Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, and good evening! Let me begin by thanking Premier Christian Radio for inviting me to participate in this event this evening. And I also want to express my appreciation to Stephen Law as well for his participation.
During the years that Jan and I lived in England, during my doctoral studies at the University of Birmingham, we grew to have a warm affection for this country and for her people, and so it is a sincere joy and a privilege for me to be participating in an event like this, and I thank you for coming.
Now in tonight’s debate I’m going to defend two basic contentions:
1. There are good reasons to think that God exists.
2. There are not comparably good reasons to think that atheism is true.
Now I’ll leave it up to Dr. Law to present his arguments for atheism before I respond to them. In this opening speech I want to sketch briefly three lines of evidence in favor of God’s existence. As a professional philosopher I think that God makes sense of a wide range of the data of human experience, including philosophical, scientific, moral, and historical considerations.
1. The origin of the universe.
Have you ever asked yourself where the universe came from? Did it have a beginning? Or does it just go back and back forever? Typically, atheists have said that the universe is just eternal and uncaused. But there are good reasons, both philosophical and scientific, which call into question that assumption.
Philosophically, the idea of an infinite past is very problematic. If the universe never had a beginning, that means that the number of past events in the history of the universe is infinite. But the real existence of an actually infinite number of things leads to metaphysical absurdities.
To give just one example, suppose you had an infinite number of coins, numbered 1, 2, 3, . . . , and so on, to infinity, and I took away all the odd numbered coins. How many coins would you have left? Well, you’d still have all the even numbered coins, or an infinity of coins. So infinity minus infinity is infinity. But now suppose instead that I took away all the coins numbered greater than three. Now how many coins would you have left? Well, three! So infinity minus infinity is three!
In each case, I took away an identical number of coins from an identical number of coins and came up with self-contradictory results. In fact, you can subtract infinity from infinity and get any answer from zero to infinity! For this reason inverse operations like subtraction and division are simply prohibited in transfinite arithmetic. But in the real world such a convention has no sway; obviously you can give away whatever coins you want!
Here’s another example of the absurdity of an infinite past. Take the planets Jupiter and Saturn. Suppose that for every orbit that Saturn completes around the Sun, the planet Jupiter completes two. If Saturn has completed ten orbits, Jupiter has completed twenty. If Saturn has completed a trillion, Jupiter has completed two trillion. The longer they orbit, the farther Saturn falls behind. If they continue to orbit forever, they will approach a limit at which Saturn is infinitely far behind Jupiter.
But now turn the story around. Suppose Jupiter and Saturn have been orbiting the sun from eternity past. Now which one will have completed the most orbits? Well, the correct mathematical answer is that the number of their orbits is identical! But that seems absurd, for the longer they orbit the greater the disparity between them grows. So how does the number of their orbits magically become identical simply by making them orbit from eternity past?
These and many other examples suggest that infinity is just an idea in your mind, not something that exists in reality. But that entails that since past events are not just ideas but are real, the number of past events must be finite. Therefore, the series of past events can’t go back and back forever. Rather, the universe must have begun to exist.
This purely philosophical conclusion has been confirmed by remarkable discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics. We now have pretty strong evidence that the universe is not eternal in the past but had an absolute beginning a finite time ago. In 2003, Arvin Borde, Allan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin were able to prove that any universe which is, on average, in a state of cosmic expansion throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past spacetime boundary. What makes their proof so powerful is that it holds regardless of the physical description of the early universe. Because we don’t yet have a quantum theory of gravity, we can’t yet provide a physical description of the first split second of the universe. But the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem is independent of any physical description of that moment. Their theorem implies that the quantum vacuum state of the early universe—which some scientific popularizers have misleadingly and inaccurately referred to as “nothing”—cannot be eternal in the past but must have had an absolute beginning. Even if our universe is just a tiny part of a so-called “multiverse” composed of many universes, their theorem requires that the multiverse itself must have an absolute beginning.
Of course highly speculative scenarios, such as loop quantum gravity models, string models, even closed timelike curves, have been proposed to try to avoid this absolute beginning. Now these models are all fraught with problems; but the bottom line is that none of these theories, even if true, succeeds in restoring an eternal past. At most they just push the beginning back a step.
But then the inevitable question arises: Why did the universe come into being? What brought the universe into existence? Some intrepid atheists have asserted that the universe just popped into being without a cause. But surely that’s metaphysically impossible! For such a conclusion is, in the words of philosopher of science Bernulf Kanitscheider, “in head-on collision with the most successful ontological commitment in the history of science,”1 namely, the metaphysical principle that out of nothing nothing comes. So why does the universe exist instead of just nothing? Where did it come from? There must have been a transcendent cause which brought the universe into being.
We can summarize our argument thus far as follows:
1. The universe began to exist.
2. If the universe began to exist, then the universe has a transcendent cause.
3. Therefore, the universe has a transcendent cause.
Given the truth of the two premises, the conclusion necessarily follows.
Now from the very nature of the case, this cause must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being which created the universe. It must be uncaused because we’ve seen that there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. It must be timeless and therefore changeless, at least without the universe, because it created time. Because it also created space, it must transcend space as well and therefore be immaterial, not physical.
Now there are only two possible candidates that could fit such a description: either an abstract object, like a number, or an unembodied mind or consciousness. But abstract objects don’t stand in causal relations. The number seven, for example, can’t cause anything! Therefore, it follows that the transcendent cause of the universe is an unembodied mind. And thus we are brought, not merely to an Uncaused Cause of the universe, but to its Personal Creator.
2. Objective moral values and duties in the world.
Our first argument gives us a transcendent Personal Creator of the universe. But it doesn’t tell us anything about his moral character. How can we know that he is good? My second argument addresses that question.
1. If God did not exist, objective moral values and duties would not exist.
By objective moral values, I mean values which are valid and binding whether people believe in them or not. Many theists and atheists agree that if God does not exist, then moral values and duties are not objective in this sense.
For example, Michael Ruse, an agnostic philosopher of science states:
morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. . . . Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction. . . and any deeper meaning is illusory.2
On a naturalistic view, moral values are just the by-product of biological evolution and social conditioning. Just as a troop of baboons exhibit co-operative and even self-sacrificial behavior because natural selection has determined it to be advantageous in the struggle for survival, so their primate cousins Homo sapiens have developed similar behavior for the same reason. As a result of socio-biological pressures there has emerged among Homo sapiens a sort of “herd morality” which functions well in the perpetuation of our species. But on the atheistic view there doesn’t seem to be anything about this morality that makes it objectively binding and true.
Certain actions, such as rape, may not be socially advantageous and so in the course of human development have become taboo. But that does absolutely nothing to show that rape is wrong. Such behavior goes on all the time in the animal kingdom. Given atheism, the rapist who chooses to flout the herd morality is doing nothing more serious than acting unfashionably, sort of the moral equivalent of Lady Gaga, out of the step with the herd.
But that leads to our second premise:
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
In moral experience we apprehend a realm of moral values and duties that impose themselves upon us. As philosopher Louise Antony so nicely puts it, any argument for moral skepticism is going to depend upon premises which are less obvious than the reality of objective moral values themselves.3
I was gratified to see that in his published work Dr. Law affirms the existence of objective moral values, such as tolerance and open-mindedness. He rejects relativism as—and I quote—, “politically correct twaddle of a rather noxious sort.”4 Rightly so! Actions like rape, cruelty, racial hatred, and child abuse aren’t just socially unacceptable behavior. They’re truly evil. Michael Ruse himself admits, “The man who says it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says 2+2 =5.”5 Some things, at least, are truly evil.
But, if that is the case, then it follows logically and inescapably that
3. Therefore God exists.
Some people think that evil in the world provides “overwhelming evidence” against the existence of God. I think the exact opposite is true. Real evil in the world actually serves to prove the existence of God, since without God to ground objective moral values, good and evil as such would not exist.
3. The historical facts concerning Jesus of Nazareth.
Our case so far gives us a generic monotheism affirmed by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. But do we know anything more about who this God is? Well, to answer that question we have to look at the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
The historical person Jesus of Nazareth was by all accounts a remarkable individual. Although Dr. Law has recently defended the claim that Jesus of Nazareth never even existed,6 historians have reached something of a consensus that 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 miracle working and exorcisms.
But the supreme confirmation of his claim was his resurrection from the dead. Now most people would think that the resurrection of Jesus is something you just believe in by faith or not. But there are actually three facts recognized by the majority of New Testament historians today which I believe are best explained by the resurrection of Jesus:
Fact #1: On the Sunday after his crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.
Fact #2: On separate occasions different individuals and groups saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death.
And #3: The original disciples suddenly came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus despite having every predisposition to the contrary.
N.T. Wright, an eminent New Testament scholar concludes, “That is why as a historian I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again leaving an empty tomb behind him.”7
Attempts to explain away these three great facts—like “The disciples stole the body” or “Jesus wasn’t really dead”—have been universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. The simple fact is that there just is no plausible, naturalistic explanation of these three facts; and therefore, it seems to me, the Christian is amply justified in believing that the best explanation of the evidence is that Jesus rose from the dead and was who he claimed to be. But that entails that the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth exists. And thus we have a good inductive argument for the existence of God based on the resurrection of Jesus.
In summary, then, I’ve presented tonight a cumulative case based on the origin of the universe, the existence of objective moral values and duties, and the resurrection of Jesus, for thinking that the God of Israel, the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth, exists. If Stephen wants us to believe otherwise, that atheism is true, he must first tear down all three of the arguments that I 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 that theism is the more plausible world view.
O.K., my thanks to the organizers of this debate and the invitation to take part. I am, I’m genuinely honored to be sharing the stage with Professor Craig this evening.
We’re here to debate the question: Does God Exist? And we’ve just heard some arguments that are supposed to justify an affirmative answer. I’ll address those arguments in the first rebuttal period.
What I am going to do in my opening speech is to sketch out an argument against the existence of God. There are many such arguments. I am going to make things relatively easy for Professor Craig by sketching out just one.
It’s an argument with which I am sure you are familiar. It’s often called the “evidential problem of evil”.
There’s a great deal of bad stuff in the world. There are moral evils, the terrible moral deeds we do. There are also natural evils, such as natural diseases and disasters that cause humans and other creatures immense suffering.
Let’s start with animal suffering. I recently watched a documentary about komodo dragons, they tracked for a week or so after poisoning their prey and then finally, when their victim becomes too weak to defend itself, they disemboweled and ate it alive, this, this water buffalo, this poor water buffalo. The cameraman said this had been his first ever wild life assignment and it will probably also have to be his last because he just couldn’t cope with the depths of suffering he had been forced to witness.
Each day millions of animals are similarly forced to tear each other limb from limb in order to survive, and this has been going on for hundreds of millions of years. This might, in many ways, be a beautiful world, but it’s also a quite staggeringly cruel and horrific world for very many of its inhabitants. Some may dismiss all this animal suffering by saying “But they’re just animals, they don’t ultimately matter!” But I wonder if they would say the same thing if I took a red-hot poker to their pet cat.
Then there’s human suffering. Take, for example, the psychological suffering a parent must go through, who has to watch helpless as their young child dies slowly of starvation or an agonizing disease. The consensus among population experts is that over the sweep of human history, pre-history, hundreds of thousands of years, the parents of each generation have had to watch on average between a third and a half of their under five children die, usually from disease.
Kenneth Hill, director of the Hopkins Populations Center, at Johns Hopkins University, writes, and I quote:
Over the long haul of pre-history, the probability of dying by the age of five for females was probably was no lower than 440 per thousand live births and was probably no higher than 600.
That’s to say on average around half of literally millions of generations of girls never made it beyond their fifth birthday. This appalling suffering and death was not something these children’s parents brought on themselves. Unavoidable, unspeakable horror on an almost unimaginably vast scale is built into the very fabric of the world we find ourselves forced to inhabit.
So now here’s the argument: if Professor Craig’s God exists, then these hundreds of thousands, nay, hundreds of millions of years of horror must ultimately be well… all for the best! For an all-powerful, all knowing, and all good God, (1) will know about, (2) will have the power to prevent, and (3) will desire that the world not contain any pointless, gratuitous suffering.
If Professor Craig’s God exists, there must be not just some reason, but an entirely adequate reason for every last ounce of all this suffering and horror. But, surely, as we look back across the eons, we witness suffering of such depth and magnitude that it becomes highly implausible that it can all be fully explained or why. In which case it looks like very powerful evidence against the existence of Professor Craig’s God.
Now interestingly a similar argument can be run against an alternative God hypothesis, I want you now to consider. Suppose that after a bump on the head, I’ve become convinced that the universe is the creation of a single powerful designer. However, I also believe this being is evil. There’s just one god and he’s cruel. He’s as cruel and evil as it’s possible for him to be. Who believes in a creator like that? Hardly anyone outside of a mental institution!
Yet notice that this evil god hypothesis is as well supported by, say, Professor Craig’s cosmological and fine tuning arguments. (Sorry, he didn’t run the fine-tuning argument today, it was just the three) His cosmological argument as his belief, as… as, sorry, as his… Let me start again! Professor Craig’s cosmological argument, as his belief in his good God hypothesis, that argument failed to provide us with any clue at all as to our creator’s moral character. Yet, still, I’m sure you consider the idea of such an evil creator absurd. Why?
Well, one obvious reason for dismissing the idea is that our world is clearly not the sort of world an all-powerful and maximally evil being would create. Take a look at it. Yes, it contains suffering, but it also contains a great deal of good, far too much for it plausibly to be considered the creation of such an evil being. Why, for example, would an evil creator, intent on maximizing evil, give us beautiful scenery to enjoy? Why would he allow people to reduce the suffering of others, sometimes quite selflessly? An evil god would want to maximize suffering and prevent morally virtuous behavior. So surely he’d clamp down on say, Mother Theresa’s activities straight away, and he’d destroy all the hospitals. Why, you might also ask, would an evil god bestow on some people immense health, wealth, and happiness—David Beckham, for example—, who seems to lead a charmed existence? And why would an evil god gives us children to love? Evil god hates love! Surely the last thing he’d do is populate the world with endless bundles of joy.
So you might think there is on the face of it overwhelming observational evidence against the evil god hypothesis. I am sure some of you have spotted that what we’re looking at here is, in effect, the evidential problem of good. If you believe in a good God, you face the problem of explaining why there’s so much bad stuff in the world. If you believe in an evil god, you the face mirror problem of explaining why there’s so much good.
So why, we might ask, if the problem of good is fatal to the evil god hypothesis—and surely it is—, is the problem of evil not similarly fatal to the good God hypothesis? If one hypothesis is pretty straightforwardly falsified by observation of the world around us, why isn’t the other one?
Now, as you know, Christians have cooked up some pretty ingenious explanations for all the bad stuff.
Let’s look at a few explanations, beginning with free will. Some Christians try to explain certain evils by saying that, being good, God gave us free will—the ability to make free choices—, and act on them. Why? Because God wants to allow for the possibility of moral goodness. God could have made us puppet beings that were automata that always did the right thing. But puppet beings lack moral responsibility; their good behavior, if compelled, would not be morally good. So God cut our strings, he set us free. As a result, some of us choose to do evil. That’s the price God must pay to allow for moral goods. I’m sure, sure you are familiar with that sort of explanation.
But now notice that someone who believes in an evil god can mirror it with a free will explanation of their own. Evil god gave us free will. Why? To allow for the possibility of moral evil. Evil god could have made us puppet beings, automata, that always did the bad thing. But puppet beings lack moral responsibility; their bad behavior, if compelled, would not be morally evil. And so evil god cut their strings. As a result, some of us choose to do good. That’s the price evil god must pay to allow for moral evils.
You can see I’ve taken a standard Christian theodicy and just flipped it around. Here is another example of theodicy flipping:
Some Christians try to explain pain and suffering as the result of the operation of laws of nature, laws that are nevertheless on balance supposed to be good. So, for example, a Christian might argue that without a law-governed universe in which the effects of our actions can be predicted, we can’t morally interact with each other. Suppose I see you cold and hungry. In order to help you by lighting you a warming fire and cooking you a much-needed meal, I need to know both that by striking a match I’ll create a flame and that wood burns to release heat. Unfortunately, these same laws of nature have a downside. They entail that there will occasionally be, say, spontaneous forest fires that cause suffering. That’s the price God pays for greater goods.
Again, someone who believes in an evil god can produce a mirror explanation to account for goods. In order to allow the very great evil of my burning down your wooden house with you and your family inside, they may say, I need to know both that by striking a match I will create a flame and that wood burns. Such laws of nature are required for such very great evils to exist. True, these same laws have good consequences. They allow people to cook each other warming meals, for example. That’s the price evil god pays for greater goods.
We can similarly flip around the familiar Christian suggestion that the pain and suffering we endure is there to allow us to grow and develop morally and spiritually. Yes, evil god wants us to suffer, do evil, and despair. To that end he introduces various goods into the world. But then why, you may ask, would an evil god allow a few people such as David Beckham to lead a charmed life? Why? To make the rest of us feel worse, of course! To invoke feelings of jealousy and resentment in others, to motivate crime, riots perhaps! Why would an evil god pepper his creation with some beauty, which we enjoy? Because he requires a contrast in order to fully appreciate the drab dreariness of day to day life. We need to be reminded now and then of how much better things might have been! Why would an evil god give us children to love? Because it’s only if we truly unconditionally love someone that we can be made to suffer as we do when evil god kills them slowly before our eyes.
In short, someone might conclude this is not, as many Christian suppose, a vale of soul making; it is a vale of soul destruction, engineered by an evil god intent on crushing and breaking our spirits so that we bow out in agony and despair, as so very many of us do.
While not all standard Christian explanations for evil can be reversed in this way, most can. Take, for example, explaining evil in terms of God’s mysterious ways. A defender of belief in an evil god can adopt the same ruse, putting the good we see around us down to evil god’s mysterious ways. After all, evil god is omnipotent and omniscient, isn’t he? So, of course, his evil plans are likely to be largely beyond our understanding! Just because certain goods appear to us to be quite gratuitous, given his evil aims, gives us no reason to suppose that they really are gratuitous. Don’t presume to know the mind of evil god!
Moreover, just as some Christian maintain that whatever horror we experience in this life will be more than compensated for in the next, those who believe in an evil god can maintain that whatever goods we experience in this life will be more than compensated for by the far deeper, unremitting horror of the next.
Clearly, despite these and various other ingenious maneuvers that might be made in defense of belief in an evil god, it remains the case that there is far, far too much good stuff in the world for it to be it the creation of such an evil deity. We can still, on the basis of what we observe around us, reasonably conclude that there is unlikely to be an evil God.
So my question is, if the evil God hypothesis can, solely on the basis of observational evidence, be ruled out as highly unlikely, why can’t we similarly rule out the good God hypothesis?
True, we may not know the answer to the question: Why does the universe exist? Perhaps we’ll never know. It doesn’t follow that we can’t quite reasonably rule certain answers out. Obviously, we can quite reasonably rule out the evil god hypothesis and on the basis of what we can see around us, so why not the good God hypothesis? Why suppose, as I assume Professor Craig does, that the good God hypothesis is, not just a bit more reasonable, but very significantly more reasonable, than the evil god hypothesis? For remember, the latter hypothesis remains downright absurd, notwithstanding such appeals to evil god’s mysterious ways and so on.
That’s the challenge I’m putting before Professor Craig tonight, to explain why belief in a good God is, on the basis of the available evidence and arguments, not just a bit more reasonable than belief in an evil god, but very significantly more reasonable than belief in an evil god.
How might Professor Craig respond to this challenge? Well, he’s given his arguments for his particular God, of course. I’ll examine those next. Though notice that the first one was completely neutral on God’s moral properties, so it provides no support for a good God over an evil god. In fact, Dr. Craig is now down to two arguments. He may also try to dis… disarm the problem of evil perhaps by invoking a smoke screen of skepticism and mystery. He may say, “Well, we just can’t presume to know regarding all the horror we see around us that God lacks adequate reasons for it.” But, as we have just seen, we can use the same sort of smoke screen to defend belief in an evil god. We can say, “Well, we just can’t presume to know regarding all the goods we see around us that evil god lacks adequate reasons for them.” So Professor Craig cannot by means of such a smoke screen show that belief in his good God is better supported than belief in an evil God. It would be interesting to see, I’ll be interested to see, how he thinks it can be shown to be better supported.
Now that went really fast! I’m left with two minutes, and I just want to add in my two minutes, if it’s O.K., something that’s on the desk. I’m just going to reach over and get it. Because Professor Craig mentioned it, that if—you know what—, I am going to leave this till later. I am just going to stop now, give Craig a bit of extra time, and I’ll talk about it afterwards. Thank you very much for listening, O.K.!
Thank you, Stephen, for that very thought provoking and interesting argument!
You’ll remember in my opening speech I said that I would defend two basic contentions tonight.
1. There are good reasons to think that theism is true.
We’ve yet to hear Stephen’s response to those arguments.
My second contention was
2. There are not comparably good reasons to think that atheism is true.
Now Stephen has offered one argument for atheism, basically the problem of evil in an evidential version. Is this is a good argument for God’s non-existence? Well, I think not.
Now certainly the terrible evil and suffering in the world is the greatest emotional obstacle to belief in God. But as philosophers, we’re called upon to say not how we feel about a subject, but what we think about it. And when I think hard about the problem of evil, it turns out to be extraordinarily difficult for the atheist to prove, on the basis of the evil in the world, that God does not exist.
We all know cases in which we permit suffering because we have morally sufficient reasons for allowing it. What Dr. Law would have to prove is that it’s impossible or highly improbable that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world. But how can the atheist possibly prove that? Maybe only in a world suffused with natural and moral evil would the maximum number of people come to freely know God and find eternal life. You see, on the Christian view the purpose of life is not happiness in this world, but rather coming to know God personally and so to find eternal life. Many evils may be utterly pointless with respect to producing happiness in this life, but they may not be pointless with respect to producing the knowledge of God. Dr. Law would have to show that there is another world which is feasible for God in which there is a greater knowledge of God and his salvation but with less suffering; and that’s pure speculation.
Now I think Dr. Law’s own example of an evil god actually proves my point. Now, first of all, it’s inaccurate to call this being an evil “God” because God, by definition, is a being which is necessarily good. Peter Millican, Professor of Philosophy at Oxford University, says,
what makes the Supreme Being worthy of worship is not simply his power but rather his moral excellence. . . . For the Supreme Being to be an appropriate object of religious attitudes, therefore, He must above all be morally good.8
So you cannot have, literally speaking, an evil God because he would not be worthy of worship. What you could have would be an evil Creator of the universe who is not God. And I would argue that just as you cannot prove that the Creator is evil because of the bad things in life, so you cannot prove that he is good because of the good things in life. The two cases are on a par: Just as good things don’t disprove the existence of anti-God, so bad things don’t disprove the existence of God.
I think Dr. Law’s mistake is that he thinks that the theist arrives at the doctrine of God’s goodness by an inductive survey of the world’s events. And that’s simply incorrect. As Michael Bergman and Jeff Brower point out in their response to Dr. Law,9 traditional theists have never argued for God’s perfect goodness by simply inferring it from the existence of some good in the world.
Rather, what the theist can do is to present is a moral argument, such as I have done, for God as the foundation of objective moral values. And that leads directly to the final point I want to make on this. Moral evil actually proves the existence of God. For we may argue in the following way:
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. Evil exists.
3. Therefore, objective moral values exist. (Some things are evil!)
4. Therefore, God exists.
In the end, Dr. Law admits—and I quote—: it’s “possible that a cogent moral argument along the above lines might yet be constructed. I suspect that . . . this is the most promising line of attack [for theists to take].”10 And this is precisely the line that I’ve taken in my published work.
To summarize then:
1. Dr. Law cannot prove that God lacks morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evils that occur.
2. His anti-God objection fails because I agree that the good things in the world fail to disprove anti-God.
3. Evil in the world actually proves God’s existence because apart from God there is no foundation for objective moral values.
Now let me say one more thing about animal predation and suffering, since this featured largely in his argument.
1. Animals are part of a broader ecosystem in which the human drama is played out. And such an ecosystem must be balanced if it’s to be viable. It is no accident that every ecosystem involves predators of some sort. For example, I also recently saw a program on television about how the Canadian authorities are reintroducing wolves into the wild in Canada. Why? Because in the absence of these predators the caribou herds were over populating because there was no one to pick off the diseased and the aged. And as a result they were over grazing and therefore dying of starvation! The predators actually enhanced the survivability and the health of the caribou herds on which they preyed, so that predators are an essential part of an ecosystem. In a world without predators, the insects would soon take over, since there would be nothing to eat them, and all the animals would soon die because all the vegetation would be consumed by insects. And once the insects had consumed all the vegetation, they would die off as well. So any viable ecosystem needs to have predation in it in order to succeed.
2. Now, let me say one other thing, however, that is a result of recent scientific discoveries that shed remarkable light on the problem of animal suffering. In his book Nature Red in Tooth and Claw, published by Oxford University Press, Michael Murray explains that there is really a three-fold hierarchy of pain awareness.11 On the most fundamental level there’s simply the reaction to stimuli, such as an amoeba exhibits when you poke it with a needle. It doesn’t really feel pain. There’s a second level of pain awareness which sentient animals have, which is an experience of pain. And animals like horses, dogs, and cats would experience this second level pain awareness. But they do not experience a third level pain awareness, which is the awareness of second order pain, that is, the awareness that one is oneself in pain. For that sort of pain awareness requires self-awareness, and this is centered in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, a section of the brain that is missing in all animals except for the higher primates and human beings. And therefore, even though animals are in pain, they aren’t aware of it. They don’t have this third order pain awareness. They are not aware of pain, and therefore they do not suffer as human beings do.
Now this is a tremendous comfort to those of us who are animal lovers like myself or to pet owners. Even though your dog or your cat may be in pain, it really isn’t aware of being in pain, and therefore it doesn’t suffer as you would when you are in pain.
The problem is that we are so often guilty of anthropopathism, that is to say, we treat animals as though they were human beings. We think of the deer in the forest like Bambi, having human consciousness and self-awareness. And this is simply fallacious. There is an actual name for this: it’s called the “hyper-active agency detection device,” the tendency to regard animals as though they were agents. But once we understand the biology of animals, what we see is that God in his mercy has spared the animal world the experience of suffering such as human beings exhibit.
So I think that this goes a long way towards solving the problems that Dr. Law indicates. In any case, those three points remain:
1. he cannot show that God lacks morally sufficient reasons for the suffering in the world;
2. his anti-God objection fails because goodness in the world doesn’t disprove anti-God; and
3. in any case, evil in the world actually proves the existence of God himself.
OK, good, well, Professor Craig made some interesting points there. I’ll respond to them, as many as I can, in the time available to me.
First of all, Professor Craig seemed to be suggesting that I think Christians think God is good because, you know, they draw that conclusion on the basis of what they see of the world around them. Well, obviously, that’s…I don’t believe that. He, he’s attacking the straw man about… I assume that Christians have some other reasons for thinking that God is good because it’s pretty… it’s pretty obvious from what we see of the world around us that it really does not support that belief. That’s certainly not why I think Christians believe that God is good, not at all! So that, that was just an attack on a straw man. It’s not my position, very obviously.
Secondly, Professor Craig says, suggested, I mean, indeed, suggested in his opening speech that evil, the existence of evil, proves God. It’s… it’s a popular move, I mean, not taken terribly seriously in philosophical circles. But more widely, you do find this on the Internet, you find people saying this, they think that this is a good, persuasive argument. They say that in a way the existence of God, sorry, the existence of evil proves that there is a God because it’s only if there is a God that there can be such things as good and evil.
Well, first of all, that argument begs the question that, you know, you need God to have good and evil; and that Professor Craig has singularly failed to do this evening. But I’ll explain why that is so in a short period of a time.
The more important point is this: you can run the evidential problem of evil without mentioning evil at all. You don’t need the concept of evil. I as an atheist don’t need to buy into the concept of good or evil. I could be a moral nihilist. All you need is the observation that there’s just an enormous amount of suffering, far more than can be plausibly explained in terms of God’s, you know, mysterious ways or higher purpose. That’s all I need to point to. Christians can buy into the concept of good and evil. I don’t need to in order to run the objection and, in fact, … that’s… this is widely recognized to be true. You can set up the problem of evil without even using the concept of evil; you don’t have to buy into the concept of evil to run it. So that’s, that’s just a red herring, O.K..
His other…it’s not true that evil proves God… his other main arguments seem to be that… well, basically, to concede that you can’t be pretty confident that there’s no evil god on the basis of the amount of good that we see around us. Well, yeah, clearly, we all know that’s not true. I mean, we can see that there is an immense amount of good stuff in the world, and it’s just implausible, that, you know, it can be squared in some way with the existence of an all-powerful and supremely malignant deity.
Yes, there are all these ingenious explanations we can concoct and gerrymander; but the fact is we can all see, we all know, and we will confidently dismiss, rightly so, the evil god hypothesis purely on the basis of what we can see of the universe around us. And if we can do that, then why can’t we do it for the good God hypothesis?
Professor Craig has not answered that question. That is the challenge I am setting. In order to avoid the challenge, he’s basically having to get incredibly skeptical. He’s really having to play the mystery card at this point and say, “Oh, we just can’t know whether there’s an evil God on the basis of looking at the world around us.” Really? Or the other one would be, you know, my response to that, and if we can show beyond reasonable doubt—I am not using the word “proof,” I don’t like it—beyond reasonable doubt that there is no evil god on the basis of empirical observation of the world around us, then why on earth can’t we show that there is no good God on the basis of empirical observation of the world around us, the sheer quantity of bad stuff that there is?
That’s basically the challenge I am putting forward. And it seems to me that Professor Craig is just having to play a highly implausible, skeptical card in order to try and get himself out of trouble at this point, and that’s the best he can do at this point, is we can’t know, we couldn’t possibly know, that whether or not there is an evil god on the basis of observation of the world around us. I just don’t buy it.
Professor Craig has also run—I forgot at which point he did it now—he has run an afterlife kind of explanation. He said that, you know the evils we experience in this world become easier to understand for a theist once we remember that we can, you know, look forward to an eternity of bliss in heaven. There is a higher reason, there’s a higher purpose, and it’s not all about life here on this planet.
As I have already pointed out in my opening speech, such afterlife type explanations can also be run by someone who believes in an evil god. They can insist that the goods that we experience in this life will be more than adequately outweighed by the horrors of spending eternity in the company of the supremely malignant deity in the next. Clearly, that’s not good enough of as an explanation as a defense of reasonableness… that the belief that, belief in evil god is reasonable. And if it won’t do in defense of belief in an evil God, then why on earth should we find it remotely plausible in… as defense of belief in a good God?
So I can’t see that Professor Craig has really got a decent response here at all. And, in fact, many of the moves that he usually makes have just not cropped up, interestingly. Probably because he can see that they are not going to work once we start thinking about the evil god hypothesis.
It is a very simple challenge. We can see on the basis of observation of the world around us, the sheer quantity of good stuff there is, that there’s more than enough to justify conclusion that there is no supremely malignant, all-powerful deity in charge of the universe. And if that is true, then it just won’t wash to say, “Oh, but you know, we can’t know that there isn’t a good God because perhaps there is some deeper reason for all of this horror that we see around us.” It’s clear that there is sufficient evidence, I think. And it seems to me… I mean, the really… What I find most baffling, I think, is the extent to which people just can’t see that and the extraordinarily convoluted maneuvers, intellectual maneuvers, that they have to go through in order to try and convince themselves that what they believe is not, given the available evidence, downright ridiculous.
So I think I’ve dealt with most of Professor Craig’s points. He also made some appeals to… some explanations for animal suffering, which basically were variance of the appeal to laws of nature, which I have already pointed out, you can, you can flip those type… those kinds of theodicy. I am not going to do, I’m not even going to attempt to do so now, but we could do that. So that, that… I think, I think I’ve covered most of the points I wanted to make there.
Let me just repeat, I think that Professor Craig’s point is we’re just not in a position to judge with any confidence that it’s improbable that God lacks morally good reasons for creating or allowing all the suffering. He argues that our failure to discern God’s reasons is not a good reason to suppose that God doesn’t have them. Perhaps in some way we cannot fathom they contribute to our eternal salvation.
But as I pointed out, much of the same reply can be made by someone who believes in an evil god. Evil god is also omnipotent and omniscient, so, of course, his reasons are also likely… largely… likely … to be largely beyond our ken. Those… goods that seem gratuitous with regard to the aims of an evil god may not be gratuitous at all. I might argue, “Show a little humility; don’t presume to know the mind of evil god!” If this sort of skeptical smokescreen doesn’t succeed in salvaging belief in an evil god, then I fail to see why it salvages belief in a good God either.
So far as I could hear, Dr. Law has yet to respond to any of my three arguments under my first contention that there are good reasons to believe that God exists.
First, he has not responded my argument based on the origin of the universe. At best, he would have to say, “Well, we don’t know if this being is good who has created the world.” And I grant that. You can’t know that from this argument. But it is a strange form of atheism, one not worth the name, that admits that there is a beginningless, uncaused, spaceless, timeless, immaterial, enormously powerful, Personal Creator of the universe! That, I don’t think, deserves to be called “atheism.” So he’s got to interact with this argument because the problem of evil doesn’t refute it because it doesn’t say anything about the moral properties of this being.
Secondly, what about the argument based upon the existence of objective moral values and duties? Here, frankly, I was stunned and disappointed to hear him retreat from his affirmation of objective moral values in his published work, to now regarding this as being non-objective. But then you have got to deal with the problem that the objectivity of moral values is more obvious than any argument for moral skepticism. The atheist philosopher Peter Cave puts it this way:
Whatever skeptical arguments may be brought against our belief that killing the innocent is morally wrong, we are more certain that the killing is morally wrong than that the argument is sound. Torturing an innocent child for the sheer fun of it is morally wrong, full stop.12
And that’s why John Cottingham reports that there is an increasing consensus among philosophers today that some sort of objectivism is correct.13 The problem is that on atheism there is no explanation for the reality of objective moral values and duties; and that’s what theism will give you.
Thirdly, the argument concerning the resurrection of Jesus has not even been addressed in tonight’s debate.
So are there comparably good arguments for atheism? Well, I made four points by way of response to his argument.
First, he hasn’t been able to show that it’s improbable or impossible that God has morally sufficient reasons for the suffering in the world. And he really admits this! His only gambit is to say, “Well, yeah, that’s true; I can’t show that. But neither can you show that the evil creator wouldn’t have sufficient reasons for allowing good things in the world!”
Well, that’s the second point! I agree that you cannot disprove anti-God by just looking inductively at the good things in the world. The world is morally ambiguous, and that’s not how theists come to believe in the goodness of God. Stephen Wykstra, who is an expert in the problem of evil, puts it this way; he says:
any being (good or evil) big enough to make the heavens and the earth gives a high conditional probability that we'd regularly be unable to discern that being's ultimate purposes for many events around us. So our actual . . . inability to do so isn't strong evidence that those purposes (or that being) isn't there. . . . Just as the inscrutable evil in the world doesn't give much evidence that there's no totally good creator, so the inscrutable good in the world doesn't give much evidence that there's no totally evil Creator.14
You don’t decide that question inductively. And this is Dr. Law’s only defense of the problem of evil because he admits that he can’t give any argument to show that God lacks morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world.
What about my third point that evil actually proves the existence of God? Here he says quite rightly, “You don’t need moral evil to run the argument from suffering. You can just talk about pain and suffering.” Quite right! But then that means you have to retreat from the affirmation of objective moral values in the world. If you do affirm there are objective moral values in the world, then you are immediately confronted with the problem of the objectivity of evil and its explanation. In his book Humanism, Dr. Law says—and I quote—:
None of this is to deny that there is a puzzle about the objectivity of morality—about how it is possible for things to be morally right or wrong independently of how we, or even God, might judge them to be.15
And he has no solution to this problem to offer. He is simply left without an answer to the problem of the objectivity of moral values and duties.
So while it’s true you can run a problem of suffering without referring to moral evil, to do so you are going to have to deny the reality and objectivity of moral values and duties because once you admit them, then you’ve got the problem of the moral argument.
Fourthly, I suggested that animal suffering in the world is not as serious a problem as he thinks because animal predation is part of a viable ecosystem in which this drama is played out; and that in fact, animals don’t have this third order pain awareness of knowing that they are in pain, and, therefore, they do not suffer as human beings do.
And, therefore, the problem of evil, I think, though emotionally powerful—I grant it is emotionally powerful—, philosophically it is very difficult to run any kind of a successful argument against God based on the evil and suffering in the world.
Let me make one last point on this question. The fact is that any event that occurs in history, no matter how trivial, sends a sort of ripple effect through history, so that God’s morally sufficient reasons for permitting it might not emerge until centuries from now, in another country. This was already understood in classical physics. James Clark Maxwell wrote,
The rock loosed by frost and balanced on a singular point of the mountain-side, the little spark that kindles the great forest, the little word that sets the world a-fighting, the little scruple which prevents a man from doing his will, the little spore which blights all the potatoes, the little gemmule which makes us philosophers or idiots. Every existence above a certain rank has its singular points: the higher the rank, the more of them. At these points, influences whose physical magnitude is too small to be taken account of by a finite being, may produce results of the greatest importance.16
The fact is that when we see an incidence of evil or suffering enter our lives, we are simply not in a position to say with any kind of confidence that God lacks morally sufficient reasons for permitting that to occur. We’re simply not in a position to make those kinds of judgments competently.
And, therefore, it’s simply impossible for the atheist to show that it’s improbable or impossible that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil and suffering in the world. Particularly, when we keep in mind the Christian concept of God and the Christian purpose of suffering—it is not to produce happiness in this life —it is rather to provide a context in which people may freely respond to God and his offer of eternal life and forgiveness and come to know him. And it may be that only in a world that is suffused with suffering of a natural and moral sort that the maximum number of people would freely come to know God and his eternal life. Dr. Law would have to show that there’s another feasible world available to God that has greater knowledge of God and his salvation than this world, but with less suffering. There is no way the atheist can do that.
O.K., at this point I want to actually look at the arguments that were given for the existence of God. There were actually only two that are relevant here in terms of showing… of being arguments for a good God, as opposed to, say a morally neutral god or an evil god.
Craig’s moral argument is:
If God does not exist objective moral values do not exist.
Objective moral values exist.
Therefore, God exists.
The vast majority of philosophers reject this argument. Take, for example, the Christian philosopher Professor Richard Swinburne of Oxford University. Swinburne says, “I cannot see any force in an argument to the existence of God from the existence of morality.” So Professor Craig is putting up against a mountain of evidence against what he believes, that provided by the problem of evil, an argument that even one of the world’s leading Christian philosophers finds utterly unconvincing. If Professor Craig wants to nevertheless to run his moral argument, the onus is clearly on him to show that its premises are true. In fact, both premises are highly questionable.
The first premise is, again, rejected by the vast majority of moral philosophers. What argument does Professor Craig offer for supposing that it is nevertheless true? It appears to be to point out that an evolutionary explanation of why we believe rape is objectively morally wrong wouldn’t make rape objectively morally wrong. Well, so what? I mean, we all knew that already. That doesn’t show that the belief isn’t or cannot be true, given atheism. Remember the onus is on Professor Craig to show that no atheist-friendly account of the objective truth of moral claims can be given. The fact that evolution provides no such account, very obviously does not entail no such account can be given. The onus is on Professor Craig to show that all such atheist-friendly accounts are wrong, even the ones we haven’t thought of yet. And don’t forget, as theists so regularly do, that they needn’t even be naturalistic accounts. So, so far Craig has shown one atheist-friendly account is wrong. As I say, we knew that already.
What of the second premise of Craig’s moral argument: objective moral values exist? This is undoubtedly a belief that just seems obviously true to us, and, indeed, I’ll put it forward quite happily; but I am willing to take it back later if I need to, O.K., objective… The mere fact that it seems true doesn’t guarantee that it’s true. It seems like there are objective moral values. That isn’t a belief we should abandon easily, but it’s by no means irrefutable, all right. After all, we have a powerful impression that the earth doesn’t move. It doesn’t, I mean, it really, really doesn’t seem to move, but if we have been given powerful evidence that it does move and it’s also explained why nevertheless seems like it doesn’t move, then the rational thing for us to believe is that our initially highly convincing impression was wrong. The moral is even if Professor Craig could show that his first premise is true, he can’t deal with the problem of evil by just digging in his heels and saying, “But look, it really, really seems to us as if there are objective moral values, so there must be a God.” When placed next to the problem of evil, Craig’s argument does little to undermine the problem; rather, it just combines with it to deliver the conclusion that there are no objective moral values. That conclusion will be further reinforced by an evolutionary explanation of why it would still seem to us that there are objective moral values even if there aren’t.
Now I don’t doubt Professor Craig doesn’t want to believe that there are no objective moral values. Hey, I don’t want to believe it! But this isn’t an exercise in wishful thinking. So even if his first premise were true, and Craig could show that—and he hasn’t—his moral argument still hardly offers much of a riposte to the evidential problem of evil.
Let’s now turn to the resurrection argument. It turns on claims made in the New Testament that there was an empty tomb, that there were independent eyewitness reports of Jesus alive after the crucifixion, and so on. The claim is that the best explanation of these alleged facts is that Jesus was resurrected by God. You should always be suspicious of arguments to the best explanation in such context.
Let me tell you a story from 1967. It’s a UFO story. There were reports of a strange object appearing nightly over a nuclear power site in Wake County. The police investigated; a police officer confirmed it was about half the size of the moon, and it just hung there over the plant. The next night the same thing happened. The deputy sheriff described a large lighted object; the county magistrate saw—and I quote—:
A rectangular object, looked like it was on fire, we figured it about the size of a football field; it was huge and very bright.
There was, in addition, hard data, a curious radar blip reported by local air traffic control.
Now what’s the best explanation of these reports? We have multiple attestation, we have trained eyewitnesses, police officers’ putting their reputations on the line by reporting a UFO. We have hard, independent confirmation, that blip on the radar scope. Surely, then, it’s highly unlikely these witnesses were, say, all hallucinating, or lying, or just saw a planet. Clearly, by far the best explanation, you might think, is that they really did see a large lighted object hovering close to the plant.
But here’s the thing: we know pretty much for sure that what was seen by those police officers was the planet Venus! Journalists arrived upon the scene, were shown the object, and chased it in a car. They found they couldn’t approach it. Finally, they looked at it through a long lens and saw it was the planet Venus. That radar blip was just a coincidence.
What does this show? Every year there are countless amazing reports of religious miracles, alien abductions, ghosts, and so on. In most cases it’s not easy to come up with plausible, mundane explanations for them. Sorry, it is easy to come up with plausible, mundane explanations for them! But not all, right? Some remain deeply baffling. So should we believe in such things, then? No, for as my UFO illustrates… story illustrates, we all know that some hard to explain reports of miracles, flying saucers, and so on are likely to crop up anyway, whether or not there is truth to these claims. That 1967 case could easily have been such a baffling case.
So let’s suppose that the biblical documents written a decade or more after the events they report, written exclusively by the devotees of a new religious movement, not even by first hand witnesses, detailing events for which there’s pretty much no independent confirmation, constitutes really, really good evidence that there was an empty tomb, and that the disciples did report seeing the risen Christ. Is that in turn good evidence that Jesus was resurrected?
Evidence supports a hypothesis to the extent the evidence is expected, given the hypothesis is true, and unexpected otherwise. The absolutely crucial point to note is this: we have good to reason to expect some baffling, very hard to explain, in mundane terms, reports to crop up occasionally anyway, whether or not there are any miracles, or gods, or flying saucers.
So the fact that an otherwise baffling, hard to explain case has shown up, provides us with little, if any, evidence that a miracle has occurred.
Thank you! Well, I hope you’ve all enjoyed the debate tonight as much as I have! I’ve enjoyed the stimulating interaction with Stephen.
I argued tonight that there are good reasons to think that God exists.
My first argument based on the origin of the universe has gone unrefuted. Therefore, we can all agree tonight that there is an immaterial, uncaused, beginningless, spaceless, timeless, enormously powerful, Personal Creator of the universe, who may or may not be good. That would be a very strange form of atheism!
Secondly, I’ve argued that objective moral values and duties point to the existence of God.
1. If God did not exist, objective moral values and duties would not exist.
Here Dr. Law’s only refutation was to appeal to authority. He said, “Well, Richard Swinburne doesn’t agree with this argument.” Well, granted, Richard Swinburne doesn’t agree with the argument. But those who do agree with this premise include atheists like Nietzsche, Russell, Sartre, Mackie, and manifold others. So if you want to appeal to authority, I can give a long list of atheists who agree that if God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
One of these would be Joel Marks, a philosopher who two months ago wrote a remarkable article called “Confessions of an Ex-moralist.” He said:
could I believe that, say, the wrongness of a lie was any more intrinsic to an . . . utterance than beauty was to a sunset or wonderfulness to the universe? Does it not make far more sense to suppose that all of these phenomena arise in my breast, that they are the responses of a particular sensibility to otherwise valueless events and entities? . . . someone else might respond completely differently from me, such that for him . . . the lie was permissible, the sunset banal, the universe nothing but atoms and the void.17
And so Marks came to realize that as an atheist he had to give up his belief in the objectivity of moral values and duties. He said:
I used to think that animal agriculture was wrong. Now I will call a spade a spade and declare simply that I very much dislike it and want it to stop. . . . I am simply no longer in the business of trying to derive an ought from an is.18
It seems to me Marks is entirely justified here. In the absence of God there just is no explanation that naturalists can propose that would explain the existence of objective values and duties. And this is critical. As Shelly Kagan, a Yale ethicist, has said:
This need for explanation in moral theory cannot be overemphasized. . . . One of the things we want our moral theory to help us to understand is how there can even be a moral realm, and what sort of objective status it has.19
And Dr. Law simply hasn’t offered anything, whereas the theist can offer a transcendent ground in God, his nature and his commands.
So I think that theism offers us a better foundation for the objective moral values that we all hold dear.
What about the resurrection of Jesus? Dr. Law rightly points out that there are many reports of paranormal phenomenon, and these ought to make us very cautious in assessing miracle claims. But I would say two things.
First of all, any claim must be weighed by objective criteria: explanatory scope, explanatory power, plausibility, degree of ad hoc-ness. And I don’t know of any natural explanation that passes those criteria as well as the explanation that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Secondly, the resurrection of Jesus, I think, is plausible because of the religio-historical context in which it occurs; it’s not a bald anomaly, occurring without a context. It comes as the climax to Jesus of Nazareth’s own unparalleled life and ministry, a man who claimed to be the absolute revelation of God and the way to eternal life. If this man has been raised from the dead, then he has been vindicated by God in those allegedly blasphemous claims for which he was crucified. And therefore I think these claims have a degree of plausibility that paranormal phenomena would not.
So I think we’ve got good grounds for believing in Christian theism. What about atheism? Well, basically all we’ve heard is the evil god objection. But as I explained, you can’t disprove the evil creator hypothesis just by appealing to goods in the world. And similarly you cannot disprove the good creator hypothesis by appealing to evils in the world. Why? Because we’re not in a position to judge with any confidence when some incident of suffering occurs that God has no morally sufficient reason for allowing it to occur.
And, therefore, I’m convinced that on balance the weight of the evidence tips clearly on the side of Christian theism. And for that reason I remain enthusiastically a Christian theist.
I started out by pointing out that as we look back across the hundreds of millions of years of sentient life on this planet, we find suffering on a stupendous scale. For example, we humans have over many hundreds of thousands of generations… had to watch a third to half of our children die painfully in our arms. Immense suffering and horror are built into the fabric of the world we are forced to inhabit.
My contention is that this suffering does constitute powerful observational evidence against Professor Craig’s God. Even many Christian’s acknowledge it constitutes very, very powerful intellectual threat to their belief.
I’ve challenged Professor Craig to explain why, given this mountain of evidence, belief in his good God is supported by the evidence and arguments. In particular why his belief in his good God better supported than belief in an evil god, which is clearly absurd, which clearly is undermined by observation of the world around us. Who believes in an evil god? Nobody! Why not? Take a look around you.
Professor Craig has spectacularly failed to meet this challenge. He’s to tried to explain… explain the mountain of suffering. Of course, he appealed to the promise of an afterlife. But, mostly, he’s just played the mystery card, played the skeptical card, insisting that God has his good reasons for unleashing hundreds of thousands of years of horror; it’s just that we’re not in a position to know what they are. Oh, right. O.K..
I pointed out that these explanations could be used just as effectively to deal with the evidence against the evil god hypothesis. So obviously, they, right, they failed to show that belief in a good God is better supported than belief in an evil god. Those moves are neutral.
So Professor Craig is now going to have to rely on his arguments for a good God, if he’s to balance things up at all, if he is to show that his belief is more reasonable than a belief in an evil god.
But only two of his arguments are actually even relevant, so I ignored the first one.
These are… The arguments that he did offer for his good God were remarkably weak. He offered a moral argument, that… such moral arguments, as I pointed out, are rejected by the vast majority of moral philosophers; even Richard Swinburne thinks Craig’s moral argument fails. But I wasn’t relying on that for authority. I just pointed out that Professor Craig provided no justification for the first premise of the argument, and he still hasn’t. He still hasn’t provided a decent justification for the first premise of the argument.
The argument has a very dubious first premise, if there’s… if there’s no God; there are no objective moral values. Why should we believe that? There’s been no argument. But even if he could show that it was true, I pointed out that he would not have succeeded in showing that belief in his God is reasonable, more reasonable than belief, significantly more reasonable than belief, in an evil god. For, of course, when placed next to a mountain of observational evidence that there’s no such God, his moral argument merely generates the conclusion that there are no… objective moral values, a conclusion that while counter-intuitive, can’t just be assumed.
So, in fact, Craig’s moral argument kind of presupposes that he’s already dealt with the evidential problem of evil. You can’t use it against as a counter balance to the evidential problem of evil.
His other argument was the resurrection argument, which is frankly, I mean, almost comically flimsy. Even many Christians do—including Alvin Plantinga. And again this is not an appeal to authority, just to illustrate the point—consider it terribly weak.
So let’s not lose sight of the weight of argument and evidence on either side of this debate. There is a mountain of observational evidence against Craig’s God. He has signally failed to explain that evidence away; he’s just played the mystery card. He offered a of couple arguments for his particular God, but they turned out to be at best, well, weedy. Indeed, both have higher profile Christian critics. The moral argument relied on a premise for which we have seen no decent argument whatsoever.
So I think it is, indeed, spectacularly clear where the balance of probability lies. We may not know why the universe exists. But we can quite reasonably rule certain answers out, such as that an evil god created it. We all know that. We can, for much the same sort of reasons, observational reasons, quite reasonably also rule out the suggestion that Professor Craig’s good God created it. If any……that’s the end!... If any of you want to explore the kind of argument I’ve sketched out tonight, please take a look at my paper “The evil god challenge” which is in [in response to audience heckle “But what about a deist God?”]—that’s another one, we we’re talking about Professor Craig’s God—Religious Studies 2010. There is also a condensed version of that, of this argument in my most recent book, should you wish to purchase it. Thank you very much!
1 Bernulf Kanitscheider, “Does Physical Cosmology Transcend the Limits of Naturalistic Reasoning?” in Studies on Mario Bunge’s “Treatise,” ed. P. Weingartner and G. J. W. Dorn (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1990), p. 344.
2 Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269.
3 She made this comment during the course of our debate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
4 Stephen Law, The War for our Children’s Minds (N.Y.: Routledge, 2006), p. 89.
5 Michael Ruse, Darwinism Defended (London: Addison-Wesley, 1982), p. 275.
6 Stephen Law, “Evidence, Miracles, and the Existence of Jesus,” Faith and Philosophy 28 (2011): 29-51.
7 N. T. Wright, “The New Unimproved Jesus,” Christianity Today (September 13, 1993), p. 26.
8 Peter Millican, “The Devil’s Advocate,” Cogito 3 (1989): 193.
9 Michael Bergmann and Jeffrey E. Brower, “The God of Eth and the God of Earth,” Think, (Winter 2007), pp. 36-7.
10 Stephen Law, “The evil-god challenge,” Religious Studies 46 (2010): 365.
11 Michael Murray, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
12 Peter Cave, Humanism (Oxford: OneWorld, 2009), p. 146.
13 John Cottingham, “Philosophers are finding fresh meanings in Truth, Goodness and Beauty,” The Times (June 17, 2006).
14 Stephen Wykstra, personal communication, Sept. 8, 2011.
15 Stephen Law, Humanism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 76.
16 J. C. Maxwell, “Science and Free Will,” cited in L. Campbell and W. Garnett, The Life of James Clerk Maxwell (London: Macmillan, 1882), p. 443.
17 Joel Marks, “Confessions of an Ex-Moralist,” The Stone (August 21, 2011).
19 Shelly Kagan, The Limits of Morality (Oxford: Clarendon: 1989), p. 13.