Arguments in the Debate “Is Faith in God Reasonable?” Part II

Arguments in the Debate "Is Faith in God Reasonable?" Part II

The continuation of Dr. Craig's comments on the Rosenberg debate including Scientism and the Resurrection.


Transcript Arguments in the Debate 'Is Faith in God Reasonable?' Part II

Kevin Harris: We are continuing our discussion, Dr. Craig, of your debate with Dr. Alex Rosenberg[1], and the title sounded to me like maybe there was some dispute there. It was supposed to be “Is Faith in God Reasonable?” but there seemed to be a little bit of haggling even during the debate.

Dr. Craig: Well, that was very interesting, Kevin. I, initially, as I began my debate preparations, took this to be a debate over the existence of God; that asking “Is faith in God reasonable?” was basically saying “Are there good reasons to think that God exists?” and so I prepared initially that way. But as I read Dr. Rosenberg's book I began to see that really the topic wasn't quite the same as “Does God exist?” What it's asking is: is it reasonable or is it rational to believe that God exists? And when you read Rosenberg's book he does not present arguments against God's existence as a way of showing that it's unreasonable to believe in God. Rather what he does is he presents a certain epistemology which would rule out belief in non-physical immaterial realities like God. So his skepticism about God is not based in problem of evil, incoherence of theism, your typical anti-theistic arguments. Rather it's rooted in his epistemology which he calls scientism which he says is that science and science alone is the source of all knowledge and truth. Because science only knows physical entities God is ruled out a priori. So he doesn't need any arguments against God's existence in order for belief in God to be unreasonable, rather he simply presents his epistemology and that makes it unreasonable to believe in God. So as I saw that in the book it occurred to me what is really front and center here is not so much arguments for and against the existence of God, it's this epistemology that would rule out a priori belief in God's existence because if its scientism.

Now as it turned out, Kevin, that isn't why the debate topic was worded that way. Ironically I found out from Cory Miller, who was the person who organized this whole event at Purdue, that he is doing his doctoral dissertation on the subject “The virtue of faith in Thomas Aquinas and Maimonides.” And so the topic “Is Faith in God Reasonable” was really a reflection of his own personal interest in the subject of faith and his doctoral work on faith in Aquinas and Maimonides. But it did seem to fit in, I think, so beautifully with Rosenberg's atheism and scientism, and for that reason I felt that I needed to offer a major critique of his scientism or naturalism in the debate.

Now, here there was a gamble on my part, and in one sense I lost the bet because I was gambling – I was counting on him in his opening speech giving his case for scientism, that he would get up and explain to the students why his naturalistic, scientistic epistemology or theory of knowledge rules out the reasonableness of belief in God. And he didn't do that, contrary to my expectation. And so when I presented my critique of epistemological and metaphysical naturalism in my second speech it was aimed at a target that wasn't there, and I think many in the audience wondered “Why is he doing this? Why is he attacking this?” because it seemed to be attacking something that hadn't been brought up. And so I found myself in a situation that has happened in previous debates like with Sam Harris or with John Dominic Crosson. What happens in these debates is that my opponent won’t come clean about the view that he really holds in his published work. Instead he presents a softer view, a less radical view, in the debate and he won't get up and defend and expound his own theory. And so it's left to me not only to criticize the theory but to expound the theory and tell the audience what does my opponent believe, and then offer my critique of it.[2]

Kevin Harris: Ah, that makes total sense, then. Because usually in your second speech you will rebut and offer comments on each point that was made in the opening speech.

Dr. Craig: Yes, exactly.

Kevin Harris: And this time you went to your power point with these points which was very interesting and enlightening, it was from his published work. But I'm thinking, “he hasn't said anything about this;” so you had to get this in real quick, Bill, and then offer a little bit of a rebuttal at the end, I guess.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that's right, Kevin. I knew that it would take me seven and a half minutes to present this critique of naturalism – I had timed it out previously. And that left me with three and a half minutes, then, to go back over the arguments that he had offered or the objections that he had offered to my eight points. So that meant that I had roughly thirty seconds per point to respond to his criticisms in my second speech. And so that's what I did, was just offer very brief rejoinders to his points in my second speech and then fortunately, I think, in my third speech I was able to return to those at greater length, and he didn't ever respond to my critique of epistemological or metaphysical naturalism, except to almost deny it. He kind of walked away from it or backed away from it. He said, “I'm not saying that these bizarre conclusions that you mentioned follow from atheism. I'm saying they follow from my scientism.” And that gave me a chance in my third speech to say, no, look, these conclusions follow from your metaphysical naturalism, not from your epistemological naturalism, and your metaphysical naturalism does follow from atheism. Given atheism I think metaphysical naturalism would be true, and then these absurd results follow. But my argument was you can be an epistemological naturalist and still be a theist. So these aren't the consequences of epistemological naturalism, they are the consequences of metaphysical naturalism, which follows from his atheism. And I was so glad that in the third speech I could show the relevance of what I had done in the second speech.

Kevin Harris: Sometimes I hear that someone with the opening speech in a debate can really shotgun the opponent with just so many arguments, topics, and issues that the opponent can never catch up and never address all those. I find that false because you can say at least something about them and you only have time to give a couple of sentences on each one.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, Kevin, the problem with most of these folks is they don't prepare, and so they don't come with succinct responses. As I said I had thirty seconds, roughly, to respond to each of the points that he criticized and yet I was able to do so because I had worked on that in advance. By contrast, before the debate I met Dr. Rosenberg and I said to him, “Well, I've enjoyed reading your material in preparation for this debate.” And he said, “Oh, you prepared for this?” And I thought, oh my goodness. [laughter]

Kevin Harris: Well, that's why he brought up things like Euthyphro and the problem of evil that anybody can look at just a couple of your debates and your lectures and know that you are very versed in it and have written on it. And to bring it up like: “Ah ha! Something new!”

Dr. Craig: Yes, a new point.

Kevin Harris: And the tweets came into play at that point, people who were listening to the debate, saying, “Oh, come on, does he really think that Dr. Craig hasn't thought about the Euthyphro dilemma?” And so, yes, prepare, if you're going to have a good exchange.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, that's right. That's a way, I think, of respecting your audience, and respecting their time and intelligence, that you're going to put some preparation into this debate. And I learned a lot, not only from reading his book, but I read quite a number of book reviews of his book, as well as watching Youtube videos of him interacting with other scholars and then blogs on the internet about his work in reading some of his articles, as well. And that was very informative, helped me understand both what he believes but also to see the weaknesses that are in his view and where criticisms have been offered by others and where I might offer criticisms myself.

Kevin Harris: He said something quite bold in the debate. He said, if you could really give me an answer to the problem of evil I'll become a Christian.

Dr. Craig: It was astonishing because he was talking about the logical version of the problem of evil.[3] If you could show that God and the suffering in the world are not logically incompatible then he would be ready to become a theist. And I was just stunned at that because among people who know the literature, the logical version of the problem of evil, as Paul Draper said, whom I quoted, professor at Purdue, the logical version is all but dead; there's scarcely anybody that defends it anymore. So that would make it easy for Dr. Rosenberg to become a theist, if he were acquainted with the literature on the topic.

Kevin Harris: Perhaps he was talking about the emotional aspect, instead.

Dr. Craig: That's what many people had said to me after the debate. So many people in the local West Lafayette community who went to the debate and talked to me afterwords said that they sensed a deep emotional hurt as a result of the Holocaust experience of his family. Rosenberg told me before the debate that he's actually Austrian, which I didn't know. He was born in Austria. His mother tongue is German and so he lost relatives in the Holocaust, and many people thought that his difficulty with the problem of evil was really emotional and not intellectual. And one person, I think, commented and said, “Why didn't Dr. Craig say in the debate ‘I'm sorry that you lost your relatives in the Holocaust?’” And I thought afterward, I just get too much in debate-philosopher mode, and I'm thinking of the logical version of the problem of evil, there's no logical incompatibility here, there's no problem, so why maintain your atheism? And I didn't think to address the emotional aspect.

Kevin Harris: As you pointed out, I mean, all of our hearts were broken. As you pointed out the logical problem of evil is the domain of philosophers and the emotional problem of evil is the domain of counselors and comforters and teachers. Well, we were at a debate; had we been sitting down for coffee it would have been a good time to maybe grieve along with, as the Scripture says, rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. But, again, Bill, you're in a debate. Yeah, I mean, you've got to address what he brought up. I got the impression that he was asking about the logical problem, as well.

Dr. Craig: Oh, he was, he was very clear about that. In fact, what stunned me, Kevin, was his statement: there is a logically possible world in which everybody always chooses to do the right thing so why didn't an omnipotent God make that world? And I was just amazed that he didn't understand that such a world might not be feasible for God in light of the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom that are true. And yet how do you explain that to a debate audience? But this is what Plantinga calls Leibniz's lapse, where Leibniz thought that God would create the best of all possible worlds. And what Plantinga points out is that given creaturely freedom it may not be within God's power to actualize the best of all possible worlds, because it might not be feasible for God given that if he were to create free creatures in such and such circumstances they would freely do evil. And so there may be no feasible world available to God in which this much moral good is achieved without this much moral evil. And therefore the logical version of the problem of evil is bankrupt. The atheist has no way of showing that such a world is feasible for God.

Kevin Harris: How did Dr. Rosenberg respond to your argument from mathematics?

Dr. Craig: He basically said that there are many different alternative mathematics. For example, there are different kinds of geometry than non-Euclidean geometry. Euclidean geometry is the geometry of a plane, but you could have the geometry of the surface of a sphere, for example, which is very different than Euclidean geometry. Or you could have the geometry of the surface of a saddle, for example, which would be very different from the surface of a sphere or the surface of a plane. So his claim was there are these different alternative mathematics and out of that he inferred there doesn’t need, I guess, to be any explanation of why physical reality is mathematically structured in the way that is it. Which seems to me doesn't follow. Our physical world did not have to be imbued with such a complex, incredibly intricate mathematical structure,[4] as it has. And since naturalism can't tolerate coincidences, there needs to be an explanation for why the physical world exhibits this incredibly complex, intricate mathematical structure, and theism, obviously, provides a better explanation of that than naturalism, which has no explanation.

Kevin Harris: Bill, we'll look at a couple of more responses that he made, including the resurrection of Jesus. But, again in the debate, it seems that quantum mechanics, quantum physics, and this whole area is not going away as an offered defeater of the first premise of the kalam. That somehow in quantum mechanics there is an example of something arising without a cause, something coming into being without a cause, and it's found in quantum mechanics. We still hear this and Dr. Rosenberg, again, brought it up.

Dr. Craig: Yes, I'm just astonished that this continues to be offered as a counterexample. I made two points in response to that. First of all, it is simply not true that quantum mechanics proves that these quantum events are uncaused. That is characteristic of certain interpretations of the mathematics of quantum mechanics, namely the Copenhagen interpretation, which says that reality itself is causally indeterminate. But, Kevin, there are at least ten different physical interpretations of the equations of quantum mechanics and many of these interpretations are fully deterministic, causally, and yet they are empirically equivalent to the other interpretations, and nobody knows which one is correct. So it is simply factually erroneous to say that quantum mechanics proves that these quantum events are uncaused. That is only according to certain interpretations which are not incumbent upon us. There are plenty of interpretations of quantum mechanics according to which these are fully caused and determined.

And then the second point that I made is that even on the indeterministic interpretations, like the Copenhagen interpretations, these quantum events are not uncaused. Rather they are caused by, for example, the quantum vacuum or there are other causal conditions that contribute to these events. After the debate I had a number of scientists at Purdue come up to me and say, well, these quantum events are not uncaused; they said, there are causal processes that lead to, for example, the decay of the uranium isotope. The only thing that's indeterminate is exactly when it happens, but there are causal conditions that lead up to and produce the effect. Now by contrast in the case of the origin of the universe, there is nothing, there are no causal conditions prior to it physically that could lead up to this because it is the absolute origin of space and time, matter and energy. And therefore it is completely disanalogous to what happens in quantum mechanical processes. And that's why I reworded the premise so as to not make a universal generalization that everything that begins to exist has a cause. I offered a more modest statement of the premise this time, that if the universe began to exist then the universe has a transcendent cause. And that, I think, is very evident because if the universe began to exist then it came into being out of nothing. There was nothing physical prior to it, no causal conditions, whether deterministic or indeterministic, that produced it in being. It is the absolute beginning of time and space, matter and energy themselves, and therefore requires a cause which is transcendent, that is beyond the physical, beyond space and time which brought the universe into being.

Kevin Harris: He responded rather briefly to the resurrection of Jesus with just appealing to Joseph Smith of Mormonism.

Dr. Craig: Right, and I think these are very instructive examples. I would say with regard to Joseph Smith that what he was saying about the golden tablets and the golden spectacles were just lies. I think Joseph Smith was an imposter, and so these were lies. But no one, Kevin, thinks that the original disciples were liars who made up these stories about Jesus' resurrection and then were willing to go to their deaths for it.[5] This was a theory – I call it the conspiracy theory – that was floated in the late seventeenth century by Herman Samuel Reimarus, a German skeptic, and no one would defend a conspiracy theory today. It is evident from reading the New Testament documents that these people sincerely believed the truth of this message that they proclaimed and were willing to die for. And the conspiracy theory is totally anachronistic. It looks at the position of the disciples through the rear-view mirror of Christian history. It looks at their position in retrospect from a Christian church that believes in the resurrection of Jesus. But that's illegitimate. You've got to put yourself in the footsteps of a first-century Jew who’s pretended messiah had just got himself crucified by the Romans. And Jews had no concept of a messiah who instead of conquering Israel’s enemies and reestablishing the throne of David in Jerusalem, would be defeated by his enemies and ignominiously executed as a criminal. As N. T. Wright has so colorfully put it: if your favorite messiah got himself crucified then you basically had two choices, you either went home or you got yourself a new messiah. But it is utterly anachronistic to think that these earliest disciples would conspire to steal the body, lie about the resurrection appearances, and say Jesus was risen from the dead. That is to import belief in the resurrection from later Christian theology back into the thinking of a first-century Jew which is simply grossly anachronistic, and that's why no scholar would defend this view today.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, using one of your phrases, we need to tie together some of the threads of this whole debate with Alex Rosenberg, and we'll do that next time. One final look and kind of a wrap-up summation of this important debate that was seen by so many on the internet. We'll talk about that next time on Reasonable Faith.[6]



[1] http://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/craig-vs-rosenberg-purdue-university (accessed February 6, 2014).

[2] 5:03

[3] 10:04

[4] 15:00

[5] 20:00

[6] Total Running Time: 22:27 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)