Last night I attended a conversation between atheist and cosmologist Professor Lawrence Krauss and Christian and philosopher Dr William Lane Craig. The conversation was the first part in a series of three events on the topic of “Life, the universe and nothing”, presented by The City Bible Forum. In this post I will make some general observations about the conversation entitled “Has Science Buried God?”.
Click here to read the debate highlights.
Click here for an update on the video for this conversation.
One of the City Bible Forum’s objectives in hosting these events is to promote civil discussion on issues of God, religion and science. The key word being “civil”. Just how civil was it?
To me, civility is certainly not about finding agreement with everyone, but rather the manner in which one goes about expressing disagreement. However, it soon became clear throughout both opening addresses that Krauss didn’t seem to be there for that same purpose, using ad hominem, ridicule and gimics; in particular, he used a buzzer to express his disagreement with Craig’s arguments, while Craig was talking. Krauss was clearly playing up for/to his vocal fans, as well as attempting to disrupt his opponent.
The thing is at other times, Krauss was quite charismatic, funny and articulate, effectively sweeping you up in the beauty of the scientific process. Now, Krauss was not there to win converts (he said he was not expecting or attempting to convert anyone) but rather to encourage rational thinking and inquiry. The problem was that in using cheap tactics, like a buzzer, he didn’t actually model the kind of rationality he was arguing for. I am baffled as to why someone so learned and articulate felt such tactics were acceptable for a public debate or necessary for his pitch, when he had plenty of opportunity to address the claims directly.
Now while Craig attempted to address arguments rather than characters, I felt he still wasn’t able to gain much momentum in the discussion, for at least two factors. The first, is the format of the conversation – an opening address by each speaker, followed by moderated discussion, followed by audience Q&A. I was hoping the moderated discussion might allow a more free-flowing exchange, which it was, but not in a good way – on quite a few occasions both speakers were talking at the same time, which made it impossible to hear what each was saying. The moderator, while he did a good job at teasing out issues raised in the conversation, could have done more to rein this in. Krauss is admittedly quite entertaining and engaging, and no doubt enjoys the live audience; his performance was probably stronger, exhibited more presence, relishing what was almost open slather on Craig, not because Krauss’ arguments were revolutionary or persuasive, but because he was simply more dominant, overbearing perhaps.
The second problem was the recurring “slaughter of the Canaanites” issue, which Krauss raised against Craig in his opening address and seemed to be stuck on, which is unfortunate because it wasn’t actually the topic of the debate. The issue is a challenging problem for apologists but probably not insurmountable. Over at St Eutychus, Nathan does a much more critical analysis of the approach than my brief excursion here, and offers a possible framework for the way Craig could have addressed the issue.
Perhaps a formal debate structure would have allowed Craig to systematically work through the issues raised in Krauss’ address, as is his way, rather than at times fighting to be heard; despite Krauss’ dominant performance, there were a few moments when he (Krauss) was clearly struggling to respond. But more on these in the next post.
All up, it was a curious and mildly disappointing night, frustrated at times due to a railroading of the discussion and the uncharitable tone that was set early on, the format, and a conversational technique I hope I will never see in a public debate again.
More thoughts after the weekend.
Meanwhile, read the two speakers cases here:
A universe without purpose – Lawrence Krauss
Is the material world all there is? Arguments for the existence of God – William Lane Craig
Edit: the above articles do not reflect the cases presented at the Brisbane discussion. You’ll have to wait for the audio/video.
August 8, 2013 at 11:11 PM
“Perhaps a formal debate structure ”
The problem with a formal debate structure is that it is easier to claim a thing than refute it. So something that takes 30 seconds to claim may take 10 minutes to explain and refute, and there may be multiple 30 seconds claim in any segment.
Which is what Mr. Craig is used to and, I’m guessing, is why Krauss used his buzzer.
August 11, 2013 at 8:50 PM
Thanks for the comment. Good point – I think that’s part of it, but to me that doesn’t justify its use (seemed quite childish really). Krauss attacked the man in his address for several minutes, then when the man gave his address he buzzed him. If Krauss wanted to debate those things he could have raised them in his address, but chose to raise other (off-topic) things.
August 9, 2013 at 1:50 AM
Krauss knows that he can abuse the conversation format because he simply shouts over his opponent, interrupts and doesn’t listen. He wouldn’t be able to do that in a formal debate setting. There was no excuse for using that buzzer on Craig’s speaking time. If an opponent did that to Krauss, we’d never hear the end of it, and Krauss would be denouncing it as yet another evil of religion. The man’s behaving very cowardly and hypocritically.
August 11, 2013 at 8:53 PM
Thanks for the comment. I agree – a buzzer is not an argument someone who sees himself as a champion of rationality should be using.
August 10, 2013 at 11:21 AM
Krauss knows that he’s out of his league when in discussions with Craig. He’s there to make money and mock Craig. He isn’t actually interested in reflectively dialoguing on these issues.
Krauss is a cosmologist. A very intelligent man and academically exceptional man no doubt, but without the breadth of knowledge of Dr Craig. Krauss is an expert in one field, while Craig is an expert in multiple fields and knowledgeable about others. Craig is a philosopher of religion, a philosopher of science, a historian and theologian who has been writing about these issues and speaking on them for 30 years. He has 2 phd’s in entirely different fields that both focused specifically on issues that connect Christianity with it’s intellectual viability (Kalam Cosmological Argument and New Testament History). He has forgotten more about Christianity and it’s intersections with history, science and ethics than Krauss will ever learn! Krauss doesn’t deserve to be on a stage with Dr Craig and discussing these issues. So the only way for Krauss to even appear in the same intellectual ball park as Craig is for Krauss to derail the conversation and speak over the top of Craig.
For those who aren’t aware, there’s a back story here. This approach should come as no surprise, especially to those who’ve listened to their initial debate in 2011 where, frankly, Krauss was dismantled. It was clear that Dr Craig’s breadth of knowledge is far superior. to Krauss’s, and Krauss took to blog sites to angrily protest against Craig after the event.
Dr Craig just needs to continue being the gentlemen, and avoid stooping to the level of Krauss. And don’t let Krauss continually take the conversation off topic.
August 11, 2013 at 9:10 PM
Thanks for stopping by!
“Krauss knows that he’s out of his league when in discussions with Craig. He’s there to make money and mock Craig. He isn’t actually interested in reflectively dialoguing on these issues. ”
I think this will come across in the audio/video if it’s ever released. To dialogue with theists may be seen as acknowledging the legitimacy of the theistic position, hence the tactics.
August 15, 2013 at 8:38 AM
Agree totally with your review of the night Matthew and especially your comments re Krauss. In your next post I hope you address what I thought was a key point right at the end when (hope I remember the context correctly) Krauss was asked to confirm his “universe from nothing” hypothess and he really waffled and vacillated at that point. His fans should have seen then that he really cannot sustain that argument at all! I will listen to that point again when the audio becomes available. Unfortunately however I felt Krauss did score against Dr Craig when he revealed Dr Craig’s misunderstanding of the Dawkins/Pell dialogue on Q&A. You may have seen that Krauss is continuing to push this on the web, and he is likely to continue attacking the man, rather than the argument. No doubt other atheist bloggers will pick up this theme, plus of course, the perennial “Canaanite” issue. Sandra
August 15, 2013 at 9:06 PM
Hey Sandra, thanks for the comments. I agree Krauss probably scored some points on that, placing Craig on the defensive… hopefully people will actually seek out Craig’s position on the matter. On your first point, we’ll have to wait for the video in order to respond further… likewise for the Sydney discussion- which covers the universe from nothing hypothesis in much more detail I’m guessing.