Lessons from the Alex Rosenberg – William Lane Craig Debate

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On February 1, Purdue University, in partnership with Biola University, hosted a debate between Dr. Alex Rosenberg and Dr. William Lane Craig, on the topic “Is Faith in God Reasonable?” You can already find audio of the debate and a summary of the debate online. The video can be watched at the bottom of this post.

I think there are a few valuable lessons from the debate:

Apologetics Is Important

Throughout the debate, Dr. Rosenberg presented a wide variety of terrible arguments. (This is probably why he lost the debate: 4-2 by the formal panel, 1390-303 by the audience, 734-59 online).

For instance, Rosenberg continued to insist that the logical problem of evil was a substantial problem for Christian theism. However, contemporary philosophers (e.g., Paul Draper and Peter van Inwagen) have pretty widely agreed that the free will defense, pioneered by Alvin Plantinga, has provided a satisfactory rational resolution to the logical problem of evil.

Similarly, Rosenberg insisted that there is no way for theists to handle the Euthyphro dilemma. He seemed genuinely perplexed by the substance of Dr. Craig’s divine command theory and perfect being theology.

Where did he get the idea that Christians have no answer for these elementary questions? Reddit? The God Delusion? Perhaps he has just gotten away with these caricatures in conversations with Christians at Duke.

There is no good reason that high school students headed to college cannot explain why the logical problem of evil is passé or why the Euthyphro Dilemma is a false dilemma. High school youth groups need to set aside the time to study these arguments. I wonder: how many people have lost their faith because of bad arguments?

What do you think the secular society is more concerned about? That the Christian youth group has free pizza and electric guitars? Or that they have mastered sound arguments and are known for their love of reason? If you lead a ministry, where is your money, time and energy going?

Perhaps they already do, but I challenge the Christians in Dr. Rosenberg’s philosophy classes at Duke to come highly prepared to class, ready to graciously challenge their professor’s naive positions. May this be true of Christians at colleges and workplaces around the world.

Charity and Kindness Matter

Dr. Rosenberg started off his opening speech by attacking Dr. Craig’s character! He claimed Dr. Craig doesn’t listen to others, that he doesn’t care about the truth, and that his debate expertise was irrelevant to finding truth. He then claimed that because an overwhelming majority of members in the National Academy of Science are atheists, Dr. Craig’s presentation of important theories in the field are illegitimate. Later, Dr. Rosenberg claimed that if Dr. Craig answered the problem of evil in a certain way, he would be dishonoring his ancestors, who lost their lives in the Holocaust.

Wow – does Dr. Rosenberg really believe that Christians cannot even discuss science? And if the case against Christianity is so obvious, why didn’t he just explain it to us? Or is it that there is an intolerant, unreasonable prejudice against Christians in the academy?

Beyond the personal attacks, though, was the strangeness of Dr. Rosenberg repeatedly promoting his book. At one point, he propped it up in front of him to make sure it was highly visible to the audience and the cameras.

By contrast, Dr. Craig was kind and charitable. He simply ignored the personal attacks. He showed that he had carefully read Dr. Rosenberg’s book and quoted from it many times. He had read Dr. Rosenberg’s interview in the campus newspaper. He explained his opponent’s position with the utmost of clarity, perhaps more clearly than Dr. Rosenberg did, and explained his reasoned objections to those ideas. He looked for places of agreement and acknowledged this common ground. He rose above the pettiness and offered a mature, gracious response.

It was clear that Dr. Craig’s worldview has strengthened his character and given him the confidence to be kind and respectful of others, even in a debate format. By contrast, Dr. Rosenberg lacked decency, attacking his opponent’s character and hawking his own book.

People notice these differences. Our character is on display. What will it say about our worldview?

Faith In God Is Reasonable: Know Why

Dr. Craig presented eight independent reasons to affirm a reasonable faith. Eight. He did this in twenty minutes.

Don’t go for the I’m-in-shock-and-awe “OMG DR. CRAIG I COULD NEVER DO THAT” approach. True, 99% of us can’t. But putting Dr. Craig on a pedestal is just a way of avoiding a better approach: learning how to do this ourselves. In Hebrews 13:7 we are admonished, “Remember  your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

Yes, Dr. Craig is worthy of imitation. Study Reasonable Faith. Read Tactics. Work through Cold-Case Christianity. Pull together a study group of friends at church and meet every Saturday morning until you have this stuff down cold. Start or join a Ratio Christi or Reasonable Faith chapter. Get a certificate in apologetics from Biola. Join the Christian Apologetics Alliance. There are dozens of good resources out there. What you need to do is get started and get connected.

You don’t need to earn a Ph.D (though this needs to be a very important priority for the Christian church). But you can learn why Christianity is true, grow in your ability to discuss the subject with humility, kindness, and love, and persuade others that following Jesus as Lord is a rational choice. Does God have to use you in this process? Absolutely. Do all of this in a spirit of prayer, relying on the Holy Spirit. The truth is that God has led untold numbers of people to faith through the means of God-glorifying reasons for Christ. Don’t use a theological crutch to opt out of hard work.

In Conclusion

Because this debate was so lopsided, it provides an excellent contrast. Imagine if it had gone the other way – the Christian rambling, mean, and prejudiced, the atheist in command of facts and arguments, eminently kind and thoughtful? If you’ve ever been tempted to think that reason or character are irrelevant to evangelism, let this debate challenge you to think again.

Join me and many others in learning the reasons for God’s existence and presenting them with humility, kindness, and respect, in full dependence upon the Holy Spirit, and in partnership with the local church.

Questions for Discussion

1. Have you watched or listened to the debate? How did it influence you?

2. What if there were no good arguments for Christianity? For atheism? How would this affect your life?

3. How do you justify the legitimacy of your personal experience about the world? About God?

4. Are you prepared to explain why Christianity is true?