Does God Exist: A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens

Last Friday I was invited over for dinner by a family I knew from high school. After the meal we sat down and watched a DVD of the debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens held this year at Biola University. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these two men, let me give them a little introduction.

William Lane Craig is a noted Christian apologist and research professor at Talbot Seminary. He has written numerous books and contributed to a five views book I read last semester on apologetic method. He is an evidentalist, believing that the most effective way to argue for the truth of Christianity is from evidence outside of Scripture. Theologically, he identifies himself as not believing in Calvinism, but rather falls into the “Wesleyan camp.” When it comes to origins, Craig is an old-earth creationist, who is not uncomfortable with the idea of theistic evolution.

Christopher Hitchens is a noted “neo-atheist.” According to him, there really isn’t any difference between a “neo-atheist” and your traditional “atheist” other than neo-atheists are quite vocal about their disbelief in God. Hitchens is frequently mentioned in the same breath as Richard Dawkins (author: The God Delusions) and is the noted author of the book God is Not Good.

I, probably like most people who have seen this debate, went into it trying to be objective, analyzing the arguments based on merit not my agreement with them. I know also that I, along with everyone else who has seen this debate, am not unbiased and therefore shouldn’t pretend to be so. In my opinion, Craig won the debate hands-down. He certainly wasn’t perfect and had many arguments that fell flat. But he was able to offer a cohesive world-view that made sense, while Hitchens offered nothing but chaos.

Here’s my specific impressions about the debate:

1) Hitchens thesis mirrors the title of his book: God is not good. Foundational to his argument was evil and suffering in the world and the eventual demise of the universe. Rape, murder, genocide, a sun that will burn out, constellations that are on a collision course with Earth–these are the arguments Hitchens brings against the existence of God. He claims such chaos speaks to random chance or an absolutely incompetent designer. He prefers the first of the two options. Frankly, if the picture Hitchens paints of God is right, than atheism is the better course of belief…because such a God could never pull his act together enough to offer any kind of salvation. 

There is one glaring hole in Hitchens argument. And it’s completely understandable why he cannot see it. Sin. Hitchens has no category for the cataclysmic event which was the Fall. He cannot understand how heinous and loathsome sin against a holy God is. The creation which he sees as being violent and cruel is indeed violent and cruel. And it is so because of rebellion against God. Paul speaks of creation as groaning, waiting for release from the curse. Adam’s choice to bite the fruit and disbelieve God shattered the tranquility of God’s entire physical creation. While Hitchens sees the evil which exists, he cannot understand that he is part of the reason for the disaster of our universe.

2) I completely disagree with Craig about old-earth creationism and theistic evolution. The Bible makes no allowances for anything other than literal seven-day creationism. However, even given Craig’s unnecessary concession about evolution, he still was able to pose a question about origins that Hitchens was unable to answer: Where did it all come from? Something cannot come from nothing. Nothing literally means nothing. I found it interesting how Craig made evolution a major part of his argument and still was able to squash the traditional evolutionary stronghold.

3) Douglas Wilson became a punching bag for both sides. Presuppositional apologetics was smirked at by both Hitchens and Craig. Wilson became the embodiment of this form of apologetics in both of their minds. Craig afforded much more respect to his opponent than to his collegue and ally.

4) The patience of God is great. Hitchens spent much of the debate impugning the character of God, calling Him to task for allowing suffering. And yet Hitchens is but an insignificant grasshopper before the Lord, entirely lacking in wisdom and righteousness. It’s hard not to get angry at Hitchens for lashing out at God. At times the neo-atheist movement seems to be little more than a bunch of five year olds throwing a tantrum because they couldn’t have their candy before dinner instead of after for the sake of ruining their appetites. It really is shocking to see someone use their God-given breath to openly curse Him and challenge Him for running the universe poorly.

5) Not even a convinced atheist like Hitchens is beyond the grace of God. The Word penetrates hearts. And no heart can ever be too hard for the Lord to crack. Pray for Hitchens, that God might mercifully call him to Himself. The patience and mercy of God is amazing, and any one of us would be up on that stage name-calling our creator as well if it weren’t for the incomprehensible kindness and mercy of the Father.

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