Why I Secretly Root For the Atheists in Debates…

Harris (continued): Alright, nine million children die every year before they reach the age of five. Okay, picture an Asian tsunami of the sort we saw in 2004, that killed a quarter of a million people. One of those, every ten days, killing children only under five. That’s 20,000 to 24,000 children a day, a thousand an hour, 17 or so a minute. That means before I can get to the end of this sentence, some few children, very likely, will have died in terror and agony. Think of the parents of these children. Think of the fact that most of these men and women believe in God, and are praying at this moment for their children to be spared. And their prayers will not be answered. But according to Dr. Craig, this is all part of God’s plan. Any God who would allow children by the millions to suffer and die in this way, and their parents to grieve in this way, either can do nothing to help them, or doesn’t care to. He is therefore either impotent or evil.

This is what passes for reasoned argument among the New Atheists.

Well, I thought, perhaps this is unfair. After all, Dr. Craig is a trained professional philosopher with two doctorates and a lifetime of training as an analytic philosopher. Sam Harris studies “neuro-science.” It’s hardly a fair contest. Dr. Craig is trained in mathematical logic; Sam Harris is trained in school yard insults.

In the interest of fairness, I should compare apples to apples – in this case, a trained Atheist philosopher versus a Theistic philosopher.


As a result, I started looking for debates between Dr. Craig and some famous atheist philosophers. Much to my delight, I found some! In 2005, it turns out, Dr. Craig debated the famous British philosopher A.C. Grayling at the Oxford Union on the topic of, “Belief in God Makes Sense in Light of Tsunamis.”

Perfect. Surely, I thought, an atheist philosopher of Grayling’s stature should be able to mount scary, logically airtight arguments against the existence of God and would demolish Dr. Craig – at least teach him a lesson he wouldn’t quickly forget. I found myself actually rooting for the atheist side! Dr. Craig reminds me of Thomas Aquinas: His logic is so impeccable you have to attack his premises. He is so relentlessly rationalistic you start to root for the underdog.

But, again, I was quickly disappointed. Dr. Craig made his case in his characteristic analytic style: step by step, premise by premise, pointing out the possible weaknesses in his own argument and helpfully suggesting ways his Atheist opponents could possibly prove him wrong.

He began to remind me of Chess Masters who are so confident of their abilities that they actually point out to you, in advance, why you probably don’t want to make a particular move… because in ten steps it will result in Checkmate. Alas, Craig’s debate with Grayling was as one-sided as was his debate with Sammy “I’m Just So Darn Smarter Than Everyone Else” Harris. Grayling was reduced to stammering… and fell back, as Atheists almost always do, on insults. Dr. Craig started off by explaining the underlying presuppositions of the classic logical argument against God from the existence of evil:

Craig: Traditionally, atheists have claimed that the co-existence of God and evil is logically impossible. That is to say, there is no possible world in which God and evil both exist. Since we know that evil exists, the argument goes, it follows logically that God does not exist. It is this version of the problem of evil that professor Grayling recently defended in his debate with Keith Ward in The Prospect.

So, according to the logical version of the problem of evil:

“(A) an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God exists”


“(B) evil exists”

…are logically incompatible.

The difficulty for the atheist, however, is that statements (A) and (B) are not, at face value, logically inconsistent. There’s no explicit contradiction between them. If the atheist thinks they are implicitly contradictory then he must be assuming some hidden premises that would serve to bring out the contradiction and make it explicit. (go to Page 4)

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Robert Hutchinson


Robert Hutchinson studied philosophy as an undergraduate, moved to Israel to study Hebrew and earned an M.A. degree in Biblical studies. He is the author, most recently, of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible. He blogs at RobertHutchinson.com.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage