Friday, January 06, 2006

William Lane Craig v. Jeffrey Jay Lowder

I received the following request from Keith Augustine to contact William Lane Craig for a clarification concerning a potential debate with Jeffrey Jay Lowder, the founder of Internet Infidels and an outstanding debater (his debate with Phil Fernandes is, I think, the strongest debate performance I have seen by an atheist, but of course it wasn't against Craig.)

Keith wrote:

Hi Victor,

Would you be willing to contact WL Craig to get an "official"
communication from him about whether he'd be willing to debate Jeff

We've heard conflicting things: James Lazarus tried to initiate a
debate between Lowder and Craig on the InfidelGuy Internet radio show, and
soon the project evolved into a real world debate prospect. In his
communication with Craig, Lazarus was told that Craig would recommend
Lowder for his next debate, but wouldn't do any debates unless invited
to do so by a university.

Subsequently, however, a student contact of mine talked to Craig's
people about setting up a debate on his campus and they said that Craig had a
right to refuse anyone and wouldn't debate anyone without a PhD.

We were thinking that if someone that Craig respected approached him
about the issue, we might be able to get a straight answer from Craig.

Craig's response is as follows:

Yes, I did say I'm happy to have a debate with Jeff.
My statement to whatever university group is referred
to is just my general policy to which I feel free to
make exceptions. Jeff is an exception.

But nothing concrete is in the works yet.



Jason Pratt said...

Jeff _is_ a good debater. WLC has lots of experience, but he'll have his work cut out for him. Should be an interesting match. My initial expectation is to favor Jeff, in fact; though that would depend on the topic. Heard any word on that yet?

Victor Reppert said...

Someone has to organize the thing first.

I think Jeff is thinking of the existence of God, or Christian theism vs. naturalism, but I don't know. Of course, Jeff co-edited the Jesus Beyond the Grave book and could do well on historical resurrection issues.

Will Kratos said...

The issue is generally expected to be an existence of God debate, yes. While you're certainly right to point out that Jeff co-edited The Empty Tomb and therefore a debate on the resurrection might also be expected (this idea was thrown back and forth among us several times), Lowder has also spent quite a bit of time researching Craig's other arguments, and so ultimately we came down to a traditional existence of god topic.

I'd like to thank you for contacting Craig for us. There was much confusion after we heard from the other contact that Craig may have changed his mind.

Jason Pratt said...

Hm... depends on how WLC goes about it. Good news for Jeff is that debates lend themselves to the 'salad-bar' format, and the case for theism is handicapped along that route--which, as far as I can tell, WLC would be expecting to make his case along anyway. (i.e. the various arguments are disconnected instead of following from one another in some kind of implicative order. 'Salad-bar' topical arrangement is standard operating procedure among apologists, unfortunately--well, unfortunately for my side. {g})

In itself, this may not be something an opponent can pick at; but it lends itself directly to apologists (who go this route) attempting to push claims further than they can legitimately go. WLC is very weak on that score, and Jeff should be able to pick him apart at leisure--so long as Jeff's careful and doesn't get carried away. (WLC isn't stupid; he can spot oversteps himself and pounce on them.)

I'm not sure how strong WLC is on AfR usage, so Jeff may be able to make a case for rational belief of atheism (generally speaking) without WLC latching onto that use of reason and proceeding thereby. But if he's only nominally conversant (and I'm sure he isn't used to trying to make an _integrated_ use of it), Jeff may be able to bog him down in minituae and so muff any progress along that line.

Normally, the other biggest risk would be for Jeff to attempt an argument for atheism from injustice. In this case, though, I think it's likely he can easily lead WLC into an attempted riposte amounting to "The Biggest Might Maketh Him Right"--after which Jeff can do pretty much whatever he wants to him, at will. {wry g}

Other obvious weaknesses to exploit: effectively, WLC is a gnostic. So long as the topic is strictly on theism vs. atheism, this may not mean much; but I'd watch for him attempting to use scriptural justifications--he'll be vulnerable to charges of circular argumentation there. Relatedly (and maybe more importantly), he'll be under a constant inclination (I'd call it a temptation) to connect back to Christianity as the Way, the Truth and the Life. This is a heresy, so of course Jeff will be able to zorch it pretty freely, if he can nudge WLC in that direction.

And, so far as I can tell, WLC has as much trouble as most apologists in keeping distinctions straight between theism/atheism and supernaturalism/naturalism. There's a moderately good chance he'll be thinking in terms of theism vs naturalism (i.e. a category error), and that can be exploited.

All in all, so long as Jeff keeps his head, I expect him to notch up a solid win, even though WLC has veterancy advantages.