Well, I went to the debate between Doctors William Lane Craig and Bill Cooke and, I have to say, I was not impressed with either of them. Craig used fairly trite arguments for theism and Cooke utterly failed to engage with Craig on any substantive matters.
Craig’s four-and-an-half argument for theism was:
1. There must be a creator (in respect to the Big Bang).
2. The Universe is finely tuned for life (and it can’t be that way by chance).
3. There can be no objective morality without God.
4. The historicity of Christ suggests that his post-crucifixation appearances are a miracle.
4.5. He has had a personal experience of Jesus (I call this half an argument because, as Craig agreed, it doesn’t actually provide proof of anything much).
If we disregard 4.5 then we have four arguments supposedly in support of theism, all of which are substantially controversial, none of which Cooke was able to provide an argument against. This was a great pity; Cooke started well but, when it came to the rebuttal stage, failed to deliver. Cooke, it seems, was just not prepared for the debate; he hadn’t done his research into Craig’s academic history (despite Cooke’s assertion Craig is qualified to talk about cosmology) and, most importantly, had no comebacks to the four arguments listed above. This wasn’t just surprising; it was negligent. Those are four commonly given arguments for Christianity and each one of them is controversial, each one has been argued over in the public domain and each one of them should be easily addressed by someone who claims to be a Rationalist (and an atheist).
Aside from Cooke’s inability to debate Craig (and it wasn’t just his lack of preparation; Cooke also was condescending to the audience and gave up talking twice, thus not just giving Craig the moral high ground (because he wanted to debate the issues) but also confirming, in the eyes of the theists, that atheism can offer no real objections to theism.
Whilst Cooke was disappointing for his inability to engage in the debate Craig was disappointing because he wasn’t playing fair. He was presenting very simplified arguments with little justification and far too many leaps of logic (there must be an uncaused first cause; this must, therefore, be a god-entity). In part this is Cooke’s fault again; had he pressed Craig then we would have got the more sophisticated arguments (there must be an uncaused first cause; this must, therefore, be a god-entity because uncaused causes, to cause, must be more than just abstracta, et al) but, even so, Craig could have been a little more sophisticated. I went to his talk to the Department of Philosophy earlier in the day and, from what I saw, he is a good philosopher. It was also telling that whenever members (and former members) of the Department engaged Craig at the debate he automatically started talking about the more sophisticated versions of his material so he was dumbing it down for what he assumed was a fairly ignorant public.
It’s hard to express just how frustrating listening to the debate really was. What was fun was watching Professor John Bishop translate long and laborious questions into shorter versions, none of which misrepresented the questioner’s intention. He’s been teaching for so long that he’s heard them all.