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!