LA MIRADA, CALIFORNIA–In a significant discovery that sheds new light on late twentieth century academic philosophy, researchers discovered new evidence this week suggesting that famed Christian debater William Lane Craig once participated in fairly matched debates with his opponents.
The team of researchers–including Christian philosophers, theologians, altar boys, and vintage 1990s sweater enthusiasts–made the discovery this week while reading dusty old books found in the ruins of a bizarre building called a “Library” on the campus of Biola University. (See related story: “What were libraries for and why did colleges have them?”)
“Our finding that William Lane Craig used to participate in ‘evenly matched’ debates with atheists–debates with atheists who had both (a) debating skills and (b) knowledge of the debate topic–completely changes what we knew about William Lane Craig’s tactics,” said Bob McDowell, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Christian Apologetics (formerly known as the U.S. Department of Education) and grandson of the late Josh McDowell.
But this new discovery does not mean that ‘evenly matched’ debates were Craig’s standard practice, cautioned McDowell. “In fact, based on the sheer number of artifacts we’ve discovered, it appears that ‘evenly matched’ debates were the exception rather than the rule.”
“Apparently, through no fault of his own, early in his career Craig would sometimes wind up in an evenly matched debate,” added McDowell. “It’s remarkable to think that, as a Christian apologist, Craig actually gave atheism a fair hearing.”
Archaeologists reportedly recovered more than 1,000 debate transcripts from the library, including transcripts of his unfortunate encounters with Doug Jesseph, Austin Dacey, Paul Draper, and Keith Parsons, as well as previously ‘lost’ or ‘garbled’ recordings, such as Craig’s ill-fated debate with Wes Morriston.
Western Michigan University’s Julia Swinburne-McGrew is a philosopher and the daughter of Bayesian experts Tim and Lydia McGrew (and daughter-in-law of another Bayesian and Christian philosopher, Richard Swinburne). Swinburne-McGrew, who examined the artifacts, told the Religion News Service that the evidence suggests a simple explanation, which she called the “Combination Hypothesis.”
According to that view, “Early in his career as a budding apologist, Craig (1) didn’t have the resources to properly vet atheist debaters, (2) needed to build up his credibility by debating qualified opponents, and (3) didn’t have the Internet–and with it, the Internet Infidels–to contend with.” She explained, “While the Combination Hypothesis is very specific and so has a low intrinsic probability, it has very high Bayes’ Factors for the relevant evidence, and so has the overall greatest balance of intrinsic probability and explanatory power.”
Despite what had been believed to be Craig’s near unanimous support from other evangelicals, Craig’s tactics were quite controversial at the time. “Apparently there was this guy named Norman Geisler who was so obsessed with Biblical inerrancy he once complained about the toilet paper in Biola’s bathrooms, saying it contradicted his ultra-conservative interpretation of something called the ‘Chicago statement‘ on inerrancy. Even most Christians at the time thought he was crazy, but they were afraid to speak up.”
“Anyway, when Geisler found out Craig was debating atheists, Geisler was incredulous,” Swinburne-McGrew continued. “He simply could not understand how Craig could share a platform with someone who denied inerrancy. Craig would try to explain to Geisler that that was the whole point of, you know, debating, but then Geisler would keep talking about Chicago. Craig finally got so fed up with Geisler talking about the ‘Chicago statement,’ Craig told Geisler that maybe he should move there and chill out — or chill in Lake Michigan.”
Another one of Craig’s vocal Christian critics was the late Greg Bahnsen. “Common folklore says that Bahnsen objected to Craig’s apologetic methodology because it was evidentialist, not presuppositionalist,” said Swinburne-McGrew.
But that’s actually a myth which sprang up in less than two generations, “no matter how many times Craig quoted A.N. Sherwin-White,” she said. “The real reason they never got along is that Craig published his arguments in academic journals, whereas Bahnsen sold something called ‘cassette tapes.’ We’re not certain, but we think ‘cassette tapes’ were a primitive way to record audio back in the 1980s and 1990s. And we think Bahnsen was pissed off that Craig would put his arguments in print. Bahnsen was apparently whining about being ignored by scholars, like Michael Martin, despite never actually publishing his beloved ‘transcendental argument for God’s existence.’ When he saw Craig getting much more attention from the secular academy, he clearly had a case of ‘philosopher envy,'” explained Swinburne-McGrew.
Despite what appear to have been occasional early instances of ‘evenly matched’ debates, researchers said that the complete lack of any comparable artifacts from more recent years confirmed that the practice seems to have died out suddenly.
“All we can say for certain is that the best historical explanation is that this ancient practice appears to have been lost to the ages,” Swinburne-McGrew added.