Why do the big names in atheism freeze up when debating William Lane Craig?

I recently watched William Lane Craig's debates with Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris and in both debates, it was easy to walk away with the feeling that Craig won. Hitchens just kept saying "I haven't heard any convincing evidence..." Without refuting Craig's arguments. Sam Harris did something similar - instead of addressing Craig's arguments, he ignored them for the entire debate. Also, Lawrence Krauss, when debating Craig about A Universe from Nothing, missed an opportunity to counter Craig's (correct) assertion that the primordial soup of the universe is not nothing.

Now, I've heard refutations for Craig's arguments but neither Hitchens, Harris, nor Krauss used them and so it could seem as though they lost their debates with him. Craig even invited Hitchens to become a Christian while onstage, and was justified in asking - given their performances in the debate. Any ideas why they froze up in their debates against him?

I also noticed that Craig got first word in those debates, in which he was able to define the terms used in the debate, giving him an edge.

Finally, why doesn't Dawkins debate Craig?

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Have you not watched craig debate? He is mainly a one trick pony who always insists on talking first so he can set the tone of the debate. He makes half a dozen to a dozen points which  he says the otherside  needs to address but which they can not answer more than a few due to the time limits ( and if they do attempt to answer he's points they have no time to make any of their own) then he crows  about how they may have answered points 1 , 4 and 7 but they cannot answer 2,3,5, and 6 and then goes on to list another half dozen points to do the same thing all over again. So by the end of the debate hes opponent has spent most of hes time trying to counter a portion of craigs points and had no real time to raise any points of hes own.

Harris actually did the only thing you can with this type of debater because if you play craigs game by  he's rules you have lost from the beginning.

I have also noticed in all his debates that when Craig starts off, I guess that's what he prefers, he love to set the debate on his own standards, and if his opposing challenger does not stick to his phony guideline structure throughout the entire debate, that's what he ends up falling back on. Quite pathetic and easily seen through in my opinion.

No better than a cat that knocks over something and callously walks around the same room and passed no outward appearance of guilt or shame. 

I've watched Craig's debates with Harris and Hitchens. Craig is intellectually dishonest: he presents a subjective "definition", staples various non sequitur conclusions onto it, and insists his opponent's position depends on properly addressing them. Essentially, Craig lights a lot of little fires and demands that his opponent extinguish them, while framing the debate as: unless you put out all these fires, I win. 


"On the theistic view objective moral values are grounded in God. As St. Anselm saw, God is by definition the greatest conceivable being and therefore the highest Good. Indeed, He is not merely perfectly good; He is the locus and paradigm of moral value." - William Lane Craig

"But the contentions I laid out for defense in [my debate with Harris] were conditional: IF such a being exists, then. . . . That’s why I think my first contention is almost obviously true. Of course, if such a greatest conceivable being exists, objective moral values and duties exist! How could they not?" - William Lane Craig 

And to the last question:  Why I Refuse to Debate with William Lane Craig by Richard Dawkins

Nice link, Gallup's Mirror. 

As to this Craig's assertion that everyone is much happier in heaven anyway, why doesn't he give all his money to the poor, as his god clearly instructed him to in his bible.  That's not ambiguous, why isn't he doing it?   No need to stop there, how about donating all his viable organs to people in need of transplants and head off to his heaven where he is so clearly bound to be happier than a pig in shit.

Talking of pigs, one of my favourite sayings is "Never wrestle with a pig.  You both get muddy, and the pig enjoys it".  Perhaps that is why nobody wants to debate with this man.

There is also a story about playing chess with a pigeon.  The pigeon walks all over the board, tossing pieces right, left and centre, craps on it, then struts around believing it has won.

I think this fellow debated with the OSU philosophy department about 2001, while I was a student. It was clear during my viewing of the debate, that our prof. was at a lose due to the shotgun approach of Craig. Craig wants a soapbox, not a conversation.

There was a recent interview of the Westboro Baptist church folks. During that interview I noticed a similar approach. If they can keep to their message, and hold to their ground, the other fellow can't get a word in edge wise. Assertions made one after another, starts pretending to be a web of truth. The 'death by exceptions' is controled and the other party has no way to interject without telling them to shut-UP. The frustration, from the outside, looks like weakness.

A few of our theist associates here have practiced a similar approach. During my 'education' in debate/dialogue, I found that using this method can be just as demoralizing for theists. Sadly, theists have atleast learned something, that helps them pretend that their stuff is 'not the weaker'.

During the debate at OSU, it was clear that the local campus theist groups had hosted the debate. I expect that Craig and his dopelgangers, have trained in front of such an adoring crowd. About half way through the OSU debate, I left, after noticing that while Craig was a strong debater, he was not interested in humility.  

I know! It drove me nuts that he got to define objective morality in his debate with Harris and then Harris went along with that definition unchallengingly. In Craig's debate with Hitchens, Hitchens caught that and commented (roughly), "that's a very compromising definition of 'objective,' what it seems to me is you're really describing 'absolute morality.'" Now, I haven't taken any ethics classes so I may very well be incorrect but I've got to agree with Hitchens on that point. Craig is appealing to unquestioned, absolute morality from a god, while Harris was referring to objective (as in unbiased, discussed without prejudice or emotion) morality. I caught the distinction in terms mid debate so from then on, I understood Harris's point. However, without the distinction in terms (Harris gave no such distinction), Harris loses since he was talking about us as the "authority" of morality.

If the little fires have been addressed in previous debates, why not say so? "Craig, you know the objections to your assertion. If you can't refute them, stop making the assertion and if you don't know the objections, you shouldn't be here." I've noticed that he likes addressing the improbability of evolutionary traits and, outside of debate, Lawrence Krauss spoke to this saying that there is no way of accurately calculating their probabilities so any math that goes into such a calculation is flawed. If people know Craig is dishonest, why do they act so civil with him?

(I haven't read the Dawkins article yet.)
The technique others have noted is known as the Gish Gallop, so named after creationist advocate Duane Gish. On its own, it's not easy to counter - it can somewhat be mitigated by having the topic tightly defined, but that isn't always possible.

What compounds the problem is that those in the reality-based community think that countering apologist bare assertions with only facts is persuasive. We need to take lessons from folks like George Lakoff to learn about and control frames, just for starters.

If you want to see a debater who does keep up with Craig, look up Shelley Kagan vs Craig on YouTube.

That's interesting. I hadn't heard of the Gish technique, or the Shelley Kagan debate. I'll check it out. 

I disagree with the portrayal that Craig somehow outdistanced Hitchens and Harris. Craig's position throughout these debates was irrational and deeply dishonest. As Strega rightly points out, Craig doesn't win the chess match, he swats the pieces off the board.

Consider Craig's own words:

"[...] Harris was unable to raise any substantive objection to my Divine Command Theory and so reverted to his usual anti-Christian shtick, inveighing against biblical doctrines like hell and Christian particularism. That this is the case is evident from the fact that I explained clearly in my second speech that these issues were irrelevant to the topic at hand, since Divine Command Theorists include theists who are neither Jews nor Christians nor place any stock in biblical infallibility, and yet Harris persisted merely in reiterating his points. Harris’ criticisms are red meat for his partisans in the free thought community, but they had nothing to do with the debate topic that evening, being, in effect, attacks upon the reliability of the biblical portrayal of God."

Craig, a self-professed Christan, frequently cites the Bible in his writings, but insists upon ignoring and disallowing any of Harris' points that are based on Biblical references. This, asserted with the hypocritical and non sequitur conclusion that the Bible is irrelevant because (Craig himself) claims some minuscule fraction of his "Divine Command Theorists" are non-Christian, non-Jewish, don't believe in the Bible, or don't accept Biblical portrayals of God. (Ostensibly, there are no Islamic "Divine Command Theorists".)

That's Craig's self-described "knockdown blow" in a nutshell: frame each debate as a contest between his own unsupported position and the ability of his opponent to meet a set of victory conditions defined by... Craig himself.

Again, I'm agreeing with these comments. But why don't his opponents bring up the double standard Craig insists upon? That's what is upsetting me. I can't imagine they'd let others get away with that kind of dishonesty but Craig does it and they seem to just let him run wild with it.

And it's an easy counter to make in regards to his Divine Command Theory if he isn't mentioning the Christian god (which Harris, I think, does) - which divine command do we follow? Yours? Why? Why not x god?

Obviously nothing I've said is new to anyone...just, they need to make the double standard explicit to the audience and they typically don't.
I saw the Kagan debate (ironically just before reading your comment) and WOW. Now that man did what I was suggesting others do. Kagan definitely set the tone of the argument and when Craig basically lied at the end, saying he heard no good argument for a base of morality without God, Kagan was able to retort. And we got to see Craig's base appeal to emotion with the one quote he gave. Fantastic debate!

I just watched the Kagan vs Craig debate.

I most enjoyed the part where Craig asserted that atheism meant moral behavior does not matter, and used torture as an example of something that otherwise could be practiced without restraint.

Kagan responded that torture matters to the person being tortured, and flatly pointed out that Craig's assertion that nothing matters unless it matters to God (i.e. has cosmic significance) is irrational.

Kagan nailed him.

Oh Kagan killed it. Zevaeros's post only said Kagan kept up with Craig. He didn't just keep up with Craig, he rocked him. And in the closing remarks when Craig basically lied saying he hadn't heard any good response to how morality could exist without god, there Kagan was to counter him again!


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