Transcript

Is There a God?

William Lane Craig vs. Victor J. Stenger

University of Hawaii, Hawaii, – January 2003

Introduction

INTRODUCTION:I’d like to introduce to you our two moderators. We have Dr. Charles Hayes, who is a Professor of Physics here at the University of Hawaii, and the interim Dean of the College of Natural Sciences. We also have a Professor of English and Director of the Manoa Writing Program, Dr. Thomas Hilgers, and I’m going to hand over the program to them at this time. Please welcome our moderators.

DR. HAYES (MODERATOR): It is a pleasure to welcome you to the University of Hawaii, to the debate that Dr. Tom Hilgers and myself will moderate. Just a comment about the University of Hawaii, or the purpose of the university in general. The university is the proper place, the proper forum should be at a university where we discuss anything, and of course tonight’s topic therefore is an important topic, and is one that is such that we should think critically about what is being presented. That’s one of the things that the University of Hawaii, and Tom and myself have been involved in recently, promoting the university to be a place where ideas are thought of critically. As we do that, we think of the university as a place where since ideas come, some of them carry a lot of emotion with them. That of course will be true for tonight’s debate. So with that in mind we must be very careful and cautious how we respond, as we think critically about what is being said, because there will be people that have very strong opinions that are much different than what may be said from one of the podiums.

With that in mind, let’s listen very cautiously, let’s think critically, and let’s become very intellectually involved with what’s going on. Now at the end of the formal debate there will be a time for questions from the floor. With that in mind we will not have with all the people here time for everybody to ask questions, but there will be time for a few. We’ll talk about that later with mics on the side for that, at the end of the formal debate. As the program indicated we will start off tonight with an opening statement by the theist, followed by an opening statement by the non-theist. There will then be rebuttals by each side, and then a moderated dialogue, and finally we will have final statements of each side. At the end of that we will have a short break and then we’ll go to questions from the floor. With that in mind, I turn the floor over to Tom Hilgers.

DR. HILGERS (MODERATOR): Welcome and thank you for having me. I hope that if there’s any fainting tonight it’s from the quality of the arguments and not from the heat. I am a little concerned that we are so crowded that if anybody does have to go out for air, and I know it’s quite stuffy out there, that there may not be room to proceed. So if you see somebody get up I’ll really appreciate it if you move to the side so they can get through. Lee just tells me that they have opened seating on the outside balcony, so those of you who are finding it opprobriously stuffy might want to move there already.

It’s my pleasure to introduce Dr. William Lane Craig, who will be arguing a theist position tonight. William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Miranda, California. He completed his PhD in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham, England, before earning a doctorate in Theology from the Ludwig Maximillian University of Munich, where he was for two years a Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung. Got that, okay! That’s impressive, isn’t it? Prior to his appointment at Talbot, Bill spent seven years on the faculty of the Higher Institute of Philosophy of the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. He has authored some 30 books including The Kalam Cosmological Argument, Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom, Theism, Atheism and the Big Bang Cosmology, and God, Time and Eternity. In addition, Bill has published nearly 100 articles in professional journals of philosophy and theology, including the Journal of Philosophy, American Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophical Studies, International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Astrophysics and Space Sciences, and the British Journal for Philosophy of Science.[1] Bill has joined us tonight here in Honolulu from Atlanta where he lives with his wife Jan, and they have two children, Charity and John. Bill, welcome.

DR. CRAIG: Thank you.

MODERATOR: It is my pleasure to introduce Dr. Victor Stenger. He will be arguing the non-theist position. Victor J. Stenger has recently retired from a distinguished international career in physics at the University of Hawaii and is currently Emeritus Professor of Physics from the University of Hawaii as well as adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado where he now resides. Vic earned his PhD in Physics at UCLA and has held visiting positions on the faculties of the University of Heidelberg in Germany; Oxford in England twice, and has been a visiting researcher at Rutherford Laboratory in England, the National Nuclear Physics Laboratory in Frascati in Italy, and the University of Florence in Italy. Vic’s research career spanned a period of great progress in elementary particle physics that ultimately led to the current Standard Model. He participated in experiments that helped establish the properties of strange particles, quarks, gluons, and neutrinos. He has also helped pioneer the emerging fields of very-high-energy gamma ray in Neutrino Astronomy. In his last project before retiring, Vic collaborated on the experiment in Japan which showed for the first time that the neutrino has mass. Vic has had a parallel career as an author of critically well-received popular level books that interface between physics and cosmology, and philosophy, religion, and pseudo-science. These books include Not by Design, Physics and Psychics, The Unconscious Quantum, Timeless Reality. His latest book, Has Science found God? - the Latest Results in the Search for the Purpose in the Universe is now available. Vic Stenger was former President of Humanists Hawaii, and was named Hawaii humanist of the year in 1992. Turn the program over to Tom, who will be moderating the formal section of the debate.

MODERATOR: Briefly you’ll note on your program that we will have twenty minute formal statements by both Dr. Craig and then Dr. Stenger, followed by twelve minute rebuttals. After that we will move into a brief moderated dialogue which will essentially give our debaters an opportunity to ask questions of one another. That will be followed by a brief break and then opportunities for, after final statements from both of our debaters, questions from you. So without further ado, I invite the opening statement from Dr. Craig.


[1] 05:00

William Lane Craig – Opening Statement

DR. CRAIG: Aloha, good evening. My wife Jan and I are just thrilled to have the opportunity to visit your beautiful islands. We’ve just spent a couple of days on Maui, and we plan to visit the big island, and Kauai as well. I’m also very glad to have the opportunity to be debating Vic Stenger tonight who’s emerged as a very prominent spokesman for atheism. I’m sure that we’re in for a good debate this evening.

So, does God exist? In order to answer that question rationally we need to address two further questions. First, what good reasons are there to think that God exists? Secondly, what good reasons are there to think that God does not exist? In his most recent book Dr. Stenger claims that he can prove to a high degree of certainty that a personal God does not exist. We’ll see if he can make good on that claim in tonight’s debate. I think that if we’re honest we should both admit right up front that neither of us can prove his case with that kind of certainty. The very fact that we’re having this debate tonight shows that this is a question on which intelligent people can disagree. People don’t have debates on questions like, “Does Akebono exist?” or “Does Santa Claus exist?” because there are clear and compelling answers to those questions. But what that means is that your task is all the more difficult tonight. You’re going to hear evidence both for and against the existence of God.[2] Your job is to weigh the evidence, to see which way the scales tip. That requires a thoughtful and reflective spirit. If your mind is already made up, then you probably won’t hear anything from either of us tonight that will change your mind. But for those of you who are still searching for an answer, I hope that our discussion of the evidence both pro and con will be really beneficial to you. Now, I’ll leave it up to Vic Stenger to present the evidence against God’s existence.

In my opening speech I want to sketch briefly six lines of evidence that weigh in favor of God’s existence.

1. God is the best explanation for why something exists rather than nothing.

This is the deepest question of philosophy. Why is there anything rather than nothing? Experience teaches that anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in its own nature or in an external cause. You see, anything that exists is either one of two types. The first type is something that exists necessarily, by its own nature. Example? Many mathematicians believe numbers and other abstract objects exist in this way. If such entities exist, they just exist necessarily without any cause of their being. The other type is anything that has an external cause of its existence. Examples? Mountains, planets, galaxies, and people. They have causes outside themselves which explain why they exist. Now it’s obvious that the universe exists. It therefore follows that the universe has an explanation of its existence.

But what sort of explanation is it? Well it seems plausible that if the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is an external, transcendent, personal cause. Why? Because the cause must be greater than the universe. Think of the universe: all of space and time. So the cause of the universe must be beyond space and time. Therefore it cannot be physical or material. Now there are only two kinds of things that fit that description: either abstract objects like numbers, or else an intelligent mind. But abstract objects don’t cause anything. Therefore it follows that the explanation of the universe is an external, transcendent, personal cause, which is what everybody means minimally by God.

2. God’s existence is implied by the origin of the universe.

The atheist could try to escape the argument that I just gave by saying that the universe exists necessarily, by its own nature. But this second argument blocks that escape route. For anything that exists necessarily must exist eternally. Think about it. If a thing came into existence, or ceased to exist, then we know that its non-existence is possible. That is to say it doesn’t exist necessarily. In one of the most startling developments of modern science we now have pretty strong evidence that the universe is not eternal in the past but had an absolute beginning about 13 billion years ago in a cataclysmic event known as the Big Bang. What makes the Big Bang so startling is that it represents the origin of the universe from literally nothing. For all matter and energy, even physical space and time themselves, came into being at the Big Bang. As the British physicist P. C. W. Davies explains:

The coming into being of the universe, as discussed in modern science . . . is not just a matter of imposing some sort of organization . . . upon a previous incoherent state, but literally the coming-into-being of all physical things from nothing.[3]

Not only does this imply that the universe is not necessary in its existence, but it also raises the inevitable question. Why? Why did the universe come into being 13 billion years ago? What brought the universe into existence? Well, unless you’re willing to say that the universe just popped into being uncaused out of absolutely nothing, there must be a transcendent cause beyond space and time, which created the universe.[4] Thus from (1) everything that comes into being has a cause, and (2) the universe came into being, it follows logically that therefore (3) the universe has a cause.

As the cause of space and time, this being must be a timeless, spaceless, immaterial being of unfathomable power. Moreover, it must be personal as well. We’ve already seen one reason why this cause must be personal. Let me give another. How else could a timeless cause give rise to a temporal effect like the universe? If the cause were an impersonal set of necessary and sufficient conditions, then the cause could never exist without its effect. If the cause were eternally present, then the effect would be eternally present as well. The only way for the cause to be timeless and for the effect to begin to exist in time is for the cause to be a personal agent who freely chooses to create an effect in time without any prior determining conditions. And thus we are brought not merely to a transcendent cause of the universe, but to its personal creator.

3. The fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life points to a designer of the cosmos.

In recent decades scientists have been stunned by the discovery that the initial conditions of the Big Bang were fine tuned for the existence of intelligent life, with a precision and delicacy that literally defy human comprehension. This fine-tuning is of two sorts. First, when the laws of nature are expressed as mathematical equations, you find appearing in them certain constants, like the gravitational constant. These constants are not determined by the laws of nature. The laws of nature are consistent with a wide range of values for these constants. Second, in addition to these constants, there are certain arbitrary quantities which are just put in, as initial conditions on which the laws of nature operate – for example, the amount of entropy or the balance between matter and anti-matter in the universe. Now all of these constants and quantities fall into an extraordinarily narrow - I mean I cannot convey how almost infinitesimal this is - an extraordinarily narrow range of life-permitting values. Were these constants or quantities to be altered by even a hair’s breadth, the life-permitting balance would be destroyed, and life would not exist. For example, if the atomic weak force or the force of gravity were altered by as little as one part in 10100 the universe would not have been life-permitting.

Now there are only three possible explanations of this extraordinary fine-tuning: either physical necessity, chance, or design. Now it can’t be due to physical necessity, because as we’ve seen, the constants and quantities are independent of the laws of nature. So could the fine-tuning be due to chance? The problem with this alternative is that the odds against the fine-tuning’s occurring by accident are so incomprehensibly great that they cannot be reasonably faced. The probability that all the constants and quantities would fall by chance alone into the life-permitting range is vanishingly small. We now know that life-prohibiting universes are vastly more probable than any life-permitting universe like ours. So if the universe were the product of chance, the odds are overwhelming that the universe would be life-prohibiting. Hence the fine-tuning is not due to either physical necessity or chance, but logically that implies therefore it is due to design. Thus the fine-tuning of the universe implies the existence of a designer of the cosmos.

4. Objective moral values are plausibly grounded in God.

If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. By objective moral values I mean moral values which are valid and binding independently of whether anybody believes in them or not.[5]Many theists and atheists alike agree that if God does not exist, then moral values are not objective in this way. Michael Ruse, a noted philosopher of science explains,

The position of the modern evolutionist is that . . . Morality is a biological adaptation no less than our hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when somebody says, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself,' they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory.[6]

Friedrich Nietzsche, the great 19th century atheist who proclaimed the death of God, understood that the death of God meant the destruction of all meaning and value in life. I think that Friedrich Nietzsche was right.

But, we’ve got to be very careful here. The question here is not, "Must we believe in God in order to live moral lives?" I’m not claiming that we must. Nor is the question, "Can we recognize objective moral values without believing in God?" I think that we can. Rather, the question is, "If God does not exist, do objective moral values exist?" Like Professor Ruse, I just don't see any reason to think that, in the absence of God, the values evolved by Homo sapiens is objective. On the atheistic view, some actions, say rape, may not be socially advantageous, and so in the course of human development has become taboo, but that does absolutely nothing to prove that rape is really wrong. On the atheistic view, there’s nothing really wrong with your raping someone. Thus, if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

But the problem is that objective values do exist, and deep down I think we all know it. There’s no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world. Actions like rape, cruelty, and child abuse aren’t just socially unacceptable behavior. They’re moral abominations. Ruse himself admits "The man who says that it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says, 2+2=5."[7] Some things at least are really wrong. Similarly, love, equality, and self-sacrifice are really good. Hence I think we all know that objective values do exist, but then it follows logically and inescapably that therefore, God exists.

5. The historical facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The historical person Jesus of Nazareth claimed that in himself the kingdom of God had come, and as visible demonstrations of this fact, he carried out a ministry of miracle working and exorcisms. But the supreme confirmation of his claim was his resurrection from the dead. If Jesus really did rise from the dead, then it would seem that we have a divine miracle on our hands and thus evidence for the existence of God.

Now, most people would probably think that the resurrection of Jesus is something you just accept by faith or not. But there are actually three established facts recognized by the majority of New Testament historians today which I believe are best explained by the resurrection of Jesus.

i) On the Sunday following his crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers. According to Jacob Kramer, an Austrian specialist in the study of the resurrection, “By far most scholars hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb.”[8]

ii) On separate occasions different individuals and groups of people saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death. According to the prominent New Testament critic of Vanderbilt University, Gerd Lüdemann, “It may be taken as historically certain that . . . the disciples had experiences after Jesus' death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”[9] These appearances were witnessed not only by believers, but also by skeptics, unbelievers, and even enemies.[10]

iii) The original disciples suddenly came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus despite having every predisposition to the contrary. Jews had no belief in a dying, much less rising, messiah, and Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone’s rising from the dead before the end of the world. Nevertheless, the original disciples came to believe so strongly that God had raised Jesus from the dead that they were willing to die for the truth of that belief. N. T. Wright, an eminent British scholar concludes, “That is why, as an historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.”[11]

Attempts to explain away these three great facts, like “The disciples stole the body” or, “Jesus wasn’t really dead” have been universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. The simple fact is that there just is no plausible naturalistic explanation of these facts. Therefore, it seems to me the Christian is amply justified in believing that Jesus rose from the dead and was who he claimed to be. But that entails that God exists.

And thus, we have a good inductive argument for the existence of God based on the resurrection of Jesus:

1. There are three established facts about Jesus: his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.

2. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of these facts.

3. That hypothesis entails that God exists.

4. Therefore, God exists.

Finally,

6. You can experience God personally.

This isn’t really an argument for God’s existence, rather it’s the claim that you can know that God exists wholly apart from arguments simply by immediately experiencing him. This was the way that people in the Bible knew God. As Professor John Hick explains,

God was known to them as a dynamic will interacting with their own wills, a sheer given reality, as inescapably to be reckoned with as destructive storm and life-giving sunshine . . . To them God was not . . . an idea adopted by the mind, but an experienced reality which gave significance to their lives.[12]

Now, if this is the case, then there’s a danger that arguments for God could actually distract your attention from God himself. If you’re sincerely seeking God, then God will make his existence evident to you. The Bible promises, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”[13] We must not so concentrate on the arguments that we fail to hear the inner voice of God speaking to our own hearts. For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives.

In conclusion then, we’ve seen six reasons to think that God exists. If Dr. Stenger wants us to believe atheism instead, then he must first tear down all six of the reasons that I’ve presented, and in their place erect a case of his own to show that atheism is true. Unless and until he does that, I think that belief in God is the more plausible worldview.


[2] 10:00

[3] ABC Science Online, "The Big Questions: In the Beginning," Interview of Paul Davies by Phillip Adams, http://aca.mq.edu.au/pdavies.html.

[4] 15:00

[5] 20:00

[6] Michael Ruse, "Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics," in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269.

[7] Michael Ruse, Darwinism Defended (London: Addison-Wesley, 1982), p. 275.

[8] Jacob Kremer, Die Osterevangelien--Geschichten um Geschichte (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977), pp. 49-50.

[9] Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 8.

[10] 25:00

[11] N. T. Wright, “The New Unimproved Jesus,” Christianity Today (September 13, 1993), p. 26.

[12] John Hick, "Introduction," in The Existence of God, ed. with an Introduction by John Hick, Problems of Philosophy Series (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1964), pp. 13-14.

[13] James 4:8.

Victor J. Stenger – Opening Statement

DR. STENGER: Well, aloha. It’s certainly wonderful to be back in Hawaii where Phyllis and I spent so many happy years. Our children were both born in Hawaii, both graduated here from the University of Hawaii, and it’s certainly great to be back. In fact, it’s almost exactly 40 years to the day that we first landed in Hawaii, and this is the first time we’ve actually visited Hawaii in all that time. So we’re here as tourists, and now I can see why so many people keep coming back to visit Hawaii. So I’d like to express thanks to Keli’iand the other organizers and sponsors of this debate for inviting me. It’s certainly an honor to share the platform with William Lane Craig. I read that he’s one of the world’s most foremost Christian apologists, and he’s given ample evidence for that today.

Now in his opening remarks, Dr. Craig has appealed to your common sense.[14] Well you know what common sense is? Common sense is a human faculty which tells us that the earth is flat. On the other hand, objective observation tells us that the earth is round. In tonight’s debate, I will argue that objective observation as well as reason and logic lead to a conclusion that a God with the traditional attributes of the Christian God does not exist, beyond a shadow of a doubt. I will give four arguments to support my position.

1. The attributes of the Christian God are self contradictory. They are like a square circle.

2. The attributes of the Christian God are inconsistent with what we know about the world.

3. Supernatural explanations for events in the universe are unnecessary. Natural explanations are simpler, are based on objective observations, and are fully consistent with all we know about the world.

4. The attributes of the Christian God imply actions that should be objectively observable, but they are not. God has not been detected.

Let me list a set of attributes that are traditionally associated with the God of the monotheistic religions, but particularly Christianity.

He’s the creator of the universe. He’s immaterial and transcendent. He’s all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, and indeed perfect in every way. Furthermore, God is a person. He loves humans, and wishes us to know him. He’s forgiving and merciful, speaks to humans, revealing truths to us that we would not otherwise know, and he answers prayer, as he sees fit, and performs miracles violating natural laws. Now many philosophers have argued that the traditional attributes of God are logically incompatible. Here are just a few of these.

Let’s consider perfect versus creator. If God is perfect, then he has no needs or wants. This is incompatible with the notion that God created the universe for some divine purpose. Divine purpose implies that God wants something he doesn’t already have, which makes him imperfect. Transcendent versus omnipresent. How can a God beyond space and time be at the same time everywhere in space and time? Just versus merciful. To be just means to treat a person exactly as they deserve. To be merciful means to treat a person better than they deserve. You can’t do both. Immaterial versus personal. To be a person is to have a material body, to have a brain, to have a mouth that you speak with, and so on. So God with these and many of the other attributes that are traditionally assigned to him, does not exist.

Now, the God of monotheism also has attributes that are inconsistent with what we know about the world. For example an all-powerful, all-knowing God who also has the attribute of wanting all humans to know and love him is inconsistent with the fact that there are non-believers in the world.

Perhaps the most ancient and strongest of the arguments for God’s non-existence is the problem of evil. An all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing God is simply inconsistent with the fact of evil and gratuitous suffering in the world. Now, theologians have of course grappled with the problem of evil for centuries and they still do. For example a prominent contemporary theologian Richard Swinburne says of the problem of evil, “If the world was without any natural evil and suffering, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to show courage, patience and sympathy.”[15] [16]Yes, certainly pain has a role in warning us of illness and injury. But does God really need so much suffering to achieve his ends? Is there any good purpose behind so many children dying every day in the world of starvation and disease, perhaps one every few seconds? How are they helped by the rest of us becoming more sympathetic?

Now Dr. Craig and many other theologians have spent their lives building models of a God that are logically consistent, and at the same time in broad agreement with the traditional teachings of Christianity. Those have mainly consisted of trimming God’s characteristics one by one until he’s defined mostly in the negative. He’s non-material, not in space and time, not seen or heard. Apologists have reduced God to an almost undetectable background, something like what we physicists used to call the ether, until we found that the ether doesn’t exist either. Now I have no doubt that a logically consistent picture of some kind of God can be devised, and I’ve never claimed to disprove the existence of every conceivable God. That’s why I’ve been very careful to focus on the God with the traditional attributes of Christianity in particular, but to some extent the other monotheistic religions as well. Now while it’s possible to create a logically consistent God, I have serious doubts that that God could be made consistent with Christianity.

In any case, these theologians and their logically consistent Gods remind me of the creators of computer games. Programmers invent whole new universes in which the characters have all kinds of superhuman powers, and many of our familiar laws of physics are violated, yet these games are all logically consistent. They wouldn’t run on a computer if they weren’t. But the computer game universes have little connection to the universe we see around us. They don’t exist in our reality; they exist in what’s called virtual reality. But just because something is logically consistent, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it exists. For the theologian’s logically consistent God to actually exist, he must have something to do with the observed universe; some attributes that can be objectively observed, otherwise God is as useless as the ether.

Even if a God can be devised who is consistent with logic and with observations, natural explanations or phenomena are still better than supernatural ones. They better explain the existence of non-believers. They also better explain the existence of believers. They explain the existence of evil and gratuitous suffering, the unfortunate result of evolution. They better explain the origin and structure of the universe, of life and mind. And these notions are based on objective observations and theories that are testable. Supernaturalism on the other hand offers no explanation at all, except “God did it.” To say “God did it”, as Dr. Craig does, passes us on no more information than to say “Santa Claus did it” or “The Easter bunny did it.” It could be any entity.

Now only 7% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences believe in the personal God worshipped by perhaps 80% to 90% of other Americans. Most scientists don’t believe in God because they don’t see any objective evidence for him. When they look at the world around them they see no sign of God. They don’t see God when they peer through their most powerful telescopes. They don’t detect God with their most sophisticated microscopes and other instruments.[17] Furthermore, scientists find no need to introduce God or the supernatural in any form into any of their explanatory theories. Here are a few of the famous scientists who have been outspoken in their non-belief: Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Richard Feynman, Stephen Jay Gould, Francis Crick (the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA), Stephen Weinberg (perhaps the world’s greatest living theoretical physicist), and the incomparable Carl Sagan. Now let me add that none of these scientists would not believe if they were presented with sufficient evidence.

Now, a God with the attributes I’ve listed implies phenomena that should have been easily observed by now. For example, let’s consider three actions: revelation, prayers, and miracles. Let’s begin with revelation.

Most people believe in a God who has a substantial and detectable role in the universe and in human affairs. One common characteristic attributed to this God is that he communicates with humans and provides them with verifiable new knowledge. The theistic religions have traditionally taught that God speaks to humanity. Their scriptures are widely assumed to be the word of God, and he’s believed to have revealed knowledge to religious leaders in the past that they would not otherwise have known. Many people believe that God still does this today, speaking even to average persons. Now surprisingly, these claims are easily verifiable if they’re true. All we have to do is find some fact, supposedly gained by divine revelation that was unknown at the time of the revelation, and then confirm this fact at a later time. For example, suppose the Bible had predicted that men would walk on the moon in 2,000 years. Then we would have a rational basis to take seriously what else is written in the Bible. Unfortunately, we do not. No revelation of previously unknown knowledge has ever been empirically validated. The Scriptures contain nothing that could not have been known to, or imagined by, the ancients who wrote them. The Bible reads exactly as we would expect it to read based on existing knowledge at the time it was composed. Furthermore, there are many example of the failure to confirm Biblical revelations. Consider the failed prophecy of the Second Coming. In Matthew 24:30, Jesus says “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.” Then a few verses later he says, “I will tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”[18] Well, we’re still waiting. It was supposed to happen 2,000 years ago. It’s time to give up and move on.

Now those who have claimed to talk to God have provided no knowledge that was not already in their heads. Many people have claimed religious experiences in which they felt the presence of God, but they never return from these experiences with any exceptional knowledge that could easily verify their claim. What I’m saying is that there is a way that God can be detected, and this is one of them, and he has not been. Furthermore, religious experiences can be induced in the brain by drugs, electromagnetic pulses, and oxygen deprivation. For example, when pilots undergo High-G training in a centrifuge, they will often experience a kind of tunneling of their vision, narrowing of their vision with light at the end of the tunnel, that is characteristic of the near-death experience that’s supposed to have religious significance.

Now you might say God has chosen to hide himself from us. He certainly has, if he exists, has hidden himself from us. However, St Paul makes it very clear that even though God is invisible, his nature and deity have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.[19] In other words, God may be invisible but his actions are visible. Theists might respond that God’s actions are obvious to those who wish to see them. Well I would love to see them, but they’re not obvious to me or to the millions of other non-believers in the world.

Another commonly-believed attribute of God is that he listens to entreaties from humans to change back the course of events. He can be expected to grant a sufficient number of these requests so that the results should be observable, otherwise what’s the point of praying? Now many people will testify that they’ve had their prayers answered. But personal testimony is insufficient since it doesn’t rule out other more mundane, simpler, natural explanations. For example, if someone is ill and then recovers after praying, it could be that the prayers had nothing to do with it. After all the body, sometimes with medical help, does a pretty good job of healing itself. In fact it works every time, except once, the last time. Now if prayer had value in healing, we’d have doctors prescribing prayer aspirin. “Say three ‘Our Fathers’ and four ‘Hail Marys’ and call me in the morning.” Convincing evidence for God, the kind who answers prayers, can in principle be scientifically demonstrated. It’s not impossible – with high probability if it really exists. Well designed experiments on intercessory prayer should turn up solid, statistically significant results on the success of prayer in healing. In fact, some studies claiming positive effects of prayer have been published in refereed medical journals, to great media hoopla. However, you can’t rely on media reports; we need to look at the actual published papers. Applying the same criteria that are used in conventional science when testing extraordinary claims, you find that none of the reported effects are significant. Furthermore, most of the experiments are severely flawed, and none of the claimed positive effects have ever been successfully replicated. Perhaps the best study was done by the Mayo clinic a few years ago. They studied some 800 patients over a period of half a year. The patients were divided up – they were coronary patients – divided up into two groups, some prayed for and some not prayed for, and the results were no significant effect that would suggest that prayer had done any good whatsoever. So let me summarize.

1. The traditional attributes of God are self-contradictory, so such a God cannot exist.

2. The traditional attributes of God are incompatible with objective facts about the world, so such a God cannot exist.

3. Natural explanations are superior to supernatural explanations. No basis exists for anything supernatural.

4. The traditional attributes of God imply actions that should be objectively observed, but they’re not.

It’s possible to hypothesize a God whose attributes are logically compatible with each other, but it does not follow that such a God exists unless it has – unless he has – objectively observable consequences, and as I said, no consequences have been observed. So if God exists, where is he? Thank you.


[14] 30:00

[15] Richard Swinburne, The Philosophers Magazine, Winter 1999.

[16] 35:00

[17] 40:00

[18] Matthew 24:34

[19] 45:00

William Lane Craig – First Rebuttal

DR. CRAIG: In his opening statement Victor Stenger presents four arguments which he says prove with certainty that God does not exist.[20] Well, can he maintain that high standard of proof? Let’s look at the arguments.

Firstly, he alleges that the attributes of God are self-contradictory. Now this is actually my area of specialization as a philosopher so I was very interested in hearing his arguments here. Unfortunately we heard merely assertions from Dr. Stenger. I was looking for the argument. Where were his premises? What was the argument that supported these assertions? I don’t think that any of the alleged contradictions that he asserted are in fact incompatibilities with each other.

For example, take God’s perfection versus God’s being a creator. According to the Christian view of God, God created the universe for the benefit of the creature, not for his own benefit, not from any imperfection in himself, but rather it is a creation so that we might come to know God, the joy and blessedness of personal relationship with him. So that creation, just like salvation, is totally by God’s grace. It is an expression of his overflowing love; the knowledge of God is what we were made for as human beings, and we find our ultimate fulfillment in knowledge of him.

He says what about transcendence versus omnipresence? Well, traditionally omnipresence has not been interpreted to mean that God is diffused throughout the universe like some sort of invisible ether. Rather, omnipresence means that God is causally active at, and knows what is happening at, every point in space. And that’s entirely compatible with his being transcendent and the cause of space and time.

What about his justice versus his mercy? Here I find one of the greatest beauties of the Christian faith – it is the reconciliation of God’s justice and mercy. They meet at the cross. At the cross we see God’s love for humanity expressed, as the second person of the Trinity dies in our place to take upon himself the death penalty of sin that we deserved. He voluntarily undergoes the most excruciating suffering to reconcile us to God. And yet at the same time we see the justice of God, as God’s just punishment for sin is meted out, but he takes it upon himself in the person of Christ. So that the justice and the mercy of God meet at the cross. At the cross, we see the most beautiful reconciliation in expression of the mercy and justice of God.

Finally, what about immateriality versus being personal? Well I would invite Dr. Stenger to give any argument to show that persons are essentially material beings. On the contrary I would say that persons are essentially immaterial beings. We are souls conjoined with a body. God is an unembodied soul if you will, or mind, that transcends the universe. So there’s no incompatibility there.

So I think philosophers generally recognize that the traditional concept of God, at least as Dr. Stenger has attacked it, is entirely coherent and compatible, and the question is, “Is there evidence for such a being?”

Well his second argument was that the evil in the world is inconsistent with the existence of an all-powerful and all-loving God. Again, he merely asserted this but I would like to hear the premises to the argument. Philosophers have come to recognize that there is no logical inconsistency between the propositions: an all-powerful all-loving God exists, and evil exists. If Dr. Stenger thinks he can show those are logically inconsistent then I’d simply invite him to do so. It’s generally recognized that no-one’s been able to show those propositions are inconsistent. In fact, you can actually prove that they’re consistent by adding a third premise, namely God has a morally sufficient reason to permit evil. So long as that is even possible, it follows that those propositions are entirely compatible. The atheist seems to think that if God has morally sufficient reasons to permit evil then I must somehow be privy to these. But there’s absolutely no reason to think that I must know God’s mind or know all of the reasons that he has for permitting the evil and suffering in the world. So unless Dr. Stenger can show that it is impossible that God have morally sufficient reasons for permitting pain and evil in the world, his argument is simply invalid.

Second thing I would say about this is that I think that paradoxically, evil is actually proof of the existence of God. The argument would go like this: (1) If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. (2) Evil exists, namely some things are really wrong. (3) Therefore objective moral values exist. (4) Therefore, God exists. So while on a superficial level, evil seems to call into question God’s existence, on a deeper more philosophical level evil actually proves God’s existence, because in the absence of God, good and evil as such would not exist.[21]

Dr. Stenger’s third argument was that naturalistic explanations are preferable to supernaturalistic explanations. Well it may surprise him to hear me say that I entirely agree with that. Whenever you have two explanations that are available, a naturalistic one or a supernaturalistic one, I would say as a methodological principle you go first with the naturalistic explanation. And it’s only when the good naturalistic explanation is not available, that one would be justified in preferring a supernaturalistic explanation. But Dr. Stenger’s real complaint is that a supernaturalistic explanation is no explanation at all. He says just to say God did it doesn’t explain anything. But do you notice that wasn’t the structure of my arguments. My arguments, many of them, were deductive. That is to say, if the premises are true, then the conclusion follows logically and inescapably whether you like it or not; whether you think it’s explanatory or not. For example, (1) Everything that comes into being has a cause. (2) The universe came into being, therefore (3) The universe has a cause. Then you do an analysis of what it is to be a cause of the universe. Or, (1) If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. But, (2) Objective values do exist, therefore it follows logically and inescapably that (3) God exists. So when you’re dealing with deductive arguments it really doesn’t matter whether you like the explanation or not. As long as the premises are true, the conclusion is logically inescapable.

As for the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, this was a hypothesis that forms the basis of an inference to the best explanation in terms of the standard historical criteria used for historical justification, such as explanatory power, explanatory scope, plausibility and so forth. And I think in every one of the cases that I enunciated this evening, we do have good grounds for inferring what we could call a supernatural explanation.

Finally, number four, he says that God’s action should be observable in the world. And what I would respond to that is that there is abundant evidence of God’s actions in the world. In fact what I would say is that the very existence of the universe itself is abundant evidence for the existence of God, as I explained. If God exists, what greater evidence should we expect of his being, than the origin of the universe out of absolutely nothing at some point in the finite past, the fine-tuning of the universe to an incomprehensible precision for the existence of intelligent life, the existence of an objective realm of moral values, the resurrection and radical claims of Jesus of Nazareth, and the inner personal experience of God himself. Dr. Stenger, to carry his argument, would have to show that if God existed we ought to have more evidence than that, and it seems to me that that’s just pure speculation, pure presumption. So I think we have quite good evidence for God’s existence and therefore none of his four arguments are sound.

Now what about the reasons that I gave? I’d like to advance these a little bit further. First the argument from existence. Here the question is the very existence of the universe. Even if you say the universe is eternal, the question is “Why does an eternal universe exist rather than nothing?” You have to have a necessary, transcendent being, that is the sufficient reason for why anything exists rather than nothing.

What about the argument from the beginning of the universe? What brought the universe into being? Well, in his book, Dr. Stenger proposes that the initial instant of time T = 0 is not only the beginning of our time, but it is also the beginning of a backward-growing time as well, as in Figure 1. And he takes this to be equivalent to an eternally existing universe with no beginning. Unfortunately Dr. Stenger’s scenario is self-contradictory and incoherent. For on his theory, T = -1 is supposed to be after T = 0. But by drawing negative time on the same axis as positive time, T = -1 also turns out to be before T = 0, which is self-contradictory. Since T = 0 is supposed to be the beginning of both time dimensions, in order to avoid contradiction Dr. Stenger should have drawn the two time axes perpendicular to each other, as in Figure 2. But then it’s obvious that on his model it doesn’t avoid the absolute beginning of the universe. Both dimensions of time have an absolute origin at T = 0, and therefore I think the model doesn’t avoid the question of what brought the universe into being.

What about the argument from fine-tuning?[22] In his book Dr. Stenger indicts the fine-tuning argument by saying, well some other form of life might have evolved had the fine-tuning not existed. Perhaps life based on silicon instead of carbon. And what I want to say here is that if we’re to avoid talking nonsense here we need to define clearly what we mean by ‘life.’ By ‘life,’ scientists mean that property of organisms to take in food, extract energy from it, adapt, grow, and reproduce. And the point is, that in order to permit life the constants and quantities have to be so finely tuned that it is incomprehensible. Scientists who study this are fully aware of alternative proposed bases for life, and the problem is they don’t work. For example, take silicon. Silicon is hopelessly inadequate as a basis of life for a number of reasons. It is no coincidence that there is no living thing made out of silicon. Nothing made out of silicon is alive. Dr. Stenger is reduced to saying in his article on fine-tuning:

Computer chips… are made of silicon, and… The network of computer chips known as the World Wide Web… seems to have taken on a life of its own.[23]

Well, come on now, when biologists talk about life they don’t mean it in this metaphorical sense. They’re talking about life in the sense that I defined it, and the point is that that kind of life could not exist based on silicon. Even more importantly silicon itself wouldn’t even exist without the fine-tuning of the universe. Without the fine-tuning of the universe, in many cases there wouldn’t even be chemistry. There wouldn’t even be the heavy elements. So that the fine-tuning of the universe I think is simply a scientific fact and the question is, “How do you best explain it?” Well neither physical necessity nor chance can explain it, and I think that suggests that design is the best alternative.

The other arguments I don’t have time to reinforce in this speech, but I’ll wait to hear Dr. Stenger’s refutation of those in his rebuttal and then comment perhaps during the dialogue time on what he has to say.


[20] 50:00

[21] 55:00

[22] 1:00:00

[23] Victor J. Stenger, ‘Natural Explanations for the Anthropic Coincidences’, published in Philo, Vol. 3 No. 2, Fall-Winter 2000, pp. 50-67.

Victor J. Stenger – First Rebuttal

DR. STENGER: Thank you.Could you put my slides up? Well I’m going to respond now mainly to Dr. Craig’s opening remarks; however I will try to add some further comments on what he’s just said. Now, Carl Sagan has said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. He probably wasn’t the first one to say that. Well Dr. Craig has made what I regard as the extraordinary claim that certain empirical facts require a supernatural explanation. Now in order to refute that, all I need to do is provide plausible natural explanations for these phenomena. I need not prove these. If he wants to argue that God is required to exist in order to explain the observed universe, Dr. Craig must disprove all possible natural explanations for these phenomena.

Let’s start with his cosmological argument. Dr. Craig argues that whatever begins must have a cause, the universe had a beginning, therefore the universe must have had a cause. However, we know from physics that not everything that begins has a cause. Physical bodies begin to exist all the time without cause. Let’s consider radioactive decay of an atomic nucleus. The alpha particle or beta particle or gamma particle that are emitted in radioactive decay, those particles come into being, come into existence, without a cause. The beginning of the Big Bang, the universe was like a subatomic particle, so these ideas could apply. Yet I can’t prove it, but I don’t have to prove it. Here is one example that refutes Dr. Craig’s claim that everything that begins must have a cause.

But even if everything that begins has a cause, this does not necessarily apply to the universe if the universe did not have a beginning. Dr. Craig argues that the Big Bang is evidence that the universe had a beginning. However, the universe need not have begun with the Big Bang.[24] And I’m not talking about this one particular speculation from my book. There are many prominent physicists and cosmologists who publish papers in reputable scientific journals proposing various scenarios by which the Big Bang appeared naturally, out of a pre-existing universe, that need not itself have had a beginning. One such recent example is the cyclic universe.

Now Dr. Craig also claims that the universe had to begin because if it were infinitely old, it would take an infinite time to reach the present. However, if the universe is infinitely old then it had no beginning, not a beginning infinitely long ago. Furthermore, the universe can be finite - and I actually believe the universe is finite – it can be finite and still not have a beginning. Einstein defined time as what you read on a clock. It’s a number, the number of ticks on the clock. We count forward time – one, two, three, four, five ticks - we never reach infinite time. We could also count time backward and never reach minus infinity. The notion that the universe had either a beginning or it will have an end, are theological notions, not scientific ones.

Now what about this fine-tuning argument? Again, it’s an argument that is based on the low probability of our kind of life. And that means carbon-based life, but also life with existing physical laws as we know them. Now, even if the probability of a particular form of life was highly improbable to have occurred by natural processes, some kind of life would be… could still be highly probable. Probably not silicon life, I agree silicon is a poor candidate, but that’s with our existing laws of physics. Another form of life might still evolve in a universe with different physical laws or different physical constants. We simply don’t have the knowledge to rule that out. To say that there’s only one possible form of life, and only one possible set of laws of physics, and only one possible set of constants is extremely narrow thinking, and not at all required by anything that we know about science.

Now in this argument and other arguments about the design in the universe, Dr. Craig claims that the universe and life are too improbable to be solely natural. However this is a fallacious argument. To use probability to decide between two alternatives requires the comparison of the probabilities of each alternative. Dr. Craig claims these natural probabilities are exceedingly low, but he hasn’t told us anything about what the supernatural probabilities are, and it’s a comparison of these two that must be made. What’s the probability that the laws of nature are violated? What’s the probability that’s there’s an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing but undetectable super-being behind all of this. Complex things are common. We see natural events every moment. We’ve never seen a supernatural event. Furthermore, low probability events happen every day. What’s the probability that my distinguished opponent exists? You have to calculate the probability that a particular sperm united with a particular egg, and multiply that by the probability that his parents met, and then repeat that calculation for his grandparents and then all his ancestors going back to the beginning of life on earth. Now even if you stopped the calculation with Adam and Eve, you’re going to get a fantastically small number. To use the words that Dr. Craig has used before, “Improbability is multiplied by improbability by improbability, until our minds are reeling in incomprehensible numbers.”[25] [26] Well Dr. Craig has a mind-reeling, incomprehensibly low probability – a priori probability – for existing. Yet here he is before us today.

Now modern versions of the argument from design (both the fine-tuning argument and the intelligent design argument) share this fatal flaw. They are based on the idea that natural causes can be ruled out by some arbitrary notion of low probability. Now Dr. Craig also asks “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, “Why does the universe exist rather than nothing?” Well why should nothing be a more natural state than something? Why would you expect nothing rather than something? In fact, how could nothing even exist? If it existed, wouldn’t it be something? And finally, why is there God rather than nothing? Dr. Craig doesn’t answer those questions.

Now Dr. Craig also claims that the Big Bang confirms the Biblical view of creation. But what does Genesis actually say? It says that the earth was created before the sun, moon, and stars. This is at odds with modern cosmology which says that the earth did not form until seven billion years after the Big Bang. There are many other disagreements. Genesis implies that the universe is only about 6,000 years old. Here’s a picture of a quasar. The light from this quasar left twelve billion years ago. Billions and billions of years before the earth was even formed. Now every one of the thousand or so religions in the world has a creation myth. Most of them probably resemble modern cosmology as well or better than Genesis. Here we are in Polynesia and some of the Polynesian myths are more closely resembling to the modern cosmology than Genesis.

Now Dr. Craig calls upon our common sense, our inner feelings, to test that morality is objective and so must come from God. Well not everyone shares the same morals, so there’s no evidence for objective morality. But even if morality were objective, its source could be natural, an evolutionary process that aids in human survival and is built into our genes. I don’t see how Dr. Craig has disproved that possibility.

Now Dr. Craig claims that the Gospel stories describe actual historical events such as the empty tomb. There’s no evidence for this outside the Bible. The story of the empty tomb was second and third hand written years after the event, from the oral testimony of supposed eye-witnesses. Paul did not even know about it yet. Paul regarded the resurrection as very important, yet he didn’t know anything about the empty tomb. Furthermore, eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. But even if the story of the empty tomb is accurate, you could have a simple natural explanation that Dr. Craig seems to think most scholars don’t believe, but I don’t see how they know that. If you were to go to Napoleon’s tomb in Paris one morning, and found that his remains were not in their usual place of honor, would you conclude that Napoleon had risen bodily into heaven? Hardly. You would figure that somebody took the body. Dr. Craig cannot prove that Jesus’ body could not have been removed by somebody. So that remains a more plausible, natural explanation, and a supernatural explanation is not required by the data.

On personal experience, Dr. Craig says that our personal experience should tell us that God exists. However, that’s subjective and not everyone shares that experience.

So plausible natural explanations exist for all phenomena in the universe. God is not required to explain the universe, and so Dr. Craig has not proved that God exists, and I’ll stop at that point. Thank you.[27]


[24] 1:05:00

[25] ‘Does God exist?’ William Lane Craig vs Massimo Pigliucci, University of Georgia, 1998. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/does-god-exist-the-craig-pigliucci-debate

[26] 01:10:00

[27] 01:15:00

Questions & Answers

MODERATOR: I’m a Professor of English, but my PhD is in psychology, and as a psychologist I know that no question we can imagine, no answer we can begin to fathom, is any better than our consciousness, because our consciousness is the only tool we have ultimately to know. And everyone of us in this room knows that human consciousness plays tricks on us. So gentlemen, my question for you is, “How do we know even that we’re asking a legitimate question, more or less that you are providing us with true answers?” Dr. Craig?

DR. CRAIG: Well, I think that depends on what your tests for truth are, and here I think I would agree with what Vic Stenger said in his opening speech, is that we will use reason and logic, coupled with observation, to construct our arguments and to test for the truth of the conclusions. A good argument for a conclusion must be logically valid; that is to say it has to follow the rules of logic, and then the premises must be true. If the premises are true and the argument is logical then the conclusion is established as true. So I think what Vic Stenger said was reason and logic coupled with observation will be our guide to truth.

MODERATOR: Vic, can you tell me why our question’s good and your answer is correct?

DR. STENGER: Well, he agrees with me [inaudible]. One of the problems with logic is of course everything that you conclude is already there in the premises. So if you’re hiding the premise that God exists then you can come to no other conclusion except God exists, and vice versa. And that’s why we’ve come in science to rely on empirical facts, and in particular the ability of the theories that we’ve developed to make some kind of prediction, provide some kind of observation that could be testable. This is why I tried to provide two such ones: the case of revelation, the case of prayer. These are phenomena that could be tested scientifically and have been tested scientifically, and provide no evidence.

MODERATOR: So Dr. Craig, your first question for Dr. Stenger.

DR. CRAIG: Well it’s difficult to know where to begin. I guess let’s start with your arguments against God’s existence which you claim attain to certainty. I challenged you to provide for me, or for us, some sort of clear argument to show that these attributes of God are in fact incompatible with each other. Can you actually do that for us?

DR. STENGER: Well you made assertions that they weren’t, that I think were equally un-filled out on any kind of detail. Did you just basically try to tell me that theologians have solved the problem? Well, they haven’t solved the problem in my mind. I don’t see how you can reconcile for example perfection and the creator, and there have been any number of other examples . . .

DR. CRAIG: Okay, well give me the argument for that, to show that perfection and being a creator are logically incompatible with each other.

DR. STENGER: Well if you’re perfect . . . if God is perfect then he has no needs or wants. A creator creates the universe for a divine purpose; that implies that he has something that he doesn’t want.

DR. CRAIG: Okay, well I would disagree with that premise.

DR. STENGER: Okay.

DR. CRAIG: I suggested that the reason he could create wouldn’t be for any sort of a divine need or lack, but rather it would be for the benefit of the creature.

MODERATOR: Could we pause here and go back to our originally agreed-upon format? Dr. Stenger, do you have a question for Dr. Craig?

DR. STENGER: Okay. Alright. How can you rely on the Bible as a source of morality, with you claiming that we get our morality from God and presumably the Word of God is in the Bible, when there’s so much in it that we would consider immoral, that humanists like myself would consider immoral?[28] The Old Testament in particular has many instances of rape, of slavery, of murder condoned by God, and even the New Testament I think is a bit immoral when Jesus says you have to follow me or else you burn in hell eternally. I don’t consider that a very high moral code to live up to.

DR. CRAIG: Alright, two things I think could be said here. First of all, I wasn’t using the Bible as an argument for morality. What I said was that if there isn’t any God, then objective moral values don’t exist. They’re just the socio-biological spin-off of human evolution; but that I think objective values do exist. We sense in moral experience that things like raping a little child, torturing a child for fun are wrong. And in your speech you agreed with the first premise. You said there is no evidence for objective morality, that this can just be naturally explained. So the humanist cannot indict the Bible for being immoral, because the naturalist agrees that there isn’t any evidence for objective morality, so the minute he starts to indict the Bible as being immoral, he’s presupposing a standard of morality to which the Bible has to measure up, which contradicts your assertion.

DR. STENGER: No, I argued… I allowed for the possibility that objective morality exists, something that we all agree upon.

DR. CRAIG: No no, that’s not what ‘objective’ means. Remember I said, ‘objective’ means something that’s valid and binding independently of whether anybody agreed upon it or not. For example, to say the Holocaust was objectively wrong means that it was wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and brainwashed or exterminated everybody who disagreed with them, so that everybody thought the Holocaust was good. To say the Holocaust is objectively wrong means that it’s wrong independently of whether anybody thinks so or not, and I think many theists and atheists agree that without God, then morality isn’t objective in that way, and I thought that’s what you were agreeing in your speech.

DR. STENGER: Well I just don’t see where in any way or form, anything you’ve said, requires that God is necessary for objective morality, even if objective morality exists. I don’t see why it can’t be something that’s developed through the evolution of the human species.

DR. CRAIG: Well . . .

MODERATOR: Okay, pause again. Dr. Stenger, do you have a question for Dr. Craig?

DR. STENGER: Okay, is there any kind of evidence? You are a Christian and you work very hard to show that the Christian God is compatible with logic and with observation. I was just wondering if there was any evidence that would cause you to change your mind? I’ve given one example of something that would convince me, such as the Bible or some other revealed source had come up with something that was testable, I think that I could come around to believe. What about something that would cause you to change your view on belief?

DR. CRAIG: I think the tack that you took in your arguments was a good one, that if you could show that the attributes of God are in fact self-contradictory, you’re absolutely right then, such a being does not exist. Or if you could show that God cannot have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world, I’d have to give up belief in God. So I think that those arguments are on the right track; I just don’t think they’re successful arguments. If you could show me that Jesus of Nazareth didn’t rise from the dead. If archaeologists found, you know, the bone-box of Jesus, then one would have to give up being a Christian. So Christianity, or Christian theism, is very much . . . it gets its hands dirty in the world. It’s not a religion that is ethereal and removed from falsification in the world. God’s fingerprints are all over this universe I think, and if you could show for example that his attributes are self-contradictory or that he couldn’t have reasons for permitting evil, or that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, you’d have to give up Christian theism.

MODERATOR: Your next question for Dr. Stenger?

DR. CRAIG: Yes, let me ask this with respect to your refutations of my arguments. You said all you have to do is to provide some possible naturalistic explanation in order to defuse the force of my argument.[29] Now wouldn’t you agree, Vic, that it’s not enough merely to show a possible naturalistic explanation, but you would need to show a naturalistic explanation that is as plausible as the supernaturalistic explanation? I mean, anything is possible. You know, scientists don’t get research grants from the government for proposing just possibilities. They have to be plausible hypotheses. So wouldn’t it be correct that what you need to do is to provide naturalistic explanations that are as plausible as the theistic explanations?

DR. STENGER: I’ll accept plausible. If I said “possible,” I really meant “plausible.” I thought I had written ‘plausible.’ ‘Plausible’, ‘possible’. Because that certainly is my view, that the naturalistic explanations are the more plausible. They’re the simpler. As long as we have some model such as the one I talked about concerning the origin of the Big Bang, if these models are in agreement with all existing knowledge, even though we can’t prove them to be correct, they do get published in the top physics journals, and their articles are written by very reputable physicists, so this exercise is taken seriously; and if it’s there as a plausible explanation, and agrees with everything that we know, then it’s going to always be preferable over something that we have no information about whatsoever, just a hypothesis of an unknown entity.

MODERATOR: Okay Dr. Stenger, another question?

DR. STENGER: Another question. Yes, I’d like to get back to the morality thing. Let me put it in a different way. If religion, whatever form, was necessary for morality, then wouldn’t you expect that the non-religious would be less moral than the religious? Yet I think the evidence is not there, in fact it even might be a bit on the other side. Witness the debaucheries of the Catholic Church, take the child abuse in families, it’s higher among Christians proportionately than any other group. There are more Christians in jail, proportionally than any other group, and you don’t really find too many humanists, for example, in jail. Well you don’t find too many humanists any place.

DR. CRAIG: A lot of people become Christians in jail. I’m glad you brought us back to this issue because I think this is important. As I said, my argument is not at all that in order to live a moral and decent life you have to believe in God. On the contrary, in fact, the Bible actually teaches that God’s moral law is instinctively written on the heart of every person. So that we have an instinctual moral knowledge that we are to love our children rather than torture them and abuse them. So, I don’t think at all that it would follow that people who are quote unquote ‘religious’ are going to be more moral than somebody who’s not religious. Rather my argument is that if you don’t have a God as a transcendent anchor or basis for morality, then moral values are purely ephemeral by-products of socio-biological evolution. And if you ran the film of evolution in reverse and then started it up again, you might have gotten totally different creatures, with a totally different set of moral values that evolved. And there’s no way that one of them could say, “Ah, but our morality is objective and true,” and the other ones would say, “Oh no, no, our morality is objective and true.” From the biological system of evolution you can’t get an objective system of, or grounding for, moral values. It leads immediately to socio-cultural relativism. And that’s why I think you have to have a transcendent anchor for the grounding of objective values.

MODERATOR: We have only a couple of minutes left, so I’m going to get the last question, and could I ask you each for a 45 second answer. How do we know truly that we’re objective? How do we know objectively that we’re being objective?

DR. CRAIG: Oh, yes. I don’t think any of us are totally objective. That is one of the few insights of postmodernists I think. I don’t think they have many good insights, but one of them would be that all of us are historically conditioned. We’re mid-stream, so to speak.[30] Therefore, the search for a kind of pristine objectivity and neutral point of view, a view from nowhere, is really impossible. But what we have to do is simply try to do our best to reason logically, to obey the rules of logic, and then to use our best evidence, and we can check this with others. I think that’s the value of these debates, to participate like this.

MODERATOR: Dr. Stenger, can you tell me how I can know objectively that you’re being objective?

DR. STENGER: Oh, that I’m being objective? That wasn’t the same question. Yes, sure.

MODERATOR: How can we know that he’s being objective?

DR. STENGER: One of the points about science is that science provides you with a procedure for testing objectivity. In fact it’s even built into our equations; we call it covariance, and it means that when you look at something from a different point of view you’d better have the same law of physics or else it’s incorrect, because it can’t depend on the observer. And that’s the test that one makes. The test that one makes is that in order to describe objective reality, well what we call objective reality, it has to be something that is the same from all points of view. That’s one thing that’s pretty clear about morality is it’s not the same from all points of view. So I, you know, I severely doubt that morals are objective, although I’ve said that even if they were I still don’t see why there has to be some transcendent source for them. In any case, the evidence as viewed by, again from my scientific point of view, does not point at all towards any kind of objective morality.

MODERATOR: Thank you gentlemen. At this point I ask Dr. Hayes to make an announcement and lead us through the end of the debate.


[28] 01:20:00

[29] 01:25:00

[30] 01:30:00

William Lane Craig – Final Statement

DR. CRAIG: In my final statement I’d like to draw together some of the threads of this debate and see if we can come to some conclusions. I said that in assessing rationally the question of whether God exists we need to weigh the evidence for and against the existence of God. Well what evidence have we heard against the existence of God tonight from Vic Stenger? Well, we first heard assertions that various of the attributes of God were incompatible with each other, but I answered those and we’ve yet to hear a response. With respect to the problem of evil I pointed out that no philosopher has been able to prove an inconsistency between the statements that God exists and that evil exists; and that in fact we can prove that they are consistent, indeed that evil itself proves that God exists, if genuine evil is real, and we heard no response to that. With respect to naturalistic explanations being better than supernaturalistic explanations I agreed with that methodological principle, and said that as long as plausible naturalistic explanations are available they ought to be preferred.[31] The question is, “Are they available?” We differ on that issue. Finally, should God’s actions be observable? I suggested that there is abundant evidence of the reality of God, and that if Vic Stenger’s going to use this as an argument against God, he would have to show that if God exists there ought to be more evidence of his existence than the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning, a realm of objective moral values, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and religious experience, and I don’t think he can do that. In other words basically I think that we’ve seen very very slight, very weak evidence on the atheist side of the scale in tonight’s debate. Now what about reasons for God’s existence? Are they any more substantial? Well I certainly think that they are.

1. The argument from existence, that anything that exists requires an explanation of its existence, including the universe. Here Dr. Stenger says, but why think that nothing is the more natural state? I’m not claiming nothing is the more natural state. As he said, nothingness isn’t a state at all. Nothingness is non-being. It is the absence of anything. And that’s why there doesn’t need to be an explanation for nothingness, because there isn’t anything that requires an explanation. Nothing exists. But any thing that exists has to have a reason why it exists, either in an external cause or in the necessity of its own nature. And I don’t think Dr. Stenger’s ever been able to refute that fundamental principle which underlies all of science. What it means is, that there must be some sort of an entity beyond the universe, greater than the universe, which exists necessarily, beyond space and time by a necessity of its own nature, which explains the universe. I also argued that this must be a personal being as well.

2. The argument from the beginning of the universe. In his last rebuttal Dr. Stenger says, particles begin to exist without causes. Two responses: first of all, that’s simply not true. In quantum physics, the quantum vacuum which spawns these particles is not nothing. It is a sea of fluctuating energy having a rich physical structure, even though it is an indeterministic cause on certain interpretations of quantum physics. Secondly, there are many different interpretations of quantum physics, at least ten I can think of, and some of these are wholly deterministic. And by the way, nobody knows which of these ten interpretations is correct. And therefore, quantum physics does not furnish a successful counter example to the principle that everything that comes into being has a cause. Now Dr. Stenger also says, but you don’t need to believe in the Big Bang theory, there could have been some pre-existing universe, a cyclic universe. But notice that he admits that you must have an equally plausible model, and the fact is that these cyclical models are not equally plausible with the standard Big Band model. In 1994 Bord and Vilenkin, two astrophysicists, showed that any eternally inflating universe must have a singularity in its past, an absolute beginning. And just last year, Alan Guth in cooperation with Alexander Vilenkin were able to extend these results to cyclical ekpyrotic scenarios such as Dr. Stenger suggested, also proving that they cannot be past-eternal. And this is the repeated pattern of 20th century cosmology. Over and over again attempts to avert the prediction of the Big Bang in the standard model, the absolute beginning, have been falsified over and over again. Steady state theories, oscillating theories, inflationary theories, ekpyrotic scenarios; over and over again the prediction of the standard model of an absolute beginning has been corroborated. So I think that is the plausible view; certainly the evidence supports the premise that the universe came into being. According to Stephen Hawking, and I quote, “Almost everyone today agrees that the universe and time itself had a beginning at the Big Bang.”[32] Dr. Stenger says, There could have been a backward-growing time prior to the Big Bang, but he didn’t answer my arguments that showed that that was incoherent, and when you craft that diagram correctly with two perpendicular axes, it only makes it all the more clear that T = 0 does represent the absolute beginning of the universe.

3. As for the argument from fine-tuning, I think what we saw there was that the probability of the existence of life as I defined it is incomprehensibly small given the necessity of the fine-tuning of the universe. He says, but low probabilities happen all the time. That’s a misunderstanding. The argument is not about the probability of this universe existing. It’s the probability that any universe would exist which is life-permitting. That probability is not like anybody’s winning the lottery, where everybody is equally improbable.[33] It’s like a lottery where you have a billion, billion, billion, billion black balls mixed together with one white ball, and you’re asked to reach in and pull out a ball. Unless it’s white you’ll be executed. Now whichever ball you pick is equally improbable, right? But nevertheless it is overwhelmingly more probable that whichever ball you pick, it will be a black ball. It will be life-prohibiting. And it’s in that sense that the fine-tuning of the universe is incomprehensibly improbable and cries out for an explanation.

4. As for the moral argument, Dr. Stenger agrees there is no evidence for objective morality. If you agree with me however that things like racism, the Holocaust, rape, child abuse are really objectively wrong then you will agree with me that God exists. And I simply rest my case on that deductive argument.

5. As for the arguments concerning the evidence for the resurrection, Dr. Stenger merely said there’s no evidence outside the Bible, but what I’m arguing is that when scholars weigh the biblical evidence, there is enough evidence right there. Treating them as ordinary historical documents will get you to, I believe, the resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation.

So what intellectual price do you have to pay to adopt Dr. Stenger’s view tonight? Well let me just list what you’ve got to believe in order to reject these arguments. You’ve got to believe that a contingently existing universe inexplicably exists for absolutely no reason at all. You’ve got to believe in a logically incoherent model of the origin of the universe, which no other scientist in the world accepts. You’ve got to believe thirdly that the conditions suitable for life are not narrowly constrained despite all the evidence to the contrary. Or else you’ve got to believe in an infinite number of randomly-ordered parallel universes without any evidence for their existence whatsoever. Fourth, you’ve got to believe there’s no moral difference between a mother who loves and nurtures her children, and a sexual predator who preys upon them. That moral praise and blame are unjustifiable and purely subjective. Five, you’ve got to believe on the basis of your own authority that the majority of the world’s historians who have studied the life of Jesus are mistaken about the historicity of the empty tomb, the appearances, the origin of the Christian way, or else embrace some naturalistic explanation which has been virtually universally rejected by contemporary scholars. And finally, number six, you’ve got to believe that everyone who claims to have a personal experience of God is deluded. You’ve got to believe all of this just to reject the six arguments I gave, and that still leaves you without any solid case for atheism. And that’s why personally I believe the case for Christian theism is by far the more compelling.


[31] 01:35:00

[32] Hawking, S.W. and Penrose, R. (1996) The Nature of Space and Time, The Isaac Newton Institute Series of Lectures, Princeton: Princeton University Press, p 20.

[33] 01:40:00

Victor J. Stenger – Final Statement

DR. STENGER: Dr. Craig believes in the God of the gaps. That’s the God who’s used as a substitute explanation for something we don’t understand until the time comes along that we do. Dr. Craig cannot see how the universe came about naturally, so it must have come about supernaturally. He cannot see how the universe became orderly by natural processes, so order must have come about by supernatural processes. He cannot see how objective morality can come from humanity so it must have come from God. He cannot see how Jesus’ tomb could have been empty, so he must have risen from the dead. And finally, Dr. Craig cannot see how his inner experience of God could be a simple physical brain process, so it must be a true experience of God.

In each of these cases we can give a plausible, natural explanation that violates no known principles of science and requires no divine action. Dr. Craig does not succeed in proving that these natural explanations are wrong. He tries to argue that they’re implausible but in fact everything I’ve talked about is consistent with all the knowledge we have in science and is in perfect agreement with existing theoretical facts. Experimental and theoretical facts. So I don’t think that Dr. Craig succeeds in proving that God exists.

But even if the goal of the debate were not proof but simply arguing to the best explanation, Dr. Craig fails. Secular humanism or materialism is a better explanation than theism or supernaturalism.[34] It’s simpler, more consistent with empirical observations; in fact Dr. Craig offers no explanations at all. It’s not an explanation for the order of the universe to say, “God did it.” How did God do it? Where did God come from? All you do when you say that God did it is you push the explanation back one level. It doesn’t explain a thing.

Now I’ve argued that a God with the attributes assumed for him by traditional theism could be proved not to exist, if those attributes of course exist. Now you could play with the attributes, you can redefine God so that he doesn’t have all these attributes. For example, an all-good God might not be all-perfect, or all-powerful, let’s say, and then is not responsible for evil, does not have control over evil. In fact that was a line taken by Rabbi Kushner in his best-selling book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People;that God can’t help it, that bad things just happen. However, if you assume that God has the power to prevent evil, then the fact that he doesn’t and evil still exists is clearly an inconsistency. A logical impossibility. Now a God who reveals knowledge about the universe that was not previously known could have been objectively verified. A God with such properties clearly does not exist. The God who answers prayers and performs miracles, that can be objectively verified, does not exist. I readily admit I can’t disprove every conceivable God, but there’s no basis for believing in a God who doesn’t possess objectively verifiable attributes.

Now I’m sure that I’ve not convinced many of the believers in the audience; I certainly haven’t convinced Dr. Craig. You’ll testify, as Dr. Craig does, that you could feel the presence of God in your hearts. I’m sure you do. I understand that conviction. I was raised in a devout Catholic family and heard this conviction expressed by almost everybody around me. But as I grew up I found that I could not share this faith. Despite the importance of religion to my family and friends, I could not believe in God because I saw no evidence that he existed. No one told me about humanism or atheism; I read no humanist or atheist books. I just found that the arguments and evidence that everyone continued to cite to me were unconvincing. Not knowing how all this came about doesn’t mean it came from God. It just means we don’t know how all this came about. And sincere personal testimonies of deeply held faith were not the sort of objective evidence that we’ve come to rely on in modern life. Indeed, I saw so many conflicting religious points of view, all based on primitive superstitious ideas, that I knew they couldn’t all be right. I decided most likely they were all wrong.

Now most scientists share my view. Are we being too skeptical? Are we being dogmatically unwilling to entertain the possibility of a personal-creator God? I don’t think so. There are many examples in the history of science that demonstrate its willingness to accept ideas that challenge conventional wisdom. But the data must require it. From the early 20th century, the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics revolutionized some of our most basic concepts about the nature of reality. I think most scientists would be thrilled if evidence were found for previously undetected immaterial substances and forces. Think of all the funding opportunities that would open up! I would come out of retirement. But even if that were to happen, I doubt that the world that was then being uncovered would bear any resemblance to the fantasies from the childhood of humanity that constitute traditional religious belief. People like what they see when they look in the mirror, illuminated by the light of faith; it reflects an image of themselves as fallen angels, set on this planet with divine purpose, built to rehabilitate themselves so they may rejoin their fellow angels in paradise. Unfortunately the universe, exposed to the light of science, does not reveal a special place for humanity in the cosmos, or any prospect for life after death.[35] I would not be honest if I tried to sugar-coat those facts just because they conflict so dramatically with common yearnings. St. Paul said, “When I was a child . . . I thought as a child, I understood as a child. But when I became a man I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly.”[36] Humanity has moved beyond childhood. We no longer need to depend on imaginary friends for company, or a mythical sky-father to provide for our needs. We can take care of ourselves; we can find ways to live our lives that are consistent with the universe revealed to us by science.

Finally, if an all-good, all-powerful, all-loving God existed he would have the power to comfort a child dying an excruciating death from leukemia. He chooses not to do so. Is there a person in this room who would not ease that child’s suffering, given the power? I would do it. Jesus Christ could appear before me and tell me not to do it because it has some ultimate purpose. I would still do it. Even if I faced eternal damnation, I would do it. Thank you very much.


[34] 01:45:00

[35] 01:50:00

[36] 1 Corinthians 13:11

Questions & Answer

QUESTION: Hi Dr. Craig, my name’s Christian. I was raised Catholic and right now I guess you could say I’m in-between religions, but my question, my problem always was, my understanding was that Jesus died between the years 30 A.D and 33 A.D and then the Gospels were recorded somewhere around 70 A.D, and the problem that I have is that so much of my faith was raised to be based on the Gospels, but through the use of, I guess you call it oral tradition, how can the Gospels be found reliable when they contradict themselves and they were written 40 years later?

DR. CRAIG: Well Christian, let me recommend a book that you look at. Look at a book called The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, where he deals with some of these questions in detail. This window between A.D 30 when Jesus died, and I believe actually many of the Gospels were written prior to A.D 66, prior to the Jewish War and the Fall of Jerusalem in A.D 70, but that window of opportunity is extraordinarily narrow when you compare it to the other records for ancient classical Greco-Roman history that we have. For example, the earliest records that we have for the life of Alexander the Great come from Plutarch and Arian 300 years after Alexander’s death. And even then, classical Greco-Roman historians regard these as largely accurate accounts of the life of Alexander. The fabulous legends don’t begin to emerge until centuries later. So when you’re talking about documents that are independent of one another, and circulated during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses, you’re talking about extraordinarily valuable historical sources. That’s why more and more New Testament historians are reaching the view that in fact the Gospels are extraordinarily valuable sources for the historical life of Jesus. So, you can . . . I mean your faith that you have resting on the reliability of the Gospels is very secure historically, especially when compared to other events of ancient history. And again, let me just say the issue is not whether there are discrepancies between the Gospels in minor details or secondary issues. The question is whether the Gospels are fundamentally reliable in things like the crucifixion, the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, the origin of the disciples’ faith. And there the consensus of historians is that, yes, these documents really are reliable and trustworthy.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Dr. Stenger?

DR. STENGER: Well I’m not a Biblical scholar, but if you can’t believe what you read in the New York Times last week, how can you believe something that was written 2,000 years ago by primitive peoples, by our standards, who didn’t have our knowledge of critical thinking, methodology and so on. Dr. Craig continually talks about majorities of scholars. I don’t know where he takes these polls. Does he take them at Bob Jones University?[37] As far as I could tell, the majority of scholars view the Gospels as mostly fiction, and that certainly makes sense based on their great antiquity; the fact that there was nothing written down for so many years, the fact that the only written version of the Bible that survived came from about 300 years after Christ. It would be like us having no written records at all of the history of the United States from the pilgrims. Just word of mouth, and somehow we would try to develop some kind of story of what really happened, and all during American history it was nothing but people handing down stories by word of mouth.

MODERATOR: Thank you, let’s move to the next question. Thirty seconds for Dr. Stenger.

QUESTION: My name’s Bret Beaker. I have a question about the premise of the Kalam argument. Dr. Craig said that everything that begins to exist must be caused to come into existence. Dr. Stenger gave the example of subatomic particles coming into existence, but for ordinary things when they come into existence they’re formed from pre-existing things. How can we generalize from the fact that we observe things to come into existence from causes when they’re formed from pre-existing things, to conclude that things must be caused to come into existence out of nothing?

DR. STENGER: Well, you know I think Dr. Craig misunderstood my position on that. My position wasn’t that the Big Bang was like a subatomic particle coming out of nothing. It was a subatomic particle that spontaneously appeared, in this view, out of the pre-existing universe, that we have no reason not to assume exists. He’s quoted Hawking and so on, and other people, there was a point at which it seemed like the Big Bang had to be the start of the universe because the General Theory of Relativity implied that there was a singularity at the beginning of the universe. In fact, Stephen Hawking jokes about the fact that he became famous for showing that there was a singularity at the beginning of the universe, and then he became famous again in showing that there wasn’t. And based on current knowledge, current cosmology, there was no singularity because of quantum mechanics, and that there could have been a pre-existing universe. What it looked like, we have no idea. We probably never will know. My only point is that within the framework of existing physics knowledge, cosmology knowledge – and cosmology incidentally in just the last few years has grown enormously in terms of its empirical, observational content – and nothing that we know from any of this requires us to say that the universe began with the Big Bang. And I’m not arguing necessarily that there are other universes; I’m not making any such arguments, although that’s not ruled out either, we don’t have anything to show that they’re impossible. I’m just simply pointing out that within the framework of existing knowledge, and many people have been making calculations and writing articles on this subject, there is this possibility. And thus it rules out the notion that the Big Bang had to be the start of the universe.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you. Response, Dr. Craig?

DR. CRAIG: Well, first to the questioner. The point is that if something cannot come into being, as the questioner seems to think, without some sort of a material cause, in the case of the universe it would be doubly impossible for it to come into being without a cause because it would lack both a material cause and an efficient cause. So it would be utterly uncaused if the universe came from nothing. Now, Dr. Stenger’s information that he’s giving you folks here tonight is simply out of date, what he said about not beginning, having an absolute beginning. P.C.W. Davies in his recent book about time says,

Recent ideas in quantum physics have changed our picture of the origin of time somewhat, but the essential conclusion remains the same: time did not exist before the Big Bang.[38]

In particular on Hawking’s quantum cosmology, there is an absolute beginning even though it’s a non-singular beginning; but time is not infinite. So all of the evidence supports the prediction of the Standard Model of the finitude of the past and the absolute beginning of the universe, whether that’s in a singularity or in a non-singular state.[39] You can’t avoid the origin of the universe in the way you suggested.

MODERATOR: Thank you, let’s move to the next question for Dr. Craig.

QUESTION: Hi, good evening. My name is Sabine. My question is that if God lives in the universe and created the universe, then where was he before?

DR. CRAIG: Okay, very good question. I don’t think God lives in the universe. That’s what I was saying in response to Vic. Christian theologians have never believed that God lives in the universe, like he’s some kind of an ether that is diffused throughout the universe so that God is in my glass, and he’s in this book, and he’s in the table. That’s never been the Judeo-Christian view of God. Rather the idea is that God transcends space and time. He’s beyond space and time, just like the Big Bang model suggests. Some kind of a cause that’s beyond the universe, that’s greater than the universe. So when we say that God is omnipresent, or he’s everywhere-present, what we mean is that he knows what is happening at every point in space, even if there’s no one in the room God knows what’s happening there, and that he’s causally active at every point in space. He holds everything in being. Our very lives depend moment by moment on his sustaining power. I couldn’t take another breath, or my heart couldn’t beat another beat, unless God were to sustain me in existence moment by moment. So the idea here of omnipresence is not this idea that God is living in the universe. On the contrary, he is beyond the universe and he created the universe, and he knows what’s happening at every point in the universe, and he’s causally involved at every point in the universe. That’s what we mean by God’s being omnipresent. Is that clear? Does that make sense?

FOLLOWUP: Well I was asking where would he be if he wasn’t in the universe, before.

DR CRAIG: I don’t think he is in the universe.

FOLLOWUP: Well then where is he?

DR. CRAIG: He doesn’t have a spatial location. He’s not in space, so to say, “Where is he?” makes no more sense than to say “When is he?” He transcends space and time. My time’s up.

MODERATOR: Dr. Stenger?

DR. STENGER: Well I don’t know how Dr. Craig knows all that. I mean, what he has presented us with is one of these virtual reality computer game type of pictures. He’s made a nice-sounding model of a God outside of space and so on. But he hasn’t given any argument why that God has anything to do with the world that we see around us. It’s just pure speculation.

MODERATOR: Okay, moving to the next question for Dr. Stenger.

QUESTION: Dr. Stenger, the question I have for you is that in Isaiah chapter seven it foretells the virgin birth and in Isaiah 52 it talks about all the aspects that will be fulfilled that Jesus talked about. And in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul, it fulfills the criteria and they wrote in Greek, and the Old Testament they wrote in Hebrew. So they correlate so well together that how was it not divined by the Holy Spirit, when people in Greek could not understand Hebrew, and vice-versa?

DR. STENGER: Well, let me make it clear that I’m just giving you a plausible explanation and so that Dr. Craig doesn’t jump on me and say I can’t prove it. A plausible explanation is that the Gospel stories are fiction and that people who wrote the Gospel stories made sure that it agreed with the previous stories in the Old Testament. It’s still only within the Bible that you have this information. You don’t have anything outside of the Bible, any kind of evidence whatsoever. You just have people writing down fairy tales, and these fairy tales are . . . maybe they have a nice moral message and so on, but they have no basis in anything that we can pin down as an objective fact.

MODERATOR: Dr. Craig?

DR. CRAIG: Well, now, Dr. Stenger’s answer was a gross misrepresentation of the nature of the Gospels. These are not fictions or fairy tales. They’ve been archaeologically confirmed. You can read about people like John the Baptist, Annas and Caiaphas, Jesus himself in the works of Josephus, the first century Jewish historian. There is plenty of evidence about Jesus outside the Gospels.[40] In rabbinic sources, in non-Christian sources, and in Christian literature outside the New Testament, and they all basically agree with the portrait of Jesus that’s presented in the Gospels. So that’s simply inaccurate, what he’s saying. The Bible, or rather the New Testament, the Gospels, are on all-fours with secular history and that’s why they are so respected by scholars today. And what he said earlier in tonight’s Q & A time about not having any manuscripts of the Bible earlier than 300 years later, again that’s just inaccurate. You can go to the University of Michigan and see the Chester Beatty Papyri which date much earlier than that. So the manuscript evidence for the New Testament is older and more abundant than for any other book in ancient history. So if you trust ancient historians you should trust the Bible.

MODERATOR: Okay, moving right along. Question for Dr. Craig?

QUESTION: Dr. Craig, I agree with you that there is an objective moral truth in the world and I think there’s a great tradition of moral philosophy both secular and religious that supports that. But my question is this, you said objective morality is that moral truth that is true regardless of what people think. You also say that you believe that God is all-powerful, omnipotent. If God is omnipotent and he thinks that morality should change, he is capable of changing it. And if God is capable of changing morality, it’s not objectively true. It can be changed; it is mutable. How can you resolve that internal conflict?

DR. CRAIG: That’s a very perceptive and profound question. Very good question. And what I would argue is that the best way to understand the way morality is rooted in God, is that it’s rooted in the very nature of God. That God by nature is loving, just, holy, compassionate, kind, fair, and so forth. And this moral nature is expressed toward us in the form of divine commandments. You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind and heart and strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.[41] And because these are expressions of God’s very nature, he could not have commanded that hating each other and killing each other would be good. He couldn’t have reversed the moral code in the way you suggested. So that omnipotence doesn’t mean the ability to act contrary to God’s own nature. Omnipotence doesn’t mean the ability to do logical contradictions, and that would be contradictory to God’s own nature. So morality is rooted in the very nature of God which is expressed in these commandments that become our moral duties. You want to follow up; go ahead.

FOLLOWUP: Sounds like the way you’re defining omnipotence isn’t really omnipotence. He doesn’t have the power to do anything. He has the power to do certain things.

DR. CRAIG: Right, and that is correct. Christian theologians, again, have never defined omnipotence – apart from Renee Descartes, the famous philosopher – have never defined omnipotence to just mean that God can do anything. For example, God cannot sin. God cannot act contrary to his own nature. So omnipotence means that God can do anything that is logically possible to do. But you see it’s logically impossible for God to act contrary to his own nature. So that doesn’t limit omnipotence. That is just the traditional concept of omnipotence. It’s not some sort of retreat that’s forced by arguments. Christian theologians have never thought that God could act contrary to his own nature. That would be absurd. So I don’t think there is a problem here with God sort of reversing morality, or making morality arbitrary. On the contrary, I would say that God’s moral law and commandments are necessary. They are necessarily true because they flow necessarily out of the very nature of God.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you. Dr. Stenger?

DR. STENGER: Well once again Dr. Craig is talking about a God as if he has all this information. I guess you get it from talking to God, I suppose. But that’s again a case of being able to, as theologians have done over the centuries, build up a kind of picture, a model of God that is based on nothing but their own imagination. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with the real world.

MODERATOR: Okay. Question for Dr. Stenger?

QUESTION: Hi Dr. Stenger. Welcome, first of all. My name is Ragi.[42] I’m an undergrad at Engineering School, and I had a question. Do you believe in the existence of the concept of the soul, and if you do can you tell us how you view it or see it, and if you don’t can you explain to us the difference between an alive ‘Mr. Joe,’ and that ‘Mr. Joe’ being dead?

DR. STENGER: What was the last part?

FOLLOWUP: And if you do not believe in the existence of the concept of the soul, how do you explain to us the difference between an alive ‘Mr. Joe,’ and that ‘Mr. Joe’ being dead?

DR. STENGER: Well, no I don’t see any evidence for anything except a material body. And in fact I really wonder what it is that’s supposed to live forever. When all that we are, all our personality, all our memories are in our brains. So I don’t . . . I think that neural science is strongly urging us in that direction. Now of course, again, we don’t have proof here, but we have a simpler argument. We can draw a picture of human behavior, of human memory, human personality; we see the way it’s affected by drugs, by brain disease and so on, we see memory go away because of disease. And so the evidence is, I think, piling up pretty substantially that what we are, that’s in our brain, is a purely material being and unfortunately when that brain dies so do we.

MODERATOR: Dr. Craig?

DR. CRAIG: Well I think it was evident in his first speech that Dr. Stenger thinks that persons are just material entities. In other words, he’s a materialist. He doesn’t believe in the soul. And that has profound implications for the meaning and significance of human personhood and our lives. We are essentially on his view just electrochemical machines, and everything you do is determined by your genetic makeup and the external stimuli that you receive. Which means there is no freewill, it means that love is just an electrochemical process in the brain, in your cranium. It’s no wonder that he doesn’t think that there’s any objective morality, because on this view we’re just animals. We’re just relatively advanced primates. So this materialistic view of human being, I think, has very, very serious consequences that the student points out. And I would say that the fact that we do sense that we are free agents who do things that are meaningful, that we experience beauty and love and value, suggests that in fact persons aren’t just material, electrochemical machines. We are immaterial souls or persons conjoined to a physical body.

MODERATOR: Okay. Question for Dr. Craig?

QUESTION: Dr. Craig, Dr. Stenger mentioned revelation in his opening statement. He mentioned that if you could prove a revelation, and he mentioned the man on the moon, the Bible proving that, he would believe. Can you give a revelation or a prophetic statement written in the Scriptures proven that are true today?

DR. CRAIG: Well, yes, the Bible claims to give an account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, of his birth, his ministry, his miracles, his crucifixion, burial and resurrection, and I think that history has confirmed the accuracy of these accounts. So as Christians we believe that the Gospels are revelations from God, that this is a revelation. And this isn’t some kind of a fairy tale, it’s not some kind of a myth like Krishna or Hercules. This is talking about real historical people that actually lived, real events that are verified in secular history, real places and things that happen that you can discover archaeologically. So that as a Christian I feel very comfortable with historical evidences and inquiries into the past and the authentication of this revelation that is given in the New Testament. Now, let me use this as an opportunity to reply to Dr. Stenger when he says these are just virtual made up games, they’re just the result of your imagination. Not at all. This is the result of revelation from God, the revelation that we have of God in the Bible, his self-disclosure to us. The Bible is God’s love letter to us, to tell us what he is like and how we can come to know him. And then what Christian theologians do is they reflect philosophically upon God’s revelation to understand what God is like. What does it mean to say God is almighty? What does it mean to say he’s omnipresent?[43] What does it mean to say he’s all-knowing? And they craft a model of God, or a picture of God, and then the question is, “Is this model or picture verified by the evidence?” And when you look out at the universe what you find over and over again is, yes, it is! The origin of the universe out of nothing in the finite past, the fine-tuning of the universe, the existence of a realm of objective moral values, the historicity of the New Testament. Over and over again you see that this model or picture of God bears historical, and scientific, and philosophical verification, and that’s why you ought to believe in it.

DR. STENGER: Well he’s covered several things here. Let me try to do the same. I mean, first of all, again with respect to the historicity of the Bible, and he mentioned Josephus. Josephus is now well established to be a . . . his discussion of Jesus is well established to be a later Christian interpolation. I’m not saying that Jesus didn’t exist, I’m not saying the stories aren’t based on a certain element of truth, but we have no basis. I don’t know what the archaeological evidence is you’re talking about except perhaps this empty tomb that is in Jerusalem that some people have thought held the source of the story of the empty tomb. And with respect again to this whole question of origins, all I can say is that modern cosmology, modern physics, does not require any kind of supernatural input into origins. And also let me say that with respect to the materialist viewpoint, I think love and these other wonderful aspects of human life are perfectly consistent with us being purely material. And if that’s the way it is; if that’s what we are, then that’s what we are and can’t wish it otherwise.

MODERATOR: Okay now, let me say that the 30 minutes are up for the questions, but I noticed that there are still people in line, and there are still a lot of people sitting here. Would you be willing to go on for another 15 minutes? Is that okay? If you’d like to leave that’s fine, just do it quietly, but we’ll continue for another 15 minutes, okay? So I don’t know if we’ll get to all of you that are in line, but we’ll go for 15 minutes. Ready? Go for it.

QUESTION: Hi Dr. Stenger and Dr. Craig, thank you for being here. Dr. Stenger, throughout the debate you started off pretty strong in your area of certainty, and then you used the word plausibility, and then at the conclusion of your talk you talked about your childhood, and you said, “I saw no evidence that he existed.” My question for you is, that strikes me as a statement of requiring exhaustive knowledge. If the evidence for God’s existence was in a little box in Tibet, have you been to Tibet, and how can you conclude something that would require exhaustive knowledge?

DR. STENGER: It doesn’t require exhaustive knowledge. It just requires one piece of knowledge, and then I would see it. Obviously you can’t rule out the existence. I think it was Bertrand Russell who used the example of a teapot in orbit around the sun. There are an infinite number of entities that you can imagine, that you can’t disprove existed. But in the case of God I was trying to point out that the traditional God, not every conceivable God, not the deist God or the pantheist God or the Hindu Gods; the God that is supposed to be the traditional God of the monotheistic religions and particularly Christianity has certain attributes. And it was those attributes that I was addressing. And I think that one of those attributes is the attribute of being objectively observable. As a scientist that’s to me the most important. Some of these arguments, philosophical, theological arguments, are kind of like the angels dancing on the head of a pin. But it’s the absence of evidence that’s sufficient reason not to believe in any entity.

DR. CRAIG: I was speaking about this time last year in Sydney, Australia, and at the Technical University in Sydney I met a fellow who is a forensic scientist. And he said to me, “It’s almost a maxim or an axiom among forensic scientists that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Now think of that.[44] Suppose we have no good evidence that Saddam Hussein is alive. Does it therefore follow that we have good evidence that he is not alive? Well no. Clearly, not at all. The absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence and it’s exactly the same with God. Even if all of my arguments failed to prove that God exists, it still wouldn’t follow that God does not exist from the absence of evidence. So don’t be led astray by this idea that the absence of evidence means that something doesn’t exist. That’s simply a false principle. And I was also surprised hearing Dr. Stenger say in his closing statement that as a young man, he said, I saw that all the world’s religions couldn’t be right, so I concluded that they were all wrong. Well again, that doesn’t follow at all. What would follow from them not all being right is that at most one could be right, but it doesn’t mean they’re all wrong.

MODERATOR: Okay, let’s move to the next question, for Dr. Craig.

QUESTION: I’d like to bring back a question that Dr. Stenger proposed that I feel you skirted in an invalid way.

DR. CRAIG: Alright.

FOLLOWUP: Mainly because I really enjoyed your talk and want to know your answer.

DR. CRAIG: Okay.

FOLLOWUP: The thing about the morality of some events in the Old Testament; Dr. Stenger was not saying . . . You got around it by saying he doesn’t have a standard of morality, but he was more going for a proof by contradiction. Assuming your stance and showing that with acceptance of God and the Bible, it leaves a contradiction. So I’d like to know how you . . .

DR. CRAIG: Right. Actually, I wished I’d had more time to respond to that in our dialogue time, so I’m glad you brought it back up again. What I would say is this, again, that objection at the most – let’s assume it’s successful, let’s assume that’s a good objection. What does it prove?Does that prove that God does not exist? Well clearly not; it wouldn’t. All that would prove is that the Bible, say, is not infallible. That the Bible isn’t inerrant. That the Bible got some things wrong about God; and that would not in any way disprove God’s existence, nor would it undercut my argument that the existence of a realm of objective moral values proves that there has to be God as a transcendent anchor point. I mean quite honestly, without God, it does seem to me we’re just lost in socio-cultural relativism. How can one culture and society say to another culture and society that its values are wrong, in the absence of a transcendent anchor point? So it does seem to me that this is a good argument for saying that God exists. Now, even if the argument were successful, were there certain things in the Old Testament that are immoral, that would just prove that the Old Testament was not the inerrant word of God. It wouldn’t prove that my argument is fallacious or that God doesn’t exist.

Now in fact when you look at these cases more closely I think what you discover is that Dr. Stenger is incorrect. The Scriptures do not endorse things like rape, and murder, and so forth. It records that these things happenedin the Old Testament, and it records that often they were done by people that were Jews in the Old Testament, but I don’t think that the Bible endorses these at all. So these would have to be just looked at on a case-by-case basis, and I think that what you’ll find is that although the Bible records the activities of certain Old Testament figures warts and all, it doesn’t endorse the immoralities that they sometimes perpetrate.

MODERATOR: Okay, Dr. Stenger?

DR STENGER: Let’s see, let’s consider Isaiah 45:7: God says “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things.” So God himself admits he’s the source of evil in the Old Testament. But again, I agree, the Old Testament is fiction too, so I don’t want to make too much about that. The point still remains that there has to be some source of this morality that’s supposed to come from God and if it’s not . . . it’s pretty clearly not the Bible because the Bible doesn’t tell us a lot of things that we consider moral. Even the Ten Commandments, the only commandments that are even law are Thou shalt not kill and Thou shalt not steal, and those were rules that civilizations prior to the Bible held to already. So I don’t see where our knowledge of what is good or bad comes from.[45] Dr. Craig says it comes from within us; well, that’s very possible. That could have arisen by perfectly natural causes.

MODERATOR: Okay, moving right along. The next question is to Dr. Stenger.

QUESTION: Yes, Dr. Stenger, I have a question. Do you believe that your belief that there is no creator takes faith to believe that, and also you did talk about meeting . . . that the possibility that you could have faith in God if you were presented the right kind of evidence as well as these other scientists. Do you really feel that there is evidence that you could accept?

DR STENGER: Well let me say something about the word “faith.” I mean, Archie Bunker said faith is when you believe something no one in his right mind would believe.[46] So I’m talking about belief. If I had evidence and all the scientists that I showed pictures of, if they had the evidence, they would believe. I mean, we’re ready to believe if the evidence is there. And this refers back to an earlier comment when I said that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. What I really mean by that . . . Dr. Craig mentioned Saddam Hussein. I mean, we have a lot of evidence that Saddam Hussein existed at one time or other and he may be dead now and so we don’t know, but that’s not the same thing as a totally invisible entity that we have no information about whatsoever, that we just create out of whole cloth,give him all kinds of attributes, make it logically consistent so it sounds good, and appeal to people’s emotions and inner needs and desires, and it takes more than that. Just like the teacup in orbit around the sun. You have to have some basis for believing in such an ephemeral entity.

MODERATOR: Dr. Craig?

DR. CRAIG: Well you’ll recall that I closed my final statement in the debate by listing six things that you’ve got to believe to follow Dr. Stenger in his atheism. And these are extraordinary commitments that I think require enormous faith to believe. Things that go far beyond the reach of science, things that I think are historically and philosophically erroneous in fact. So I think he exercises enormous faith in his atheism. And I want to take the opportunity here to respond to what he said about Isaiah 45:7. Again that was a beautiful illustration of exactly what I meant of misconstruing things out of context. He was quoting from the King James Version of the Bible, where it says God says, I create evil. No modern translation translates that word that way. What God is saying there is I bring calamity as well as prosperity, good times as well as bad times. But it’s not talking about evil in the moral sense. That was just a misunderstanding of Dr. Stenger of this passage, and that’s illustrative of the point I was making to the other questioner that when you look at these on a case-by-case basis I don’t think they at all bear out the point that Dr. Stenger was making.

MODERATOR: Question for Dr. Craig?

QUESTION: Dr. Craig I’m Thomas Payne. Thank you for taking my question. We hear theists and non-theists postulate the non-existence of God and those people have struggles with the existence of God based on pain and suffering. It’s often raised as an issue of conflict for . . . we see pain and suffering and wonder why? Why? With the presence of God why do we have that? I believe that largely that comes from, at least a theist perspective, a misunderstanding of where pain and suffering comes from. Would you explain to us the effects of sin and what it had on God’s creation?

DR. CRAIG: I think that one reason, Tom, that the problem of pain and suffering seems so difficult for most of us is that we just sort of naturally assume that if God exists, then his purpose for us is to create a comfortable environment for his human pets, in which they can flourish and be happy. But you see, on the Christian view of life, this isn’t the purpose of life. The purpose of life is not just human happiness in this life, and we are not God’s pets. Rather we are free, moral agents created in the image of God, whom God invites into an eternal love relationship with himself.[47] He’s created us to know him. But human beings as Tom indicated have spurned that invitation, they’ve rejected God, they’ve turned their back on him and sought to find other ways to fulfill themselves. Drugs, sex, materialism, consumerism, and so forth. And this has led to enormous pain and suffering in the world, and God lets human depravity run its course. The vast majority of the evils that occur in the world today are evils that result from man’s own inhumanity to man. But what the Christian believes is that God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing pain and suffering in the world. In fact, God’s project is the project of drawing people, drawing men and women, back into this relationship with himself. And it may well be the case that only in a world that is suffused with pain, that the optimum number of people would come to freely embrace God, and come to know him and his salvation. And what the atheist would have to show is that there’s another possible world that God could have created, which has less pain and suffering, in which a greater number or the same number of people freely come to know God and his salvation as they do in this world. And that of course is something that the atheist couldn’t possibly prove; it’s pure speculation.

DR. STENGER: Well the picture seems to be that God defines what is good and bad. And so if God were to appear before me right now and say, “Go torture a baby,” then I would have to go torture a baby because God said it was good to torture a baby. Or if I were Adolf Hitler and I talked to God and God said, “Go kill all the Jews,” then that would be good, to kill all the Jews. Well I’m a humanist and I go by humanist morality, the morality that we humans have developed over the years and not relied on some mystical source. And I’ll tell you, to a humanist, torturing a baby is bad. And the Holocaust was bad, was evil. Remember it’s gratuitous suffering that we’re talking about here. Certainly as I pointed out, pain has a role to play but the amount of unnecessary suffering that’s not man-induced,you can’t blame it on free will because I just disagree totally with Dr. Craig that the great majority of suffering is human-induced. It’s natural, it’s disasters and diseases and so on that humans have nothing to do with.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you. Our fifteen minutes are up. Could we give our debaters a round of applause?[48]


[37] 01:55:00

[38] Paul Davies, About Time (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 132.

[39] 2:00:00

[40] 2:05:00

[41] cf. Mark 12:30-31.

[42] 2:10:00

[43] 2:15:00

[44] 2:20:00

[45] 2:25:00

[46] Cited in Victor J. Stenger, The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason, Prometheus (2010), p.45.

[47] 2:30:00

[48] Total Running Time: 02:33:19