Craig vs. Rosenburg: Is Faith in God Reasonable?
More than 15,000 people watched the debate. That’s a lot of people! 5,000 people in physical attendance with more than 10,000 online and in 60+ countries. Dr. Rosenburg thought the debate forum was somewhat pedantic, but Craig’s statement about how such debates bring the scholarly conversations into the public arena reflects, in my opinion (and I suspect 15,000 other people) the worth of the night. These sorts of conversations are good even just to bring the layman to think about such questions. Think about it…on a Friday night, 5,000 college students went to go sit in an auditorium and think about God (half of them probably went to go take victory or losing shots afterwards, but hey…it’s college!). I suspect that Rosenburg’s thoughts came more out of frustration than a genuine belief that debates are virtuously useless. After all, he agreed to do it (presumably not just to sell books!).
Who won the debate? In all honesty, Craig won. Trust me, it’s not confirmation bias. The numbers reflected it with Craig towering over Rosenburg in the online polls, the student polls, and the judges opinions. But, of course, this only says so much and certainly doesn’t say he’s right. The arguments that these men put forward need to be dealt with on a case by case basis (and then beyond them). And even at that point, it’s only at the end of it all that one will truly know (or, if Rosenburg is right, will never know!)
But let’s talk rhetoric: Craig won on that basis. Rosenburg seemed annoyed and occasionally nervous. Distracted often. Rosenburg took too many awkward water breaks, shifted around too much, and just genuinely pissed off. His ability to keep things on one track and move methodically from one thought to the next was slim. Craig, of course, came across as too professor-ish and I have critiqued him on that on a number of occasions (Craig, it’s okay to lean on the podium!). But he came across as sincere, genuine, and balanced in a way that Rosenburg was not and the arguments, with the help of slides, were lucid and flowing.
On the argument basis, Rosenburg avoided a number of Craig’s arguments or responded narrowly. On eyewitness tradition, for example, Rosenburg merely responded saying that eyewitness tradition is terrible and that according to many NT scholars, 75% of the NT was made up. Both of these thoughts left me extremely perplexed and reflected to me that Rosenburg made several assumptions related to my own field. He failed to consult oral tradition studies like Richard Bauckham’s extremely important study Jesus and the Eyewitnesses or James Dunn’s Jesus Remembered. Outside of The Jesus Seminar, almost no NT scholar would take such an extreme position suggesting that 75% of the whole thing was invented. Most NT scholars, in fact, think that much about Jesus was passed on reliably from eyewitnesses. But I demur on the point relating to my own field. It just raised my eyebrow a little bit higher than usual.
Rosenburg equally used the argument of evil against Christianity and, yet, denied the reality of objective morals. I was hoping that he would eventually get around to the question of whether he thinks nihilism is true or if he, in fact, thinks that objective evil is a reality, a point he seemed to express in his arguments and in his personal statements of offense. I found there was no real satisfactory answer. If you want to suggest that evil presents a problem against God’s existence you are, in effect, recognizing that evil truly exists. At one point it seemed as if Rosenburg hung his entire atheist hat on the argument from evil suggesting that if there was a sufficient explanation for it put forward by Craig than he would become a Christian. An interesting statement and one which makes me wonder if Rosenburg would than admit the inferiority of the other atheist arguments he put forward.
To critique Craig, he came prepared with prior slides (something which he was annoyed at in a previous debate I headed up with Michael Tooley at UNCC), quoting Rosenburg’s works. This is all fine and good, but in the rebuttals can end up feeling as if previous points are being ignored. He also didn’t engage sufficiently with Rosenburg’s argument upfront about particles and causation. This was an important loss on his part.
However, from the beginning there was a genuine sense that Craig was really there for a debate and Rosenburg was there more or less to complain and to retort how Craig “just doesn’t listen.” Annoyed at the fact that Craig brought out six of the same arguments used before, Rosenburg’s opening presentation was a 8 minute personal rant against Craig which seemed way beyond the point of the debate. So Craig has had objections before…this does not mean that they are right or that he should retire his arguments. Further, there was little engagement on Rosenburg’s part with the actual arguments themselves (though I do admit that I stepped out of the room for about 5 minutes of his presentation to deal with something…so perhaps I missed it then!).
In any case, a long night with a lot of words. Hopefully there will be a more detailed response in the future from myself and I look forward to picking up the book, especially in terms of the followup essays.