that it would be viewed as such by the rest of the world. Otherwise, why did they try to destroy the death camps before the Allies reached them? Why did Hitler not sign/ immediately destroy any official document authorising the Holocaust, the little sneak?

      But this argument from God-given objective morality has to cut both ways. Sure you and I say that racism is wrong. But if God does exist, why isn’t he letting members of the British National Party in on these important moral facts?

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Personal experience

      In your “falsely accused” scenario, of course I would keep pleading my innocence even though the weight of evidence was against me.

      However, taking a step back and looking at matters in the cold hard light of evidence, I ought to accept why I was being found guilty, even though I might not like the situation in reality.

      Craig’s personal experience of God could well be real, but all we have to go on are his assertions with no more weight to them than alien abduction etc. You would expect the creator of the universe to impart some knowledge that a pair of heretics like me and Hitch could not know.

      In his essay “Of Miracles”, Hume sympathised with the native peoples of hot climates for refusing to believe that water can solidify into ice. While ultimately their opinion is wrong, their scepticism is entirely justified because they have not been presented with evidence for a claim so extraordinary to them.

      P.S. Being a lawyer myself, the evidence in your scenario seems very circumstantial. “You didn’t like the guy and you don’t have a witness to account for your actions the night it happened. How convenient!” That is not enough to convict a man under criminal law. The burden of proof for the prosecution to satisfy must be beyond all reasonable doubt. Keep denying it and you should be fine.

      • Martin Says:

        all we have to go on are his assertions with no more weight to them than alien abduction etc.

        And Craig is trying to give weight to his personal experience by making his four external arguments.

        You would expect the creator of the universe to impart some knowledge that a pair of heretics like me and Hitch could not know.

        Argument from reasonable non-belief. There are many ways to answer this. One way is that the hiddeness of God is there for precisely the reason many atheists object to Christian morality: to avoid compelling people to act good. Atheists like to point out that Christians behave well only because they fear God’s wrath. But if God is hidden, then people are not compelled to act good in fear, but because of their own moral growth. God’s existence being obvious to everyone would be like holding a gun to everyone’s heads telling them to act good or else.

        Or maybe not.

        Again my only point is that your rebuttals are not as open-and-shut as you may think.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Martin, you are one of the best commenters to post on my blog. Keep these brain teasers coming! 😮

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Btw Martin, how do you and Craig know that God thinks that the Holocaust is evil?

      A handful of Orthodox rabbis at the time thought that the Holocaust was the punishment for the Jews’ sinfulness and abandoning the Torah.

      And if Craig and Swinburne’s revolting brand of theodicy, people like Adolf Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer must be agents of the divine will as they creating suffering in order to achieve God’s morally superior purposes and/ or allow the rest of us to express courage, patience and sympathy.

      Shouldn’t we actually be praising God for the Holocaust as part of his divine design?


      • Martin Says:

        Well, it seems like you are raising the Problem of Evil. Having read and listened to a bit of Craig I think I know how he would answer this.

        For human behavior (such as the Holocaust), the Free Will Defense. I find this viable. We’ve all seen A Clockwork Orange; do you prefer free agents that can make moral decisions, or pre-programmed automatons? Craig had a debate with (I believe) Sinnot-Armstrong, and Sinnot-Armstrong did in fact avoid using evil human behavior as an example because he knew it didn’t carry much weight.

        For natural disasters and other evils, the “inability to see the big picture” defense. A child receiving a vaccination cannot comprehend the reasons for it, and may interpret it as evil, even though it clearly isn’t.

        Now, I know these sound like sneaky escapes, but the purpose of the Problem of Evil is to try to show that God is a logical contradiction and thus cannot exist, like a square circle. By showing possible ways of reconciling it, the theist shows that it is not a logical contradiction.

    • Hansen Says:


      About your thought experiment. I’m sorry but I do not buy the comparison to a personal religious experience. Admission of guilt in a court is often motivated by the hope that it will lessen the punishment. As such, you may have reasons to admit guilt even if you know you are innocent.

      Ironically, there is one way in which your thought experiment does compare to people arguing from religious personal experience. Whereas the court itself (both the judge and the prosecution) is obliged to look objectively at all evidence and seek to find out what really happened (even if it does not support the accusation), the defendant is expected only to argue for his innocence and is allowed to be selective and even dishonest if it helps his case. In other words, the defendant is not committed to the truth but only to the effort of convincing others of his innocence.

      • Martin Says:


        It’s trivial to switch the example to one that doesn’t have those problems. The end scene from Contact, for example.

        The only point of my example is that yes, it is possible to have internal knowledge of something that trumps external evidence. Craig is not incorrect to reason this way.

    • Hansen Says:

      The only point of my example is that yes, it is possible to have internal knowledge of something that trumps external evidence. Craig is not incorrect to reason this way.

      Yes, but it is a far stretch to compare the kind of internal knowledge you may have about your own actions (or lack of action) in the recent past with a religious experience which is usually described mainly as feeling that something is true. Such a feeling ought to be much, much easier to trump by external evidence (or lack thereof).

      A slightly better example would be of a woman who is the victim of rape. She may know for certain that it happened and who the rapist is. She is certainly justified in believing it. But she must (or ought to) concede that her own internal knowledge is not justification enough for anyone else to believe it. Moreover, if there is very strong evidence to suggest that the alleged rapist could not have done it, even she ought to at least consider if her memory fails her.

      • Martin Says:

        described mainly as feeling that something is true.

        We are not Craig, so there is just no way to criticize his experience, one way or another.

        But she must (or ought to) concede that her own internal knowledge is not justification enough for anyone else to believe it.

        And Craig says as much; and that is the purpose of his other four arguments, to give weight and corroboration to his personal experience. Whether he succeeds or not is up to you to judge, but he is reasoning correctly.

        Moreover, if there is very strong evidence to suggest that the alleged rapist could not have done it, even she ought to at least consider if her memory fails her.

        This is what is known as an “intrinsic defeater-defeater.” There is a point where evidence would become so strong that it would overwhelm even the internal knowledge. For instance, if a videotape of the rape surfaced that showed a different person than who the victim thought.

        In Craig’s debates, I’ve never heard anyone come even close to this level of defeater for Craig’s arguments.

    • Hansen Says:

      In Craig’s debates, I’ve never heard anyone come even close to this level of defeater for Craig’s arguments.

      Of course not. He has set the bar unreasonably high for overturning his presupposition. He dishonestly uses terms like internal “witness” or “knowledge” in order to pimp up what is nothing but a warm fuzzy feeling.

      Attempts at shifting burden of proof, bad analogies, and equivocation. This is all par for the course for apologists and Craig is no exception. He is simply better at hiding it than others are.

  3. Anders Branderud Says:

    “Historical Jesus“!?!

    The persons using that contra-historical oxymoron (demonstrated by the eminent late Oxford historian, James Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue) exposes dependancy upon 4th-century, gentile, Hellenist sources.

    While scholars debate the provenance of the original accounts upon which the earliest extant (4th century, even fragments are post-135 C.E.), Roman gentile, Hellenist-redacted versions were based, there is not one fragment, not even one letter of the NT that derives DIRECTLY from the 1st-century Pharisee Jews who followed the Pharisee Ribi Yehoshua.
    Historians like Parkes, et al., have demonstrated incontestably that 4th-century Roman Christianity was the 180° polar antithesis of 1st-century Judaism of ALL Pharisee Ribis. The earliest (post-135 C.E.) true Christians were viciously antinomian (ANTI-Torah), claiming to supersede and displace Torah, Judaism and (“spiritual) Israel and Jews. In soberest terms, ORIGINAL Christianity was anti-Torah from the start while DSS (viz., 4Q MMT) and ALL other Judaic documentation PROVE that ALL 1st-century Pharisees were PRO-Torah.

    There is a mountain of historical Judaic information Christians have refused to deal with, at: (see, especially, their History Museum pages beginning with “30-99 C.E.”).
    Original Christianity = ANTI-Torah. Ribi Yehoshua and his Netzarim, like all other Pharisees, were PRO-Torah. Intractable contradiction.

    Building a Roman image from Hellenist hearsay accounts, decades after the death of the 1st-century Pharisee Ribi, and after a forcible ouster, by Hellenist Roman gentiles, of his original Jewish followers (135 C.E., documented by Eusebius), based on writings of a Hellenist Jew excised as an apostate by the original Jewish followers (documented by Eusebius) is circular reasoning through gentile-Roman Hellenist lenses.

    What the historical Pharisee Ribi taught is found not in the hearsay accounts of post-135 C.E. Hellenist Romans but, rather, in the Judaic descriptions of Pharisees and Pharisee Ribis of the period… in Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT (see Prof. Elisha Qimron), inter alia.

    To all Christians: The question is, now that you’ve been informed, will you follow the authentic historical Pharisee Ribi? Or continue following the post-135 C.E. Roman-redacted antithesis—an idol?

  4. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    Why do believers have to insist that their God remains hidden?

    You should read this article by sceptic Ophelia Benson who takes on the Argument from Hiddenness and calls it a “deal-breaker”.

    If God does exist, then he has clearly gone to great pains to hide himself from us. What kind of loving parent deliberately hides from their children, forcing them to take a faith position with regard to his existence?


    • Martin Says:

      Didn’t see your reply way down here.

      Thanks. I’ll read the article. I think the argument from non-belief carries more weight than the problem of evil, although I don’t think theist answers to them are entirely terrible.

      I mean, the author of that article says this here: “God doesn’t want us to know God exists the way we know the sun exists; God wants us to have ‘faith.’ But why?”

      And one answer is exactly like I said: moral growth, or soul-making. If God’s existence is as obvious as the sun, then we would be back to the whole automaton thing again. You would be a good person only because you so clearly see and fear the future judgment of God awaiting you, not because of your own choices and development.

      I don’t find that answer completely compelling (and I’m sure you could think of objections), but I don’t find it awful either.

      Which is why I’m an agnostic. 🙂

  5. William Lane Craig –v- Christopher Hitchens: Second Thoughts | manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] and heard a lot more lectures and debates by Craig.  The remainder of this post and my second and third posts will present what I now […]

  6. Christopher Hitchens Debate Reviews: The Not So Good | manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] Biola University, Los Angeles, 4 April 2009 (Video / MSP review / MSP review one year on in three parts).  This one hurt quite a lot.  While not the massacre that the first blog reports had us believe, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: