Why Won’t William Lane Craig Debate John Loftus?
On the Debunking Christianity website, John Loftus has recently posted an article, “Let’s Recap Why William Lane Craig Refuses to Debate Me.” The article even includes a picture of Craig’s face digitally edited into the picture of a chicken, with the caption, “Is William Lane Craig Chicken to Debate John Loftus?” According to Loftus, in 1985 Craig apparently told a class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, “the person I fear debating the most is a former student of mine.” Loftus then considers potential explanations for Craig’s refusal to debate Loftus: (i) such a debate would not be good for Loftus spiritually; (ii) Loftus is not qualified; (iii) Craig doesn’t want to help turn Loftus into “Mr. Anti-Christian Apologist”; and (iv) Craig is afraid to debate Loftus. Loftus concludes that (iv) is the best explanation, calling Craig a “coward.”
I completely agree that (i) makes no sense. If it would be spiritually harmful for Loftus to debate Craig, why wasn’t it equally spiritually harmful for Craig’s other previous debate opponents to debate Craig? If the spiritual harm to those debate opponents did not prevent Craig from debating them, then how would debating Loftus be any different?
Explanation (ii) is absurd. Even without a Ph.D., Loftus is surely much more qualified to debate Craig than are several of Craig’s previous debate opponents who do have a Ph.D. in whatever, but no specialization in the philosophy of religion. Furthermore, as Loftus points out, Craig has previously debated people without a Ph.D. (Christopher Hitchens, Eddie Tabash) and agreed to debate people without a Ph.D. (me!). To this list, we may add that Craig has previously debated at least one person without an undergraduate degree (Ron Barrier of American Atheists).
Regarding (iii), I take Craig at his word that he does not want to help turn Loftus into “Mr. Anti-Christian apologist.” But, using the same reasoning, notice that all of Craig’s previous debate opponents could use the same logic to justify not debating Craig: they don’t want to help turn Craig into “Dr. Anti-Atheist Apologist.” (Even Craig would have to admit, I think, that his apologetic resume has benefited considerably from the willingness of large numbers of non-Christians to debate him.) This opens Craig up to the accusation of a double standard.
Regarding (iv), we do have hearsay testimony from Loftus regarding what Craig allegedly said about fearing a former student as a debate opponent. (By calling this “hearsay testimony,” I am not disputing the accuracy of the testimony; rather, I’m simply pointing out that, for everyone not present for the original conversation, this is secondhand testimony to us.) On the other hand, Craig has debated numerous atheists and other non-Christians. This opens Loftus up to the accusation of having delusions of grandeur and engaging in personal attacks. If Loftus’s hearsay testimony is accurate, though, Loftus could argue that none of the previous opponents were former students of Craig.
So where do I come down on all of this? I want to know Craig’s side of the story. Did he say he is most afraid to debate a former student? Did he say it would be “inappropriate” to debate a former student? If yes, how would it be inappropriate? In sum, I think it would be most useful if Craig were to reply Loftus’s post.