Debates are modern gladiator contests—predicated on the blunt force of the opponents’ forensic stamina, charisma, and personal conviction. Speakers lacking in personality make for tedious debaters, and substance seems to matter little when partisans gather to cheer on their champion. Rarely do rhetorical spectacles sway the faithful. At least in our time, they tend to seem more like competing pep rallies. We’ve learned, for example, that such high profile events as U.S. presidential debates have little effect on the outcome of elections. But verbal contests over who will make the best Leader of the Free World can seem modest next to debates between theologians and philosophers over the existence of God. After all, we’ve heard more or less the same arguments for centuries now, and no one’s any closer to a “proof.” And though I’m not aware of anyone who argues thus, there is no way to disprove God’s existence either.
Nonetheless, with the rise of religious fervor worldwide, and rejection of the same by vociferous seculars, we’ve seen so-called “New Atheists” mount challenge after challenge to the authority and validity of religious institutions—primarily those representing the big three monotheisms. The philosophically inclined religious have their heavyweights as well. Biola University professor of philosophy and evangelical Christian William Lane Craig has taken on the mantle of defender not only of his particular brand of faith but of the existence of God generally. Craig is a skilled orator—his fans like to point out that he “wins” all of his debates, though what exactly that means is unclear. His critics call him everything from “dishonest” and “sleazy” to an apologist for genocide and religiously motivated pseudoscience. Whatever you think of Craig, he certainly does draw a crowd. But so do his most famous antagonists. Today, we bring you two such existence of God debates: at the top, see Craig debate the unflappable Christopher Hitchens on his home turf of Biola. And directly above, he takes on Sam Harris at Notre Dame.
You may be wondering, if you’ve followed these squabbles at all, whether the infamous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has stepped into the ring with Craig. He has. Dawkins appeared with skeptical authors Michael Shermer and Matt Ridley in an intellectual wrestlemania of sorts at a Mexican conference called “Ciudad de las Ideas” (City of Ideas). On the other side of the stage sat Craig, his colleague Doug Geivett, and rabbi David Wolpe. You can see the event above—each speaker gets up and steps into a literal ring, complete with bright red ropes, and the result is less a debate than bewildering series of metaphysical sales pitches. Dawkins himself did not consider it a debate. Though he’s made plenty of enemies among atheists and believers alike, accused of intolerance, sloppy reasoning, sexism, and worse, Dawkins has won adherents for declaring a principled stand against appearing with Craig in a true debate format, citing Craig’s “dark side” as a “deplorable apologist for genocide.” As with all these attacks and ripostes, not to mention the universe-sized questions, you’ll simply have to make up your own mind.