This is a transcript of a debate on the existence of God, between Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Corey Washington, which took place on 9 February 1995 at the University of Washington, before an audience well over 1500 people.
I have taken the time to transcribe this debate because I think this transcript will be valuable to many people. As a former debater myself, transcribing a debate such as this fulfills my occasional “debate need” that I sometimes experience. But more importantly, I know that far more people will benefit from reading this transcript than those who were fortunate enough to attend the debate live. I’m delighted to prepare this transcript for print and electronic distribution because I know that, by so doing, I am making this information available to literally millions of people. In that sense, we all win.
The debate was videotaped by ASUW. In general, this tape was of very high quality so that I had very little difficulty in determining what was said. I have attempted to make this as much of a literal transcript as possible, even to the point of including the all the “uhs” and “umms” of the speakers. This will give the reader a feeling for the overall atmosphere of the debate as well as for the oratorical technqiues, nuances, and flaws of the speakers. So literal a transcript, while not always flattering to the debaters, is virtually as effective as an audio recording for capturing the tone of the debate.
Material enclosed in square brackets –  – was not actually spoken but inserted for clarification. Throughout the transcript, ellipses (…) are used to indicate incomplete thoughts, not material left out. The few places where meaningful sounds could not be extracted from the videotape of the debate are indicated in the text with words such as “hubbub,” etc.
… Taylor and I’m a senior, a Speech Communcations major, and also an officer for Campus Crusade for Christ. And on behalf of the ASUW Campus Crusade, I’d like to welcome you all to “The Great Debate.”
Uh, first I’d like, uh, to bring your attention to the programs here. Umm, we have a few, uh, things in there, first this event took a lot of work to put together, as you can see a lot of people here, um, and we have some thank yous in here on the insert we’d like you to take note of. Also, there’s a schedule of the debate on the other side of that sheet of how the debate is going to be actually run and then, finally, umm, each debater’s notes are in here so that you can follow along and take notes if you would like to.
A little bit later on, tonight, we’re going to be having some, we have some comment cards under your seat, and I’ll explain what we’re going to do with those later, but that will be an oppurtunity for you to pick up a free article on both sides of the issue, an article or bibliography, and, um, but first before I do that, I want to introduce our moderator for tonight.
He’s professor John Campbell. Dr. Campbell is an associate professor in the Speech Communications Department. Uh, he has taught here at the University of Washington since 1968. Uh, he got his bachelor degree at Portland State University and did his master’s and doctoral work at the University of Pittsburgh. Professor Campbell focuses more on the rhetorical aspects of speech communications and has written uh numerous papers on the rhetorical dimensions on Darwin’s, uh, campaign for evolution. And so first, let’s welcome Dr. Campbell.
John Campbell (moderator)
Thank you very much. It’s a great pleasure to be here to see the effective university gathered. And by the effective university I mean those people who are interested in the questions that matter. And ever if there was, were ever a question that mattered, it is the one that brings us together this evening as a community of reflective human beings.
Immanuel Kant, the great philosopher, said there are three important questions that a human being can ask. “what may I know?”, “in what may I trust?”, and “what is my duty?”. It seems to me that the question that has gathered us together here this evening. brings together all three of these questions, because if God exists, that’s something we can know. If God does not exist, this is a delusion, or an illusion for us to avoid. If God exists, as God has been understood in the West, then there is something we can trust, as well as an object that we can know. And if this God, as we have known it in the West, is personal, then that has implications for our duty, because if God is personal, then obligation attaches to this knowledge.
We have this evening two very distinguished speakers to bring to a focus this great question. I would like to mention just very briefly a couple of definitional points. When we talk about God, people may say, “well what do you mean?” And I don’t intend to be, uh, overly precise on this thing, but when we talk about God, in the context of the question this evening, we’re assuming a common cultural context, a common Western or middle-eastern cultural context, that includes the three great monotheistic religions. When we talk about God, we’re talking about a personal intelligence, a personality as, uh, a Creator as understood in the general context of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. So it is this general cultural context that frames our question.
Now, just a couple of words on our procedure before I turn to the persons who will conduct this debate. Umm, usually in a debate there is such a thing called presumption. That’s conventional. If the topic, if the established presumption is on one side and someone challenges it, that person begins the debate. (Whoever starts the trouble is supposed to start out.) This is somewhat arbitrary. So since this is a university and by convention, the university is supposed to represent skeptici-, skeptics, our first speaker will be Dr. Craig, whom I’ll introduce shortly, who will speak on the side of theism, taking the affirmative of the question, “Does God exist?” Uh, our second speaker, Dr. Washington, will seek to rebut what Dr. Craig has said and to argue that God does not exist. And then from there on, we will have three [hold up three fingers], mathematics is not my specialty, uhh, we will have three, this is not a trinitarian conspiracy it just turns out that way [audience laughter], uh, we will have three uh, colliquoies,uh between our speakers, uh, after our two uh, twenty minute presentations, starting with Dr. Craig and Dr. Washington, we’ll have three more colliquoies with Dr. Craig speaking twelve minutes, Dr. Washington twelve, and the same sequence eight, and the same sequence again for five, then we’ll have a ten minute break. After that, we’ll have some questions and answers. And I’ll repeat this, but over to our right people who would like to questions for Dr. Craig, people who’d like to ask questions for Dr. Craig can like up at that mic-, microphone, and our left, we’ll have folks for the other side. So these are just a few preliminaries.
Let me now introduce our speakers. We have two very distinguished speakers to focus our thought on this question. Uh, Dr. William Craig is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Westmount College in Santa Barbara, California. Judging by the numerous citations on his vita, among his central interests as a philosopher of religion are the cosmological argument, the problem of divine foreknowledge and free will, the general issue of cosmology and theism. I think many of his scholarly concerns seem to be well-captured in the title of his 1993 book published by Oxford University Press, which he did with Quentin Smith, Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology
Dr. Craig has also written numerous popular works on theism and numerous works in defense of the Christian faith in particular.
Dr. Corey Washington received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in June of 1994. His doctoral thesis was on the topic, “Margins of Reference.” Dr. Washington’s work borders on, is concerned with questions on the border of philosophy and linguistics. He’s interested in issues of representation. He received his Masters of Science from the Mass-, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was in linguistics and was awarded in 1987. His thesis was on “Temporal Discourse.” He has a B.A. in philosophy from Amherst College and wrote his Bachelor’s Thesis on Logical Semantics. He has been at the University of Washington as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy from 1992 to the present, and has taught courses in the Philosophy of Language, the Philosophy Mind, of Mind, Logic, and Artifical Intelligence. Among his publications are “The Identity Theory of Quotations” in The Journal of Philosophy in 1992, “Use and Mention” in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which will be published uh, by, uh,
and he is editor of the forthcoming book, On Tarski’s Definition of Truth.
I have to say one other thing about Dr. Washington, though I’ve both met, both met both our speakers but bri- briefly, Dr. Washington is also a graduate of the email school of “boning up on theism.” [some laughter] Uh, Dr. Washington is debating this evening, not because he is a publishing scholar in the field of proofs for the existence of god, but because he’s a philosopher in the real and root sense of the term. He loves the life of the mind, and finds the life of the mind active in this great question which needs to be probed. Uh, and so, uh, he, we are dealing with someone who has a sense of fun, and I think both our speakers are met tonight on a serious question, but will address this question with that sense of fun and the play of the mind, which we need if we are to take ourselves seriously at all. Boredom and overseriousness, I think, are the greatest killers of the life of the mind, and I trust that they will be foreigners to our debate this evening.
Now, friends, one other thing I’m supposed to tell you. I’m instructed to say, “I would appreciate it if you would come up with an amusing, disarming way of asking the audience members so inclined, to refrain from yelling `Amen,’ `Praise God,’ [audience laughter] and other such exclamations at things that Dr. Craig might say.
[laughter from audience]
Now friends, I’m a professor of speech communication, whose existence perhaps is somewhat debatable like the one, [more laughter] like the question, but I’m a person of principle and I believe by playing by the rules. What if were to one, what if one were to say, “Cogent Point!” “How Apt!” [pause] [laughter] “Perspicuous Brother!” [laughter] I say let the fool heart for itself forth.