Debates are inherently confrontational, right? The entire point is to make your opponent look like an idiot by puffing yourself up, isn’t it? Debates certainly do serve a different purpose than run-of-the-mill conversations, but even within a debate setting it is certainly possible to engage in a reasoned and compelling defence of one’s own perspective without denigrating one’s opponent. This was recently exemplified by Dr. Craig.
I should offer a quick disclaimer. I have not watched this debate (I had other plans that evening) so I am trusting the following report. The source is reliable, though, and what he says is consistent with what I have seen of Craig in the past so I have every reason to believe that what follows is spot on. However, even if he is dead wrong in his assessment (that’s unlikely) we should strive to exemplify what he describes.
In contrast to his opponent, Craig is described in these terms (I’ve highlighted a few key points that we should take away),
Dr. Craig was kind and charitable. He simply ignored the personal attacks. He showed that he had carefully read Dr. Rosenberg’s book and quoted from it many times. He had read Dr. Rosenberg’s interview in the campus newspaper. He explained his opponent’s position with the utmost of clarity, perhaps more clearly than Dr. Rosenberg did, and explained his reasoned objections to those ideas. He looked for places of agreement and acknowledged this common ground. He rose above the pettiness and offered a mature, gracious response.
Carson Weitnauer followed these observations with a general comment.
People notice these differences. Our character is on display. What will it say about our worldview?
That’s a very good question. As I suggest in Arguing with Friends, we win nothing if we make a stunningly brilliant case for our views while behaving in a completely dishonourable fashion. You may be right, but that inspires me to be wrong!
Weitnauer also offered a few thoughts on the need to be intellectually prepared to have these conversations which I strongly encourage you to read. Are we training ourselves? Is your church training the young people? I will let Weitnauer have the final word on this,
There is no good reason that high school students headed to college cannot explain why the logical problem of evil is passé or why the Euthyphro Dilemma is a false dilemma. High school youth groups need to set aside the time to study these arguments. I wonder: how many people have lost their faith because of bad arguments?
What do you think the secular society is more concerned about? That the Christian youth group has free pizza and electric guitars? Or that they have mastered sound arguments and are known for their love of reason? If you lead a ministry, where is your money, time and energy going?
I would hope that part of the training Weitnauer describes would involve learning how to present the information you acquire during the rest of your training. This was the inspiration behind my book, and remains the inspiration for this website. We cannot all be as informed as Craig (my credentials certainly pale compared to his) but with a little work we can all discuss these issues as honourably as Craig does.