William Lane Craig is a charlatan

Oh my science. From Luke Muehlhauser:

Honestly, in a lot of debates with atheists, it’s William Lane Craig who is being more logical and more faithful to the arguments than the atheist opponent is. A lot of that just has to do with the fact that he’s better philosophically trained, so he thinks like a philosopher, but I really think that should put some atheists to shame. If they really think their’s is the rational position, they should be able to win on grounds of argument and evidence and logic, and when they don’t, it shows that we are probably just arguing from a psychological perspective: “We know we’re right, and he’s obviously wrong, and here are the reasons why, and I don’t really have to take the logic or the arguments seriously or study these issues.”

I’m not going to mince words here: this is a preposterous smear against atheists, and Luke should be ashamed of himself.

It’s not that I’m not frustrated by how atheists have historically performed in public debates with Craig I am. However, it’s absurd to suggest this is a failure of argument or logic on the atheists’ part. Craig wins on rhetoric, and I thought everyone knew this. Seriously, can anyone think of a single debate where Craig’s opponent has committed as many textbook logical fallacies as Craig does? As many appeals to authority, as many evasions, as many dirty rhetorical tricks? It’s not just that Craig’s arguments “fail,” as Luke puts it in the linked post, it’s that on the whole they’re so bad that few if any of them deserve to be discussed in respectful terms (I’ve lately moved towards thinking none of them do, but surely we can at least agree that not many of them do?)

Luke cites Craig’s debate with Bart Ehrman, a debate where, when I first read the transcript, Craig’s behavior struck me as especially bizarre. Craig’s first rebuttal didn’t respond at all to what Ehrman had said in his opening speech, but instead spent 12 minutes attacking a strained interpretation of something Ehrman had said elsewhere. Ehrman also did a very good job of pointing out general flaws in Craig’s arguments, including calling out Craig on his misleading use of citations from Biblical scholars. It’s indefensible and inexcusable for Luke to imply that Ehrman’s response to Craig was irrational.

Talking about Craig in such reverential terms, rather than taking every opportunity to point out the fallacies in his arguments, does a huge disservice to all the honest enquirers out there who are smart enough to question the likes of Craig but need a bit of help seeing through him.

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18 Comments.

  1. Talking about Craig in such reverential terms, rather than taking every opportunity to point out the fallacies in his arguments

    This is completely wrong. A good arguer follows the principle of charity. If the opponent offers a fallacious argument, you should try to improve upon it and make it non-fallacious.

    Pointing out fallacies and then walking away satisfied that you have somehow beaten your opponent is not a sign of good reasoning.

    For example, in your link to the video about WLC’s use of appeal to authority, the opponent just derides Craig for using it fallaciously (because the experts disagree). If one would bother to actually read Reasonable Faith, one would see that Craig offers argument for this premise, and he offers responses to such objections as that morality is rooted in Platonism.

    Debate time is necessarily truncated, and so the arguments are not presented in their most in depth light.

    Christians love to point to Dawkins’ God Delusion argument and how it’s logically invalid, walking away smug that they have defeated those silly atheists.

    But atheist philosopher Erik Wielenberg, without batting an eye, formulates it in valid form first (with nary a mention of its original invalidity), and THEN shows why it doesn’t work, and THEN offers an improvement based on Hume.

    Look for “Dawkins’ Gambit, Hume’s Aroma, and Divine Simplicity”.

  2. How coincidental that you blog on Craig’s debate strategies just a few days after I posted this:

    http://aigbusted.blogspot.com/2011/02/william-lane-craig-plagiarism.html

    I pointed to some possible plagiarism in Craig’s work, an example of really shoddy scholarship on Craig’s part, and a very obviously dishonest debate trick Craig pulled on Paul Draper.

  3. @hammie:

    Why on Earth shouldn’t we be pointing out fallacious arguments? It’s very hard to reason well if you can’t spot basic fallacies, and a public debate with someone like Craig is a very good opportunity to teach the audience to do that.

    I know that Craig has said things that purport to be arguments for his claims about God and morality, but as far as I can tell they’re terrible through and through (and I mock a number of them in the linked video).

    Besides, in a public debate, if Craig’s opponent tried to give every one of Craig’s arguments a better formulation, he would run out of time, and Craig would run his obnoxious “my opponent didn’t respond to everything I said, therefore I win” shtick.

    @Ryan: Oh damn. Probably shouldn’t be surprised, though.

  4. hammiesink- there’s a difference between a good “arguer” and a good debater. Craig generates rapport with his audience. He recognizes that he is performing primarily for Christians, and often makes controversial claims that are completely without support but which is audience is predisposed to believe. He happily relies on the goodwill he receives from an audience that views him as their white knight, slaying the atheist dragon.

    The principle of charity isn’t how to win a debate. You win a debate by figuring out the social dynamic that is going on in the room, and breaking it if possible. If its not possible, then you avoid the debate. So if you want to beat Craig in a debate, don’t rewrite his arguments in your head until they’re less terrible. Drive wedges between Craig and his audience. Figure out the gaps between Craig’s theology and popular Christian theology, and mention them even if they’re not relevant. Dig up old quotes of Craig saying things his audience won’t like to hear. Do what you have to do to win.

    He will. If you’re not willing to, you shouldn’t be debating him.

  5. I didn’t say “don’t spot the fallacies.” I said don’t point them out like gotchas. Instead, ignore them and reformulate the argument so that it doesn’t have fallacies, and THEN attack it.

    As I said, the principle of charity. My logic textbook is telling me to do this with ALL of my opponents’ arguments.

    This is what professional philosophers do when they write in journals. They dispassionately assess the arguments.
    Screaming “Aha! Fallacy fallacy fallacy fallacy!!!” over and over again doesn’t get to the heart of the matter: whether the argument is sound. And it tempts people to, ironically, commit the argument from fallacy.

  6. Reply to Hammie:

    “This is completely wrong. A good arguer follows the principle of charity. If the opponent offers a fallacious argument, you should try to improve upon it and make it non-fallacious.”

    The principle you’ve just elaborated on is correct.

    “Pointing out fallacies and then walking away satisfied that you have somehow beaten your opponent is not a sign of good reasoning.”

    Again, the principle which you are elaborating upon is correct. If only William Lane Craig would bother to follow it.

    “Christians love to point to Dawkins’ God Delusion argument and how it’s logically invalid, walking away smug that they have defeated those silly atheists.

    “But atheist philosopher Erik Wielenberg, without batting an eye, formulates it in valid form first (with nary a mention of its original invalidity), and THEN shows why it doesn’t work, and THEN offers an improvement based on Hume.

    “Look for ‘Dawkins’ Gambit, Hume’s Aroma, and Divine Simplicity’.”

    That’s a good article, but once again we see the philosophical community misunderstanding Dawkins massively. First, Wielenberg reveals the origin of Dawkins’ argument (as if it were some huge secret… Dawkins mentioned that Cleanthes, a character in Hume’s book on Natural Religion, came up with it first in THE GOD DELUSION). Wielenberg apparently doesn’t see that Dawkins’ maint point is that something as complicated as God necessarily has a low a priori probability of existing uncaused. Few philosophers seem to have grasped that this is what Dawkins was saying and that Dawkins was completely right about it.

  7. OK… you did say “don’t spot” fallacies, but you still advocate ignoring them, which is dumb.

    And certain kinds of fallacies, particularly formal fallacies, *do* render the arguments that commit them unsound.

    It is possible to make an argument that commits an informal fallacy while meeting the technical criteria for soundness, i.e. “the Earth is round therefore the Earth is round.” That argument has a true premise which guarantees the truth of its conclusion, but is circular.

    That doesn’t, however, show that informal fallacies don’t matter. It shows that there’s more to good arguments than the technical criteria for soundness.

  8. Its worth remembering that even if its in your logic textbook, the principle of charity is NOT a logical rule. It is an ethical suggestion. It makes sense in certain contexts. There are contexts in which it makes little sense, and there are certainly other ethical principles that run opposite to it. For example, one should not put words in the mouth of one’s opponent and then refute them, because that is almost the definition of straw man argumentation.

  9. Patrick,

    The principle of charity isn’t how to win a debate.

    This is exactly how Craig won his debate against Austin Dacey. Dacey presented several positive statements in support of naturalism. Craig calmly formulated them into formal syllogisms, and then pointed out what was wrong with them.

    His opponents should do the same. They don’t. They are too busy whining about how Craig is a “this” and Craig is a “that.”

  10. aigbusted,

    If only William Lane Craig would bother to follow it.

    I could cry “Tu Quoque fallacy!” and walk away. Instead, I’ll point out that Craig does do this. In his debate with Austin Dacey, he formulated Dacey’s arguments into valid syllogisms, and then pointed out why they didn’t work. His opponents rarely if ever do. They are too busy attacking irrelevant side tracks. This is why they lose all the time.

    Wielenberg apparently doesn’t see that Dawkins’ maint point is that something as complicated as God necessarily has a low a priori probability of existing uncaused.

    Uhhhh… That’s what the entire article is about. Did you actually read it?

  11. Chris,

    It is possible to make an argument that commits an informal fallacy while meeting the technical criteria for soundness, i.e. “the Earth is round therefore the Earth is round.”

    Sure, but at that point you could then easily show that one of the premises is false. Instead of saying, “Fallacy this and fallacy that,” say, “I have reformulated your argument, and as you (the audience) can clearly see, premise 2 is false/not supportable/etc.”

    Once again, in his writings Craig offers argumentation to support premise 1 of his moral argument. Accusing him of committing appeal to authority is like slapping a bunny rabbit around and then feeling smug about how big and strong you are. Make the bunny into the Incredible Hallq (ha!) first , and THEN beat it up.

    At least, that’s what philosophers do in peer-reviewed literature, and in my opinion is the best form of reasoning. And logic is on my side.

  12. hammie,

    First, do you understand the point that the “principle of charity” is not a logical rule on the level of modus ponens, but more practical level advice?

    It can be good advice when there’s reason to suspect there might be a better argument in the vicinity of the one you’re criticizing, but some arguments are so terrible there’s little chance of finding a stronger reformulation.

    The reason philosophers, in journal articles, don’t spend all their time pointing out trivial fallacies is because this isn’t what their fellow philosophers want to read when they open a journal, and more importantly, it won’t impress the philosopher’s colleagues in a way that will make them want to give him (or her) tenure.

    However, the question of what’s appropriate for a philosophy journal is very different than what will be most beneficial to the lay audience members in a debate about the existence of God.

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to say when you say the thing to do is point out premises of an argument that are “false/not supportable/etc,” To say an argument is circular is just one specific way of doing this–being circular means that if the conclusion is in doubt, then one of the premises won’t be supportable.

    Similarly, when Craig offers up an argument in premise-conclusion form, but only supports one of the premises by appeal to authority, to point out the fallacy of appealing to authority amounts to pointing out that he has not supported that premise.

    I am aware that Craig has made other arguments in defense of his claim that morality depends on God, and I’ve dealt with them at length elsewhere. I think Craig’s efforts in that area are also pretty terrible, though in the linked post you’ll see me making an effort to find a plausible argument somewhere in there.

    I don’t think any of that, though, justifies the praise people like Luke have heaped on Craig, which was my main point in the original post.

  13. @hammie:

    “I could cry ‘Tu Quoque fallacy!’ and walk away. Instead, I’ll point out that Craig does do this. In his debate with Austin Dacey, he formulated Dacey’s arguments into valid syllogisms, and then pointed out why they didn’t work. His opponents rarely if ever do. They are too busy attacking irrelevant side tracks. This is why they lose all the time.”

    I haven’t listened to the debate with Dacey, but it has been my general observation that Craig most certainly does not engage in any sort of intellectual charity. When he gave a response to Daniel Dennett’s critiques of theological arguments, for example: Dennett had postulated the perhaps the universe was “self-caused”. Craig gave the most uncharitable interpretation of that vague comment that he could: he told everyone that Dennett was saying that the universe, in causing itself, must have existed prior to its own existence, and hence Dennett’s conjecture was incoherent. Actually Craig has to know better than that. Saying that the universe is “self caused” could be interpreted in a variety of ways, and in fact Quentin Smith (who published a book with Craig on Cosmology and theistic arguments) has published papers about how a universe could be self-caused (in a sense) and how this is logically possible and not self-defeating.

    BTW, I believe Quentin Smith has these papers up on his website. Google his name.

    “Uhhhh… That’s what the entire article is about. Did you actually read it?”

    Yeah, I have. Here’s a quote from page 6:

    “If God is a necessary being, then He did not come into existence all at once entirely by chance because He did not come into existence at all. Thus, contra premise (4) of Dawkins’s Gambit, the fact that a given thing is complex and lacks an explanation external to itself does not imply that the existence of the thing in question is improbable. Premise (4) does not hold in the case of things that exist necessarily; hence, it does not hold in the case of God.”

    Dawkins is not attacking the idea of a God who jumped into existence by chance at some point in the past. A complex God who existed for eternity is improbable all the same. Think about it. Theists are fond of using the fine-tuning argument. Would the fine-tuning problem be solved simply by postulating that the universe was eternal? No. In the same way, a complex and specified mind cannot be considered more likely simply in virtue of it existing forever.

  14. Great site here Hallq! Just joined…

    I am glad to see I was not the only one outraged by Luke’s respect for Craig. It seems that whenever Craig calls out someone for a bad argument (which usually entails putting words in their mouth) Luke praises Craig for it and says he won the debate because he did that.
    On the other hand, when someone else does the exact same thing to Craig (except honestly, without putting words in his mouth) like Shelly Kagan did, then Luke says somethin like “So and so did pretty well, but Craig still won.” He clearly has a bias towards this pseudo-philosopher and obvious charlatan…

  15. One can’t simply say “that’s an appeal to authority so it’s a fallacy”. It’s much more complex than that: it depends on the motivation of the speaker (if it’s supposed to be an end-all argument), and on the context of the discussion. One can always appeal to authority if it is relevant and meant to be a supporting argument. It works in the way of the latter if both parties in some sense respect the authority in question but not necessarily agree.

    Example: In the link you put up about the “logical fallacies” Craig makes, he says “Michael Ruse, Bertrand Russell, and Friedrich Nietzsche agree with me” to which the bear simply replies that it is an appeal to authority and doesn’t advance the argument. But this is simply shoddy debate skills, since obviously “Craig’s” point was to show that you don’t have to be a Christian or theist to believe the argument he just trotted out. It’s a red herring to treat the appeal to authority as the argument itself.

    Just remember: Craig is a trained philosopher. ‘Nuff said.

  16. Chris Hallquist

    If Craig just means his appeals to authority to be “supporting” arguments, it’s often difficult to impossible to divine what the “main” arguments are supposed to be.

    And I never forget Craig is a trained philosopher. I sometimes wonder what that says about philosophers in general.

    (Though to be fair to philosophers, I think Craig is an atypical example of a philosopher, and the least of the reasons I have for doubting the value of analytic philosophy.)