Debate With Dr. Kevin Scharp Part 3

Debate With Dr. Kevin Scharp Part 3

Dr. Craig discusses critiques of the Moral Argument, and Christian apologetics in general, which came up during the dialogue.


Transcript Debate with Dr. Kevin Scharp Part 3

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, we've been doing a series on your exchange with philosopher Kevin Scharp – a great exchange, and the transcription is available at ReasonableFaith.org.[1] Looking over this transcription really reveals some of the deep subjects that were involved. Where we are in this exchange is up to the moral argument. Dr. Scharp seems to be taking you to task. You seem to think, he says, that the only moral option to the atheist would be evolutionary or biological.

DR. CRAIG: Let's lay out the moral argument for listeners who aren't familiar with it. The argument goes like this:

1. If God does not exist then objective moral values and duties do not exist. (That is to say, everything becomes relative. There is no objective standard of good and evil, right and wrong.)

2. Objective moral values and duties do exist. (There really are some things that are evil; some things that are really right or wrong.)

3. Therefore, God exists.

He thinks that in my defense of the first premise (that if God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist) all I consider is evolutionary ethics or a kind of reductive naturalism where moral values are the spin-offs of the socio-biological process. Sometimes this is called evolutionary psychology. It is an attempt to explain human moral beliefs as just the product of biological and social evolution.

KEVIN HARRIS: He is really right here starting to say you know nothing about ethics because there are so many ethical theories out there. Dozens of theories of moral values and moral duties are objective and they are not naturalist and they make no appeal to God.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. I think that the evolutionary or naturalistic account is the most plausible atheistic account. It seems to me that if atheism is true then this naturalistic account is the most plausible version that the atheist can give. But certainly I'm aware that there are all of these other authors who have tried (I would say desperately) to affirm the reality of objective moral values and duties without God. But simply providing a list, as Dr. Scharp does, does nothing to show their explanatory adequacy; that these are good theories or plausible theories. In fact we know that most of them can't be because they are contradictory with each other. They will agree that there are objective moral values and duties but ground them differently or conceive them differently, and they can't all be true. So we know that most of them are false just by the fact that they are mutually inconsistent. Later in the dialogue Scharp responds, Yes, but they all agree that moral values and duties are objective. Well, fine. That is just premise (2) of the argument. Yes, we do agree with that. But they don't do anything to show that in the absence of God it is plausible to think that there would be objective moral values and duties. In my work I do consider some of these in a generic way. For example, Atheistic Moral Platonism – that moral values are abstractly existing entities that are objective. Or I consider humanism, which I think a great many of these would fall under – various forms of humanism, that human beings are the locus of value, that what promotes the flourishing of human beings is good or what causes harm to human beings is bad. I provide responses to those where I try to show that those are explanatorily inadequate. They involve arbitrary and premature stopping points that just assume, for example, the intrinsic goodness or value of human beings. On atheism I just don't see any reason to think that this relatively advanced primate on this planet would be invested with objective value, much less that he would have objective obligations and prohibitions to fulfill.

KEVIN HARRIS: He does briefly accuse you of cherry-picking. He says you have a great deal of knowledge about cosmology that you use in the kalam argument, but that you reject evolutionary theory and with it contemporary biology so you can't have both. Why? Because they both come from the same scientific community?[2]

DR. CRAIG: This had to be one of the strangest arguments that he offered in the dialogue. He seemed to think that he could undermine the astrophysical evidence for the beginning of the universe by attacking me personally for being skeptical of evolutionary biological theory. Even if that were correct that my skepticism about evolutionary biology is ill-founded and superficial and wrong, that doesn't do anything to refute the cosmological evidence that the universe began to exist. Moreover he is simply wrong when he says that I deny the biological theory of evolution. What I've said is that I'm skeptical that you can explain this extraordinary biological complexity through the twin mechanisms of genetic mutations and natural selection. Here I am in very good company. An evolutionary biologist like Francisco Ayala, for example, whom I debated on intelligent design at the University of Indiana, says virtually the same thing. He says common ancestry is well-established. We don't really understand the mechanisms that led to the evolution of biological complexity. In fact, Ayala has recently come to reject this sort of Neo-Darwinian view and is now looking for additional mechanisms that would supplement mutations and natural selection as the engines that drive the evolution of biological complexity. So I think my position is very well-informed. It is in-line with what some top evolutionary biologists are saying. It is most importantly an open-minded attitude – open to be convinced, open to the evidence. Not denying it, but just saying it hasn't been shown to me yet to be convincing.

KEVIN HARRIS: He wraps up his presentation by saying,

We don’t need to go through much more, partly because, for the apologist, these arguments are just smoke and mirrors anyway, and, as we’ll see, their fate has no impact on the apologist’s belief that God exists. The real heart of this system is the experience argument. We'll turn to that.

I begin to wonder now if he was going to somehow get past this whole contradictory notion of doing apologetics against apologetics. Then also misunderstanding what apologetics does and doesn't do. But I have to say, again, he does get it wrong. He doesn't understand your position on the knowing-versus-showing and what the apologetics enterprise is all about.

DR. CRAIG: With respect to the proper basicality of God you are saying. I was really surprised at this. He says the experience argument, as he calls it, which is the argument that belief in God is properly basic, is supposed to justify being an apologist. I thought, What is he talking about? It is supposed to justify belief in God. This is an argument that belief in God is properly basic and therefore justified and even warranted. It has nothing to do with being an apologist. Moreover, the argument that belief in God is properly basic is independent of the further claim that the warrant for God's existence is an intrinsic defeater of any defeaters brought against it. I believe that. I think that is true. But that is not part of the argument for the proper basicality of belief in God. You could be quite happy to say that belief in God is defeasible. That is originally what Plantinga said – that though properly basic, it is defeasible by objections and so the theist needs to have good answers to the objections.

KEVIN HARRIS: Defeasible meaning it can be defeated?

DR. CRAIG: Defeatable. It can be defeated by, say, the problem of evil. So the theist would need to have a good answer to the problem of evil if his belief in God is to remain properly basic. The idea of an intrinsic defeater-defeater only comes later and is quite independent of this. I think, again, Kevin doesn't understand Plantinga's epistemology and has misconstrued it as somehow an attack upon critical thinking. A person like Alvin Plantinga certainly cannot be accused of being uncritical in his thinking.[3] I remember when I was with him several years ago at the University of Santa Barbara at a Veritas Forum there. Even though he had previously published his work on warrant and belief in God, he was still thinking about these issues. He wanted to run by me some new considerations that he had with respect to the proper basicality of belief in God and its warrant. I thought this man never stops! He still is critically thinking through these issues and examining them. So this is really a cheap shot by Kevin Scharp to say that a person who thinks that belief in God is properly basic is no longer a critical thinker.

KEVIN HARRIS: Well, he says because,

The apologist is concerned first and foremost with defending the belief that God exists. There’s never an attempt to figure out whether it’s true that God exists, and the apologist is completely opposed to even considering that God might not exist.

DR. CRAIG: That's silly. Look at all of the arguments that I've offered for the truth of the proposition that God exists. One certainly considers the arguments against the existence of God. That is even for the person who thinks that it is properly basic, especially if you think that belief in God is defeasible you are going to be interested in these.

KEVIN HARRIS: One might criticize the motivation of an individual apologist. One might criticize the quality of the apologetics and their systems of thinking. But to criticize the entire enterprise?

DR. CRAIG: I am so glad you said that because really you are making the fundamental point. This is an ad hominem argument. This is an argument against people. It has nothing to do with whether or not belief in God is properly basic, whether there are good arguments for God's existence, or whether there are good arguments against God's existence. This is a personal attack upon Christian apologists saying they are not critical thinkers. That has no philosophical interest.

KEVIN HARRIS: We have to mention this. Dr. Scharp says,

When discussing the case of Ryan Bell, the pastor who tried atheism for a year and lost his faith, Professor Craig freely admits that any Christian who allows Christianity to be subject to critical thinking just like any other belief is probably going to end up an atheist.

I don't recall you saying anything like that.

DR. CRAIG: When you and I did these podcasts on Ryan Bell together, this fellow was a former Christian pastor who said he was going to try on atheism for a year and live as an atheist and see what happens. I said at that time the results are predictable because if you cut yourself off from the body of Christ, you no longer pray, you no longer tithe, you no longer worship God, you no longer serve other Christians in the local body of Christ, you alienate yourself from God, of course you are going to drift away from God. It is no wonder that he wound up becoming an atheist. That had nothing to do with critical thinking.

KEVIN HARRIS: If you are mad at the way your local church has been handling some things and so you are going to try on atheism, it might be pretty predictable how you are going to turn out.

DR. CRAIG: What we were talking about at that time was the spiritual issues involved in what he was trying to do. In fact, I am not aware that he engaged in any sort of critical thinking. As I recall, looking at the arguments that he gave, they were very superficial and there was a lack of critical thinking, I believe, as I recall.

KEVIN HARRIS: As we wrap up today's podcast and this series on this exchange with Dr. Kevin Scharp, I know that I speak for you – we want to thank him for a great exchange and his preparation. Is there anything else that is on your mind as we wrap this up?

DR. CRAIG: I want to second that as well. I want to thank Kevin Scharp for the diligence and the preparation he put into this dialogue which made it a very interesting and worthwhile exchange that I think will repay study for years to come.[4]



[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 July 4, 2016).

[2] 5:06

[3] 10:00

[4] Total Running Time: 15:26 (Copyright © 2016 William Lane Craig)