…at Notre Dame recently. Nathan Schneider at Religious Dispatches provides a bit of history about the two of them and why they were the key speakers for God Debate II this year. The format of the debate itself sounds like it wasn’t too far removed from the one I went to in January against George Williamson, a philosophy professor at the University of Saskatchewan, and a member of Saskatoon Freethinkers. I’ll pull parts out of Schneider’s rundown of it:
Nearly the entire time afterward, the two talked past each other. Each accused the other of misrepresentations and red herrings, then pushed on so as not to lose the offensive. “Allowing yourself to get led around the nose by a person like Craig is a losing strategy,” Harris says.
“I hate to break it to you here at Notre Dame,” said Harris, “but Christianity is a cult of human sacrifice.”
Then, at every opportunity, Craig listed the points he’d made, noted that Harris had failed to respond to them, and declared victory thus far. I heard a student tell his friends at the end, “Craig had already won by the first rebuttal!”
He tried this with George at the beginning of their debate, too. George had the wherewithal to remind the audience that the opening argument is not the place to start refuting the other guy, it’s the time to make one’s case for the other side.
Craig said later that the audience questions had disappointed him, but he suspects it was mainly the fault of the local atheist group, rather than Notre Dame students. (Notre Dame doesn’t have an official atheist group of its own.)
At ours, the atheists were certainly in the minority and few Christians got up to pepper George with questions about his moral/ethical position. It was a room full of hero worship for Craig and most who “question” him were clearly believers in his camp already so not in a position to deliberately challenge anything he said. It was ridiculous, really.
I imposed myself on groups of students discussing and couples arguing.
“The apologist won because his structure was perfect,” said one young woman, referring to Craig. Her friend thought Harris won since he addressed the topic more fully. Both were disappointed that neither seemed to answer each other’s claims.
I don’t remember if it was George or someone else who said later that Craig uses these debates to refine his argument. He wants to hear how the other side will present their case, pick at holes they think are in his, and use that information to adjust and strengthen his presentation. He’ll never be swayed by the opposition. He’ll just smile at the audience with a gleam in his eye; He can think what he wants. We know the Truth.
What can you expect, really? What could he? [He refers to Arnav Dutt here, one of the co-organizers of the debate] A bolt of lightning? At least the great evolution trials ended with a verdict, and a gavel. Sometimes God debates will end with an audience poll, but not this one. The question wasn’t finally settled, and still the debaters each did what they do best, despite each other. Sometimes, at a God debate or a football game, the best you can hope for is a decent after-party.
The issue will never be settled in a lecture hall, that’s for sure. Hopefully Hitchens had an effect on some in the audience, though. For some of them I suppose this sort of event would be the only way they’d ever witness another way to think about morality and the need for humans to keep to a code of ethics. That’s something, at least.