Hitchens Debate at Biola University
From the May '09 ReasonableFaith.org Newsletter
by William Lane Craig
All during my Missouri speaking trip and at FSU, I knew my debate with the infamous “new atheist” Christopher Hitchens at Biola University was looming. Fortunately, this debate did not require near the preparation of the previous two because Hitchens, despite all his bluster, really has almost nothing of substance to say about arguments for/against God’s existence. He is, as Michael Kinsley has said, just an old fashioned (and very entertaining) village atheist. In fact, my main concern about this debate was his ability to charm an audience by rhetoric, humor, and his urbane British accent.
The debate on April 4 was the largest ticketed event ever held at Biola University. The gymnasium where the debate was held was stunningly illuminated with a bright blue backdrop and equipped with a giant screen and packed with 4,000 people. High-definition television cables linked the gym to every other auditorium on campus. The debate was webcast live (as well as on delayed feeds) to 35 other states and even to four foreign countries! Bloggers in the gym were providing live, blow-by-blow coverage to people across the internet. It was truly a high impact event!
Knowing Hitchens’ penchant for denouncing and ridiculing religion, I decided to approach the subject of God’s existence, not from the standpoint of religion, but from the standpoint of philosophy. Hitchens seems to have no appreciation at all of the fact that one of the central questions of philosophy is whether God exists and that, regardless of religion, there is a long history of arguments for/against God’s existence. As a professional philosopher, I said that in the debate I was going to focus on the arguments and leave other issues aside.
This strategy worked beautifully, as Hitchens showed himself utterly incapable of interacting with the arguments in a substantive way. By his third speech he had reverted to his usual railing against God as a North Korean dictator who robs us of our freedom. Hitchens actually forfeited his closing statement in favor of taking audience questions, so that I wound up having the last word in the debate.
The reaction in the blogosphere was immediate and unanimous. Hitchens was uniformly denounced for his empty rhetoric and posturing and his failure to interact with the arguments. One atheist blogger summed it up: “Hitchens was rambling and incoherent, with the occasional rhetorical jab. Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child.” For my part, I’m gratified that one of the so-called four horsemen of the new atheism should be publicly exposed in this way. The whole debate, plus the pre-debate press conference and personal interviews, was professionally filmed by Illustra Media (the creators of “Unlocking the Mystery of Life” and “The Case for a Creator”) and will be released as a DVD.All active news articles