William Lane Craig and the Freethinkers

In advance of Dr. Craig’s talk at the University of Calgary on March 7, posters were put up around the University campus. Not surprisingly, the “freethinkers” club launched a series of posters in response to those posters advertising Dr. Craig’s talk. It’s hard to know exactly how to address such posters, but below I offer a few thoughts on the general theme of their posters.

First of all, that they felt the need to respond to the advertising about Dr. Craig tells us something about Craig; he is somebody who deserves responding too! If he was a no-name fly-by-night kind of speaker who was about to draw a whopping crowd of, say, 25 people do you think the freethinkers would have bothered counter-advertising him? Probably not. The reality is, though, that Craig draws crowds pretty much wherever he goes. He is a respected popular speaker and a very well published academic.

Which brings me to my next observation; what kind of crowds does Craig draw? You’ve got your Christians who admire him. You’ve got your Atheists who seem to hate him. And you’ve probably got a bunch of curious onlookers who just want to know what all the hoopla is about. Considering the likely demographics is seems worthwhile to ask what, precisely, the freethinkers intended to accomplish with their counter-posters? Are they likely to dissuade Christians from attending or persuade them to abandon their faith? Probably not. Most Christians want to hear Craig and when the Atheists go on about how obviously wrong Craig is, that draws the usual “there they go again” rolling-eyes response from Christians even remotely familiar with the relevant arguments and data.

What about the Atheists? They already dislike Craig so they don’t need any posters to remind them of their disdain. No, I suspect the posters were intended for the fence-sitters. But that leads me to ponder what the Atheists intended to accomplish with the posters. Did they hope to convince fence-sitters not to attend the presentation? Given how people love controversy, that seems unlikely. The more they “respond” to Craig the more controversial he becomes (especially the concept that a relatively conservative Christian theologian endorses genocide?!?!) so that would seem likely to inspire a larger, not smaller, audience.

So they probably realize they don’t stand a chance of dissuading people from coming. But can they cause doubt? Can they give people something to think about in response to Craig’s presentation? Given the flavor of most of the posters, this seems to be the more probable motivation. While some of the posters are trite grumblings more reminiscent of a childhood temper tantrum than allegedly mature university students (i.e. “D- for lack of citations” – are advertising posters really to be held up to the same standards as term papers?) most of the posters attempted to somehow address the issues. They attempted to ‘reveal the real Craig’ by providing what the freethinkers considered to be damning quotes made by Craig. They attempted to respond to, and undermine, specific lines of reasoning they anticipate Craig will use.

I already described how the fact that they responded at all reveals that Craig is somebody worth responding too. The nature of their response reveals something else, too; what Craig says deserves a response. They consider some of Craig’s views to be so obviously outlandish that they feel an adequate response requires nothing more than quoting Craig, verbatim. But notice that they don’t stop there. They offer other posters that don’t quote Craig at all. The other posters attempt to address Craig’s arguments (and the arguments of many other Christian philosophers) with rhetorical questions and contrary evidence or arguments. The fact that this second category of posters were created reveals that what Craig says carries weight, his arguments are not intuitively false, they are in fact plausible. If he was a relative nobody and his arguments were pathetically thin it is extremely unlikely that a counter-poster campaign would ever have been initiated.

Some might wonder about the Christian response to Dawkins (or, similarly Harris, Dennett, etc). Does the fact that we spend so much time attempting to refute him confirm much the same thing as we have just concluded with respect to Craig? Is he a man of repute? Are his arguments worth considering? With a huge qualifier that I will explain in a moment, I would say yes to both questions. Is Dawkins a man of some repute? Obviously! He is a properly credentialed scientist. He has held rather prestigious positions in various universities of significant repute. Yes, his credentials put in the category of “somebody likely worth listening to.”

However, he does have this tendency to speak on subjects he is most certainly not qualified to address. His treatment of philosophy has embarrassed some of his fellow Atheists. But if we shift the focus to those Atheists who speak on subjects they are actually qualified to speak on – I’m thinking of Dennett, Harris, Ruse, Rosenberg and others – are their arguments worth considering? Do they deserve careful investigation? I would argue that they do! One should take such arguments seriously. In fact, Christians should give their arguments far more careful and thorough consideration than most Christians do, and far more careful consideration than most Atheists ever give to Theistic arguments.

The fact that those posters were placed around campus in advance of Craig’s presentation confirms that the Atheists and Theists agree on at least two points with respect to Dr. William Lane Craig; he is a philosopher of some repute and the arguments he defends hold enough plausibility of being true that they warrant a response. At the presentation on Thursday March 7, Craig was thoughtful enough to thank the Freethinkers for helping advertise the event. In response to all the advertising (including, of course, that provided by the freethinkers club) the total attendance was a whopping 350 people! The overflow section was overflowing. It is estimated that 100-200 people were turned away. Not only that, but several thousand (yes, thousand!) people watched part or all of the streaming video of the event. Frankly it was a resounding success that far exceeded the expectations of the planners at Faith Beyond Belief, and that is due in large part to people’s awareness that Craig was in town.

So I would like to add my voice to Craig’s, and the many other Christians who wish to thank the Freethinkers club at UofC for helping advertise the event, and for helping fence-sitters see, through the practical example of the freethinkers’ club and their response, that Craig and his arguments are worth listening to. We owe the success of the evening, in part, to you!

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About Paul Buller

Just some guy with a variety of eccentric interests.
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6 Responses to William Lane Craig and the Freethinkers

  1. Kevin says:

    Can you post pictures of some of the Freethinkers’ posters?

  2. Jeff Hansen says:

    “Can the universe be tuned, at all?” Such an epic stoner question.

    Technology and the internet have given us access to enough information to fill more than a life time of learning, and yet, internet memes, bumper stickers, and posters have become the pillars of critical thinking.

    Enjoyed the article, Paul.

  3. The Freethinkers are actually pretty clever. They understand that we are living in the most anti-intellectual period in American history. They also understand that the outlandish claims they make will be consumed and believed without independent inquiry. There will be scads of fence-sitters who will see the lies, believe them without question, and choose not to attend.

    After all, the Freethinkers know their own generation — they’re not immune from its anti-intellectualism, either.

  4. William Bird says:

    “First of all, that they felt the need to respond to the advertising about Dr. Craig tells us something about Craig; he is somebody who deserves responding too!” Too instead of to?

  5. Wes says:

    Hi, my name is Wes. I was the VP Events of the U of C Freethinkers at the time of this event (or the next year, I can’t be certain). There was some debate regarding the responses and types of responses we would put forth in the run-up to this event. As to whether the members of FT at the time felt like Lane Craig had valid arguments for his thesis, I can say not too many did. The poster campaign was largely in response to the off-campus group that was handling the planning and promotion of the event.

    There was even some concern regarding their approach to advertising and planning that came from several chaplains on campus as, in response to criticisms brought against their plans by a member of the planning committee, they requested that member’s removal from the committee. I can tell you that most of the objections of the club members at the time were about the statements (explicit and implicit) made by the off-campus promoters on their advertisements, i.e., “Quantum mechanics proves god” and “Can we be good without god?” And how they

    @Paul I interpret your tone here as fairly cheeky. I assure you that a fair number of the club members at the time were happy to promote the event. The campaign was not about suppression. You seem to think our club was filled with moustache-twisting, cartoonish villain types who just couldn’t help stepping on their own toes in their bumbling plan to sabotage this event. The truth is, as usual, much less titillating. As I’ve said, the campaign aimed to address specific problems with the claims made in the off-campus promoter’s advertising.

    I’d be happy to relay to you the conversations surrounding each of our posters as I remember them if you want additional insight into their inception.

    @Jeff “Can the universe be tuned at all” is merely a response to the classic argument that the universe is in such fine working order, with such specific physical parameters and relationships that a creator *must* be responsible for its “tuning”. The response is that any universe that arises (for whatever reason) to spawn beings capable of pontificating over its “fine tuning” is one with parameters capable of giving rise to those beings in the first place. It’s an example of a sampling bias. Of course the universe is tuned to support life. Life exists. Silicon-based life in a completely different universe would be sitting in their armchairs wondering the same thing. It doesn’t incontrovertibly prove a creator to anyone I know that doesn’t already accept the conclusion. But, obviously, this wouldn’t fit on a poster. I trust you are sensible enough to imagine the members of our club are not mindless “stoners” and are, in fact, sensible, thinking human beings who simply see the world differently than you do.

    @Jeremy I see you think the club is filled with moustache-twirling bond villains too. I don’t suppose I have anything persuasive to offer you towards the contrary except to say that it is a club that honestly values freedom of ideology, association, and intellectual exploration with the understanding that ideas shall and must be subjected to every kind of scrutiny that can be brought to bear. We also value community, I suspect very much like the groups you are involved with. I wonder who is more “anti-intellectual” as you put it; us, responding to an assertive ad campaign with objections and differing perspectives, or you, calling different conclusions than your own “lies”?

    Mockery of people on the other side of the fence may be received well within your own community (atheist/agnostic/secular communities are clearly not innocent of this) but it doesn’t inspire intellectually honest exploration of ideas, it just reinforces group think. The people in our club are not stupid, anti-intellectual, or scheming. They’re people that have looked at the world and come to different conclusions than you. Why don’t you find some people in your local atheist/agnostic/secular communities and learn to call them friend and see where that takes us.

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