8,000 Hear the Christian faith robustly defended in lectures and debates
In 2007, when William Lane Craig last toured the UK (with UCCF’s first Reasonable Faith Tour), few people outside philosophy departments had heard of him. Today, he has immense international stature. Peter May, Director of the Reasonable Faith Tour and former Chair of UCCF, talks about this year’s tour.
In October 2011, Craig completed a remarkable return trip to our universities. Nearly 8,000 people attended live events, seeing him defending Christian belief with great vigour, and also explaining his central arguments in a series of lectures. All the events were filmed and are being made available on bethinking.org. A committee, drawn from UCCF, Damaris and Premier Radio, co-ordinated the tour. Invitations came from a variety of groups, both Christian and secular. Among those invited to debate Craig were Derren Brown, Richard Dawkins, AC Grayling, Sam Harris and Polly Toynbee. These all refused.
The greatest no-show on earth
At Oxford, atheist and philosopher, Professor Peter Millican, chaired the pivotal event in the symbolic heart of the university, Sir Christopher Wren’s Sheldonian Theatre. The Oxford Christian Union (OICCU) had invited Richard Dawkins to debate Craig on the arguments set out in his notorious book, The God Delusion. A poster campaign on the side of Oxford buses mimicked the famous atheist bus posters of 2009. They read: ‘There’s probably no Dawkins. Now stop worrying and enjoy Oct 25th at the Sheldonian.’ As predicted, Dawkins left an empty chair. After a welcome from the OICCU student President, Peter Millican summarised Craig’s credentials. He held aloft a copy of Craig’s book, The Cosmological Argument, which he had bought as a student over thirty years ago. Craig then delivered his broadside, thoroughly dismantling Dawkins’ central arguments. A panel of three academics then responded with various objections to which Craig then replied. The film will provide a lasting rebuttal of The God Delusion. Within just a week of uploading it, more than fifteen thousand people had seen the film from bethinking.org and other websites. The refusal of AC Grayling to debate Craig on the foundations of morality was very disappointing. Having just published his mock bible, entitled The Good Book, his pretensions in this area could not have been greater. Following the London riots, the timing could not have been more poignant. However, in the absence of a debate, the Christian Union at the School of African and Asian Studies (SOAS), invited Craig to lecture on the Moral Argument for God, in which he was able to spell out the difficulties for any atheist defence of objective morality.
Events in Cambridge
In Cambridge, Bill turned his attention to Hawking’s The Grand Design. A transcript of the lecture had been sent to Professor Hawking in advance, inviting him to respond, but he declined. Craig argued that having announced the death of philosophy on page one, the book was itself largely a work of philosophy. Martin Lown, the Director of Christian Heritage, described Craig’s presentation as ‘a model of scholarly humility – especially as he answered questions from the floor’. The next day Craig teamed up with philosopher Peter S Williams for a debate at the Cambridge Union against philosopher Arif Ahmed and the CEO of the British Humanist Association, Andrew Copson. When asked why he accepted the invitation to debate Craig, when leading figures of the BHA had refused, Copson conceded that he did it, albeit reluctantly, because he was paid to represent the BHA. The premises were packed with 750 people, who heard what turned out to be a debate more focused on the meaning of ‘delusion’ rather than an analysis of the issues. This style of debate has a long tradition in the UK, but compares very poorly with the rigorous type of academic debate demonstrated so effectively the following day.
The Great Debate
In Birmingham, Craig’s alma mater, at the invitation of the undergraduate PhilSoc, he debated Oxford philosopher, Professor Peter Millcan before a thousand people, packing the university’s Great Hall. This debate must rate as one of the best Bill has done. It was wide-ranging, substantial and thoroughly engaging. Even the Hall staff, who were left clearing up late into the night, said it was a joy to have been part of such a wonderful evening.
The Wider Audience
One of the smallest events actually proved to be the largest. At the invitation of the Christian Union, 140 people packed a lecture theatre at Imperial College to hear Bill speak on The Evidence for God. The students web-streamed the event. Some two hundred individuals or groups watched it live and one of them captured it and put it straight out on YouTube. Within four days the YouTube film had been viewed by over four thousand people. In a ten day period, Bill Craig took part in four debates and gave seven lectures. The lectures allowed him to unpack all the central arguments he uses in his debates.
Visit bethinking.org for videos of all of these events