Debate With Dr. Kevin Scharp Part 2

Debate With Dr. Kevin Scharp Part 2

Part Two of a rousing debate that included probability, deductive arguments, and arguments from religious experience


Transcript Debate with Dr. Kevin Scharp Part 2

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, there is so much to talk about in this exchange with Dr. Kevin Scharp, which turned out to be full of a lot of valuable things to look at. One of the ways to do that rather than video or audio sometimes is to look at the transcript. So that transcript is available.[1] The slides are not, as of yet, at ReasonableFaith.org[2], but read through the transcript and it will give you an opportunity perhaps to see where both you and he are going.

What Dr. Scharp calls “21st century atheism,” he then goes with what he thinks is evidence (what he calls evidence) for 21st century atheism. So he calls it the confidence argument. His first rather assertion says, “For any familiar god, including capital 'G' God . . .”

DR. CRAIG: By which he means the Christian God.

KEVIN HARRIS: “. . . the evidence is always either in ancient history or someplace where there are few witnesses, or it’s based on someone’s private experience.”

DR. CRAIG: That is very odd, isn't it? Here he is in a dialogue in which I just offered six philosophical arguments for the rationality of belief in God, none of which has to do with ancient manuscripts and only one of which appeals to private experience. I thought he was just out of touch here with what was happening in the dialogue.

KEVIN HARRIS: Certainly you can give historical arguments and things like that, but you didn't in this particular . . .

DR. CRAIG: That was because, as I say, the question was about generic theism, not about Christianity. Kevin, I think, misunderstood the topic to think that because God is capitalized that this meant Christianity. Of course, that is not true. A Jew or a Muslim also speaks of God with a capital-G. We are talking here about a generic monotheism, and his claim is that belief in generic monotheism is incompatible with our best scientific theories. And since we have better evidence for those scientific theories than for theism, we should be atheists. The problem is that he never got around to demonstrating that alleged incompatibility between our best scientific theories and theism. Alvin Plantinga has written a recent book called Where the Conflict Really Lies in which he argues very forcefully that there is no deep conflict between Christian theism and science. Kevin here has a lot more work to do if he is to convince us that Christianity and modern science are incompatible with each other.

KEVIN HARRIS: Sure. Because that is the way he puts it. He says the evidence for any god (small-G or big-G) “conflicts with our best scientific theories in biology, chemistry, and physics, and we should have way more confidence in those scientific theories than in any existing evidence for any familiar god.”

DR. CRAIG: You know, what shows that this is not 21st century at all is the fact that he interprets this incompatibility in terms of the impossibility of miracles. Basically, he is rehearsing here Hume's old argument against miracles from the 18th century. Namely, we have better evidence for the laws of nature than you do for any particular miracle, and therefore you should always believe that the miracle did not occur and believe what science tells you instead. That is Hume's argument against miracles from something like 1738. So far from being 21st century atheism, this is old Humean skepticism which has been refuted again and again and again. Modern philosophers have exposed the fallacy in Hume's argument. John Earman, a noted philosopher of science who is no theist, wrote a book several years ago called Hume's Abject Failure which is his title for Hume's argument against miracles. I think that Kevin here is really trying to pull the wool over the eyes of his audience in convincing them that this is some modern new insight or argument against theism.[3]

KEVIN HARRIS: If I get what he is saying, he is saying that any god that interacts or intervenes in the world is going to show up in our scientific evidence – biological and so on. Any god that does not intervene in the world doesn't cause anything and so doesn't do anything and so it doesn't explain anything. He says that therefore the Christian God would be undermined by the confidence argument because the Christian God has allegedly intervened in human history.

DR. CRAIG: This is the argument against miracles again. He doesn't show any knowledge of, for example, a book like Craig Keener's massive study on miracles in the modern world that there are abundant and well-attested miracle reports today. But even more than that, as I say, it is just a warmed over version of Hume's fallacious argument against miracles which tries to invalidate the particular testimony to a miracle by weighing it in the same scale opposite the evidence for the laws of nature.

KEVIN HARRIS: It just seems to me to be too limited in its scope. If Zeus showed up on Mount Olympus right now and started throwing lightning bolts and CNN and Fox News got it on video and it went live, OK. We would see that there is some kind of finite god or Zeus is up there throwing thunderbolts. So it could be in a sense tested. But we are not talking about finite gods here when we talk about the God of Christianity or the God of classical theism. We are not talking about a God who turns into a swan and is petty and localized.

DR. CRAIG: Right, he is not a sense-perceptible object. But nevertheless I think, as Christians, we do believe in a God of miracles – God has acted in history, particularly in the person of Jesus Christ and raising him from the dead. I think there is very good evidence for belief in that miracle – that God raised Jesus from the dead. I do not see that that is at all incompatible with the belief of modern science that dead men don't rise naturally from the dead.

KEVIN HARRIS: Next, Dr. Scharp brings up divine psychology. I had to admit – maybe I need to read it a few more times – I am not totally sure what is going on here. I get it a little bit with divine psychology. Maybe you can expound a little bit on what he is talking about.

DR. CRAIG: What he means by divine psychology is our ability to say what God would do under certain circumstances. He thinks that the way in which theists like myself answer the problem of evil is by being very skeptical of divine psychology, or very agnostic about what God would do.

So when confronted with a terrible evil, say a child's dying of leukemia or being run over by an automobile, he thinks the theist answers this by saying we don't know what God would do. Maybe God would allow this. This might be part of God's mysterious plan. So he thinks the way the theist answers the problem of evil is by being very skeptical of divine psychology – by being agnostic of what God would do. Basically what Kevin Scharp is saying is that if you are going to be skeptical about divine psychology when it comes to the problem of evil, you also need to be skeptical about it with regard to fine-tuning. You can't say that the fine-tuning is more probable given God's existence than given pure chance because you don't know what God would do.

How might we respond to this argument? Is this a good objection by the atheist? I don't think so. The first point to make is that it is based upon a misunderstanding of the theistic response to the problem of evil. If you look at my work on the problem of evil, what I say is that we are not in a good position to say that it is improbable that God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing some evil to occur. But that is not based upon my skepticism or agnosticism about divine psychology. That is based upon our cognitive limitations, particularly our limitations in time and space. Namely, God's morally sufficient reason for permitting some evil to occur might not emerge in our lifetimes or in the area where we live. It might not emerge until hundreds of years later, perhaps in another country.[4] So given our confinement in time and space, we are not in a good position to say God probable lacks a morally sufficient reason for permitting this. It has nothing to do with divine psychology. It has everything to do with our cognitive limitations.

When it comes then to the fine-tuning argument, I am not at all averse to divine psychology. It doesn't play a role in the problem of evil. So when it comes to the fine-tuning argument, I would say we don't know how probable it is that God would make a finely tuned universe. We can't set some kind of a figure on it. But I think we can say reasonably that it is not highly, highly improbable that if God existed he would create a finely tuned universe. Minimally we can say that it is not as improbable as all of the constants and quantities falling by chance into the life-permitting range. Because that probability is virtually infinitesimal.

KEVIN HARRIS: Amazing.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, it is incomprehensible. But if there is a God – if there is an intelligent creator of the universe – is it infinitesimally improbable that he would create a universe fine-tuned for life with embodied conscious agents like ourselves? Not at all. How can anyone say that is improbable? We can imagine why God would have good reasons for that. Perhaps so that creatures might come to know him and his love personally. It is easy to see plausible reasons that God could have for doing this. Therefore I don't think we can have any confidence in the atheist's claim that it is equally or more improbable that God would create a finely tuned universe than that all these constants and quantities would fall by chance into the life-permitting zone.

So I think the fine-tuning argument goes through successfully, and the response to the problem of evil makes no appeal to divine psychology at all. So there is no inconsistency here.

KEVIN HARRIS: Let's turn now to a chart on a slide that Dr. Scharp put up during this exchange. It is your apologetics model that you usually present in your lectures and debates. When you look at this it is all labeled. It has got some arrows pointing here and there. As we try to describe this, I'll describe it further.[5] He brings out here on the chart at the top: kalam, argument from contingency, ontological, intentionality, mathematics, fine-tuning. Toward the middle: the moral argument, the resurrection, experience, and so on. What are your first impressions of this?

DR. CRAIG: My first impression when I saw this slide put up in the dialogue was, “Wow! This is really an impressive case for theism!”

KEVIN HARRIS: Did I do that?

DR. CRAIG: Yeah! Did I do this? I've never seen such a multifaceted, robust case for Christian theism as this. So I thought this is really something. There is one, two, three, four, five, six, seven arguments for theism that are listed. And then two more arguments for Christian theism. So we've got a total of nine arguments here supporting Christian theism. And he gives the premises for most of them, not all but for most of them, accurately. That was my first impression – this was a very multifaceted and impressive case for Christian theism.

KEVIN HARRIS: The top one, two, three, four, five, six areas point to a generic theism. Some God exists.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, some God exists. Unfortunately, you will notice that the word “god” is with a lowercase-g. That is because Kevin thinks that when you talk about God (with a capital-G) you mean the Christian God. That is simply a mistake. These arguments – like kalam, contingency, ontological, the argument from intentionality, the argument from the applicability of mathematics, the argument from fine-tuning – these point to classical theism: God with a capital-G. They give us a very theologically rich concept of God that is not like Zeus or Thor or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. This is a metaphysically necessary Creator and Designer of the universe who brought the universe into being out of nothing. This is capital-G God.

KEVIN HARRIS: Sounds like a big-G to me!

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, that's right! It may not be the Christian God but it would be the God that would be acceptable to Muslims, Jews, Christians, and deists.[6]

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. He goes from there then to add the moral argument, the resurrection.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. And that is a mistake here. He thinks that the moral argument (for a reason that is not clear to me) is part of the case for Christian theism rather than for theism. And that is wrong.

KEVIN HARRIS: So it belongs there at the top then?

DR. CRAIG: Yes. The moral argument should be listed along with the six arguments at the top as a case for monotheism – the Jew and the Muslim will also agree with this moral argument. You notice that it is slightly incomplete. He has it stated “If God does not exist objective moral values do not exist.” That is an early statement of the argument. But I have since added moral values and duties because I think moral duties are distinct from moral values, and moral duties are even harder to explain on atheism than moral values. With moral values, you could have a sort of Platonism where you'd have these abstract values like Justice and Goodness existing. But there wouldn't be any source of duty, I think, on atheism. Why would I have any moral prohibitions or obligations in the absence of a moral lawgiver? So I think it is important to include duties along with values in the statement of the moral argument. That should be part of the seven arguments supporting generic monotheism.

One other correction that needs to be made is that he forgot the second premise in the fine-tuning argument. He jumps from premise (1) to premise (3) and he forgot to include that the fine-tuning of the universe is not due to physical necessity or chance. Otherwise it will look like a non-sequitur.

KEVIN HARRIS: That was an accident, a typo.

DR. CRAIG: Right. That is just a typo I'm sure.

KEVIN HARRIS: From there the resurrection down at the bottom he lists as pointing to the Christian God.

DR. CRAIG: Right. That will move you then from generic monotheism to Christian theism.

KEVIN HARRIS: Then over in the corner the argument from experience, which you never call an argument but he does bring up experience here.

DR. CRAIG: He has the argument from experience as supporting Christian theism. I think that is fair. It would also support theism, but it would support a Christian theism, I think, in the way that I've stated it.

KEVIN HARRIS: He lists four premises underneath it:

1. Prof. Craig knows that God exists because of his religious experience.

2. The religious experience gives rise to a basic belief that God exists.

3. The religious experience is an intrinsic defeater-defeater.

4. So, Prof. Craig's religious experience is authoritative.

Is he trying to go toward proper basicality?

DR. CRAIG: He has really mangled this argument! It is no wonder he thinks that this is worthless. He hasn't even validly formulated it. It is patently invalid the way he stated it. So it is no wonder he doesn't like this argument.

KEVIN HARRIS: E for effort, but this is not the case.

DR. CRAIG: This is really surprising to me that he would present so mangled a version of this. What is ironic about it – and I am so glad about this – is that I presented the proper formulation of this argument in the very dialogue that evening. So this mangled version comes right on the heals of the proper version that I presented. Here is the way the proper version for the proper basicality of belief in God goes:

1. Beliefs which are appropriately grounded may be rationally accepted as basic beliefs, not grounded on argument.

2. Belief that God exists is appropriately grounded.

3. Therefore, belief that God exists can be rationally accepted as a basic belief, not grounded on argument.

This is basically the epistemology defended by someone like Alvin Plantinga for the proper basicality of belief in God. It does not deserve the sort of condescending scorn that Kevin Scharp pours upon it later in the dialogue. His mangled version perhaps deserves to be treated with scorn – leading to the conclusion “Prof. Craig's religious experience is authoritative.” But it is not an appropriate response to so sophisticated an epistemology as Alvin Plantinga's.

KEVIN HARRIS: That is all we have time for today, but there are two more items that we want to look at. We will save those for the next podcast. One of them is Dr. Scharp's view on Christian apologetics. We will pick that up next time on Reasonable Faith.[7]



[1] For the video and link to the transcript, see http://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/craig-vs-scharp-the-veritas-forum-ohio-state-university (accessed June 27, 2016).

[2] The slides are now available in the transcript itself – see http://www.reasonablefaith.org/debate-is-there-evidence-for-god

[3] 5:09

[4] 10:00

[5] See the slide starting at the 24:15 mark of the video found here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/craig-vs-scharp-the-veritas-forum-ohio-state-university (accessed June 17, 2016).

[6] 15:05

[7] Total Running Time: 20:33 (Copyright © 2016 William Lane Craig)