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Debate Reflections

The following is a guest post from our friend Jon Sturm, who attended a popular and important debate at Purdue last weekend.


On Friday, February 1st the Elliott Hall of Music on the campus of Purdue University played host to a well-attended and much-anticipated debate.  The Symposium Christi is an annual event, hosted by multiple campus ministries and churches, with the purpose to explore and debate some of the most probing questions of about faith, reason, and life. The topic of this year’s main debate was, “The Foolishness of Faith: is Faith in God Reasonable?” Arguing for the affirmative was Dr. William Craig, Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Arguing for the negative was Dr. Alex Rosenberg, Professor and Department Head of Philosophy at Duke University. I had the pleasure of attending the debate with about twenty-five friends and acquaintances from central Indiana.

The debate featured excellent rhetoric, more Latin than I cared for, and a great deal else which went about a mile over my decidedly unintellectual head.  I’ll not bore you with its exact details; rather I want to share three reflections which came from hearing brilliant men discuss an important topic.

 Reflection # 1 – Where is the debater of this age?

I’m ashamed to say that as Dr. Rosenberg took the podium I was more than timid – I was terrified. It happened suddenly, but in a moment my mind was racing. I thought about how smart he is, and how stupid I am. I thought about the books he’s read which I have not. I thought about the science he understands, which the sub-par biology and chemistry student in me could never hope to comprehend. I thought about the arguments he’d soon make, which I would not have heard before. I thought, “What if he’s right?” I’m thankful to say those thoughts soon passed, as my mind was filled instead with a passage which, on three separate occasions within the past month, God has brought before me – I Corinthians 1:18-31. My fear was rebuked by this passage, but I was also so incredibly comforted. God does not fear the wisdom of men, nor should I.

 Reflection #2 – Modernity’s god

 Dr. Rosenberg spent much of his time explaining scientifically the impossibility of God. He claimed that God, as a being, was worthless to science, and therefore worthless to all human endeavors. He stated once that if God could do as much for science as the numeral 2, physicists would be much more receptive to his existence. I read recently in John 5. In that passage Jesus rebukes the Scribes and Pharisees, saying to them, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; yet it is they that bear witness about me.” It’s safe to say that Dr. Rosenberg, though familiar with the Bible, does not search it for life. Still it could be said of him, “You search out science because you think that in it you have eternal life…” If only Dr. Rosenberg could see that science, studied properly, testifies of Jesus!

 Reflection #3 – Sola Scriptura

Dr. Craig is an excellent debater, and he showcased that talent very well during the course of the evening. However, after speaking a little more than an hour, with an audience of thousands interested in matters of faith, I noticed that something was sorely lacking from his talk – Scripture! Craig presented eight reasons why it is logical to believe in God. All eight were scientific, philosophical, or otherwise – yet, save his last point, they were completely Scripture-free.  Calvin writes, “Yet they who strive to build up firm faith in Scripture through disputation are doing things backwards…Even if anyone clears God’s Sacred Word from man’s evil speaking, he will not at once imprint upon their hearts that certainty which piety requires” (Institutes I.vii.4).  Craig’s need to use Scripture was nowhere more clear than when Dr. Rosenberg, a child of Holocaust survivors, sincerely inquired about the problem of evil. Dr. Craig’s response was free of Scripture, free of grace and compassion, and more than a little obtuse. My friend Joel Hart commented that Dr. Craig came off well overall, yet lacked a measure of Christ-centered grace required to tear down strongholds (II Corinthians 10:3-5). Dr. Craig may have scored debate points, but even given his answer, Dr. Rosenberg is in no way more near a saving knowledge of Christ our Lord.

Jonathan Sturm

Senior, Purdue University College of Liberal Arts


9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Cera McCarragher #

    Jon, thank you for your thoughts on this debate! well articulated and engaging.

    February 5, 2013
  2. Greg #

    I am not sure the purpose of a debate is for the debaters to convince one another. Generally speaking, both are highly educated and, no doubt, set in their ways. Instead, I think the benefit is for the audience listening. They get the chance to weigh the arguments. Many will be unsure of there stand on the topic but listening to the discussion, they can decide which side convinces them. The listeners are the ones who come nearer the saving knowledge of Jesus.

    February 5, 2013
  3. KJQ #

    Sadly, Dr. Craig does not believe in creation nor a young earth. Once you’ve compromised on the inerrancy of the first book of the Bible, it becomes impossible to defend the rest of it.

    February 6, 2013
  4. Jon, the reason Craig doesn’t use the scriptures in debate is that would be using “an argument from authority.” (possibly) In certain contexts this can be a logical fallacy. If Craig used the Bible as a part of his argument, in this context, he would have committed a fallacy since the argument from authority is a fallacy when the side you’re debating with doesn’t acknowledge that authority.

    Certainly this doesn’t mean we can’t use the scriptures when dialoguing with non-Christians. Craig’s intention goal was to defend the rationality of faith so that might be why he did not use scripture. (I haven’t watched the debate so I’m speaking more out of reading his stuff rather then the debate itself.)

    February 7, 2013
    • I believe David has accurately pointed out why Dr. Craig did not use Scripture. I agree with David’s explanation.

      However, I do not agree with the strategy of Dr. Craig, as James’ follow-up article clearly articulates. Why? Because the atheist never plays by this same rule. He always has to argue from some authority (opinion, science, quotes from other philosophers, etc.), so why must we agree to his conditions to do the same?

      Christians debating without using the Scriptures is like fencing without a sword. You may cleverly dodge the thrusts and even get the opponent to cut himself with his own sword a bit, but why give up the superior weapon God has placed in our hands?

      February 8, 2013
      • Early in the debate, Dr. Rosenberg touted the fact that 95% of the 2000 scientists in National Academy of Sciences are atheists. He wondered how Dr. Craig could be right if so many of the most prestigious collection of scientists in the world disagree. Then, just before the closing statements, he sough to discount the credibility of Biblical documents and he said: “But most of all, why should we accept the credibility of Christian scholars writing about Christian documents…no more than we should accept the scholarship of Islamic scholars writing on Islamic documents, or Scientologists writing about Scientology.” I wanted to jump up and ask, “Then should we accept the writing of scientific scholars writing about scientific documents?!”

        February 8, 2013
  5. I enjoyed the debate as well. My experience with apologetics and the debate over God’s existence is that learning intellectual reasons to believe, and tackling doubts honestly, has tremendously grown my faith.

    I’d echo David Pilliam’s comment, and would say that, having followed his lectures for some time now, Craig has a very high view of scripture. He simply doesn’t reference it when debating with non-Christian’s. He tries to put his faith in terms they can understand.

    February 7, 2013

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