Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Christopher Hitchens the Van Tillian?

Debates between atheists and Christian apologists have come a long way. I remember a few years ago hearing the debate between Greg Bahnsen and Gordon Stein and thinking, "Geez, Stein doesn't even understand the argument that is being put forth!" A few years later, I listened to Doug Wilson's debate with Dan Barker and thought exactly the same thing.

Fast forward to 2008. Doug Wilson, a Van Tililan Presuppositionalist tours the country debating atheist Christopher Hitchens. Spending lots of time debating, Hitchens is exposed repeatedly to the transcendental argument.

Fast forward to February of 2009. Hitchens debates William Lane Craig at Biola University. What strikes me about Hitchens' opening remarks is that Hitchens must have gained the profoundest respect for Doug Wilson, because he implements - albeit somewhat sloppily - a form of presuppositionalism into his attack against Craig. At the 6:40 mark in the video, Hitchens begins to set forth his argument against the theistic worldview, but he almost seems to be using the presuppositional method to show Bill Craig that his evidentialist approach is inadequate and inconsistent.

According to Hitchens, "Retrospective Evidentialism is a concession made to the need for fact. 'Maybe we need to have some evidence to go along with our faith.'" He is using presuppositionalism to show that Craig still presupposes the truthfulness of the theistic worldview in his critique. All Craig had to do was turn the tables and address Hitchens' own presuppositions, which Hitchens concedes a number of times during the debate. Hitchens is apparently determined not to commit what Greg Bahnsen called in his debate with Gordon Stein the "Pretended Neutrality Fallacy." Unfortunately, Craig lets these opportunities for engagement pass him right on by, instead opting for his specialty.

Hitchens is absolutely right in his critique of Craig's evidentialism, of course. It is this extraordinary interaction which has left me somewhat surprised. I know that for some this brief discussion by Hitchens might not seem like much. But to me, it's remarkable to see presuppositionalism pass from being misunderstood and written off by atheists as "a non-argument" (as Stein put it) to now being given the nod during the course of debates with evidentialist apologists.

Sadly, the rest of the debate did not touch on the inconsistency of Craig's apologetic methodology. By granting the atheist his autonomy, Craig by his method has given all of the ground to Hitchens and then spends the rest of his time attempting to show that God can, in fact, measure up to the atheist's expectations of the universe and that they can both stand in the same place. What a profound contrast to his interaction with Doug Wilson as chronicled in Collision.

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