Does God Exist? Christopher Hitchens Debates Christian Philosopher William Lane Craig (2009)

When we talk about religion around here, we often end up talking about something that falls between agnosticism and atheism. That’s because public intellectuals who comment on religion frequently fall into those camps. Here and there, theists politely call us on it. They ask us to consider showing The Four Horsemen (Hitchens/Dawkins/Dennett/Harris) in meaningful conversation with religious thinkers. It would be a step toward creating some balance, they say. We’ve done some of that before. But it has been a while. So we’re bringing you today the 2009 debate between Hitchens and William Lane Craig, a Christian philosopher. It was held at Biola College, a school that offers a “Biblically Centered Education,” which puts Craig on the home court.

The basic question framing the debate is “Does God Exist?,” and the answers are all grounded in philosophy, though that didn’t stop the conversation from veering into biology, physics, cosmology, and moral theory. You might be surprised that Hitchens doesn’t take the strident atheist position that would have let more sparks fly. No, he ends up in a more agnostic place, and there’s a kind of a humility to his position, an acceptance that we just can’t know the answers to the big questions, at least not yet. That speaks to me intellectually. But I’m sure others will see things differently.

If you’re hungering for more, you can watch Craig debate Sam Harris here. We thank Taylor for sending these videos along.

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Comments (15)
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  • sgtoox says:

    This sin’t a good debate; as much as I love Hitchens, he gets absolutely crushed. He never addresses or responds to any of Craig’s points, nor does he even attempt to argue on a philosophical level. Hitchens is immensely charming and witty, but neither of those things count in a debate. Hitchens essentially admits total defeat at the end, not even offering any final remarks.

    It wasn’t really fair to have Craig (who has like 2 phds in philosophy) go against Hitchens who is a popular intellectual, but not of the caliber (in the philosophical field) that Craig is.

    There are other good debates with Craig though; ones where he debates actual “professional” philosopher atheists. Those are much less one-sided and much more interesting. But when he goes against the likes of Hitchens, Sam Harris, and even Dawkins, the debates end up with Craig crushing them.

  • sgtoox says:

    Oh dear, please excuse my atrocious spelling and grammar in the previous comment. I typed it on my phone and entered it before proofreading.

  • Taylor says:

    You guys have no idea how much I appreciate the fact that you read my email and chose to post this!
    Thanks so much!

  • alex wavve says:

    Craig was amazing. he had three brilliant arguments for the existence of God. his Christianity got in the way there with the 3rd and 4th arguments. but Hitchens didn’t even pounce on that. an empty tomb doesn’t portend resurrection. if a tomb were empt today we would say it was always empty or someone removed the body. and the brain is capable of tricking you into many things, a personal experience of god could just be a trick of the mind, like a dream or hallucination.
    i don’t think there any refutations to the argument of something from nothing, not even Lawrence Krauss’ “A Universe from Nothing” really do it for me, but Hitchens didn’t have that at the time.
    still, always good to hear Hitchens speak. now i just gotta find a video of someone kickin’ Craig’s arse.

  • Craig says:

    I didn’t think Craig’s arguments were very convincing, he crosses many shaky bridges very slickly giving the illusion of coherence. His first argument reminds me of Sagen’s ‘Dinosaurs on Venus’ example, he then quickly descends into ‘Bible as Factual Document’ nonsense. Hitchens’ makes some good points but he just doesn’t have the flow of Craig and seems muddled in comparison.

  • Chris says:

    Thanks for bringing some balance to the coverage of religion topics by including the viewpoint of a Christian scholar like Craig. It’s too bad that established Christian scholars like Craig (and I could list many others)tend to be ignored when it comes to debates over the big questions. Glad to see this debate highlighted.

  • Sarah says:

    Silly little humans. They actually think they have the capacity to answer such questions. What arrogant monkeys!

  • sgtoox says:

    Yeah, Craig’s only shortcoming was bringing up the Resurrection. It seemed out of place considering the topic of the debate. But Laurence Krauss’s “Universe from Nothing” doesn’t address the underlying fundamental reasoning behind any of Craig’s points. It only begs the question further; whether you subscribe to Krauss ideas or even something like M-theory, the nature of the question “where did it come from, how did it get there” remains unanswered.

  • Brian says:

    @sgtoox actually the arguments that you say support Craig also undermine his arguments. If they must be applied to scientific arguments then they also be applied to theology and the idea of god.

  • sgtoox says:

    @Brian NO, the scientific nature of the principals presented in both Staus and M-Theory do not address rudimentary questioning on the actual beginning of things. Multiverse theory, string theory, and the inevitable quantum existence theories do not nor do they attempt to answer the question Craig is getting at in the ontological argument of “from whence does it come?” THe scientific endeavors explaining the beginnings of things only strive to explain what is potentially observale and testable (with the exception of multiverse theories which has no way of being tested and isn’t a truly scientific idea in the first place)

    The reason Hitchens did not bring any of those up is because they do not attempt to answer the questions posed here. Don’t overestimate the jurisdiction of scientific endeavor; there is a reason that the lieks of the chaps working at CERN and people like Einstein always explicitly say that their findings should have no bearing on the various theologies and what not, just as the theologies have no bearing on their ventures. There is some overlap, but very minimal amounts.

  • To all,
    Dr. Craig was not successful in his defense of the question at hand. By positing his own arguments and suppositions, all of which were teleologic, he did not have, nor want, to address Hitchens’ critique. His ending comment about the Age of Reason freeing people failing is nonsense, and really pulpit fodder. Belief, metaphysics, as Kant pointed out, is like conspiracy theory, a moving target. His arguments sound modern, but they are not, simply warmed over Scholasticism. His smug use of the term ‘rational’ was misplaced when defending his own suppositions. He continually relied on catechism-like tropes to make his points. Rational argument is not teleogic when predicated on logic. I think Hitchens was more aware of his audience and allowed his opponent a few clean blows. GLC

  • kittie says:

    Hitchens left nothing on the table. I think he answered all of the points when he said twice – “you are free to believe that”…. meaning to me, that he thought it was nonsense to even bother with it and had more important issues to discuss. Also when Hitch talked about evidence needing to be extraordinary to prove extraordinary claims – then stated that there was no such evidence – again he just dismissed the claim for lack of evidence. He was as subtle as I have ever seen him be, but really what do you say to someone who insists their god is real because the book written by his followers says so…. He says the only real arguments that need answering are ones that can be proven… again answering Craigs philosophical claims to a true god that can’t be proven..

  • John Mize says:

    Craig never answered Hitchin’s question about why an uncreated Creator makes more sense than an uncreated Creation. Therefore all Craig had was wishful thinking and a presumption that God exists. Sorry, William. Nothing is revealed, and we agnostics who don’t pretend to know the truth with a capital T win, and you lose.

  • Fikre says:

    If God exits, who created him? He must have been created.Why he is not talking anyone anymore? “If you pray you are talking to God but if God talks to you, you got schizophrenia”. I think, so many centuries passed, He is already died, if He ever existed.

  • James Robertson says:

    I would very much like to contact both speakers, they both left major holes in their arguments

    Be great if someone could contact me on with their email addresses or another address where I might contact them

    Thanks so much

    James Robertson

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