This is in response to a video on Twitter which laughably claims that William Laine Craig humiliated Christopher Hitchens in a debate.
Christopher Hitchens tries to debate William Lane Craig, INSTANTLY REGRETS it… youtu.be/jPlbrdxKTCk via
William Laine Craig is a practiced debater of some skill, but because he is in the position of defending a losing proposition, he is also thoroughly and, I’m convinced, purposely dishonest. Because his target audience lacks the sophistication to detect the sophistry, he relies almost exclusively on bald strawmen and false premises. Seeing the excerpt in the above video as a victory for WLC is an example of that lack of sophistication.
Hitchens made two valid points in the short segment allotted him in the video:
- It is incumbent on the affirmative to establish the existence of something since it’s impossible to prove a negative, and without that being established there is no good reason to believe it.
- The immense time and space of the universe, and the very late and brief appearance of humans on a planet that isn’t even an obscure speck in the cosmos makes no sense if humanity was the focus of design of the universe.
To the first point, Hitchens responds to one of WLC’s signature strawmen: “It is often said… that atheists can prove the nonexistence of god. This in fact very slightly but crucially misrepresents what we’ve always said. There’s no plausible…no evidentiary reason to believe that there is such an entity and that all observable phenomena… are explicable without the hypothesis…”
Here Hitchens answers the common evasion repeated here by WLC that since atheism is a belief it needs to prove itself and disprove god, an obvious misdirection from the theists’ burden of proof for the affirmative which they can never adequately supply.
Hitchens then pivots to the absurdity of the fine-tuning fallacy in Intelligent Design. Whereas WLC targets an unsophisticated audience with exaggeration and strawmen, Hitchens is accustomed to addressing intellectual equals with understatement and subtlety appropriate to their discernment as he does in his description of the tautology on which fine-tuning rests:
“It’s also easier to believe if we are in the happy position of knowing the outcome. We are here, but there’s a fallacy lurking somewhere in there too, is there not?”
Of course, that lurking fallacy is the tautology inherent in having to assume a design in order to conclude a design – a tautology that we will see WLC committing right out in the open in just a bit.
The childish editing of the video then attempts to mock Hitchens’ conclusion that he does not believe in any god or afterlife. In a crude imitation of the more subtle WLC, the editor merely dismisses and ridicules what he cannot overcome with argument as he transitions to WLC’s response.
WLC claims to defend two basic contentions:
- There is no good argument that atheism is true
- Evolution is not incompatible with theism and Intelligent Design
He begins by merely repeating the evasion of burden of proof and the strawman characterization of the atheist position. He then pivots to evolution and begins with a strawman argument never made here by Hitchens that evolution disproves god. WLC implicitly concedes the truth of evolutionary theory by retreating to a claim that it is perfectly compatible with biblical instruction, once again obfuscating by responding to an argument Hitchens did not make.
WLC then transitions to Hitchens’ remarks on the absurdity of humanity as the reason for creation of the universe. He attempts this by establishing Intelligent Design on the flimsy basis of improbability while evading the “fallacy lurking in there somewhere”. The editor of the video then indulges in more childish celebration of this fallacy as he cuts to a shot of Hitchens looking on in bemusement at WLC’s evasion. I assume the intention of that cut was to give the false impression that Hitchens thought himself defeated.
WLC then resorts to an amazing bit of Trumpian projection of his own weakness onto his opponent. Referring to proponents of evolution, he declaims: “[they] can’t follow where the evidence leads, [their] presupposition determines the outcome”. Here he inverts the scientific method of building evolutionary theory on observable data with his own tautological method of determining design. In an incredibly bold move that reveals his assumption of ignorance among his followers, he clearly illustrates this inversion by openly displaying the tautology of his argument:
“By contrast, if there is a fine-tuner and creator of the universe, then already in the initials conditions of the big bang you already have an elaborately designed universe that permits the evolution…”
Yes, exactly. I further elaborate on the fallacy and illusion of fine-tuning here:
WLC then addresses Hitchens’ point of the insignificance of humanity in relation to the universe through a jaw dropping instance of triviality. In response to the idea of man’s brief appearance after 13.8 billion years and the incomprehensible smallness of our planet in a universe 156 billion light years wide he manages to say with a straight face: ‘…[it is] only a concern to someone with limited time or limited resources.”
WLC ends with further strawmen and obfuscation by misrepresenting Hitchens’ argument that there is no valid argument leading from a deistic creator to the theistic god of Christianity. WLC only alludes to an argument that Christian theism builds on deism but fails to provide it. He concludes by referring to other arguments for the existence of god, presumably the ontological and moral arguments he constantly repeats other places, but contrary to his claim these arguments are both fallacious and dependent on false premises. I would imagine Hitchens pointed that out at some point, but the video forgot to show those points. I certainly would have debunked WLC in that way.