- (Photo: The Chimes / Kelsey Heng)
Christian apologist William Lane Craig and renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens went head-to-head in a debate over the existence of God Saturday night as thousands intently listened on at the sold-out event and via live feeds.
The debate "Does God Exist?" held at Biola University, an evangelical Christian university in Southern California, was the second time in two weeks that the two figures sparred over the topic. During the Christian Book Expo in Dallas last month, Craig and Hitchens took opposing sides in a panel examining "Does the God of Christianity Exist, and What Difference Does It Make?"
An estimated 4,000 people packed the university's gym to watch the event while an additional 6,000 from around 120 church sites from another thirty states and four countries watched a live feed of the debate.
Craig, a Biola professor and one of the world's leading philosophers of religion, claimed in opening remarks that there is no good argument that atheism is true but that there are good arguments that theism is true.
He gave five main arguments to support the existence of God: 1) the cosmological argument – the universe came from something rather than nothing; 2) the teleological argument – the complexity in the universe presents the case for an intelligent designer; 3) the moral argument – true morality comes from God; 4) the resurrection of Jesus – the evidence of the resurrection has not been refuted and 5) the immediate experience of God – experience as evidence for God.
Throughout the debate, Craig, who authored Resaonable Faith, challenged Hitchens to refute his five points and provide positive evidence that it is irrational to hold a belief that God exists. But by the event's end, Craig expressed disappointment that Hitchens did not provide arguments to support his truth.
"We've heard attacks upon religion, Christianity impugned, God impugned, Mother Teresa impugned, but we haven't heard any arguments that God does not exist," said Craig.
"Mr. Hitchens seems to fail to recognize that atheism is itself a worldview, and that it claims alone to be true and all the other religions of the world false."
Hitchens, part of the movement of "new atheists" or "militant atheists" who seek to eliminate religion, said he didn't have to prove God didn't exist. He said that it was Craig who must prove the existence of God while he can take the role of the skeptic and doubt such a being exists.
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," said Hitchens, author of the New York Times bestseller God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.
Even if there was a God, continued the outspoken atheist, it still wouldn't prove that this entity cared about man or answered prayers.
During the rebuttal session, Craig took issue with what he felt was Hitchens' failure to provide reasons for how atheists can decide what is moral or immoral.
Hitchens responded by saying there is no proof that people closer to a supernatural being act better than people who are not. He said he has yet to discover good actions a person of faith might undertake that he cannot.
Craig said that without objective morality being rooted in God, man is left with subjective relativism.
At one point, the debate moved to the question of whether man can have meaning in life apart from God. Craig argued that life is objectively meaningless for the atheist because he is heading toward emptiness and death. Hitchens said being free from false belief and helping others to do the same brings meaning to his life.
"Emancipate yourself from the idea of a celestial dictatorship and you've taken the first step toward becoming free," Hitchens told the crowd.
Following the debate, attendants had the opportunity to purchase books from both authors during a book signing.
"It went good, Craig offered arguments, whereas Hitchens didn’t," Stan Markowski, a Biola senior, commented, according to the Daily Titan, the student newspaper of California State University, Fullerton.
Jaden Netwig, a high school student from Long Beach, said the debate didn't change his mind on his atheist beliefs but said he was "still open to the possibility of God," reported Whittier Daily News.
The debate was sponsored by the Biola Student Association as well as the Christian Apologetics department at Biola University.
"I thought it was a great showing for belief in God, the Christian intellectual tradition, and Biola University as a global center for Christian thought," said debate host Craig Hazen, director of the M.A. program in Christian apologetics at Biola.