What is the evidence for/against the existence of God?

William Lane Craig vs. Peter Atkins

Carter Presidential Center, Atlanta, Georgia, United States – April 1998

  • Questions & Answers

  • Q&A


DR. JIM TUMLIN, INTRODUCTION:Good evening. My name is Dr. Jim Tumlin, and I am the President of the Faith and Science Lecture Forum. On behalf of the Faith and Science Lecture Forum, we would like to welcome you to tonight’s debate.

For many of us, the first time that we understood the awesome expanse of the universe, the indescribable power of the sun, or the breath-taking complexity and beauty of a single cell, we were driven by a deep desire to know and to be known by the Creator of all this splendor. As the Apostle Paul put it, For since the foundation, the creation of the world, his invisible attributes have been known by that which is made, even his godhead and eternal power.[1]

For many others however, the universe and all it contains, while amazing, is the product of mere chance, a random collection of molecules that ultimately does not point toward the hand of a Creator, and in fact has no meaning at all. As the famous Harvard paleontologist George Simpson put it, “Man is the product of a random and purposeless process that never had him in mind.”[2] As our knowledge of science has increased over the years, many of us have asked the question, “Did God create us and all that is seen, in him and through him, or have we by an innate fear or a need for significance and purpose, created God?”

Tonight we’re going to address that question, a question that for most of us is most likely the most important question you will ever ask: Does God exist? And to do that in a thoughtful and rigorous manner, the Faith and Science Lecture Forum has invited Mr. William F. Buckley to moderate tonight’s debate. Mr. Buckley was born in 1925 in New York City. He is a widely acknowledged author and lecturer. He is the recipient of over 38 honorary degrees from universities across the country, including the Presidential Medal of Honor in 1991. His recent book, Near My God, is a brilliant treatise of his own journey toward faith, and ultimately underscores his ability to moderate religious lectures. Would you please welcome with me Mr. William F. Buckley.

WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, MODERATOR: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I’m happy to be a witness to the forthcoming exchange. I’m not renowned as a moderator and wonder at the confidence of Dr. Tumlin in nominating me to moderate this titanic struggle. I will of course attempt to be scrupulously fair. I do this for professional reasons, but there is the further reason that to attempt to block either of the protagonists in pursuit of their arguments would betray my utter innocence of scientific abstractions, the mention of which cause me to urge the eminent scientists and philosophers here to talk to us, please, and remember the gentle benefits of the idiomatic mode. We gather together tonight in an effort to communicate with one another, and to do this requires that we have a continuing idea of what it is that we’re talking about. As you are aware, the argument is over whether the evidence for and against the existence of God ultimately prevails.

Whether the preponderance of evidence argues the existence of God, Professor William Lane Craig believing as he does that it does prevail.

Dr. Craig returned from a ministry in Belgium, resides in Atlanta, and continues to work in his various campuses. He received his doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Birmingham, and a second doctorate in theology from the University of Munich. He has published an astonishing 89 papers in peer-reviewed journals.[3] His latest book is called Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics.

On the side of the devil is Peter Atkins. Dr. Atkins’ doctorate is in physical chemistry from Lincoln College at Oxford. He also is a prodigious writer having published 36 peer-reviewed articles, many of them designed to undermine a belief in a divine Creator. He is an eloquent and learned advocate. Dr. Atkins has also done considerable work on his ministry over radio and television.

The format calls for initial statements by the two contenders, of eighteen minutes each. They will be followed by nine-minute rebuttals. I’m not going to pull a lever and cause the speakers to disappear into the bowels of the earth if they go five seconds over their allotted period, but if they do go a half minute over, I will make my impatient presence, our presence, felt. So I do urge them to keep their eyes on the clock, and urge you to pay close attention to them. Please proceed.

William Lane Craig – First Statement

DR. CRAIG:Good evening. I want to begin by thanking the Faith and Science Lecture Forum for inviting me to participate in tonight’s debate, and I’m delighted that you have come out on a stormy evening to think about this most important of questions with us tonight.

Now in tonight’s debate, we have been asked to address two basic questions:


1. What is the evidence for the existence of God?

2. What is the evidence against the existence of God?


Now, with respect to that second question, I will leave it up to Dr. Atkins to present the evidence against God’s existence. But notice that atheists have tried for centuries to disprove the existence of God, but no one has ever been able to come up with a successful argument. So, rather than attack straw men, I’ll just wait to hear Dr. Atkins’ answer to the following question: “What good evidence is there to think that God does not exist?”

So, let’s turn to that first question. What good evidence is there to think that God does exist? I believe that there are many reasons for the existence of God, but due to the limits of time, I’m going to restrict myself to sketching briefly five reasons why I think God exists. Now in all of our reasoning, we have to be careful to follow the basic rules of logic, which have governed all valid reasoning since Aristotle.

1. The origin of the universe. Have you ever asked yourself where the universe came from? Why everything exists instead of just nothing? Typically, atheists have said that the universe is just eternal and uncaused. But the astrophysical evidence indicates that the universe began to exist in a great explosion called the Big Bang fifteen billion years ago. Most laymen do not appreciate that not only were all matter and energy created in that event, but physical space and time themselves. This is of utmost importance, for it implies, as the Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle points out, that the Big Bang theory requires the creation of the universe from nothing.

Now, this tends to be very awkward for the atheist. For as Anthony Kenny of Oxford University urges, a proponent of the Big Bang theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the universe came from nothing and by nothing. But surely that doesn’t make sense. Out of nothing, nothing comes. So where did the universe come from? Why does the universe exist instead of just nothing? There must have been a cause which brought the universe into being. We can summarize our argument thus far as follows.[4]


1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.


Now from the very nature of the case, as the cause of space and time, this cause must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power, which created the universe. It must be timeless, and therefore changeless, because it created time. Because it also created space, it must transcend space as well, and therefore be immaterial, not physical.

Moreover, I would argue, it must also be personal. For a changeless, impersonal cause can never exist without its effect. If the changeless, impersonal conditions for an effect are timelessly present, then their effect must be timelessly present as well. For example, the cause of water’s freezing is the temperature being below zero degrees centigrade. If the temperature were below zero from eternity, then any water around would be frozen from eternity. It would be impossible for the water to just begin to freeze a finite time ago. The only way for the cause to be timeless and for the effect to begin a finite time ago is for the cause to be a personal agent who freely chooses to create a new effect without any prior determining conditions. For example, a man sitting from eternity could freely will to stand up and thus you would have a new effect arise from an eternal cause. And thus we are brought not merely to a transcendent cause of the universe but to its personal Creator.

In his book, The Creation, Dr. Atkins struggles mightily to explain how the universe could come into existence uncaused out of nothing. But in the end he finds himself trapped in self-contradiction. He states, “Now we go back in time, beyond the moment of creation, to when there was no time, and to where there was no space.”[5] At this time before time, he imagines a swirling dust of mathematical points which recombine again and again and again, and finally come by trial and error to form our space-time universe. Now it needs to be honestly said that this is not a scientific hypothesis. It is pop metaphysics, and of the worst kind, for it’s obviously self-contradictory since it assumes time and space in order to explain the origin of time and space. As the scientist David Park writes, “It is deceptively easy to imagine events before the Big Bang . . . but in physics there is no way to make sense of these imaginings.”[6] As if this were not bad enough, Dr. Atkins compounds the problem by asking where the mathematical points came from. His answer? “Time brought the points into being, and the points brought time into being.”[7] This is like saying, “The chicken brought the egg into being, and the egg brought the chicken into being.”

It’s no wonder that in his review of Dr. Atkins’ book, in the Times Literary Supplement, the philosopher John Leslie asks incredulously, “How could such nonsense have been churned out by the author of a superb textbook like Physical Chemistry?”[8] In fact, Dr. Atkins’ Oxford University colleague Keith Ward in his book, God, Chance and Necessity, points out no less than seven such logical fallacies in Dr. Atkins’ scenario. Ward concludes that it is “blatantly self-contradictory,” and so cannot be true.[9] By contrast, the view that Christian theists have always held, that there is a personal Creator of the universe, is not only logically consistent, but it also follows logically from the premises that I have laid out.

2. The complex order in the universe. During the last 30 years or so, scientists have discovered that the existence of intelligent life depends upon a delicate and complex balance of initial conditions simply given in the Big Bang itself.[10] We now know that life-prohibiting universes are vastly more probable than any life-permitting universe like ours. How much more probable? The answer is that the chances that the universe should be life-permitting are so infinitesimal as to be incalculable and incomprehensible. For example, Stephen Hawking has estimated that if the rate of the universe’s expansion had been smaller by even one part in a 100,000 million million, the universe would have re-collapsed into a hot fireball. Brandon Carter has calculated that the odds against the initial conditions being suitable for later star formation, without which planets could not exist, is one followed by a thousand billion billion zeroes at least. P. C. W. Davies estimates that a change in the strength of gravity or of the weak force by only one part in 10100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe. There are around fifty such quantities and constants present in the Big Bang which must be fine-tuned in this way if the universe is to permit life. So improbability is multiplied by improbability by improbability until our minds are reeling in incomprehensible numbers. There is no physical reason why these constants and quantities possess the values they do.

The former agnostic physicist Paul Davies comments, “Through my scientific work, I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact.”[11] Similarly, Fred Hoyle remarks, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics.”[12] And Robert Jastrow, the Head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has called this the most powerful evidence for the existence of God ever to come out of science.[13]

We can summarize our reasoning as follows:


1. The fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe is due to either natural law, chance or design.

2. It is not due to either law or chance.

3. Therefore, it is due to design.


3. Objective moral values in the world. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. Many theists and atheists alike agree on this point. Michael Ruse, a noted agnostic philosopher of science, explains, “The position of the modern evolutionist . . . is that morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction… and any deeper meaning is illusory.”[14] Friedrich Nietzsche, the great atheist of the last century, 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 certainly can! Rather, the question is, “If God does not exist, do objective moral values exist?” Like Nietzsche and Ruse, I just don’t see any reason to think that in the absence of God, the morality evolved by Homo sapiens is objective, and here Dr. Atkins would agree with me. He says, “I see no evidence for its absoluteness, and the ethics of a lion seem to be quite different than the ethics of an antelope. As for human beings, we’re just slime on a planet belonging to one sun.”[15]

On the atheistic view then, some action, say rape, may not be socially advantageous and so in the course of human development has become taboo.[16] 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 without God there is no absolute right and wrong.

But the problem is that objective values do exist, and deep down 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. Some things, at least, are really wrong. Similarly, love, equality, and self-sacrifice are really good. Thus we can summarize this third consideration as follows:


1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

2. Objective values do exist.

3. Therefore God exists.


4. The historical facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The historical person Jesus of Nazareth was a remarkable individual. New Testament critics have reached something of a consensus that the historical Jesus came on the scene with an unprecedented sense of divine authority - the authority to stand and speak in God’s place. He claimed that in himself the Kingdom of God had come, and as visible demonstrations of this fact he carried out a ministry of miracles 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, Dr. Atkins says, “I know of no evidence that the resurrection did take place.” 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.

Fact number one: On the Sunday following his crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty by a group of his women followers. According to Jacob Kremer, an Austrian scholar who has specialized in the study of the resurrection, by far most scholars hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb.

Fact number two: On separate occasions, different individuals and groups 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. These appearances were witnessed not only by believers, but also by unbelievers, skeptics, and even enemies.

Fact number three: The original disciples suddenly came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus despite having every predisposition to the contrary. Luke Johnson, a New Testament scholar at Emery University says, “Some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was.”[17]

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.”[18] There is no plausible naturalistic explanation of these three 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.

5. The immediate experience of God. 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 people in the Bible knew God. As Professor John Hick explains, “To them, God was not . . . an idea adopted by the mind, but the experiential reality which gave significance to their lives.”[19] Now, if this is so then there’s a danger that proofs for God could actually distract your attention from God himself.[20] 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.”[21] We mustn’t so concentrate on the external proofs 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 yet to see any evidence to show that God does not exist, and we have seen five reasons to think that God does exist. Together, these reasons constitute a powerful cumulative case for the existence of God. If Dr. Atkins wants us to believe atheism instead, then he must first tear down all five of the reasons that I’ve presented, and then in their place erect a case of his own to prove that God does not exist. Unless and until he does that, I think we can conclude that theism is the more plausible worldview.

[1] Cf. Romans 1:20

[2] Cf. George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution, revised edition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), p. 345.

[3] 5:00

[4] 10:00

[5] cf. Peter Atkins, Creation Revisited (New York, W H Freeman 1992), p. 129.

[6] David Park, “The Beginning and End of Time in Physical Cosmology” in The Study of Time IV, ed J.T Fraser, N. Lawrence and D. Park (Berlin, Springer Verlag, 1981), pp. 112-13.

[7] Peter Atkins, Creation Revisited (New York, W H Freeman, 1992), p. 142.

[8] Leslie, J. “Is It All Quite Simple?”, Times Literary Supplement, 29 January, 1993

[9] Ward, K., God, Chance, and Necessity, (Oxford: One World, 1996), p. 48.

[10] 15:00

[11] Paul Davies, The Mind of God, (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1992) p.16.

[12] Hoyle, F. 1982. “The Universe: Past and Present Reflections”, Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics: 20:16.

[13] Robert Jastrow, "The Astronomer and God," in The Intellectuals Speak Out about God, ed. Roy Abraham Varghese (Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1984), p. 22.

[14] Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics”, in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262, 268-9.

[15] Peter Atkins, in Russell Stannard, Science and Wonders (Faber and Faber, 1996), p7.

[16] 20:00

[17] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996), p. 136.

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

[19] John Hick, "Introduction," in “The Existence of God”, ed. John Hick, Problems of Philosophy (New York: Macmillan Co., 1964), pp. 13-14.

[20] 25:00

[21] James 4:8

Peter Atkins – First Statement

DR. ATKINS: Thank you. It’s a great pleasure to be here, and it’s always a great pleasure to come to this country. I come from a college in the University of Oxford that was founded 570 years ago, when the Lollard heresy was proving a threat to both church and state, and the College was founded, and I quote from the founders’ statute, “To overcome those who with their swinish snouts imperil the pearls of true theology.”[22] I regret to say that my own swinish snout has not been overcome, and I intend to imperil what purport to be the pearls that will be cast about this evening. But I don’t intend to be negative in all my remarks. I respect the reason for all your being here, that it’s really a part of the search for truth. I intend to open your eyes to the delights of true understanding. In fact, it’s my intention this evening to take your minds on a journey, and lead you from the darkness of ignorance to the light of comprehension. I’m here to do no less than to glorify the human spirit and to enhance your joy at being a part of this astonishing, amazing, enthralling, and delightful world.

Now this journey will be strenuous, and take your minds to the highest altitudes of current thought. Therefore, I have to ask you that you divest yourselves of unnecessary baggage. Your souls will have to fly with me to the heights of human understanding. They must not be weighed down with the ballast of preconception, prejudice, and that heaviest anchor of all, the conditioning that societies impose on their young. So I ask you to shed the shackles of prejudice and conditioning, and listen, as though intellectually naked, to my words. I hope that you will gradually dress your minds in my ideas as I unfold them, and so bring enlightenment to your brains, and a bit of joy to your lives.

Now our joint journey begins with a premise of great antiquity and indeed beautiful simplicity. That if a simple explanation of an event or a phenomenon is fully adequate, then a more elaborate one is not warranted. The challenge in this debate therefore is for me to show that everything in and of the world of the body, and of the spirit, can be understood without needing to invoke the action, or mere presence, of a god.

Now I have to stress that whereas the assertion of God as an explanation of anything has an air of sublime simplicity, that simplicity is an illusion. An omniscient, omnipotent being that can create a universe, some say maintain that universe, that can intrude into the universe to achieve miracles and resurrections, is no simple entity. A god is the apotheosis of complexity, not the apotheosis of simplicity, and the implication of a god as an explanation of anything, even the warm sentimental feelings that are said to suffuse us in the presence of the Almighty, is in fact the apotheosis of laziness.[23] It’s well suited to armchair brains who prefer to indulge in adipose arguments. You’re not here, I trust, because you’re one of those. Now the implication of God as an explanation of anything is an admission of defeat and of ignorance, disguised as a pretense of understanding.

I’ve set myself a challenge to show that everything in and of the world, of the body, and of the spirit can be understood without needing to invoke a god. There’s no point in being an atheist, and certainly a scientist, without being rigorously intellectually honest. So I have to set myself an honest target, which is nothing less than complete explanation. Nothing fudged, nothing forgotten. The atheist argument fails if in the end it turns out that the universe had to be designed. It fails if any aspect of it had to be made. It fails if it turns out that there had to be a seed the size of a pea, or even the size of a proton. We atheists must not cloud the issue. That’s for the religious who do it so admirably and on such a cosmic scale. The atheist argument fails if it turns out there is a purpose for the world. The atheist argument fails if it turns out that there is an afterlife, that miracles occur, or that a god is necessary to maintain the workings of physical law. The atheist argument begins to corrode if there are aspects of the human condition that science cannot touch, such as the supreme joy of artistic creation. That then is the challenge. Nothing less than complete explanation. Therefore, inevitably, I have to disappoint you. Science cannot yet explain everything. It cannot yet tell us what went on at the event we call the creation. It cannot yet provide a theory or even a simulation of consciousness. It would be quite wrong of me to pretend that it could.

However, what I can hope to do is to present you with a scientific view of the world. A view that makes a convincing case that science can elucidate the great questions that have for centuries been regarded as religion’s own. And with your newly cleansed, de-prejudiced minds, you should be able to accept that science provides a richer, more comprehensible, more reliable, more deeply satisfying account of the cosmos than the primitive pseudo-explanations peddled by well-meaning but scientifically under-informed apologists.

I’ll deal with the most difficult problem first. Creation ex nihilo. The adipose argument is that “God did it.” That of course is the lazy man’s elixir. Sort of a cocktail made up of a swig of credulity and a teaspoon full of unwillingness to think. In short, it’s an explanation that avoids explanation. Science has moved cautiously but steadily towards the provision of a true understanding. I will not bore you with accounts of the events after the Big Bang, which is now universally believed by scientists to be a broadly correct description of the events immediately following the creation. I want to explore whether it is conceivable that science can elucidate the events at the creation, for that is where the atheist stands on the most dangerous ground. Notice that I intend to confront issues, not evade them.

Science proceeds by exposing the true simplicity that underlies perceived complexity. Scientists are hewers of simplicity from complexity. I believe that it is possible for science to formulate an account, and it will be a mathematical account, full of precision, full of logical authority, full of the testability that is such a kingly quality of science, of what went on at the Big Bang when spacetime itself and the laws of nature came into existence. Science can already show that a creator had less to do than perhaps meets the eye.[24]

Let me present one tiny technical argument this evening. How much electric charge is there in the universe? The answer is “none.” We know experimentally that there is an equal amount of positive and negative charge, which if summed together, gives zero charge overall. At the creation, no charge separated into opposite charges. Nothing separated into opposites.

Secondly, and more potently, how much material is there in the universe? Another way to answer this question is to ask how much energy there is in the universe, for Einstein showed that mass and energy are equivalent. When the sum is done - and that involves adding together all the masses of all the protons, all the people, all the priests, all the planets, all the stars and all the galaxies, as well as the gravitational attraction between them, the answer is close to zero. I suspect that as observations are refined, the total will approach zero. There is no energy in the universe. Nothing did indeed come from nothing. Science shows that the universe is in fact a big confidence trick. There is truly nothing here. All there is, is a separation of opposites.

Now what that argument shows is that the event that took place at the creation is very much simpler than one might think. God, if he had to do anything, did not have to make anything. All he had to do, if he had anything to do at all, was to separate nothing into equal and opposite components. Now that doesn’t solve the problem of what went on at the creation, but it makes creation ex nihilo a far simpler process than you might have thought, for literally nothing had to be made. That argument at least diminishes God’s role.

I could also sketch in an argument that suggests how the reorganization of nothing could take place a-causally. There is of course no causality before the arena of space-time has been established. So it would be absurd to project backwards our familiarity with causality in our current arena and use it as an argument for God in an arena when space-time did not exist. No one knows how space-time came into being a-causally, but there are hints. I would like to say what I think happened, but happily Dr. Craig has done that for me. But, quite honestly, I don’t think it matters what I think went on at the creation because it would be just pure speculation. Speculation without the rigor of mathematics and observation is as syrupy a bog as religion.

What I want to leave you with is the realization that the universe is an engagingly reorganized form of nothing, and that speculative a-causal events are capable of seeing it come into being without intervention. No god was needed to make the universe or even to make it happen. My argument diminishes the role of a creator god to zero.

Another potent argument produced by adipose brains in favor of a mental labor-saving god is the apparent fine-tuning of the structure of the universe as it tumbled into existence. People intent upon proving the hand of a designer bandy about amazing figures. 10 to the this, 10 to the that. We’ve had tens followed by unimaginable numbers of zeroes already this evening. All such calculations are hocus-pocus and bunkum. There is no a priori way of calculating the probability of the existence of the universe.

However, I do have to admit that it gives the impression of being well designed. Had I a lazy brain I would lie back and leave it at that and accept that design implied designer and hence a god in one of his disguises. But not having a lazy brain, I look for a simpler explanation. Several spring to mind.

One possibility is that by chance the universe tumbled into being with this particular mix of fundamental constants. There’s no way of calculating the probability of that, but it would, I concede, be exceedingly remote.[25] Nevertheless, if something can happen, it could happen. Someone wins the lottery.

A second possibility is that a universe can come into existence only with a particular mix of fundamental constants. Other universes, some with π = 42, others with bright pink electrons weighing a ton, might bubble into incipient existence but collapse again through want of stability or in some way being logically self-inconsistent.

A third possibility is that there are trillions and trillions of universes with trillions more popping up into existence as I speak. Now I must emphasize that I most definitely do not have in mind the profligate many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which I find personally distasteful. I mean real, actual universes defining their own space-time and with a unique mix of fundamental constants. Some have π = 3.15, others have π = 3.16, ours happened to have π = 3.14, and bingo, it permits the emergence of life.

Now there will be some who say that a trillion universes is more demanding than a single universe with its one creator. That’s logical nonsense. An unstructured, unmade, totally chaotic emergence of random universes without a god is a far, far less complex happening than a single, awesomely well-defined universe with an omnipotent creator. One is random, the other structured. Unless you can show explicitly that this random, chance event cannot account for all there is, you have no right to resort to the extraordinarily complex proposition that there is a god who did it.

Let me turn briefly to the purpose of the universe, which some aver exists and which, they assert, gives credence to an almighty God. It’s so important to distinguish real questions that when answered illuminate the deep structure of the world from invented questions that elucidate only the psychology of the individual or the society that poses them. Many religious questions are of the second kind. They are windows onto the psyche of the soul, not windows onto the heart of matter. Purpose is an excellent example of the latter, ranking alongside the prospect of an afterlife, the nature of the soul, the significance of the resurrection, and so on.

Bertrand Russell put it well when he considered the prospect of there being a teapot in orbit around Mars. If enough people start convincing themselves that there is a teapot in orbit around Mars, then it soon becomes an object of scholarly debate and extraordinary difficult to disprove by logic, or more reliably, by experiment. Cosmic purpose is a cosmic teapot. There is not one jot of evidence for cosmic purpose. It’s a reverse-engineering of the quest for God. There is a god, the argument runs, therefore there must be a purpose in his creation of the world. How much simpler it is to accept, in line with all the evidence, that there is no cosmic purpose, that it has been invented by humans to match their vision of God, and now turned round to justify the existence of God. God is not necessary for the inception of, or actions of, the world. There is no purpose.

Is there any cranny where a nearly-defunct God can lurk? I hear you say, “Morality.” The concept of goodness has emerged as we have evolved. Goodness is not God-given. There is an innate genetic foundation of goodness, modulated by the intellect that we’ve developed. We have emerged from a past where the pressures of the hostile environment led to the operation of group activities that established unconsciously a social contract that secured us from our enemies. We fragile beings, on the whole discovered that killing one another led to the collapse of the tribe.[26] With the evolution of our massive brains, we could stand above the prospect of private and public carnage, and at least discuss it rationally even though we continue to make misjudgments about its efficacy. There is no need to see the hand of God in this evolving pattern of behavior. Unless you can show explicitly that evolution, allied with intellect, is an inadequate foundation for morality, you have no right to import the concept of God in the third of his disguises.

I’ve spoken long enough this evening. But let me summarize my position. I cannot prove that there is not a god. The perception of god overwhelms any rational argument for an omnipotent entity is the ultimate chameleon. However, I have tried to argue that the common purportedly rational reasons for believing in God are vacuous. For all the actions that God has been thought necessary for can be achieved without any intrusion into natural order.

I asked you to discard your prejudices. Civilization and science have led you on a journey from bewilderment to maturity. It’s time to respect the nobility of the human spirit, the awesome power of human comprehension as expressed in that apotheosis of the Renaissance, science. It’s time to stand full-square in front of this awesomely wonderful world and to accept that we are gloriously, gloriously alone. Thank you.

[22] Quoted in

[23] 30:00

[24] 35:00

[25] 40:00

[26] 45:00

William Lane Craig – Rebuttal

DR. CRAIG: You remember I said in my first speech that Dr. Atkins needed to give us some evidence against the existence of God, and I noticed a discernible lack of such evidence in that opening speech. He gave us refutations of my arguments, but he provided no argumentation whatsoever that God does not exist, and he’s got to do that if he’s going to convince us of atheism. Kai Nielsen, who is an atheist philosopher, recognizes this point. Nielsen says, “To show that an argument is invalid or unsound is not to show that the conclusion of the argument is false . . . All the proofs of God’s existence may fail, but it may still be the case that God exists. In short, to show that the proofs do not work is not enough by itself. It may still be the case that God exists.”[27] So at best Dr. Atkins has simply left us with agnosticism tonight. He hasn’t given us any good reason in that opening speech to think that God does not exist.

Now he did make a couple of general comments about the nature of explanation. He said that we should prefer simpler explanations to more elaborate ones and I would agree, all things being equal, that’s true. I would say that theism is a simple explanation in that it provides a unifying view of the world that explains a vast range of data, scientific, historical, ethical and personal. He says, “But it’s just intellectual laziness to conclude to the existence of God; to say that God is the reason or the explanation for something.” But notice that many of the arguments that I gave tonight were deductive arguments. That is to say that if the premises are true, then the conclusion logically follows; whether you like it or not, whether you regard it as explanatory or not is irrelevant. In a deductive argument, as long as the premises are true and the logic is valid, the conclusion is inescapable. And therefore he’s simply got to dispute my premises. It’s not enough to simply say that God is not a good explanation.

So let’s look then specifically at the case that I laid out for the existence of God. First my argument from the origin of the universe. Notice that he actually agrees with my two premises, that whatever begins to exist has a cause, and secondly that the universe began to exist. Why then does he conclude that the universe does not have a cause? Well did you catch how radical his view is? Because he doesn't really believe the universe exists. On Dr. Atkins’ view, nothing exists. So it’s not that something came out of nothing. He literally believes nothing exists. As he writes in his article, “We, like mathematics are elegant, self-consistent reorganizations of nothing.” Now, let me make three responses to this.

First of all, it’s a total misunderstanding to say that because the negative energy balances out the positive energy, that therefore there is nothing.[28] That’s as illogical as saying that because I have a certain amount of debts and a certain amount of money, that therefore I have zero money. It’s just illogical. Even if on balance it balances out to nothing, there’s still negative energy and positive energy. It doesn’t mean that nothing exists!

Secondly, I would point out that you still need a productive cause for the universe even if it’s the case that you don’t need a material cause for the universe. Christopher Isham, who is the leading quantum cosmologist of Great Britain, points out in his article Cosmos in Creation, there is still “a need for ontic seeding” to produce the energy even if on balance it is naught.[29]So you still need to have an ontic seed, a beginning, a cause, to bring the positive and negative energy into being, even if on balance it’s naught.

But finally, as I say, his solution I think is simply absurd. His solution is that nothing exists, and that’s simply absurd. I at least exist, as Descartes said. Even when I doubt that I exist, who is there to do the doubting? I doubt, therefore I am. There must be something that exists. So I hope you understand how radical this alternative is. If honestly the alternative to belief in the existence of God is to say that nothing is real, nothing exists, then I say let those who decry the irrationality of belief in God be henceforth forever silent, because nothing could be more irrational or implausible than that.

Now what about my second argument from the complex order in the universe? Here he raised three questions. First he says there are problems of probability here. In a lottery, any person’s winning is improbable but somebody has to win. The analogy is a bad one. It’s not the improbability of just any universe existing. That’s right, any universe is equally improbable. It is the specified improbability of a life-permitting universe existing. The analogy would be a lottery in which there’s a billion billion billion black balls and one white ball, and you have to reach in and pick out a ball. Now any single ball you pick is equally improbable, but it is overwhelmingly more probable that whichever ball you pick it will be black rather than white. In the same way, given the fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe it is vastly more probable that the universe should be life-prohibiting.

What is his explanation for the life-permitting universe that exists? Well, he gives two speculations. First he says, maybe there is only one physically possible universe, it has to be this way. I think that sort of a theory of everything is simply not a credible alternative. P. C. W. Davies says, “There is absolutely no evidence in favor of it, even if the laws of physics were unique, it doesn’t follow that the physical universe itself is unique . . . The laws . . . must be augmented by cosmic initial conditions . . . it seems, then, that the physical universe does not have to be the way it is; it could have been otherwise.”[30] So we have to have an explanation for why we are balanced on this knife’s edge that permits our own existence.

Secondly, though, he says you could have many parallel universes. Let me just make three points about this. First, this is a metaphysical hypothesis – not a scientific one, and as such it’s no better than a divine designer. In fact, Occam’s Razor would say that a divine designer is simpler, because instead of positing an infinite number of randomly ordered parallel worlds, you posit one single designer, and that is a simpler hypothesis and therefore to be preferred. Secondly, there is no known way for such a collection of parallel universes to be formed. We’ve already seen that Dr. Atkins’ scenario of universes tumbling into being from prior mathematical points is self-contradictory. Third, the mechanisms that have been suggested for forming parallel universes still require fine-tuning in order to get the mechanism generated for making these parallel worlds, so that fine-tuning isn’t escaped. Finally, there is no independent evidence for parallel universes, but there is for God, such as the moral argument. So let’s turn to that moral argument then.

Notice that he admits that without God there are no objective moral values. He writes in one of his works, “Science . . . shows us that there can be no moral distinction between an administered poison and one that the body itself has slowly generated.”[31] Do you understand what he’s saying? There’s no moral distinction between poisoning someone deliberately and that person dying of natural causes. Now I hope that Dr. Atkins and his wife are happily married, because if she believes that then if I were he, I’d start eating in restaurants!

I think that on a serious note it’s evident that there is a moral distinction between deliberate murder and just dying a natural death.[32] As John Healey, the executive director of Amnesty International recently wrote in a fundraising letter, “I am writing you today because I think you share my profound belief that there are indeed some moral absolutes. When it comes to torture, to government-sanctioned murder, to 'disappearances,' there are no lesser evils. These are outrages against all of us.”[33] So if you agree with me that there are objective moral values, then I think you also should agree that God exists as their foundation.

Dr. Atkins did not address the historical evidences from the empty tomb, the appearances of Jesus, and the origin of the disciples’ faith, or the resurrection of Christ, which provides miraculous evidence for God’s existence, nor did he address the immediate experience of God.

It seems to me that in the absence of any positive arguments for atheism tonight, I’m rational in believing in God on the basis of my own immediate experience of God. Why should I deny that real experience in my life for no good reason at all? So in the absence of positive arguments for atheism, I think I’m perfectly rational and within my rights to stick with my belief in the existence of God.

DR. ATKINS:It seems to me that the challenge is for those who propose the more complicated explanation have to present their arguments unless they accept the simpler one. I can propose that science can account for everything there is in the world without the invocation of the complexity of a creator, and a god. What a believer has to do is to demonstrate explicitly that my view about the simplicity, the innate inherent simplicity of the world, is inadequate. It’s only by showing that it is an inadequate understanding of the world that I am prepared to accept that there may be room for a god. No arguments that we’ve heard this evening go that far. None of them say that this explicitly shows that the universe cannot come in by chance alone.

No argument we’ve heard this evening explicitly excludes the possibility that the values of the fundamental constants are the ones that are necessary for life. That is what the opposition has to do. They have to show that simplicity is inadequate.

Atheism is the more primitive, of course you would agree with that, atheism is the more primitive view of the world, which has to be displaced. It’s only through historical accident that belief in gods, which was engendered by the bewilderment of our ancestors as they dropped down from the trees and were surrounded by forces that they needed to cajole. It’s only that historical accident that has brought religion into its powerful, prime position, with believers pretending that it is our duty to displace it. That is not the case. We, from the viewpoint of modern twentieth century science, can see our way to accounting for everything that religion purports to explain but in fact fails to explain even though it’s been trying to explain it for 5,000 years. I’m invited . . . Dr. Craig says that his arguments will fail if his deductive mode can be argued against. Are his premises false?

The origin of the universe. I argued that there was nothing to be made. I did not argue that there was nothing here now. I think it quite right that we should regard the current universe as an elaborate and engaging rearrangement of nothing. There was nothing for God to do, that’s a simplification. Science, of course, cannot account for it in detail, but at least give it a chance to try. And what science will do is what religion cannot do, that is, it will provide an explanation this side of the grave. If you want to believe in God, and the arguments that Dr. Craig has presented this evening, you can only be confident about them after you are dead. That seems to me to be a grave intrusion into human logic.[34]

Complex order: I have argued there. My argument was greatly maligned in Dr. Craig’s response. I will not go into that; I don’t have further time this evening. Let me talk about the things I didn’t have time to think about in my original talk.

The historicity of Jesus: I mean I know I’m on dangerous ground here because it’s not my subject, but I don’t believe that the Gospels written as they were decades after the event are a true record of what actually happened. Anyone who bases their belief on the Gospels is in fact showing that they are credible to a stage beyond belief. Okay, I’ll accept that Jesus did exist, but I will not accept that there were any miracles. David Hume said that there is always more reason to disbelieve the messenger than to believe the message. With miracles that is exactly the case. People wanted to make a case. People wanted to make a case that they had a Savior. People wanted to make a case that here was the Messiah. There were committees 80 years after the events sitting downand thinking about what should have gone on and then writing it down as though it did go on.

As for immediate experience of God, I’m afraid that is just self-delusion. We all want to be immortal, at least I want to be immortal. I know the only way of being immortal is to encourage investment in science and medicine. I don’t believe that one can be immortal through belief in the Bible. It’s people who simply wish to believe, who feel alone in this world, who want comfort, who are lost, who don’t know their position in the world, who want to avoid the sense, the prospect of their own annihilation, who believe in things that Dr. Craig was terming the immediate experience of God. Self-delusion; nothing other than self-delusion.

So in summary, I would say give science a chance. Give science this simple understanding of the world. This simple explanation of all there is can come from science. If science fails to deliver this side of the grave, then by all means turn to religion.

MODERATOR: I think it would be worth our while to spend a little while on the question of agnosticism. That was raised by Dr. Craig. The question was rather graphically put when he said, the magician does not require that the existence of something depend on any proffered reasons as to why it ought to exist. That is to say, if something can exist, even when all of the known etymological reasons why it is asserted to exist are proved invalid.

So let’s begin by asking Dr. Atkins why there is that sense of certitude in his arguments. One could understand why the Christian engages in certitude. You believe or you do not believe. But if you believe that God does not figure in the creation of the universe, why must you assert that when it seems to be so much more persuasive to say, “There is no reason to believe in God. I, under the circumstances, decline to clutch in with the believer. However, I acknowledge that the question is not closed whether one such exists.” So tell me, Dr. Atkins, why do you need to affirm atheism rather than to admit the possibility of agnosticism?

DR. ATKINS:Well, you have to give intellect its opportunity.[35] So you have to see whether science, in all its glory, can account for whatever religion has been trying to account for, and has so manifestly failed. Science has really emerged over the last 300 years, and has made extraordinary progress in the last 100 years.

MODERATOR:But you say, ‘manifestly failed’ on . . . Manifestly is . . .

DR. ATKINS:Well, yes, of course it’s manifestly failed. It says that there is an incomprehensible creator who made the world for reasons that we will never fathom, did it in a way that we will never know. That is nothing like an explanation. An explanation should be something that we humans, with our extraordinarily powerful minds, can comprehend. To say that you will never comprehend this explanation annihilates the fact that it is an explanation.

MODERATOR:No, because as I understand - though I’ll let Dr. Craig speak for himself - the fact that we will never know does not mean that that which is not known can’t in fact exist.

DR. CRAIG:Exactly! It just leaves you with agnosticism. That’s no proof that there is no such being.

DR. ATKINS:Okay, but I think you can prove that there is no god.

DR. CRAIG:Well what are your arguments for that?

DR. ATKINS: It’s not a mathematical proof; you cannot possibly give a mathematical proof.

DR. CRAIG: Give any kind of argument.

DR. ATKINS: Okay, here’s an ‘any kind of argument.’ Everything that religion claims a god can do can be accounted for by science. So, that’s, if you like, the one branch of the argument. So that there is no need, there is no necessity, for a god because science can account for everything. On the other side of the argument is the reasons why people do believe in God. One can understand why people believe in God. It’s a sense of being aloneI. It’s a sense of bewildermentI. It’s a sense of wishing for power over other people, which is the worst of the reasons. It’s simply a sense of bewilderment. It’s the sense of being alone. You know these feelings far better than I because you obviously believe in them. But taken together with a reason why people believe, desperate to believe, together with the fact that you don’t need, actually, a god, in a sense amounts to an argument against the existence of God.

DR. CRAIG:Well I guess I don’t see that. I mean, why doesn’t that commit the genetic fallacy of trying to say that by explaining how a belief originates, you thereby show the belief to be false? Even if it were true that belief in the existence of God were the product of fear and anxiety and so forth, which I don’t for a minute admit, but even if it were, that’s simply a genetic fallacy to say that because that’s the way the belief originates, that therefore the belief is false.

DR. ATKINS:But that’s only one half of the argument. I’m not saying that that alone is adequate, and I’m not saying that the fact that science can account for everything alone is also adequate, but taken together, the fact that science is omnipotent and the fact that I can understand why people like you desperately want to believe in God, that is an argument against the existence of God.

DR. CRAIG:But two fallacious arguments put together don’t make a sound argument, right?

DR. ATKINS:But two legs are support.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, but the legs have to be sound.

DR. ATKINS: But these are sound. I’m arguing both the sufficiency and the necessity.

DR. CRAIG:The first argument only - if granted, which I don’t grant, I don’t grant the premises - but the first argument will only prove that it’s not necessary to believe in God in order to explain certain things. That doesn’t prove God doesn’t exist. The second argument commits a genetic fallacy of saying that because you can explain how people come to believe in God, therefore God doesn’t exist. Neither of those warrant the conclusion, Therefore God does not exist.

DR. ATKINS:No, I did not say it was going to be a mathematical proof.

DR. CRAIG:No, no, but it has to be valid.

DR. ATKINS:But it is valid in the sense that there is no need for a god. Everything in the world can be understood without needing to invoke a god. You have to accept that that is one possible view to take about the world.

DR. CRAIG:Sure, that’s possible, but . . .

DR. ATKINS:Do you deny that science cannot account for everything?[36]

DR. CRAIG: Yes I do deny that science can account for everything.

DR. ATKINS:So, what can’t it account for?

DR. CRAIG:Well, had you brought that up in the debate I had a number of examples that I was going to give. I think there are a good number of things that cannot be scientifically proven, but that we’re all rational to accept.

DR. ATKINS: Such as?

DR. CRAIG:Let me list five.

Logical and mathematical truths cannot be proven by science. Science presupposes logic and math, so that to try to prove them by science would be arguing in a circle.

Metaphysical truths, like there are other minds other than my own or that the external world is real or that the past was not created five minutes ago with an appearance of age are rational beliefs that cannot be scientifically proven.

Ethical beliefs about statements of value are not accessible by the scientific method. You can’t show by science whether the Nazi scientists in the camps did anything evil as opposed to the scientists in western democracies.

Aesthetic judgments, number four, cannot be accessed by the scientific method because the beautiful, like the good, cannot be scientifically proven.

And finally, most remarkably, would be science itself. Science cannot be justified by the scientific method. Science is permeated with unprovable assumptions. For example, in the special theory of relativity, the whole theory hinges on the assumption that the speed of light is constant in a one-way direction between any two points A and B. But that strictly cannot be proven. We simply have to assume that in order to hold to the theory.

DR. ATKINS:But you’re missing the whole point.

MODERATOR: So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Dr. Atkins.

DR. ATKINS:Okay, yes. Okay.

DR. CRAIG:So none of these beliefs can be scientifically proven and yet they are accepted by all of us, and we’re rational in doing so.

DR. ATKINS:But what you have to accept is that science is a network, a reticulation of ideas, that there’s an interaction of ideas that come from a wide variety of sources, that in order to understand the very large, one has to in fact understand the very small. It’s a network of ideas which where they flow together do not annihilate each other but support each other. Science is, in a sense, a self-consistent way of looking at the world, and in that sense it gets its authority.

I’d also disagree with, let me think of the point you made, with the possibility that it can elucidate aesthetics. I see no reason why it can’t at least begin to show why we regard some sounds and chords, if you like, as attractive, whereas dissonances are unattractive. I think it’s quite possible for us to anatomize a picture. We can see why, say, the Golden Section is attractive, in a sense. We might not be able to look at this stage in our understanding of aesthetics and say that the Mona Lisa is the most beautiful thing on earth, but at least we can begin to analyze our perception of beauty. And you will only get a full appreciation of aesthetics and religious belief and all that other stuff when one has a full understanding of consciousness, which is the most important, outstanding problem in current science.

DR. CRAIG:Those are not, however, themselves, aesthetic judgments that you’re talking about. Those are judgments about why we perceive something to be beautiful and ugly. But that is not itself an aesthetic judgment. It’s like the ethical . . .

DR. ATKINS:I think it’s quite possible to build a machine that decides whether a particular chord is pleasant or unpleasant.

DR. CRAIG:But you’d have to instruct the machine.

DR. ATKINS:No you wouldn’t, you’d have to train it just as we are trained. Just as we live up in a world full of Western music and a Japanese grows up in a world full of Eastern music, so you actually change by a kind of neuronal network.

MODERATOR:We are instructed by conventional arrangements.

DR. ATKINS:Yes, but aesthetics is largely convention.

DR. CRAIG:Well, now wait . . .

DR. ATKINS:Just as ethics is largely convention.

DR. CRAIG:Those are statements which are not scientific statements. Those are philosophical statements about these subjects which cannot be justified scientifically.

DR. ATKINS:But you can explore the origins of ethics. You can explore the evolutionary origins of ethics and see that they are conventions that have emerged under genetic control in part but also by the application of our massive brains.

DR. CRAIG:At best that would show how moral values are discovered, but it would not show that therefore moral values are invented, or are mere conventions.

DR. ATKINS:Of course it would!

DR. CRAIG:That is a statement that is a philosophical statement that goes beyond the realm of science.

MODERATOR:Now, I want to hardly even change the subject but I don’t want the entire half hour to go without having some recognition of Christ.[37] Now, David Hume as we all know said that it is easier to believe that human testimony has erred than that the laws of nature were suspended. Now he said that athwart x amount of evidence, that the laws of nature had been suspended. You cited some incidences. Let me ask Dr. Atkins this. Does your rooted position require that under no circumstances should the laws be suspended, so that for instance the recorded testimony of 100 scientists at Lourdes, that certain inexplicable cures actually happened, inexplicable by the laws of nature, do you simply take the David Hume position that there has got to be an error in human testimony, because you are pro priori committed to its impossibility?

DR. ATKINS:Yes, I think if you think of miracles at Lourdes, there are two possible explanations. One is that the reporters are liars, which is the Hume position, and that of course is quite likely to be the case, but is not the only possibility. The other possibility is that some kind of cure did take place which the doctors who are reporting that they didn’t understand what went on simply didn’t understand. I believe that anything that has been reported reliably, anything, can be interpreted scientifically within the framework of modern science.

MODERATOR:Now, Dr. Craig, you believe that the testimony to the resurrection of Christ is something which is historically impossible or simply difficult to contradict?

DR. CRAIG:I wouldn’t say impossible. In matters of history we don’t talk in terms of absolutes. But I would say that there are those three established facts, which . . .

DR. ATKINS:They’re not established facts. I’m sorry, they are repetitions of what is written in the Bible.

DR. CRAIG:Well, insofar as you say that, Dr. Atkins, you disagree with the majority of New Testament historians, who say that these facts do belong to the portrait of the historical Jesus.

DR. ATKINS:But most of the historians of the New Testament are believers themselves and are desperate for it to be true, and they make it true by assertion.

DR. CRAIG:I think that’s a very naive view of New Testament criticism today.

DR. ATKINS:They certainly cannot prove that it is true.

DR. CRAIG: Not in the sense of a mathematical proof, but in the sense of a historical proof.

MODERATOR: Can we prove that Caesar was killed?

DR. CRAIG:Well, exactly, it’s the same sort of . . .

DR. ATKINS:There were real witnesses to Caesar’s death and on the day that it happened; there were no witnesses on the day that Jesus purported to die.

DR. CRAIG:Now, you’re not denying that the crucifixion of Jesus was therefore a historical fact are you?

DR. ATKINS: It’s quite likely he was crucified; at least, someone was.

DR. CRAIG:Yes, okay, and now was he then buried by Joseph of Arimathea, as the Gospels report?

DR. ATKINS:That’s what they wrote 80 years later . . .

DR. CRAIG:Not 80 years.

DR. ATKINS: But I can’t remember who buried my mother.

MODERATOR:Maybe there was no reason to memorialize that burial.

DR. CRAIG:I think it’s important to understand that the New Testament critics who look at the New Testament are not as you say these biased believers desperate to believe in this. German New Testament criticism, which I have done my doctoral work in, is enormously skeptical and enormously influenced by the same anti-miraculous presuppositions that you evinced. And yet the majority of critics today have found themselves driven to accept the facts of the empty tomb, the appearance of Jesus, and the . . .

DR. ATKINS:There were 87,000 appearances of Elvis last year, weren’t there? Princess Diana is going to be the next person to be seen.

DR. CRAIG:Now wait, but are you admitting though, now, that they did have these experiences of appearances, but that they were hallucinations?

DR. ATKINS:I can believe . . . there are two possibilities. One is that they were hallucinations, that they really so missed their leader that they were desperate to see him and they just invented this. The other is that it’s just a straightforward lie.

MODERATOR:Do you know of twelve people who are prepared to commit their lives to the apparition of Elvis even to the point of suffering hideous deaths?[38]

DR. ATKINS: I think that I (and I note your impartiality in this debate), I think that if I took twelve simple fishermen wandering around the banks of Lake Galilee, I think that they would look for something that they could devote their lives to.

MODERATOR:Simple like Paul? He wasn’t one of the twelve, but . . . Okay, let me pick on you, Dr. Craig.

DR. ATKINS:That's better. About time too, with a real question.

MODERATOR:Why, if everything you say is correct, doesn’t the implicit logic of what you say totally command the academic community? Why is there so much skepticism if what you say is, to use his words, so “manifestly correct”?

DR. CRAIG:I never said it was manifestly correct. I think you can argue about any of these points, but I think that on balance the premises are more plausible than their negations. Take the first argument that I gave. Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist, therefore the universe has a cause. It seems to be me that only a presuppositional antipathy toward theism would cause someone to reject those premises.

MODERATOR:This strikes you as extremely clear. Why doesn’t it strike other people as extremely clear?

DR. CRAIG:Well, as I said, I think some folks have an antipathy toward theism. Like Dr. Atkins.It is so evident that he’s got his mind made up when he said what are the possibilities for explaining these resurrection appearances? The possibilities were lying or hallucinating. There wasn’t even a possibility that they were telling the truth, that God really had done this. In other words, it’s ruled out in advance.

DR. ATKINS:Well, I think it’s so unlikely that anything like that could happen that you have to look at the simpler explanations first. Go for the simpler explanations. Only if the simpler explanation fails and is explicitly shown to fail go to the more complicated one.

DR. CRAIG:I agree, I agree entirely with that.

DR. ATKINS:And the breakdown of the laws of nature by the intrusion of the finger of God is not a simple way of proceeding.

DR. CRAIG:You’re misusing the criterion of simplicity. That’s not what simplicity means. It means don’t multiply causes beyond necessity. And in this case the hypothesis that these men were lying or were hallucinating is simply implausible given their willingness to die for their beliefs which shows sincerity, and given the un-Jewish nature of the belief which they came to hold which couldn’t have been the product of their own imaginations.

DR. ATKINS:People go for a living death by throwing themselves into nunneries and into to monasteries.

DR. CRAIG: But they believe that it’s true.

DR. ATKINS: They believe that it’s true but they’re wasting their lives because of it.

DR. CRAIG: But the point is that they really sincerely believe it, they’re not lying, and that was the point that was being made here before.

DR. ATKINS: So these twelve fishermen also believed it.

DR. CRAIG:Okay, so you’re going to admit they weren’t lying.

DR. ATKINS:I can accept that if it is true then it is possible that they were not lying. But these were simple-minded people, and they were surrounded by miraculous events said to be going on. Maybe they just wanted to join in for the notoriety of being involved in amazing events. People who were bored. There wasn’t much to do in Palestine at that time.

DR. CRAIG:So they invented the resurrection of Jesus and endangered their lives because they were bored?

DR. ATKINS:A committee invented it 70 or 80 years after the event.

DR. CRAIG:Well that’s impossible because we have information from Paul’s letters that date within five years after the crucifixion of this belief in 1 Corinthians 15:3, so it’s impossible to talk about 70 years later. This belief flourished within a few years.

DR. ATKINS: But you don’t deny that the Gospels were tampered with?

DR. CRAIG:I do deny that, of course. We have the Gospels. I took Greek so that I could read them in the original text. And the original text is reconstructed to within 99%...

DR. ATKINS:What was the word you used?

DR. CRAIG: The original text.

DR. ATKINS: They were reconstructed?

DR. CRAIG:Yes, textual criticism.

DR. ATKINS: They’re not reliable.

DR. CRAIG:Are you suggesting that the text of the New Testament that we have today does not faithfully represent the Greek text as it was originally written?

DR. ATKINS: I’m claiming that the Gospels are not a correct representation of what happened 70 or 80 years before they were written.

DR. CRAIG: 70 or 80 years before they were written would be . . .

DR. ATKINS: When was the first Gospel written?[39]

DR. CRAIG: Generally it would be said around AD70. I think earlier.

DR. ATKINS: Indeed, that’s what I mean, 70 or 80 years.

DR. CRAIG: Okay, but that would be after the birth of Christ. Jesus died in AD 30.

MODERATOR:We only have five minutes, which is all the time we can give to the New Testament. Let’s find out about this poison business. I thought that was extremely interesting.

DR. ATKINS:I don’t remember writing that.

DR. CRAIG: I have it in my briefcase.

MODERATOR: Did Dr. Craig misrepresent you, when he said that in your treatment of poison you don’t distinguish the administration of poison from simply the event of the end of life?

DR. ATKINS: I honestly don’t remember writing this, but if you say I wrote it…

DR. CRAIG:Yes, I have it in my briefcase.

DR. ATKINS: Maybe I was hallucinating at the time when I wrote it.

DR. CRAIG: Well, I think the point was that whether a person dies because someone’s administered poison to him or because the body just forms its own poison because it’s ill and dies, that you said there’s no moral distinction. But that’s clearly transgressing the bounds of science. Science could prove that there . . .

DR. ATKINS: That’s nonsense!

DR. CRAIG: But those are your words!

DR. ATKINS: Well, so you say, but I think they’re nonsense now.

DR. CRAIG: Oh well, alright. I do, too.

DR. ATKINS: If this is what I wrote, then I think it’s nonsense. They’re obviously taken out of context.

MODERATOR: Have we concluded that one? Well, then let’s [inaudible] . . . and get on the question of whether . . . Defend this proposition Dr. Craig. You said that in order to believe in moral absolutes, you have to believe in God. Why is that true?

DR. CRAIG: Well, we agree on this point, that if there is no God, then there are no objective moral values because moral values are just the sociobiological spinoff of cultural and biological evolution. But my argument is . . .

MODERATOR:Well, Kant of course, Immanuel Kant, argued that there is an autonomy of ethics, that a ratio summation can actually parse… . . .

DR. CRAIG:Yes, though that’s not an issue that divides us here tonight, I think we should stick to . . .

DR. ATKINS:No, it’s really the origin of ethics and in my view it’s . . .

DR. CRAIG:No, it’s not the origin though, Dr. Atkins, it’s their objectivity that’s in question. I could admit that this is how our beliefs originate, but then that’s the genetic fallacy againI. If you say because our beliefs originate in this way that therefore the beliefs are false, that’s simply a fallacious form of argumentation. I would say there’s no more reason to deny that there is an objective realm of moral values than the objective realm of physical objects. And any argument you could give me to be skeptical about the objectivity of moral values I could give a parallel argument why we should be skeptical about our sensory intuitions and doubt that there is an external world.

DR. ATKINS:But it comes back down to whether you will accept a simpler explanation, or whether you insist upon there being a more complex explanation. That’s all it comes down to.

DR. CRAIG:You’re misusing the criterion.

MODERATOR: Management says we have to quit, sorry.

DR. ATKINS:It comes down to that at every stage of your argument.

MODERATOR:So we’ve figured out the rational reasons why Romeo fell for Juliet?

DR. ATKINS: Yes, I think you can begin to understand why one person might fall in love with another.

MODERATOR:Thank you very much. Now we’re going to hear some closing comments before the questions from the floor beginning with Dr. Craig for seven minutes and then Dr. Atkins for seven minutes.

DR. CRAIG:In my closing statement I would like to draw together the threads of this debate and summarize the arguments that have been presented. The question facing us tonight was What was the evidence for and against the existence of God? And I think it’s been very evident in tonight’s debate that Dr. Atkins by his own admission has been unable to shoulder his share of the burden of proof in providing any argument, any evidence, against the existence of God. He’s only been able to argue that the God postulate is unnecessary or that my arguments do not prove God, but remember, as Professor Nielsen stated, the failure of an argument to prove a conclusion doesn’t show that that conclusion is false. So even if all my arguments fail, at best we’re left with agnosticism, and we’ve not heard any evidence tonight that God does not exist.

Now what about the arguments I gave that God does exist? Well, I think that these arguments still stand.

First, the argument from the origin of the universe. We saw that Dr. Atkins agrees that whatever begins to exist has a cause.

Secondly, the universe began to exist, he agrees. He doesn’t agree that the universe has a cause, however, because he doesn’t think that the universe exists. He thinks there is nothing, and I pointed out why this is fallacious. First of all, it is fallacious because even though you have a balance of positive and negative energy, that doesn’t mean that there is therefore no energy.[40] If you have a jar of electrons with negative charge, and a jar of positrons with positive charge and they exactly cancel out, does that therefore mean there is no energy? Well, obviously not; there is still something. Secondly, I quoted Christopher Isham to point out that even if there is no material cause of the origin of the universe, you still need to have a productive cause to bring the positive and negative energy into being, and he doesn’t deny the point. Thirdly I argued that if Dr. Atkins really is saying that nothing exists, then this is self-evidently absurd because I at least exist and that’s undeniable. If he backs off and says however, “No, there is something now,” then the argument comes into play that if there is something, that whatever begins to exist therefore has a cause. There must be a transcendent cause of the universe, and I argued that this cause must be timeless, changeless, immaterial, and personal. None of those arguments were ever attacked tonight. So I don’t think that Dr. Atkins has succeeded in proving that my arguments fail to show that God exists. On the contrary, all he’s offered is a self-contradictory alternative – metaphysical mumbo-jumbo about mathematical points coming into existence and bringing space and time into being – an account which simply cannot be true.

Secondly, what about the complex order in the universe? I argued, number one, that the fine tuning of the initial conditions is due to either law, chance, or design. Secondly I argued that it’s not due to law or chance. I pointed out that his reasoning to try to show it could be by chance was simply based upon an incorrect analogy concerning the lottery. He didn’t deny the point. I gave four reasons why the God hypothesis is superior to the many worlds hypothesis. He didn’t offer any refutation of any of those. And finally I argued that there is no Theory of Everything that would show that in addition to natural laws that these initial conditions and quantities are physically necessary. So that the design hypothesis is really the only explanation that seems to be tenable. There is an intelligent designer of the world.

Thirdly I argued that the presence of objective moral values points to God. We agreed that if God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. But I argued secondly that it’s evident that there are objective moral values. Remember John Healey’s statement about torture. Government-sanctioned murder. What the Nazis did in the holocaust. Ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. The killing fields of Cambodia. It seems to me that it is evident that there is really right and wrong. And if that is true and if you agree with that point with me tonight, then you will agree with me that therefore God exists.

Fourth, as to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, Dr. Atkins simply said that we shouldn’t believe the messenger; we should always disbelieve the messenger rather than believe the miracle. It seems to me that this is simply an incorrect and fallacious argument. The hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead is not improbable. What is improbable is that Jesus rose naturally from the dead. And I would agree with him that any hypothesis is more probable than that; conspiracy, illusion, lying; anything is more probable than that the cells of Jesus’ body all spontaneously came back to life again. But that’s not the hypothesis. The hypothesis is that God raised Jesus from the dead, and I don’t think he’s shown that that is improbable. Indeed, given the specific evidence agreed to by the majority of New Testament historians, I think that it is quite probable that in fact Jesus rose from the dead. R. T. France, who was a New Testament scholar at Oxford, makes the following point. He says, “Ancient historians, Greco-Roman historians, have sometimes commented that the degree of skepticism with which New Testament scholars approach their sources is far greater than would be thought justified in any other branch of ancient history.”[41] So that when you look at these New Testament historians, they are extremely skeptical about their sources, and yet they have been compelled to agree to the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ faith, and I know of no plausible naturalistic explanations for those facts.

Finally number five, the immediate experience of God. Dr. Atkins says, Well this is just a self-delusion. Well, I invite him to prove this. Will he appeal to Freudian psychology? This is clearly jaded and out of date. What will he do to prove that it is delusory? Until he can give me some reason to think God doesn’t exist, why should I think my experience of God is delusory?

In fact, I myself wasn’t raised in a church-going home or in a Christian family.[42] But as a teenager I began to ask the big questions in life, about the meaning of my existence, the purpose of life. And in the search for answers I began to read the New Testament. And as I did I was captivated by the person of Jesus of Nazareth. There was an authenticity about this man, a ring of truth about what he said, that gripped and captivated me. And to make a long story short, after about six months of the most intense soul-searching, I just came to the end of my rope and I cried out to God. I experienced a sort of spiritual rebirth in my life, and God became an immediate reality to me. A reality which has never left me as I’ve walked with him day by day over the last 30 years. I want to encourage you as I conclude tonight, that if you’re seeking for God in that same way, you do the same thing I did. Pick up the New Testament, begin to read it and ask yourself, “Could this really be true?” I believe it could change your life just as it changed mine.

[27] Kai Nielsen, Reason and Practice (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), pp. 143-4.

[28] 50:00

[29] Christopher Isham, "Quantum Cosmology and the Origin of the Universe," lecture presented at the conference “Cosmos and Creation," Cambridge University, 14 July 1994.

[30] Paul Davies, The Mind of God (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p. 169.

[31] Peter Atkins "Will Science Ever Fail?" New Scientist 135 (August 8, 1992), p. 34

[32] 55:00

[33] Need reference.

[34] 1:00:00

[35] 1:05:00

[36] 1:10:00

[37] 1:15:00

[38] 1:20:00

[39] 1:25:00

[40] 1:30:00

[41] cf. R. T. France, “The Gospels as Historical Sources for Jesus, the Founder of Christianity,” Truth 1 (1985): 86.

[42] 1:35:00

Peter Atkins – Rebuttal

DR. ATKINS:Well, I’m used to hearing travesties of the arguments that I’ve presented and that was I think a pretty fair travesty of what I actually said. Let me take the points in order, and I will accept Dr. Craig’s order just for the sake of convenience.

The origin of the universe. I do not believe that one can extend the concept of causality to an era prior to the existence of time. It is simply primitively naive to talk about causality outside the domain of time. So, I will not accept that the universe had to be caused. It’s entirely different mode of coming into operation which we scientists do not yet know, but which we will find out, and we are on the track of it.

I think the question of complex order; it was also a travesty of my argument about probabilities. If something can happen then it may happen. If something can happen only with very remote possibility then it is possible that if the universe is replicated. And I’m not talking about parallel universes, this is quite a wrong ascription to my argument. I’m talking about the possibilities of many universes actually existing, each of them with a particular mixture of fundamental constants. And it is also wrong to assert that this is outside the domain of physics. If one looks at modern cosmology, modern theories of cosmogenesis, and in particular inflation theory and in particular the possibility of fractal inflation theories, then it is exactly that kind of multiple universe which is being seen as a possibility of occurring at the beginning of everything that we call the current universe. So science is showing that that kind of multiple universe can come into existence, and indeed at this very instant there may be universes coming into existence. It is impossible and improper to deny the power of what science is revealing, even though science may be revealing extraordinary things, on the basis of homespun philosophies and familiarity with what goes on in one’s backyard. Science is exposing a much more subtle basis to the universe than can be dreamt up in the farmyard.

I don’t believe - words have been put into my mouth - that I am destroying the value of meaning of life. I deny that absolutely. I think that if one divests oneself of all the baggage that one has been brought up with and sees the world with the utter clarity that science provides and knowing that one has a brain, that if one is only prepared to use it, can lead to a comprehension of the world. That is an extraordinary achievement, and I can do that without any help from God.

My central point then - my central point - is that it is up to believers to prove, and to prove explicitly, that my bony view of the world (bony in the sense that it’s very simple, starkly simple) is an inadequate theory of all there is.[43]

Before you can move on to the stage where you say, “Ah, it must be God who did it! Ah, it must be God who caused it! Ah, it must be God who gives us morals! Ah it must be God who got Jesus out of the tomb!”, what you have to do is to prove beyond any doubt that the simple view, that all this can happen through the agency of physical law, you have to prove that that is inadequate. I have not heard that tonight. All I have heard is the assertion that God is there doing it. And I think that that is a dereliction of the power of human comprehension, and an abnegation of the human intellect.

I think we ought to give praise not to the Lord, thank goodness, but praise to ourselves that over the centuries, and particularly the last 300 years as we’ve brought scientific observation, mathematical rigor to bear on our analysis of events in the world, that we have got within an inch or two of understanding the great problems that have puzzled people through the ages.

I am proud to be alive at this part of the 20th century where I am on the brink of understanding everything, and I commend you to use your brains because your brains are the most wonderful instruments in the universe. And through your brains you will see that you can do without God. Thank you.

[43] 1:40:00


MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we’re now going to have questions from the floor. So let’s have a question for Dr. Craig. Who would like to ask Dr. Craig . . . yes sir?

QUESTION:You mentioned in your opening speech about the importance of miracles in Jesus’ ministry, and apparently you did so to demonstrate his need to give an evidentiary proof of his divinity beyond the laws of nature, otherwise why would he perform miracles? If our entire salvation is dependent upon accepting Jesus, why does God act in such a hidden fashion today? Why not 2,000 years later give us miracles? Part a few oceans, fire and brimstone a few cities, maybe a few flaming chariots. If we needed 2,000 years ago supernatural evidence to believe supernatural things, why is God so stingy today in denying us that same supernatural evidence considering that so much rides upon it?

DR. CRAIG:Well I would agree with the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal when he said that God has given evidence sufficient for those with an open mind and an open heart, but it’s sufficiently vague so as not to compel those whose hearts are closed.[44] Certainly God could write in sky-writing across the sky, “I exist, repent or perish,” something of that sort; or on every atom he could write, “Created by God.” But I don’t think that God’s under any sort of obligation to offer these kinds of coercive evidences. I think that the evidences he has given are sufficient for someone who’s willing to look at them with an open mind and an open heart.

And I would add this other point too. Although I haven’t talked about this very much tonight, I think that the primary way in which we know God exists is not through these evidences, but it is through this immediate experience of God himself, the fifth point that I talked about. For those who are genuinely seeking God, I believe God will make his existence evident to them. So there is a sort of interior way to God in addition to these exterior proofs.

MODERATOR:Do you want to comment on that, Dr. Atkins?

DR. ATKINS:Yes, but that’s exactly my point, that people are desperate to see the truth of miracles. They stand back and they do not apply the normal laws of logic and evidence. They simply want to believe and therefore they will believe anything.

MODERATOR:A question, please, for Dr. Atkins.

QUESTION:The philosopher from Scotland,[45] David Hume, pointed out that we as human beings don’t really have any rational basis for believing in the uniformity of nature; that the future will be like the past. Dr. Atkins, as a Christian I can believe that the future will be like the past, or nature is uniform because I believe that God created the universe, and this universe reflects the uniformity which God has imposed upon it through his governing. I’d like to ask, in the atheistic worldview, the presupposition that there is no God and that all we have is matter in motion, what is your basis for believing that the future will be like the past?

DR. ATKINS:Well I don’t believe it will be like the past because I believe in continuing evolution. I believe that the universe is expanding, and therefore the universe in the future will not be like the universe in the past. I also believe, but on a deeper level if I could respond there, on the cogency and continuity of physical law because physical laws are commentaries on the behavior of matter and of radiation and whatever else you want to include. And so I see, because matter and radiation don’t change their character, physical laws do not change their character. I see the universe evolving into the future, changing as it goes, but the physical laws that underlie the universe will not change.

DR. CRAIG:Do I get a counter-response, or not?


DR. CRAIG:I don’t think Dr. Atkins perceived the force of the question. The point of the question is that this assumption that the laws of nature remain constant into the future, is precisely that, it is an unprovable assumption that shows again that you cannot justify science scientifically. You have to begin with certain assumptions.

DR. ATKINS:That’s nonsense.

DR. CRAIG:What is?

DR. ATKINS:That we can’t believe that laws remain constant. We only have to look at a distant star, a distant galaxy, where we’re actually looking at the physics of 1014 years ago.

DR. CRAIG:I think the point is that you can’t justify inductive reasoning, by means . . .

DR. ATKINS:Who cares about inductive reasoning? It’s empirical observation.

MODERATOR:I think we have to interrupt this or you’re both so interesting, we could do this all night long. So let’s have the next question, the next question is for Dr. Craig, am I correct?

QUESTION:It would be terrible if we never got to my question. I’m Ed Buckner from the Atlanta Freethought Society. Dr. Craig, if you insist that objective moral values really exist, explain why Christians have never been able to agree on what they are, from one sect to another, from one historical era to another, from one issue (and you mentioned one tonight), torture, slavery, abortion, genocide and so forth, to another, and if your answer is just that “man is sinful,” then are you admitting that in fact objective morality is not available to humankind?

DR. CRAIG:I’m not saying that because there are objective moral values, that all moral decisions are easy, or that there aren’t areas of gray in which there might be moral disagreement. I’m simply just saying that there really are unethical decisions, right and wrong choices. Sometimes these are very clear. I think every one of us would agree that to torture a child for fun is morally wrong. But we would probably have much disagreement here tonight about, say, whether abortion is ethically viable or not. So, to say that there are objective moral values is not to say that ethics are easy, or that they are necessarily easy to discern. Certainly there are ethical conundrums.

MODERATOR:A question for Dr. Atkins?

QUESTION:This question is rather simple and it may be rhetorical. How can we, as an integral part of this universe, or rather a product of this universe, be objective in this issue, as well as any issue?

MODERATOR:Are you interested in objectivity tonight, Dr. Atkins?

DR. ATKINS:Yes, I’m interested in objectivity. I think it’s amazing that science is a route to objectivity. That is its secret. I think religion depends upon subjectivity; science is a mechanism for achieving objectivity. It stands back from . . . it’s a public procedure, and that’s the remarkable difference between it and religion. It’s public, it’s transnational, it’s trans-cultural, and it’s rooted in the logical power of mathematics. And we’ve seen how far it has brought us in 100 years.

MODERATOR:Question for Dr. Craig?

QUESTION:Yes, when I came tonight, I thought that we were discussing God in general, but it seems to me, Dr. Craig, that you only talked about the God of Christianity. My question is: why are you Christian? There are literally hundreds of gods out there, several of which are mutually exclusive, like Christians claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven, Muslims claim that Allah is the only way to Paradise, Zoroastrians say the same thing about their religion. All of these religions more or less have just as many devout followers as you, or at one time had. All of these religions have doctrines similar to the Bible which can be used to disprove the other doctrines wrong. And also, all of these religions provide quick and easy answers to issues such as the origin of the universe and the afterlife. Without using faith as a reason, because all of these religions require faith, why do you assume that your religion is the only one that’s right?

DR. CRAIG:Well, I don’t assume that Christianity is the only one that’s right. I try to give evidence for that, and my evidence would be the person of Jesus of Nazareth. When you look at the personal claims that Jesus of Nazareth made, to be the revelation of God the Father, the only revelation of God to mankind, and he authenticated this by his resurrection from the dead, these are historical claims that can be investigated using the ordinary tools of historiography and ancient history.

DR. ATKINS:Just as they can for Mohammed. Just as they can for the Buddha.

DR. CRAIG:Oh, not at all. When I did my doctoral work in Germany, I made Islam my side area of expertise that I was examined in. When you compare for example what the Qur’an has to say about Jesus, it incorporates demonstrably legendary elements into the story that came hundreds of years after the events. The Qur’an was written down 600 years later by a man who had no firsthand acquaintance at all with the New Testament, compared to documents which are indisputably from the first century, written during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses, by the first generation after the events. I think that there is no doubt that when you assess it by purely objective historical standards, the New Testament documents come out head and shoulders above something like the Qur’an, when it comes to an account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. So I would just invite you to look at the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and see if this man might not have been telling the truth. I think that he was.

DR. ATKINS:But what the Qur’an says about Mohammed is just as believable as what the New Testament says.

DR. CRAIG:Right. I don’t deny the facts about Mohammed.

MODERATOR: A question for Dr. Atkins?

QUESTION: Yes, I have a question for Dr. Atkins. Dr. Atkins, at the very beginning of your opening statement, you admitted that the task for the atheist to establish his position as truth is to explain absolutely everything, everything of the body as well as of the spirit, the entirety of the physical universe and our own nature, both inside and out. And you admitted that at this point in time science can’t do that. You have asked us repeatedly, throughout the evening, to give science a chance.

Isn’t it true that Christians and other theists are quite willing to let scientists explain what science really can explain, but that we maintain that your position is an irrational faith, that somehow human intellect is omniscient, or at least potentially omniscient, and even omnipotent in some respect, and that you have enormous faith in your own mind and your own ability to explain everything, and in science to do that which the vast majority of humankind for its entire history has recognized cannot be explained in such a way? Don’t you have much more faith in your science than Christians do, or other theists do, in their God?

DR. ATKINS:No. I think you have more faith in your god than I have in mine. More vacuous faith as it were in your god than I have faith in science. I think that what you have to do is to judge the progress of science over the last 300 years, or if you like, really since it’s really been serious science, since the turn of the twentieth century, the beginning of the twentieth century, and you can see the extraordinary progress that has been made. It’s made more progress in 100 years than religions have made in 5,000 years, and there’s every reason to suppose that it’s a not-yet-stopped razor, it will go on slicing through the fabrics of the heavens and account for everything there is in the world, and the principal point is that it will do it with the prospect of human comprehension - that you and I will be able to understand the answers that it comes up with, just as we are understanding what it’s currently training us to see as the nature of the world, and moreover that it will do it this side of the grave.[46] Now, any system of knowledge, of understanding, of comprehension, which says “you’ll understand it when you’re dead,” is an evil distortion of what it means to understand.

DR. CRAIG:But no one has made that claim. I think it’s important tonight to see that this is not a debate between science versus religion. I’m excited about scientific progress, as are you, because . . .

DR. ATKINS:But you misuse that.

DR. CRAIG:It’s been during this century that we’ve discovered things like the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe for intelligent life. It seems to me that it is the very progress of science which has pointed toward God.

MODERATOR:We have two questions backed up here.

QUESTION:Dr. Craig, I take exception with your first cause leap of reason from the universe has a cause, and therefore that cause is God. Where did you make that leap that the cause must be God? It could be a number of things we can’t even conceive yet.

DR. CRAIG: Okay, I dealt with that in some detail in my first speech because I realized this would be a major issue dividing us tonight. I argued that the origin, or the cause, of the universe must be uncaused, timeless, changeless, immaterial, personal, and have an unimaginable power. And basically the reasoning behind that is because, as the cause of space and time, this being cannot itself be in space and time. It must transcend them, and therefore must be changeless and immaterial. Because anything in space and time is changing and physical. That’s where Dr. Atkins' scenario, by contrast, is self-contradictory. This dust of mathematical points which he talks about swirling and forming a universe again and again and then it dissolves and it reforms and it dissolvesand finally it holds into this universe; that’s explicitly self-contradictory, in proposing a time before time.

MODERATOR: Dr. Atkins, I’ll give you one minute to reply to that because there’s the next question pending.

DR. ATKINS: Deep questions in one minute. I think you distort what I’m saying. I mean, it was you who put the words into my mouth. I wrote similar words, but they’re much more careful, more sophisticated words than the ones that you were using.

DR. CRAIG: Those were direct quotations, Dr. Atkins.

DR. ATKINS: Yes, but . . .

MODERATOR: Okay we’ll go to the question from the Internet, how do we handle that?

MODERATOR 2: Dr. Atkins, you ask us to divest ourselves of preconceptions. Does this include the epistemological preconditions of all rational thought? If so, how then does one proceed? If not, what criteria do you use to determine what preconceptions we should start with? Secondly, how is it possible to be epistemologically neutral?

DR. ATKINS: Well, I think one doesn’t divest oneself of rational thought. I think that I agree, there’s a certain foundation on which all these arguments are based. One of them is the existence and power of rational thought. The other is the self-consistency of logic. I think we would probably both agree on that. So, those are the substratum of all the arguments that both of us would take part in.

MODERATOR: A question for Dr. Craig?

MODERATOR 2: Your definition of “begins to exist,” namely that “x begins to exist when x exists at t; there is no time immediately prior to t at which x exists; and the actual world contains no state of affairs involving x's timeless existence”[47], contains one clause that is not known, a priori, by any means, and one that seems decidedly ad hoc. How do you answer those that claim that your use of this definition is unjustified and disingenuous?

DR. CRAIG: Boy, Donald, why did you pick that one out of all those from the Internet? This concerns a philosophical definition of what it means to begin to exist, and the reader has obviously read something of what I have written on that concept. The reason I would try to justify it is this, is you want to get an intuitive concept of what it means for something to come into existence at some point but that wouldn’t rule out a priori things like time itself having a beginning. So for example you couldn’t say to begin to exist means “to exist at a time T, and that there is a time before T at which this thing doesn’t exist,” because then time itself couldn’t have a beginning, because there could never be a time before time.[48] So my attempt was to craft a definition which would capture our intuitive idea of something beginning to exist, but wouldn’t rule out a priori things like the existence of timeless being, or the existence of a beginning to time itself.

DR. ATKINS: But you see a timeless being is just gobbledygook. It doesn’t mean anything at all.

DR. CRAIG: Oh, I don’t see any reason to think that this is incoherent, you have to give an argument for that.

DR. ATKINS: On the contrary, you have to give the argument for the existence of a timeless being.

DR. CRAIG: I gave an argument for the existence of it.

DR. ATKINS: You are claiming that there is a timeless being. That’s a totally meaningless remark, and it either has to be explained or withdrawn.

MODERATOR: A question for Dr. Atkins?

QUESTION: Yes, Dr. Atkins, it would seem to me in an atheistic universe that if we took a hypothetical example of Adolf Hitler, that’s obviously not hypothetical, but if we carry it to the extent that, let’s suppose that society decided for whatever reasons that they wouldn’t have punitive damages against someone like Hitler, because there is no such thing as right and wrong. As far as I’m understanding what you’re saying about the universe.

DR. ATKINS: No. I’m saying there is right and wrong, they’re not objective.

FOLLOWUP: Okay, well the question is what is the basis for it, because in other words, if Hitler lives his life and he’s not punished and he’s not overthrown, let me finish the question, and Mother Teresa lives her life and she goes through, and they both die, in your universe as I’m understanding it, there’s no difference between the two of them when they die. There’s no such thing as real justice in the universe, because in your scenario . . .

DR. ATKINS: Well there isn’t justice in the universe, really. I mean there’s the [inaudible] freewill . . .

FOLLOWUP: And you’re . . .

DR. ATKINS: But, no I’m not. I think that I, speaking as an atheist, can identify what is probably the springs of my own morality, which is not to intrude upon the aspirations of other people. Now, it seems to me that Hitler did intrude pretty heavily on the aspirations of an awful lot of people.

DR. CRAIG: But was that morally wrong?

DR. ATKINS: And I also think that Sister Teresa also intruded, not so damagingly, but she’s got a lot to answer for, too.

DR. CRAIG: Is it objectively morally wrong to kill Jews? Is it objectively morally wrong to kill Jews because they are Semitic?

DR. ATKINS: It is wrong because it intrudes on other people’s aspirations. I don’t know what the word “objective” means, because you’re trying to trap me.

DR. CRAIG: “Independently of whether anybody believes in these values or not.” That’s what I mean by “objective.” It seems to me on your view you simply have to say, This is a way that the evolutionary genome of the Homo sapiens species propagates itself, but there’s nothing really wrong with killing Jews.

DR. ATKINS: Well, I think if you were to turn that into caterpillars and wasps, then they kill each other, and they don’t have qualms about it.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, right.

DR. ATKINS: It’s just because we have an intellect that can analyze what is really involved in killing the Jews. And, we find it repugnant because it’s, well it’s an intrusion into their liberties, thwarting of their aspirations, it’s doing something that we wouldn’t want to be done to ourselves. It’s all those things, good and evil is a whole complex of responses and behaviors, which we, being conscious beings, can judge the consequences of.

MODERATOR: Dr. Atkins, Dr. Craig, ladies and gentlemen, excuse me, I’ve been told to make a few closing remarks, because we have to cut out exactly in three minutes and 35 seconds. I want to thank the principals very much for their enlightening and impassioned contributions, and to thank you all. And especially you over there, who were so annoyed by my partisanship.

My role is a little bit difficult here, so what can I say that is consistent with the role of the moderator? Well, I do remember that Mencken was once asked, what if after he died he suddenly found himself in the company of angels? “Well,” he said, “I guess I would say, ’I was mistaken.’” Now, I don’t know whether it is a part of the faith of atheism to acknowledge the possibility of being mistaken, but I do think that the arguments tonight do strengthen the relative moderation of one position over against another; I think I heard Dr. Atkins say that our belief could not be defended if in fact it failed to prove everything and to make everything understandable.[49] That has not been my understanding of it.

In my book I quote the theologian, the bishop actually, Butler. He was cited once by somebody who said that Well, you know, Butler had the only answer you can give in a situation like that, which is that if he had made the universe, things would have been a little bit different. Butler’s escape I find extremely useful, i.e., there is a lot about understanding and about these quarrels which would be more transparent if you had created the universe and faced up to all these quandaries. But I do think that I can’t go to sleep tonight without giving some vague communication of my own sentiments on the matter. It seems to me that there is a poetry in the one position that does not require satisfactory answers to all questions.

So to the extent that we are concerned with the empirical argument, I was much boosted when I read at age seventeen the comment 100 years ago by somebody who turned to the young scholar and said, “I would rather believe in God than believe that you can deduce Hamlet from the molecular structure of a mutton chop.” I find that still a persuasive argument, and I incline towards it.

If one wants to say, “How possibly can you account for the existence of man in a world created by God?”, I think of Professor G. D. H. Cole. He missed the train from Oxford to London one day and sat down rather grumpily to wait for the local train because the express train didn’t stop in Oxford. A few minutes later the express train unaccountably did so he simply opened the door and sat down and the train took off. The conductor approached him and said, “Sir, the train doesn’t stop here.” He said, “I know, and I’m not in it.”

Thank you, and best of luck to both of you.[50]

[44] See Blaise Pascal, Pensées, trans. W.F. Trotter (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1932), No. 430, p. 118.

[45] 1:45:00

[46] 1:50:00

[47] cf.

[48] 1:55:00

[49] 2:05:00

[50] Total Running Time: 2:07:47