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Bad Advice for Informal Debates

I was reading William Lane Craig’s Q&A post #170 in which the question was, in a nutshell, How can I successfully debate my non-believing co-workers – who claim that Christianity is stupid – when I don’t have enough time to study apologetics?

Here is the first part of Craig’s answer:

One easy thing that we can all do is learn to ask questions. Greg Koukl recommends asking two questions of non-believers:

1. What do you mean by that?

2. What reasons do you have to think that?

It’s amazing how these two disarmingly simple questions can tie people in knots!

Yikes! I thought the first piece of advice would be don’t debate religion with your co-workers. Seriously, you don’t want to be alienated at work (especially if you need the money). So, unless you know your co-workers well enough, either ignore the discussion going on about religion or ask them politely to leave you out of the conversation.

And since the questioner stated that he didn’t know much about Christian apologetics or philosophy (and he is too busy to study it), I thought the second piece of advice would be don’t debate religion if you don’t know what you’re talking about. This goes for theists and atheists alike. If the person you’re debating does know what they’re talking about, then chances are quite high that you’ll look stupid (and this guy’s goal was to show that Christianity is not stupid).

Furthermore, the two questions Craig suggests asking are not very hard to answer.  For example, a person might quote the well-known meme, “Christianity is the belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master.”  That certainly does paint Christianity in a fairly silly light.

…Of course, I’m not advocating that people use this sort of argument. It’d probably be extremely unproductive, but it pales in comparison to Craig’s further advice; throw them off on a book, appeal to authority, and then strawman (to be fair, Craig never uses those words but it’s definitely what he describes).

His final piece of advice is the only genuinely good one:  study up on the atheist-theist debate. …Well, actually, Craig suggests that he “memorize the premisses [sic] of the theistic arguments so that you can share them at the drop of a hat.”  But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.

Categories: Debate
  1. Natesh
    07/28/2010 at 9:54 PM

    Premisses is, according to the textbook to a Critical Thinking course I took a few years ago, an acceptable way of spelling the word. Firefox does not recognise it, but it has suggested that levelled is not a word, either. |shrugs|

  2. David Evans
    10/30/2010 at 2:50 PM

    I really hate the “Jewish zombie” meme. “Zombie” has the following meanings:

    In voodoo, a human corpse reanimated by a sorceror as a servant
    In popular fiction, a corpse animated by a virus and intent on killing and eating humans
    In philosophy, a hypothetical being which acts exactly like a human but has no subjective experiences.

    Clearly, no Christian has ever thought that Jesus was remotely like any of these.

    • 10/30/2010 at 7:00 PM

      Actually, I don’t think the Romero zombies – possibly the most famous – were animated by a virus. I’m not sure he ever really gave an explanation for their return.

  3. Daniel
    04/13/2011 at 12:10 AM

    “I thought the first piece of advice would be don’t debate religion with your co-workers.”

    That’s exactly what I was thinking!

  4. Nathan
    04/09/2015 at 11:42 AM

    I actually found Dr. Craig’s advice to be highly informative and very reasonable. Especially in light of his last paragraph. His advice (which you so disingenuously misrepresented) was to “quit making excuses and take some time to get prepared.” This is sound advice for anyone who wants to logically defend their views.
    The person that wrote the original question was concerned at how his co-workers view Christians as stupid and illogical. Dr. Craig’s advice was not an appeal to authority, because he was not saying that Christianity is true because of these intelligent men. He is simply showing that you can not claim Christians are all stupid when confronted with these brilliant men and their arguments.

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