One of my first feelings as proceedings kicked off was one of disappointment at discovering there were so few atheists there: about 10% of the audience according to the initial show of hands. This disappointment remained as Craig proceeded to thrash Wolpert out of the jam-packed Westminster Central Hall; I just kept wishing there had been even more people there to see it.
As it was, we didn't get a real debate at all. Wolpert was simply appalling. At face value, his two main arguments seemed to be (1) that religious belief can be accounted for naturalistically and (2) who made God, eh? However, implicit throughout was his main argument, something like that which J.P. Holding has dubbed "the argument from serious assertion", namely:
- God does not exist.
- No, seriously.
- Therefore, God does not exist.
His naturalistic explanations for the origins of belief in the divine and for religious experience were such unmitigated just-so stories that I can hardly be bothered to repeat them; and, in any case, as Craig pointed out, used in this way they are near-irrelevant (I think most theists would welcome the claim that people are somehow neurologically hard-wired to belive in God). It is worth noting that - while each speaker was given 20 minutes for an initial address, 10 minutes for a first rebuttal, 7 minutes for a second rebuttal and 5 minutes for a conclusion - Craig used nearly all of his available time while Wolpert ran out of things to say very early on, and that in every speech Wolpert asked "who made God" and in every reply Craig pointed out that to be God means (in part) to be uncaused and eternal.
Craig, for his part, used his now-standard 5 arguments (Craig's Five Ways?): the argument from the beginning of the universe (and hence, all matter, energy, space and time), the argument from the fine-tuning of the universe, the argument from the objectivity of moral values, the argument for the historical reliability of the resurrection accounts and the argument from personal experience (his testimony). I was expecting to hear some tough responses... and I heard sixth-form arguments. I expected to hear a challenge to the coherence of the divine attributes... and I heard "who made God?" I expected to hear an appeal to a possible multiverse... and I heard a rhetorical shrug of the shoulders as regards the mind-bogglingly small probability of a life-permitting universe. I expected to hear a robust version of the Euthypro dilemma... and I heard a man who first claimed that there was nothing more to morality than biological and social imperatives, then said there were some things that were really wrong, then refused to acknowledge that he had contradicted himself. I expected to hear an empassioned appeal to the problem of evil... and yet only Humphrys seemed in the least concerned with that. Finally, I felt entitled, from such a renowned professor of Biology, to hear a discussion of evolution that went at least slightly deeper than "evolution did it", "there's loads of evidence" and "you're just ignorant".
In sum, I expected to hear some atheistic arguments, and yet all I heard Wolpert do was repeat loudly that "there's no evidence for God at all whatsoever" while refusing to engage with the theistic arguments he had just heard. My question for any atheists out there is: is this the best you can do? This was the Vice-President of the British Humanist Association, after all.