I'd say the Harris/Craig debate is kind of a battle of the titans. Craig is the very best Christian debater in my view and the view of a lot of people. Harris is one I would expect to be a top atheist debater. I say that based on limited exposure to him. Just listening to him in the few venues I've heard I find that I'm impressed. Who is better than him? There are a lot of second rate atheist debaters in my view. Some are very smart and know a lot, but among those very smart atheists there are only a select few that have the additional debater's skill. I'm expecting Harris to be among them.
On the whole though after listening to him debate Craig, and you can get the audio here, I'm a bit disappointed. I was hoping for better. Not terrible. Not an atheist victory on scoring certainly. But maybe a success anyway.
Here's what Harris does well. His calm demeanor is perfect. He's got some great lines. And much of what he offers I think is very persuasive in its own right. For instance during his first rebuttal he offered some very poignant arguments related to the absurdity of belief that good is from God when we simply consider the 1,000 children that die in agony every hour hoping and praying to God and God will not be answering them. Meanwhile we are thanking God as if he's responsible for curing our eczema or providing us with a nice parking space. It's absurd.
Those are great points. They are very difficult for the Christians in the audience to deal with. But here's what they don't do. They don't directly rebut Craig's argument. Perhaps they do tangentially. But not directly.
Take Craig's point offered in his opening statement that under atheism morality is in fact just a biological by product of evolution. Given that, then had we evolved differently we'd have different values. Maybe we would value rape. Some animals forcibly copulate with one another. It's not "rape". It's forced copulation. The fact that we see it as immoral is kind of a biological accident.
Where is Harris' answer to that objection? There isn't any. Now, that's not all bad. Perhaps Harris chose to forego a technical victory and just take advantage of the fact that he's here at Notre Dame with a bunch of Christians and he's going to take this opportunity to hammer away at Christians with the absurdity of their view. What will Craig do in reaction? He'll ignore that and stick to the subject. What does that mean? Christians will leave without answers. That can be very persuasive. So forget about scoring. What matters to Harris is convincing. What I hear is very convincing.
When I was a Christian I think the type of thing Harris did was the kind of thing that struck me most deeply. He hasn't answered Craig's opening statement which shows that objective morals don't exist without God. So (from the neutral observer perspective) he doesn't have a logical foundation for his view. But my view is also silly. So now what? If anything I think the Christian leaves and says Deism makes more sense. That's the first baby step out of religion.
At one point Harris says "If you wake up tomorrow and think that if you say a few magic words over your pancakes and they will turn into the body of Elvis Presley you've lost your mind. However if you think that when a priest does it over wafers it becomes the body and blood of Jesus you are just a Catholic." That's pretty hilarious. And it's a great illustration. But what does that have to do with the debate? Not much. Perhaps Harris knows this and doesn't care.
So who wins? There can be no question that Craig technically wins. His opening statement wasn't rebutted. But if you gauge it by whether you think a religious person would be more likely to lean in favor of non-religion and vice versa I think it may be that Harris won. For Harris perhaps that matters more.