Craig vs. Cook

Well, I went to the debate between Doctors William Lane Craig and Bill Cooke and, I have to say, I was not impressed with either of them. Craig used fairly trite arguments for theism and Cooke utterly failed to engage with Craig on any substantive matters.

Craig’s four-and-an-half argument for theism was:

1. There must be a creator (in respect to the Big Bang).
2. The Universe is finely tuned for life (and it can’t be that way by chance).
3. There can be no objective morality without God.
4. The historicity of Christ suggests that his post-crucifixation appearances are a miracle.
4.5. He has had a personal experience of Jesus (I call this half an argument because, as Craig agreed, it doesn’t actually provide proof of anything much).

If we disregard 4.5 then we have four arguments supposedly in support of theism, all of which are substantially controversial, none of which Cooke was able to provide an argument against. This was a great pity; Cooke started well but, when it came to the rebuttal stage, failed to deliver. Cooke, it seems, was just not prepared for the debate; he hadn’t done his research into Craig’s academic history (despite Cooke’s assertion Craig is qualified to talk about cosmology) and, most importantly, had no comebacks to the four arguments listed above. This wasn’t just surprising; it was negligent. Those are four commonly given arguments for Christianity and each one of them is controversial, each one has been argued over in the public domain and each one of them should be easily addressed by someone who claims to be a Rationalist (and an atheist).

Aside from Cooke’s inability to debate Craig (and it wasn’t just his lack of preparation; Cooke also was condescending to the audience and gave up talking twice, thus not just giving Craig the moral high ground (because he wanted to debate the issues) but also confirming, in the eyes of the theists, that atheism can offer no real objections to theism.

Whilst Cooke was disappointing for his inability to engage in the debate Craig was disappointing because he wasn’t playing fair. He was presenting very simplified arguments with little justification and far too many leaps of logic (there must be an uncaused first cause; this must, therefore, be a god-entity). In part this is Cooke’s fault again; had he pressed Craig then we would have got the more sophisticated arguments (there must be an uncaused first cause; this must, therefore, be a god-entity because uncaused causes, to cause, must be more than just abstracta, et al) but, even so, Craig could have been a little more sophisticated. I went to his talk to the Department of Philosophy earlier in the day and, from what I saw, he is a good philosopher. It was also telling that whenever members (and former members) of the Department engaged Craig at the debate he automatically started talking about the more sophisticated versions of his material so he was dumbing it down for what he assumed was a fairly ignorant public.

It’s hard to express just how frustrating listening to the debate really was. What was fun was watching Professor John Bishop translate long and laborious questions into shorter versions, none of which misrepresented the questioner’s intention. He’s been teaching for so long that he’s heard them all.

5 thoughts on “Craig vs. Cook

  1. Thanks for the good review. I take it you won’t be going to their second debate on Thursday at the Regent Theatre lol.

    You said:

    “Whilst Cooke was disappointing for his inability to engage in the debate Craig was disappointing because he wasn’t playing fair. He was presenting very simplified arguments with little justification and far too many leaps of logic”

    Well can you really blame him? In a short timed debate you can only present so many arguments and offer a very simplified/compressed explanation of each. I don’t think you can say he’s being unfair here. Perhaps just lacking in giving an adequate explanation for each. Again this could all be put on the limits of the debate itself, not the debaters.

    You said:

    “If we disregard 4.5 then we have four arguments supposedly in support of theism, all of which are substantially controversial”

    I take from this that :(1) you obviously don’t accept them and (2) There is a lot of debate and disagreement about them and many people who don’t accept them.

    It seems though as if you’re presenting the fact that they are controversial as an argument against them. I mean if they weren’t controversial then they would be agreed upon by most philosophers. But we’re talking about arguments for God’s existence here. Of course they will be controversial and hotly debated, since the very idea of an argument showing an all-mighty creator God exists is, to many philosophers, incredible and ground breaking. I’m curious as to know why you personally reject them.

    Thx again

  2. Your second point first; my criticism really is leveraged towards Dr. Cooke. I think there are obvious rebuttals to Dr. Craig’s arguments and the fact that Dr. Cooke didn’t (and seemingly couldn’t) raise them shows fault in him. I recognise that Dr. Craig’s arguments were necessarily simplified due to time limits and I suspect that, if challenged on them, he would have provided the more sophisticated ones. So no, I’m not trying to make out that the fact that people disagree with him over his arguments is reason to think them false; to decide that you need to hear those arguments and Dr. Cooke did not oblige. The burden of proof, in this debate, was on Cooke and I think he should have been able to discharge it. He did not. Shame on him.

    As to why I reject them… Well, I’m a Determinist (philosophically). I’m also a Deist (but I’m also willing to accept the charged that my sense of the Divine is just a chemical misfiring in my brain), and as such I don’t believe in God, let alone a Demiurge. I’m quite content to accept the evidence and reasoning of many (if not the consensus) of physicists when it comes to the pre-state of the Universe and how the Big Bang occurred. I’m willing to bite the bullet on the lottery that is the tuning of this Universe (and will cite Douglas Adam’s ‘Pool of Water’ example). I think morality is a social construction and I think that gives it greater meaning than taking a Divine Command Theory approach to it. The historicity of Jesus (as a person) is accepted but the notion that the Gospels tell us the facts of his life is very much open to debate.

    As for Thursday; I actually do have a prior engagement.

  3. My impressions of the debate were similar but not entirely the same. The problem seemed to be that Cooke is a militant atheist in transition towards something friendlier. There was a tension between the two stances. Furthermore, Cooke wasn’t up to Craig standard’s philosophically, and didn’t try to hide the fact.

    I think you’re being a little bit unfair to Craig. I mean, he made some utterly hair-raising claims towards the end, but his presentations of his arguments were fairly accurate without being too ‘dumbed down’.

  4. I’m not sure I agree; Craig’s arguments lacked vital steps (why is the uncaused first cause personal?) and were presented as being formally valid (he’s big on the whole idea of presenting things as arguments proper) when they actually weren’t. Hardly accurate portrayals. Admittedly, I think he was waiting for Cooke to decide on a specific argument to attack so that he could then present a fuller, thus fairer, account, but what we saw were dumbed down versions of standard Christian apologetics.

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