Examining the Content of the Krauss Debates Part 3

Examining the Content of the Krauss Debates Part 3

Dr. Craig concludes commentary on his Brisbane debate with Krauss discussing internal vs. external questions, the limits and conceptual framework of science, certainty, and the ethics of science.


Transcript Examining the Content of the Krauss Debates (Part 3)

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, we are talking about the events in Australia, and we’ve decided to take our time and be as thorough as we can be concerning this tour because there has been so much interest in it from all over the world. And, again, I know your main interest, Bill, is focusing on the issues despite all the rather colorful things that happened on this tour.

Dr. Craig: Yes, we want to look at the arguments pro and con.

Kevin Harris: At the end of Dr. Krauss’ opening speech there in Brisbane he goes to the slaughter of the Canaanites. What’s important about the slaughter of the Canaanites is that it comes up even if the topic of the debate is: what is the best use of margarine in this recipe? [laughter]

Dr. Craig: Yes, what this had to do with science burying God, I don’t know. This was clearly a rhetorical ploy on Krauss’ part. I think he had been coached to do this because it can be presented in such a way that it is so prejudicial against the biblical theist that it turns the audience against him. But I thought what was significant, Kevin, and I was so pleased with how this went in this dialogue, is that when Krauss brought up the slaughter of the Canaanites issue, I decided – I know this is a red herring, but the moderator wants to talk about it. It would look like I was running away and hiding if I said, “Oh, this is a red herring. I refuse to discuss it.” I thought, “All right, we’ll talk about it. I will defend my position.” And in the course of the dialogue, Kevin, what actually happens is that Krauss comes to concede my position on the slaughter of the Canaanites. This is not to be missed because this is a huge concession in this debate. What I show is that there is no inconsistency between God’s being all-loving and all-good and his commanding the Israelite army to drive out the Canaanites and to exterminate those who refused to flee. And what Krauss comes to say eventually is that I have found an ethical theory that makes this consistent. And he doesn't dispute that fact. Instead he says, “Well, that’s unimportant; it’s not important to show that a theory is consistent. What’s important is to show that it’s true. And how do you know it’s true that these events really happened instead of just being legends?” And it was at that point, Kevin, that it was like a dawning in my mind. Silently I thought, “I’m arguing with a village atheist. He doesn’t even understand the objection that he, himself, is offering, much less the solution.” He’s just ranting and venting emotionally about the slaughter of the Canaanites as a kind of rhetorical device.

Kevin Harris: Walk us through this, Bill. Am I right – it’s an internal question?

Dr. Craig: That’s exactly it, Kevin. If these stories are false, if God never commanded this to happen, if these are mere legends about the founding of Israel, or these are fables, or if maybe the events actually happened but the Israelite armies carried away in their nationalistic fervor only thought that God had commanded them to do these things, then there’s no problem, right? The question, then, isn’t “are the stories true?” Because if they’re not true then there isn’t any problem to be solved. The problem is that there appears to be an inconsistency for the Bible believer because he affirms on the one hand that God is all-good and all-loving, and yet he affirms on the other hand that God commanded these Israelite armies to go in and drive out the Canaanites and slaughter those who refused to flee. And so there is an apparent contradiction here between God’s being all-good and his issuing this command. And so the challenge to the defender of biblical theism is to explain how these two beliefs can be consistent with each other. And so what I offer at some length is a theory of divine command ethics which shows how it’s perfectly consistent for God to be all-good and all-loving and yet for him to issue these commands. And at the end of the day Krauss doesn’t dispute this. He comes to admit that even the slaughter of the children that he was so angry about is consistent with God’s being all-loving and all-good because those children go to an eternal bliss in heaven of incomparable good so that God does no wrong to those children in ending their earthly life early and taking them to heaven.[1]

Kevin Harris: He grants that and then says, “Yeah, but is it true?”

Dr. Craig: Exactly, Kevin.

Kevin Harris: Well, wait a minute. That is another issue. What do you want to talk about? You want to talk about internal consistency or external consistency?

Dr. Craig: In effect, although I’m sure he doesn’t appreciate what he’s done because he doesn’t understand the objection, I don’t think he understands that he’s just given away the store in admitting that there’s no inconsistency here any longer. Because once you’ve granted that then the problem posed by these biblical stories is dissolved. So I took this to be a very significant victory in this dialogue. That’s the whole project of the problem of evil – isn’t it, Kevin? – is to try to show that the Christian is committed to the belief that God is all-powerful and all-good, and yet he’s also committed to the belief that there is genuine evil and suffering in the world. So there’s a claim there’s some sort of internal inconsistency in Christian belief. If the Christian can show that there is no inconsistency he will have solved the logical problem of evil. And it would simply be inappropriate for the atheist to retort at that point, “Well, but you haven’t proven that God exists.” That’s a different question.

Kevin Harris: He wraps it up with a summary of his points which were: knowledge about the physical world has buried already almost all the gods; there’s nothing different about Jesus or Christianity; the process of science overcomes our natural tendencies to believe in myth and superstition and replaces dogma with knowledge that works; we need to bury God in order to produce a better moral and ethical world; and we must openly call out lies and distortions even if it’s uncomfortable (as it was, believe me, tonight), he says; we should foster open questioning, refutation by others, and no false claim of certainty. So, he says, burying God is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. It will make society better.

Dr. Craig: Right, and I think in the podcasts that we’ve done on this we’ve shown how, in fact, none of those arguments shows that God does not exist. All that has been buried at most would be a caricature of God called god of the gaps where you use God as a stop gap to plug up the holes in current scientific knowledge of the world, and nobody is defending god of the gaps.

Kevin Harris: By the way, Norman Geisler says something like, whenever you say “better” you are implying a best. Better implies best. Is there anything to be said about that? Because Dr. Krauss does say that a lot: we need to make this a better world, we need to have better morality, and we need to make life and the world better. There’s an implicit appeal to a standard there, and we often bring out how a naturalistic worldview really doesn’t have that.

Dr. Craig: Yes, this emerges in the course of the dialogue, I think, with real starkness. Again and again I will challenge Krauss on the point that he cannot – from science, without theology – provide such an objective standard for appraising the moral worth of actions objectively, and that at best he could show that moral change has occurred. For example, we don’t hold today that slavery is good whereas in the ancient world they did hold that slavery was just fine. He can show there’s been a moral change; but what he cannot show is that there has been a moral improvement, because that implies approximation more closely to an objective standard that transcends human culture and societal mores, and that cannot be provided by science. Quite the contrary, science has to assume certain moral values in order to operate. But it can’t justify those assumptions itself.

Kevin Harris: You came out in your opening statement at this point, Bill, and bit your tongue and said, “I want to thank Dr. Krauss for making this so interesting.”

Dr. Craig: Interesting, right. [laughter]

Kevin Harris: Right, okay. You then talked about the Time cover story, the famous “Death of God” issue, and then the later Time cover that said “Is God Coming Back to Life?” You got a big applause at that point, and this was just kind of your opening statement.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, what I wanted to help this audience in Australia see, a very secular audience, is that the opposition between science and religion that Dr. Krauss portrays is not in fact an accurate representation of what’s going on today.[2] Today in North America and Europe there is a flourishing dialogue between science and theology that is taking place. There are numerous journals devoted to this. There are conferences. There are scholarly societies. There are endowed chairs in science and theology at Oxford and Cambridge. So I wanted to help people see that this idea that science is somehow burying theology or religion is out of date and out of touch with what’s really going on. Dr. Krauss is really out of touch on this. He’s confined in his little corner of secular web internet infidel types and isn’t participating in the broader dialogue that is going on today.

Kevin Harris: You made three points. You said, “I can make six, I only have time for three.”

Dr. Craig: Yeah, I put all six up on the power point. I had hoped the moderator would say, “Well, let’s hear about those other three, Dr. Craig” but he never bit. In fact he scarcely raised any questions about the three I did mention.

Kevin Harris: What was the first one?

Dr. Craig: The first one was that theology furnishes a conceptual framework in which science can flourish. And what I showed there is that the reason that modern science arose in the West as opposed to the Orient or in Africa is because of the influence of Christianity upon Western culture. According to Christian theism the world is not divine as it is in pantheistic Eastern religions, nor is it indwelt by spirits as in animistic polytheistic religions. Rather, the world is the product of a transcendent creator and is distinct from him and is endowed with a rational structure that makes it open to exploration and discovery. I showed that the whole scientific enterprise depends upon certain philosophical assumptions which science cannot justify but which interestingly enough are part and parcel of a Christian worldview. So theology can, and in fact historically did, furnish the conceptual framework in which modern science was born and can flourish.

Kevin Harris: Any reply from Krauss on that point?

Dr. Craig: Yes, there was a reply that comes up in the dialogue, and fortunately I had seen Krauss make this similar reply in Stockholm in his panel discussion there and was ready for it. Dr. Krauss doesn’t understand this first argument. What he says is that the church was the only cultural institution at the time that had the money and the power to fund modern science, and so in effect the church was like the National Science Foundation of that era, and so it gave the funding that enabled modern science to flourish. And he says we can thank them for that and now forget about it and move on – thank you very much, we’re moving forward. And as I pointed out to him in the dialogue again and again, this isn’t the argument, Dr. Krauss. The argument is that you need a conceptual framework in order for science to exist that guarantees things like the laws of logic, the validity of inductive reasoning, the moral values that underpin modern science, the reliability of our cognitive faculties in knowing the physical world. All of these are philosophical assumptions, and you cannot just say to the Christian faith “well thank you very much for these, and now let’s move on” because modern science cannot exist without these assumptions. They are underpinnings to science, and therefore this conceptual framework must be in place in order for science to exist and flourish, but science can’t justify this framework. This is a philosophical framework which theology can supply for science. And so this is a way in which science and theology are profitably interrelated that, notice Kevin, has nothing to do with appeal to god of the gaps.

Kevin Harris: This is all the more reason why Dr. Krauss shouldn’t deny philosophy like he does.

Dr. Craig: That’s exactly right. He has this scientistic attitude that is very condescending toward philosophy and I think that again and again, Kevin, his philosophical naiveté and mistakes come out in precisely cases like this where he doesn't understand the argument.[3] He thinks it’s an argument about funding provided by the church when it’s really a philosophical argument about a conceptual framework that must be there for science to exist and cannot be simply dismissed and moved away from.

Kevin Harris: I’m glad you brought this up because he’s been so critical of philosophy. His philosophy is that philosophy is not necessary. [laughter]

Dr. Craig: Oh it’s worse than that – that philosophers are expert in nothing, that there’s no content there.

Kevin Harris: Well, again, if I’m getting it right here, it’s like hijacking the philosophical assumptions and underpinnings of science and attributing them back to science.

Dr. Craig: Yes, and where this especially emerges, Kevin, was one of the assumptions that I pointed out was the objectivity of the moral values that underline science. Dr. Krauss himself emphasizes these over and over again – how science cannot exist without assuming things like honesty, transparency, full disclosure, and these other moral values. And his philosophical mistake is thinking that because science presupposes these values that somehow science thereby justifies that assumption, which it doesn’t. Those are philosophical assumptions. As I said several times in the dialogue, science describes how the world is; it cannot describe how the world ought to be. In order to have that moral “ought” you need something that is extra-scientific. Later in the Melbourne dialogue he comes to admit – he says, “There is no objective moral ought.” So he actually espouses the moral nihilism that would destroy science. He is all over the map.

Kevin Harris: What a mess.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, it’s a mess, Kevin, he’s all over the map ethically. He’s in the one moment expounding consequentialism and utilitarianism, then he’s expounding self-interest ethics, then he’s denying that moral objectivity exists. It’s very clear, as one blogger said in response to this, that Krauss has no overall systematic understanding of these worldview issues. He just understands little pieces of it. And so when he hears something brought up he just hacks away at that piece – hitting things piecemeal without any understanding of a kind of integrative worldview. As a result he is just all over the map on these ethical issues and never really understands the contribution that philosophy and theology make to science in providing some of the underpinning for the assumptions that undergird science and without which science couldn’t exist.

Kevin Harris: I thought of an illustration: a scientist is sitting in his lab and he says, “I ought to use this beaker rather than this beaker because I’ll get a better mix in this bigger one. So I ought to use this bigger beaker.”

Dr. Craig: Let me correct you on that, Kevin, because that isn’t a moral ought.

Kevin Harris: It’s a logical “should,” right?

Dr. Craig: Well, it’s an ought that would say, “If you want to get accurate results you ought to use the better beaker.” The kind of ought that we’re talking about here would be: you ought not to fudge the results of your research in your application for funding to the National Science Foundation.

Kevin Harris: Well, thank you very much Dr. Krauss, you interrupted me. [buzzer sound] [laughter] No, what I was going to say was – and then the scientist could also sit in his lab and say, “I ought not create this chemical weapon because it’s so volatile. I ought not create it because of what it will do potentially.” Now one is –what? – a logical, use this beaker rather than this beaker, a logical should; and the other is a moral ought.

Dr. Craig: Exactly, that’s very good. That’s exactly correct.

Kevin Harris: Okay. See I’m getting good at this back and forth dialogue.

Dr. Craig: [laughter] That’s right.

Kevin Harris: I’m just nice about it. Okay, so anyway, I brought all that up to try to show the distinction.

Dr. Craig: Yes, very good.

Kevin Harris: Well, number two: science can verify as well as falsify theological claims. That’s your number two.

Dr. Craig: Yes, and what I pointed out here is that science and theology do sometimes intersect when theology makes predictions about the physical world, and in some cases science falsifies these. For example, the claims of ancient Greek religions that the sky rests on the shoulder of Atlas is easy to falsify.[4] But I also claimed that pantheistic religions like Taoism and Hinduism have been falsified in their claim that the world is eternal and divine because the evidence for the Big Bang theory shows that the world is temporally finite and therefore contingent. Therefore it is neither eternal nor divine. And so that would be to falsify a religious claim. On the other hand I point out sometimes science can verify theological claims. For example, the Judeo-Christian belief that the universe had a beginning when it was created out of nothing by God has been verified by modern science. Now that’s not to say that it has been decisively proved, science never achieves certainty as we emphasized in our podcasts on Sean Carroll some months back. But that has been verified by science. Similarly, I argued the claim of the great monotheisms of the world that the world is the product of an intelligent designer who designed the universe has been dramatically verified by the discovery of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent interactive life. Now on this point Dr. Krauss did not engage in this dialogue with the fine-tuning, but with respect to the question of the origin of the universe, here was the second major concession that took place in Brisbane. Not only was there the concession that I showed the consistency of the slaughter of the Canaanites with God’s goodness, but he also admitted in the course of the dialogue that the universe had a beginning. He said, “If I had to bet, I would bet that the universe had a beginning.” But then he makes a great expostulation about how this is not known with certainty. And I said, “Dr. Krauss, I’ve never claimed to know this with certainly.” My consistent claim has always been that the premises of the cosmological argument are more plausible than their negations.

Kevin Harris: You religious people are so certain, and have so much certitude. Science is about uncertainty.

Dr. Craig: Yeah.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, I’m paraphrasing Dr. Krauss there.

Dr. Craig: Closely paraphrasing.

Kevin Harris: And so certitude comes up several more times, then.

Dr. Craig: Yes, over and over again because he’s under the misimpression that religious believers and natural theologians are claiming some kind of certitude about their conclusions or their arguments, which is simply false. I am simply saying that the premises of the cosmological argument are more plausible than not, and Krauss agrees with that. He agrees that the premise that the universe began to exist us more plausibly true than false, and therefore if he had to bet he would say the universe began to exist. That is a second very significant concession that comes out of this Brisbane dialogue.

Kevin Harris: Number three, science encounters metaphysical problems which theology can help to solve.

Dr. Craig: Yes, what I point out here is that science has an insatiable thirst for explanation. The scientist wants to explain natural phenomena that he encounters. And in his quest for explanations eventually you reach the ultimate explanatory question: why does the universe exist? Why is there anything rather than nothing? And what I point out is that at that point the scientist has reached the limits of science. He cannot explain why scientifically anything exists rather than nothing. That’s a philosophical or metaphysical question, a question beyond physics. And here I argued that theology can help or augment science by helping to answer those metaphysical questions. Then I share Leibniz’s argument for God as a metaphysically necessary being who gives the sufficient reason for why anything at all exists rather than nothing, and in particular for why the universe exists rather than nothing. So by way of summary, I think I showed that there are at least three ways that science and theology interact in mutually beneficial ways: theology gives a conceptual framework that makes science possible; science can falsify or verify theological claims; and finally, theology can help to solve metaphysical problems that science encounters. And notice that none of these involves an appeal to this god of the gaps. So even if we agree with Dr. Krauss that science has buried the god of the gaps, that in no way suffices to show that science has buried God because science and theology interact in much more subtle ways then god of the gaps. And that’s why we have this flourishing dialogue going on today between science and theology.[5]

Kevin Harris: Next in the format when the two of you sat down the first thing that Krauss wanted to point out was that science is not a thing but is a process. Now that was in response, I believe, to the moderator.

Dr. Craig: Well, the thing that occurred to me as I thought about that later, it was an odd thing to say, but I would say that theology is also a process and not a thing. When you think of theology, it is an exploration by inquiring rational selves of the nature and existence and attributes of God. And I think theology is embarked on exactly the same sort of quest for understanding that science is embarked upon. So the attempt to portray science and theology as somehow poles apart or different from each other is, again, a caricature. Both of them are in process of discovering truth about the reality in which we live.

Kevin Harris: You then talk about his caricatures of so-called war between science and theology. But his argument back was that, “No, science has an ethos to it.” What does he mean? That science has a moral dimension to it?

Dr. Craig: Yes, that’s right. That it presupposes things like, you should report your findings honestly, don’t fudge your results. I agree with that – science couldn’t exist without such a moral ethos beneath it. But the thing that Dr. Krauss never seems to understand is that that ethos is extra-scientific, it is presupposed by science in the same way, for example, Kevin, that logic and mathematics is presupposed by science, not established by science. And so the thing that theology can do is to provide a justification for those underpinnings that make science possible.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, as we wrap up today, there was an interesting exchange here about “belief.” I noticed that a lot of our atheist friends, agnostic, skeptical friends, are allergic to the term “belief.” They think that it is somehow weak. I guess they equate it with, perhaps, blind faith. But Krauss says in response, “Well, first of all, there is an incorrect statement there. I don’t believe anything. Belief is not a word that scientists use.”

Dr. Craig: Right, and as I point out, of course you believe things. You believe what you just said, right? Don’t you believe that? And then he tries to escape the self-refuting situation in which he’s found himself by saying that when something is near certainty, then you might call it a belief. So he’s using the word belief, again, in a nonstandard way to indicate something that is held with near certainty. And that’s that old bugaboo again – he thinks that religious believers are making claims about certainty when in fact we aren't necessarily. So it’s just a false impression of what it means to believe something.

Kevin Harris: Let’s wrap it up on that note, Bill, because I think this gets back to what you said in Reasonable Faith: the difference between showing that Christianity is true and knowing that Christianity is true. Certitude, being certain, the different between certainty and 100% certainty. I don’t want to give the impression that we’re uncertain about our faith in Christ. So what is the point to be had by certainty?

Dr. Craig: I think that it’s psychologically dependent upon the individual involved. There’s a whole range of conviction that different people might have about different beliefs, and it’s simply incorrect to say that things that you believe are things that are held with certainty. I believe that I left the car keys in my pocket when I drove here today and I didn’t forget them and leave them in the car. But now I feel like I need to stick my hand in my pocket and see if they’re really there. I believe that, but I am not certain. So it’s just a false use of the word “belief” as Krauss does to equate it with certainty, and for him to therefore say ‘I have no beliefs’ – of course he does, he has beliefs, we all do. And whether these beliefs are held tenuously or with great certainty is incidental and person-relative. There’s a whole range of degrees of conviction that one can have about one’s various beliefs.

Kevin Harris: This came up a lot in the dialogue about it and you had to say that several times. “Now, wait a minute. When I’m giving these premises I’m showing where I think the evidence points, and here’s the support of them. I’m not saying it’s 100% certain that the universe had a beginning, but all the evidence certainly compiles . . .”

Dr. Craig: That’s exactly right, Kevin.[6] I hate to belabor the point but we do so only because he does continually bring this up again and again in that he caricatures religion as holding to things with certainty whereas science holds to things with uncertainty and provisional attitudes and things of that sort. And it is a false dichotomy that shows, I think, great ignorance of actual religious life and practice, as well as, frankly, the certainty with which scientists do often hold many of their conclusions

Kevin Harris: Well, Dr. Craig and I invite you to stay close. Next week we’ll discuss what happened in Sydney as we continue this series of podcasts on the Australian tour.[7]



[1] 5:19

[2] 10:08

[3] 15:10

[4] 19:59

[5] 25:19

[6] 30:16

[7] Total Running Time: 32:06 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)