Craig wins again

craig - that's your argumentThis post is a commentary on the Craig-Rosenberg debate. Most of my comments are in italics; factual reporting is in regular text.

In short, Craig undeniably wins. I felt bad for Rosenberg, and could hear naturalistic philosophers of religion face-palming throughout the debate.

Debaters: there’s a lot you can learn from here.

  • 8:00 The debate has judges? Yet no philosophers? Or rather, one who used to teach it?
  • 17:14 – Debate finally starts. C comes out hitting on all cylinders, with a clean argument for a self (an “unembodied mind,” “a consciousness,” or “person”) which exists a se (he hedges with talk of “a personal being”) (person etc. – before 24 min). (See comment re: 37:00 below.)
  • 25:30 It is clear that C has read some of Rosenberg’s work.
  • C keeps his arguments simple, short, and understandable – though philosphers and other pros might prefer more detail. But this is effective communication; he knows his audience. His pace is conversational, and not a word is wasted. It is clear that C has tailored his arguments to his opponent, even while using mostly his standard arguments – and he points out some of the most ridiculous things R has said follow from naturalistic atheism.
  • 28:00 - I don’t at all understand C’s comeback to the multiple cosmoi objection to the fine tuning argument. A rare mis-step in C’s debate performance.
  • 37:00 C: God “can be personally known.” Never mind that God is NOT literally a self/person, or C’s controversial Trinity speculations, which he habitually presents as “the” doctrine of the Trinity. But, this does nothing to hurt him in this debate.
  • 38:00 Rosenburg starts his case, and is hilariously rude. He falsely implies that C doesn’t listen, is not paying attention to others. This is a major debate mistake – contempt only works in small doses. For example, see Craig’s face in the meme above. (Thanks to Australian Philosophy major Anthony Bigg for that.) R riduculosuly declares a debate to be the wrong format, then misdefines “faith” around 40:00. Note to Rosenberg: if you really think that debates are useless when it comes to getting at the truth, don’t particicpate!  No debates are not a genteel discusion, nor are the how we really think deeply through a subject, but they are a useful exercise.
  • 42:00 R commits an appeal to authority fallacy, appealing to the membership of National Academy of Sciences. Clearly, whatever the majority of those blokes believe, we should believe. They’re scientists, after all.
  • 43:00 – R thinks that theists need a “principle of sufficient reason” which implies that all events are caused. He doesn’t realize that since the 70s, cosmological arguments don’t suppose that all facts are explainable, or that every event has a cause. So, he flails at a straw man.
  • 45:00 R doesn’t seem familiar with careful versions of the fine tuning argument, at least, by what he says in this debate.
  • 46:00 – R: Craig is 400 years out of date in invoking purposes! Poor jerk. How out of date! C must be red in the face!
  • 48:00 – R shows the “something from nothing” confusion Craig has been correcting, in print, for, I don’t know, at least two decades. Sigh.
  • 48:00 Plato refuted that only God can underwrite objective values. Suggests that Craig never heard of it, tries to saddle Craig with an implausible Divine Command Theory which C has repeatedly, clearly, denied.
  • R has a prickly, acid, needlessly, hostile manner, like he’s trying to explain things to idiots and knaves. Not helpful.
  • 52:00 – R points out that many moral theories are compatible with naturalism, and that none of these are refuted by C; nor does he show that g the best explanation of moral realism. Point Rosenberg; he lands a couple of blows here.

look out

  • 53:00 – R is “gobsmacked as a philosopher” that C argues from the New Testament. He compares to this to Joseph Smith & his 11 sworn witnesses, Muhammad’s night journey, Scientology’s Xenu, weeping Mary statues. This argument by R is a crude instrument – it is unclear what these have in common, other than that R finds them incredible. R seems to suggest we all know miracles don’t happen, eyewitness testimony is in general unreliable. But we should not be guessing; he’s flailing here.
  • 56:00 – R asserts that the “logical” argument to atheism from evil is a “killer” argument. God’s existence logically implies  no suffering.  This is “theism’s problem from hell.” Oh noes!
  • 57:00 – R opines that many responses to problem of evil are morally offensive. He’s a child of holocaust survivors. Not clear how relevant. For all he’s said to this point, R seems unaware of the Free Will Defense, and seems to labor under the assumption that believers in God can and will only appeal to mystery.
  • 59:00 – Craig’s 12 min rebuttal starts. (He was ready with slides!) Patiently explains why the logical argument for atheism is widely rejected. This is a killer point. Argues that naturalism really the issue, and distinguishes epistemological naturalism (scientism) vs metaphysical naturalism (physicalism). 1st doesn’t imply 2nd. C argues that if you accept the former, you should be a theist. (A gesture at his argument from the applicability of mathematics to the cosmos?) R doesn’t argue for metaphysical naturalism. And this refuted by args for God’s existence, which R hasn’t effectively rebutted.
  • 1:04 C gives a series of argumentss vs. metaphysical naturalism, each starting with a premise from R’s book – to the effect that  metaphysical naturalism rules out intentionality, meaning, true sentences, moral responsibility, free will, purpose, planning, endurance through time, my own existence / existence of selves. Ergo, “Naturalism is absurd.” One has to agree: IF all these consequences hold, then he’s right that metaphysical naturalism flies in the face of reason and experience. Of course, most other naturalistic philosophers will NOT agree that naturalism really implies those things! In a sense, Rosenberg is an extremist from the naturalistic side.
  • 1:08 C points out the inadequacy of R’s responses, e.g. something out of nothing vs. something out of a “quantum vacuum.” Yes, C has been making these points for many years! Maybe, then, R should have carefully addressed his published points.
  • 1:10 C shows the inadequacy of R’s silicon-life-based response to fine tuning arguments. Goes on to sketch his 3rd way between euthyphro dilemma, and urge that this is better than moral nihilism / error theory.
  • 1:11 – C contrasts the New Testament with the lies of Smith, legends about Muhammad, etc.
  • 1:12 – C sums up his case so far. He is way ahead at this point.
  • 1:12:40 – Rosenberg’s 12 minute rebuttal
  • 1:13 – R concedes that “Science” implies all the absurd things C says! Not atheism – rather “Science” implies these things. R stakes it all on “Science,” whereas he urges that C stakes his monotheism on his interpretations of science. (Wrong!)
  • 1:15 – R tries to distance himself from met. naturalism, and even from his book. Says these are irrelevant to whether or not it is reasonable to believe in God. Well, they’re relevant to the truth of naturalism, which is in the mind of many the chief worldview in competatition with monotheism.
  • 1:16 – R addresses the intentionality problem – this is “a profound mystery in philosophy” and a problem for neuroscience. This irrelevant to atheism vs. theism.
  • 1:18 – R flails around re: C’s argument from mathematics, calls this an arg from ignorance. C’s arg “beggars the imagination.”
  • 1:20 – Logical arg from evil again. R asserts, over-boldly, that theists have flailed around ad hoc since Leibniz. Mentions free will defense or theodicy, mystery-mongering, concludes there is no satisfactory answer. He bizarrely ignores Plantinga’s famous Free Will Defense, and asserts, implausibly, that C must explain why God needed the holocaust in particular. In other words, R demands an all-encompassing theodicy. Doesn’t seem to understand the idea that defense is enough, or for that matter the open theist, or skeptical theist responses to problems of evil. R is out of his areas of competence here; he doesn’t know things which a grad student half-trained in philosophy of religion must know.  On his high horse, R professes to be offended by theists. And he promises to become a Christian if a good answer is forthcoming. Not too risky, of course, if he’s going to hold out for an all-encompassing theodicy.
  • 1:23 – C points out (exagerating a little) that basically no one defends “logical” arguments & C explains why that strategy is unpopular – even with philosophers who are atheists. C effecively quotes atheist Paul Draper to this effect. C explains Hick’s old point, that if God exists, his aims would go far beyond just our own comfort or pleasure.
  • 1:27 – R still has no response to argument that only God explains where there is any cosmos at all, and no answer re: the usefulness of mathematics, fine tuning – basically to most of C’s arguments.
  • Still, C is way ahead. R doesn’t even know what he has to accomplish; he thinks disdain and appeal to “Science” are enough. C urges that met doesn’t follow from epist nat, and met nat the most plausible form of athesim. But he points out that R is merely biting the bullet re the absurd consequences of physicalism. At this point, C is badly beating R. And C plainly knows he is too. But instead of insulting R, he kindly invites him to embrace belief in God.
  • 1:32 – R has effectively been knocked out. How can he possibly recover in this debate? He’s reeling, and reaches for insults – that C is repeating himself, claims that c hasn’t answered his points, foolishly complains about the format, to which R agreed. Boo!
  • 1:33 R demands to know why C insists on a Leibnizian “Principle of Sufficient Reason”, which of course C does not defend. R doesn’t know that he’s swinging at a straw man.
  • 1:35 – R opines that “where I come from” the logical problem is still a problem. R bizarrely praises, then insults Peter van Inwagen, telling us that the argument of van Inwagen’s 2004 book is embarrassingly bad, but not how. I guess we’ve just supposed to take Rosenberg’s word for it. Why even bring it up, though, if you’re not even going to say what it is, much less explain its lameness?Boo!
  • 1:36 R FINALLY tries to address a free will theodicy/defense (he doesn’t know the difference) but he doesn’t go a millimeter beyond Mackie’s 1959 article, and again ignores Plantinga much-discussed defense! (R demands to know why God couldn’t ensure that we all always freely do what is right.)
  • 1:38 – Again, R is badly out of his area. R tells us that New Testament scholars tell us that 75% of the NT is forged. He asserts that the NT or some of it written in Aramaic (!) and that the Greek NT full of mistakes. And of course, we can’t accept Christian scholars writing about Christian subjects. Why, the very thought!
  • 1:40 C’s closing statement – still polite, but hard hitting. He points out that R is missing the point regarding the free will defense. Appeals to the controversial concept of transworld depravity, without using that phrase. Again highlights the absurdities of naturalism, as R understands it.
  • 1:44 C’s personal testimony, being “captivated by the person of Jesus,” walking in this for over 40 years.
  • 1:46 – R’s closing statement. Says he’s been saving his best argument (drum roll please): “Science” has no need for the hypothesis of God because it makes to contribution to predictive power, and explains nothing. A textbook case of begging the question, I’m afraid. R goes on to compares God to the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy, Santa. Appeals again to membership of the National Academy of Sciences. I guess if he’d lived in 1700, he’d just poll the members of the Royal Society, and then on that basis believe in God. R rambles on, compares God unfavorably to the number 2.
  • 1:49 R responds to C’s testimony – basically ridicules it as unreasonable. Sarcastically endorses Tertullian’s “I believe because it is absurd.” R: “You cannot accept that faith is reasonable.”  Passive-aggressively suggests this as friendly advice. In essence, he ends by insulting believers in God. Learned insults are still just insults. Basically gives C and his side the finger. Boo!
  • [debate over by 1:51:30]
  • Q&A period starts at 1:55. Just a few highlights:
  • 2:02 C clarifies that he never committed to a Leibnizian Principle of Sufficient Reason, i.e. one which implies that every event has a cause. He doesn’t assert that. Rather, if the cosmos began to exist, it must’ve had a cause (outside itself).
  • 2:03 – R admits he finds some deterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics to be the most plausible. But still, he pushes that cause-less micro-events show that the universe could’ve come into being from nothing.
  • 2:22 Channeling Alston, C tries to clarify his version of Divine Command Theory.
  • 2:31 – C politely asks R why he didn’t argue for metaphysical naturalism (aka physicalism). Good question! See what you can make of R’s answer. In short, he thinks that “Science” has shown atheism to be true. The exchange seems to end in misunderstanding, tense joking.
  • 2:41 – R bites the bullet on his claim that if physicalism is true, then sentences – even his – have no meaning. But the he seems to engage in special pleading for his own statements. Gets angry at questioner, appeals to his paper “Eliminativism [about mental events] Without Tears.” Bad form, R. Give the answer, don’t angrily gesture at it. Have some respect for the questioner.
  • 2:44 The verdicts are in: the judges pick Craig, 4-2. (Absurd. Should’ve been 6-0; any professional philosopher would pick Craig as having the better arguments.) Purdue audience picks Craig 3 to 1, though most abstained from voting. Online audience overwhelmingly picks Craig. Correct, all.

Update: victory lap. What – Rosenberg was coached? He should sue! 

About Dale

Dale Tuggy is a Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Fredonia, where he teaches courses in analytic theology, philosophy of religion, religious studies, and the history of philosophy.

18 Responses to Craig wins again

  1. Anthony Bigg says:

    I’m glad to see that you could put the meme to use straight away :)

    I share in the sense of frustration that you seemed to have with this debate. Rosenberg just flat out failed to engage Craig’s arguments with any substance. That he harped on about how the logical problem of evil is just irrefutable and to insist that theists have never rigorously addressed it was embarrassing, especially because only 15 or so minutes earlier Craig surveyed the key work done in that area, and the impact had by that work (namely, the rejection of the logical version of the argument, even by most atheists)!

    But what really grated on me was the constant criticism, by Rosenberg, of the debate format itself. I agree with you 100%, it’s very poor form to criticise so incessantly the format, yet voluntarily participate. (Though I guess he rejects the view that he participated of his free will).

    Overall, a easy win by Craig, up there, in terms of clear victories, with his Krauss and Hitchens debates.

  2. Everything is right about this post.

  3. Skylar McManus says:

    I actually created a template in Word that is essentially a debate flowchart. I expected (like many people) that Craig would give his typical five arguments and that this would be a good test run of my template. Needless to say, there is a lot of empty space on Rosenberg’s part due to all the extra arguments added in this time around!

    For better Craig debates, I would suggest those with Stephen Law, Aris Ahmed, Michael Tooley, and Peter Millican. All four of these opponents are philosophers and have a lot of interesting things to say.

  4. Skylar McManus says:

    Correction: Arif* Ahmed.

  5. Dale says:

    Thanks, Skylar.

    Yes, I thought Millican did pretty well, although I thought Craig did a little better. I also thought the Kagan debate was excellent. My upper level philosophy of religion class and I all picked Kagan as the winner of that one.

    Have any links to blog reviews of the Craig-Law debate? I’d like to see that one too.

  6. Skylar McManus says:

    Whoa, something went terribly wrong with my HTML there (I would edit it if I could). That all links you to here:

  7. villanovanus says:

    Poor Immanuel Kant! I’m sure he is turning in his grave at the thought that, after he had debunked Anselm and Aquinas for good, now here comes that presumptuous upstart Craig, and uses the “cosmological argument” (and maybe all of the other quinque viae) as though he had debunked nothing at all …

  8. Dale says:

    Villanovanus, you may be interested in this.

  9. villanovanus says:


    I looked at your link (‘As Kant has Shown . . .’: Analytic Theology and the Critical Philosophy, by
    Andrew Chignell, Cornell University), and, as I disagree right from the start, with Karl Barth’s quotation (that, at most, is a witness to Barth’s —unsurprising— incapacity to understand Kant), before I even consider embarking in reading that article, can you please tell me if you (personally, without further links), have any doubt that Kant “had debunked Anselm and Aquinas for good”?



  10. Skylar McManus says:


    There are several philosophers who are unsure that Kant debunked Anselm for good, as you say. That is, if you are referring to his objection to the ontological argument that “existence is not a predicate.” Alvin Plantinga thinks that Kant’s objection is irrelevant to Anselm’s argument. Gareth Matthews and Peter Millican seem to agree. Others, however, have pushed back and invited more discussion to be done on the issue. For example (if you are interested) see Christ Heathwood’s article in Religious Studies (2011) called “The Relevance of Kant’s Objection to Anselm’s Ontological Argument.”

  11. Dale says:

    I don’t think Kant definitively killed off any of the old arguments for God’s existence. In many cases his objections are contentious, or work against some but not other versions of those arguments. All the arguments he claims to have put to rest have been much discussed since.

  12. Skylar McManus says:

    My favorite refutation of Kant comes from a one-star review of Critique of Pure Reason on Amazon: “Hume. QED.” (Certainly worth a laugh.)

    Also, the article I recommended above is by CHRIS (not Christ) Heathwood.

  13. villanovanus says:

    I see, so Anselm’s “ontological argument” and Aquinas’ quinque viae have been rediscovered by that amusing hybrid , “analytic theologians” to be still perfectly valid after all …

    … from Kant to Craig, over 200 years and an appalling waste of time … ;)


  14. villanovanus says:

    Also, the article I recommended above is by CHRIS (not Christ) Heathwood.

    (Certainly worth a laugh.)

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