A Shotgun Debate in Ireland

A Shotgun Debate in Ireland

What happens when Dr. Craig does not have time to answer every point brought up in a debate (the "shotgun" tactic)? He does a podcast on it!


Transcript A Shotgun Debate in Ireland

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, you were recently in Ireland, as we talked about in previous podcasts. You did a couple of debates there. We want to focus on a couple of things with your debate with Michael Nugent who just got the International Atheist of the Year award.

DR. CRAIG: Did he? I was unaware of that.

KEVIN HARRIS: Atheist Ireland is what he heads up. A letter from Erin in Australia says,

Dr. Craig, I was hoping you might do a podcast on your recent debate with Michael Nugent in Ireland to review some of the points raised in the discussion. Among his points, Mr. Nugent offered twenty reasons why the Christian God seems implausible. It appears that you focus primarily on one – that of the plausibility of there being such a thing as a pure mind without a body. However, it seemed to me that several of his other points perhaps because they were not addressed individually may have appeared to present some challenge to the idea of a maximally great being as an intelligible concept in itself. I presented a number of his twenty reasons below.

He focuses on ten. Erin, we thank you for your letter from Australia. Why don’t we look at these ten. Also, what do you think about what he says here.

DR. CRAIG: Sure. Nugent has been criticized in social media for not offering substantial arguments in the debate. I think that is rather unfair. In fact, I think Michael Nugent came to this debate better prepared than the vast majority of my debate opponents do. I think he was very well coached. Unfortunately, what he did was adopt what high school debaters call a shotgun approach where you just spray as many objections as you possibly can hoping that some of them will get through. Can you imagine twenty reasons why the Christian God is implausible? The drawback of the shotgun approach is that none of the arguments is developed in any detail and hence they appear to be mere assertions or questions. But I do think it is worth talking about some of these.

KEVIN HARRIS: Sure. One of the first ones that Erin would like for you to address is, “if God is changeless then it cannot create anything because it would have to change in order to do so.”

DR. CRAIG: Well, I think that this fails to distinguish between being changeless and being unchangeable. What I’ve argued is that God without the universe is changeless but he is not unchangeable. I think at the moment of creation God does change in exerting his causal power to bring the universe into being.

KEVIN HARRIS: Number two: If this mind is perfect then it could not change anyway because then it would become more perfect which is impossible, or less perfect in which case it would no longer be perfect.

DR. CRAIG: What this argument fallaciously assumes is that if something changes it must change on the vertical scale of perfection – either more perfect or less perfect. It fails to realize that something could change horizontally so to speak. That is to say, it can remain supremely perfect but it can change in ways that neither improve nor harm it. So I would say that any changes in God such as knowing what time it is, for example, are simply trivial. They don’t make God either better or worse.

KEVIN HARRIS: Number three: If God is no longer changeless then it may have ceased to exist some time ago.

DR. CRAIG: That depends on whether you think that God is a metaphysically necessary being. Some of the arguments for God’s existence – like the Leibnizian argument from contingency or the moral argument – lead to the existence of a metaphysically necessary being in which case it is impossible for this being to cease to exist.

KEVIN HARRIS: I wonder if Nugent used “it” in the description here which is not entirely inappropriate – God is an entity and therefore an “it.” He is saying “it.”

DR. CRAIG: Right. One would normally use the personal pronoun because we are talking about the theistic or Christian concept of God.

KEVIN HARRIS: Number four: If it is all-perfect and all-good then it would have created a perfect universe. At a minimum a perfect universe would not contain suffering or evil. If the response is that even a perfect God can only do what is logically possible then it is logically possible to have a universe without suffering or evil.[1]

DR. CRAIG: This issue was addressed fairly extensively in the debate. It is the problem of evil. What I pointed out is that it is not true that if God is all-perfect and all-good then he must create a perfect universe. That is a false assumption, I would say. On the one hand, it may be that a perfect universe is impossible. It is not feasible for God to create a world in which there are free moral agents who always do the right thing and never go wrong. Secondly, there can be cases in which God may permit suffering or evil in order to achieve some greater good. So it is just not true that in virtue of God’s perfection he has to create a world without suffering or evil. When Nugent says that it is logically possible to have a universe without suffering or evil, we can agree with that. This is logically possible. But it may not be feasible for God to create a world of free agents who always do the right thing. Yes, there are logically possible worlds like that but they may not be feasible for God. So he simply fails to reckon with this crucial distinction that philosophers make between what is logically possible and what is feasible for God.

KEVIN HARRIS: We can chase a real rabbit here on perfection because four of these deal with the concept of perfection and what is perfect. Philosophers often speculate on whether there is any such thing as perfect.

DR. CRAIG: That is a very good point. Perfect world – that is the idea of the best of all possible worlds. And it may be that there is no best of all possible worlds. Worlds just get better and better without end.

KEVIN HARRIS: If they are getting better then that implies a standard by which betterment can be gauged.

DR. CRAIG: I think that you can say that there are objective standards but that there isn’t any possible world that is the best possible world. They can just keep on improving.

KEVIN HARRIS: Number five: If God is perfect but we don’t understand how then why did God have to intervene in this perfect universe through miracles?

DR. CRAIG: I don’t think that it is true that we don’t understand what God’s perfection means. It refers to his moral perfection and holiness. But the reason for miracles is that they serve as signs to us of God’s existence and activity. When Jesus performed his dramatic miracles, these were signs to the people of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in his person. Jesus’ miracles and exorcisms were signs of divine activity and God’s being with him.

KEVIN HARRIS: Number six: The Euthyphro Dilemma remains and focusing on God’s nature does not resolve the problem. It is good for arbitrary reasons or it is good because it corresponds to independent standards of goodness.

DR. CRAIG: I think this objection makes no sense. If we think of the sound of a live orchestra, for example, as the standard for a hi-fidelity recording, it simply makes no sense to say, “But why is the sound of the live orchestra hi-fidelity?” That is what we mean by hi-fidelity. Similarly, God’s nature is the standard of goodness. I would say that God is necessarily good. God is the concept of a greatest conceivable being, and the greatest conceivable being would need to be morally perfect because it is better – it is greater – to be good rather than morally flawed.

KEVIN HARRIS: I am showing my age here, but I remember when my parents called their record player “the hi-fi.” [laughter]

Number seven: All of the arguments for an all-good God can just as easily be used to support the idea of an all-evil God who gives us free will because it wants us to do evil voluntarily rather than force us to do evil.

DR. CRAIG: As I just indicated, I think the idea of an evil God with a capital-G is incoherent because God is the greatest conceivable being and therefore cannot be morally flawed. Such a being would not be the greatest conceivable being. There could be an evil god with a lowercase-g – some sort of finite being that is evil – but such a being would owe its existence and its being evil to the existence of God with a capital-G so that the existence of such a finite evil god would actually necessitate the existence of God in the full theistic sense.[2]

KEVIN HARRIS: This is interesting. Number eight: If God is all-knowing then it knows the taste of strawberry yogurt. But if it doesn’t have a body or senses then how can it know the state of anything? If the response is that saying what it knows is the truth of the proposition then it is not all-knowing; it is less than all-knowing.

DR. CRAIG: This is the one objection, I think, that is interesting and substantiative. I would say two things about it. First, the way omniscience is traditionally defined is in terms of propositional knowledge. For any proposition p, if p then God knows that p and does not believe not-p. In other words, God knows all the facts there are. But how strawberry yogurt tastes is not propositional knowledge. It is non-propositional knowledge. It is how something tastes, not that strawberry yogurt tastes sweet or that it tastes good or something of that sort. All of the facts about strawberry yogurt are known to God. That is what is required for omniscience. It is not required that God possess all non-propositional knowledge because then God would have to know, for example, that he is Napoleon, which obviously he doesn’t. That is something Napoleon knows, and God knows that Napoleon is Napoleon, but God doesn’t believe that he is Napoleon. That is a form of non-propositional knowledge that God doesn’t and shouldn’t possess. That would be an imperfection, not a perfection. So I think the way omniscience is traditionally defined is in terms of having all propositional knowledge, and God can have that even if he doesn’t have the non-propositional knowledge of how strawberry yogurt tastes.

But the second point that I want to make, and this emerged in my Talbot class that I taught last January, is it clear that God doesn’t know how strawberry yogurt tastes? Think about it. When I am tasting strawberry yogurt, there is a certain mental state that I am in. Why can’t God simply put himself into that same mental state without having a body or taste buds? I don’t see any reason to think that he couldn’t. If there is a mental state associated with the taste of yogurt or the feeling of a rough surface or the sound of something, God can put himself into such a mental state and thereby have that mental experience even though he doesn’t have a body with eardrums and nerve endings and taste buds.

KEVIN HARRIS: This is a cool question at any rate. I’ve never heard the strawberry yogurt example. Is there something that is typically the example that you’ve heard?

DR. CRAIG: Sometimes I’ve heard it said, “Does God know how watermelon tastes?” The illustration is arbitrary. What you are thinking of here is some sort of non-propositional experience because God obviously knows all the truths about how watermelon tastes or yogurt tastes, but does he have this non-propositional knowledge? That is not required by omniscience as it is typically defined. So if God does have this kind of knowledge, it means that he is cognitively greater than being omniscient which is really interesting.

KEVIN HARRIS: What is it like to be a bat?

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, could God put himself in such a mental state?

KEVIN HARRIS: A famous essay.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah.

KEVIN HARRIS: Number nine: If God is all-knowing, then God created free agents that God knows will do evil. If this God cared about humans on planet Earth then at a minimum it would have given us all the same information and the same moral messages.

DR. CRAIG: I don’t see any argument for that inference. God gives sufficient information for salvation to every human being that he creates because he loves every person and wants that person to come to know him and find eternal life. But that in no way implies that God has to give equal information to every person. Some people may enjoy more information than others. Indeed, some of the lost who reject God’s grace and love may receive more information than many of the saved.

KEVIN HARRIS: Wow. Yeah. You’ve said before that God may have good reasons to create persons and things. Just because this person is going to do evil does not have veto power over God’s purposes.[3]

DR. CRAIG: Right. I think that is true. God gives us significant human freedom to rebel against him and his purposes, but he knows these choices and can work around them so as to achieve his ultimate ends even through these evil decisions.

KEVIN HARRIS: Number ten (the last one): If Christians believe that God is a pure bodiless mind and also that matter cannot come from nothing then the most rational theistic conclusion to come to is that God has spawned other pure bodiless minds and that matter itself is an illusion.

DR. CRAIG: God has created other pure bodiless minds such as angels and souls, but there is no reason to think that matter is therefore an illusion. I think that his confusion comes from the statement “matter cannot come from nothing.” What one means by that is that matter cannot come into being uncaused. There needs to be an efficient cause that brings matter into being. But what he is interpreting it to mean is that matter cannot come into being without a material cause. That is not evidently true. So long as there is an efficient cause for matter then that principle is not violated by God’s creating matter as well as minds without any material cause.

KEVIN HARRIS: How do you handle this shotgun approach in a debate? You are sitting here taking notes and you are going to go, OK, come on.

DR. CRAIG: Right. You realize you can’t deal with all of them. So what you do selectively – a good debater will pick those which he deems the most important, particularly those which would be the most important in the mind of the audience and will address those then just leave the others unaddressed. I think what I find is that audiences are very forgiving in this respect. They know that you can’t in your limited time address every point that has been brought up, especially when you have twenty objections that are raised. But if you carry those arguments which you do address, that gives the audience confidence that you also have good answers to those arguments that you simply didn’t have time to address.[4]



[1] 5:00

[2] 10:06

[3] 15:03

[4] Total Running Time: 17:46 (Copyright © 2017 William Lane Craig)