Proofs for God, Foreknowlege, and Scientism
Q&A with Dr. Craig on proofs for God, God's foreknowledge, and the abundance of a view called Scientism.
Proofs for God, Foreknowledge, and Scientism
Kevin Harris: Thank you for joining us on Reasonable Faith. We are dealing with some questions here that we've received from you. This first question says,
Dr. Craig, I've learned a lot from your debates and lectures and I think the kalam is a knockdown argument. However I'm a little surprised I've never heard you directly address any of the famous cosmological proofs of St. Thomas Aquinas, whom I'm also a pretty big fan of. Would you mind explaining how you feel these and other classical arguments for God's existence stand up to modern attacks? Do you think the kalam is just a more sturdy argument?
Dr. Craig: I do think the kalam cosmological argument is a better argument, and that's why I defend it. If he would like to see my discussion of Thomas' Five Ways, take a look at my first book that I ever published The Cosmological Argument From Plato to Leibniz, and that has a survey of Aquinas' three versions of the cosmological argument. I discuss some of the issues that are raised in those. I do find those arguments to be problematic. Thomas' main proof, his third argument, is based upon Aristotelian metaphysical distinctions which are very controversial and I think difficult to defend and lead to a concept of God which I find enormously implausible, namely the idea of God as the pure act of being – God is existence itself subsisting. So I'm not persuaded by these Thomistic arguments. However I do like Leibniz's contingency argument very much. And that is somewhat akin to Aquinas' arguments which do not presuppose a beginning of the universe but argue for God as a kind of ground of being of the existence of the universe. And so I do defend Leibniz's contingency argument in various places, but I'm not a fan of Aquinas' arguments.
Kevin Harris: This questioner says:
As Christians we talk constantly about the sovereignty of God. You've made many compelling arguments concerning free will, middle knowledge, and Molinism. However, I still feel I cannot reconcile biblical claims with the notion that God allows man to exert his free will. It makes sense to me that God allows man to exercise his free will and as a result evil abounds; furthermore this worldly evil can and does interact with the Christian.
Now the bottom line in this long question, Dr. Craig, he says,
is God forced to deal with the cards we as free agents deal him? Can we really bank on him as being sovereign and really count on the promises that are made in the Bible? Don't the promises that God makes in the Bible lead us to believe that he will intervene on behalf of his people? Should we count on this or would such confidence be naïve in the face of man's free will and the randomness that evil can execute on us?
Dr. Craig: Now, this listener seems to agree that God's sovereignty and free will are compatible with each other insofar as the evil in the world is concerned, but perhaps he feels uncomfortable with the Molinist position, that God doesn't determine the truth value of subjunctive conditionals about how we would freely choose if we were in certain circumstances. These are traditionally called counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. And it is the case on the Molinist view that God doesn't determine the truth value of these; these are outside of God's control. And therefore I would answer, yes, God is forced to deal with the cards that he's dealt; that is to say, he confronts a certain set of counterfactual creaturely freedom that are true, and he has to work within those parameters. Some worlds that are logically possible in and of themselves may not be feasible for God to create, given the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom that are true. For example, Alvin Plantinga has speculated that perhaps there is no world of free moral agents which has as much good as this world does but with less evil. It may be that for any world feasible for God with this much moral good there would be at least this much moral evil in it as well. So it is correct that on Molinism God must play the hand that has been dealt to him by these counterfactuals of creaturely freedom.
But I don't find that to be an unacceptable infringement of God's sovereignty. It is logically impossible to make someone freely do something. So it's logically impossible for God to determine the truth values of these counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. If it's possible that there are free creatures then there will be these counterfactuals, I think, of how they would act in various circumstances that are not within God's control because they are free. But God is a sovereign being and he can so order the circumstances and the people in them in this world that ultimately his purposes are achieved through the free decisions of creatures. But he may well have to put up with considerable evil and suffering and undesirable things along the way to those ultimate purposes being actualized. And that would be part of the nature of a feasible world.
So can we bank on God's being sovereign? Yes, in the sense that he is the one who has elected freely to create certain circumstances and put certain creatures in them knowing how they would act. Now, these other questions – can we rely on the promises made in the Bible? Don't the promises God makes in the Bible lead us to believe he will intervene on behalf of his people? That's really quite a question independent of Molinism or Calvinism or whatever view you adopt. This is more a question of biblical exegesis. Do these blanket promises in the Scriptures mean that God is always going to intervene and save his elect? That's just a question of biblical interpretation; that has nothing to do with Molinism.
Kevin Harris: Well, “save his elect” in the sense of from tragedy or from sickness, or things like that.
Dr. Craig: Right, that's independent of Molinism. That's a question that you could pose to the Calvinist or to the Arminian or to anybody, and that's a matter of biblical exegesis. I guess I would say that no, these promises don't always mean that in every case he's going to intervene and save you. We know there are abundant examples in Scripture where God permits his people to suffer and to go through horrible circumstances and he doesn't intervene to save them.
Kevin Harris: He would guarantee ultimate salvation, but . . .
Dr. Craig: Yes, but I don't think that's what he's talking about, if I understand the question.
Kevin Harris: He's talking about circumstances of life, yeah, like a drive-by shooting, or something like that.
Dr. Craig: Right, or sick and dying of cancer, or something. When you look at God's hall of fame in the book of Hebrews chapter 11 he talks about how God saved many of them and spared them and so forth, but then he says some of them were sawn in two, some of them were killed, and many of these heroes were martyred for their faith. So God's hall of fame includes people for whom he did not intervene to save them from disaster, and of course the paradigm example is Jesus of Nazareth himself. He asked that this cup might pass from him if it be possible, and God didn't allow that to happen. He went to the cross and suffered that horrible death on our behalf. So I would say that although there are these sort of general promises in Scripture, no, you can't count on these sort of blanket promises applying in every case, that God is going to intervene and spare you and save you.
Kevin Harris: So someone might ask, “Does God foreknow in his foreknowledge the cards that he will be dealt?”
Dr. Craig: Yes, if he has middle knowledge; those are the cards. The cards are these counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which God knows. He says here, “Shouldn’t the Christian expect, given that God is sovereign, that the free will of a murder or a kidnapper should not trump the free will of God in desiring to protect his follower?” Well, I guess I just don't see that that follows. God freely allows you to suffer at the hands of the murderer or the kidnapper knowing that out of that suffering his ultimate purposes for humanity may be achieved. And so God isn't under any obligation to provide us with an easy life that is free from the moral sins of other persons around us.
Kevin Harris: Okay. Let's jump to the ontological argument. Buckle your seat belt.
Dr. Craig, listening to your Defenders class on the ontological argument you responded to the following objection: Isn't it intuitive that there's a possible world in which a maximally great being wouldn’t exist, say, a world in which the only creatures that exist are tortured rabbits. Your response seemed to parry this objection by saying that, given that God exists, that his existence constrains the types of worlds that are possible, and that it's intuitive that a maximally great being wouldn’t exist in such a world. This world turns out to be metaphysically impossible. While the objection holds the premise of the argument, and thus the argument's success, in question, doesn't this response assume the argument's conclusion, namely, that God exists?
Dr. Craig: No, not at all. It doesn't assume that God exists. What it assumes is that God's existence is possible. The person who thinks that it's possible that there is a world in which the highest life forms are rabbits that are unremittingly tortured and suffering with no redemption is assuming that it's impossible that a maximally great being exists. So the assumption that that rabbit-world is a possible world I think is parasitic upon the assumption that the first premise of the ontological argument is false, that it's possible that a maximally great being exists. So it doesn't assume that God exists, to say that that other world is not really metaphysically possible. Rather it's to say if God's existence is possible, as it seems to be, then that other world is not really a possible world. It's just a product of human imagination. We can imagine things but that doesn't mean that they're really possible. I can imagine, for example, a world in which things pop into being without causes. I can picture in my mind a world in which horses and Eskimos and rabbits are popping into being without any cause, I can have that mental picture in my mind, but that doesn't mean that's really a metaphysically possible world. I would say that such a world is actually impossible. So while I can imagine such a world that doesn't mean that such a world is truly conceivable, and therefore logically or metaphysically possible.
Kevin Harris: Does someone in Defenders class ask you, “Isn't it intuitive that there's a possible world in which a maximally great being wouldn't exist?”
Dr. Craig: Yes, that was in the Defenders class. I think it was Bob in the Defenders class that raised this issue. And I think I may have used the example of the world of rabbits which I got from Tom Morris in his book Anselmian Explorations. That would be an example of a world that God would not create. I guess maybe that's the assumption here, Kevin, that I need to make explicit. The assumption here is that a maximally great being wouldn't actualize a world like that, and so it's really metaphysically impossible given the existence of a maximally great being.
Kevin Harris: Well, see, because the ontological argument would present that there is no possible world in which a maximally great being would not exist.
Dr. Craig: Right, that's why this world is not a real possible world.
Kevin Harris: Because of the rabbits or because of the maximally great being?
Dr. Craig: Because a maximally great being would not create a world in which the highest life forms are rabbits that exist in unremitting suffering. That's incompatible with his goodness. So a maximally great being wouldn't create such a world. So if there is such a possible world it follows that there is no maximally great being. So the objection is correct, I think, that we can imagine possible worlds in our minds, we can imagine this world of suffering rabbits, that are incompatible with the existence of a maximally great being. But are those really possible worlds or are they just products of the imagination, like worlds in which things pop into existence uncaused? And what I'm suggesting is, is that to think that that is a possible world is to assume that it is impossible for a maximally great being to exist; it's to assume that the first premise of the argument is false.
Kevin Harris: Okay, our next question:
Dr. Craig, over the years I've noticed a trend toward some weaker kind of scientism in atheist thinkers. A foremost example is the chemist professor Peter Atkins at Oxford. But I also see this in atheist scholars in the wider academic world, in the UK and in Scandinavia, where this mode of thinking seems to surface in debates and dialogues. My question is not really about scientism but about its modern application. Some of those academics who seem to hold to scientism [and we'll explain what that is in a moment] seem to make the move akin to: “Well, no, I don't believe that the only truths are those which come from science, but I take the weaker stance that science has a lot to say about a lot of magisteria, including religion and theism. It should be allowed to analyze these.” So the atheist philosophy professor Stephen Law upon his reflection and analysis of professor Richard Dawkins' position.
Now when theists in philosophy, such as yourself, analyze and produce arguments, some on the other side (namely those just in the natural sciences) seem to then turn against philosophy or the sub-disciplines of logic and metaphysics on the whole. Some, though thankfully not all, even resorting to launching name-calling attacks upon it, calling it a waste of time and unfruitful, etc. So these same people who say science should not be blocked from analyzing claims traditionally viewed as outside her scope also make this sweeping rejection move against philosophy and don't let their own arguments or thoughts become analyzed by the very people who are trained to do so. Why are they allowed to make such apparent hypocritical, and at the very least irrational, moves? How can anyone even hope to engage such atheists anymore if, as it indeed seems to be occurring in public forums, they tend more and more to use such moves, making philosophical claims and discarding the primary means to analyze those claims?
Dr. Craig: Well, I can certainly share the frustration that this listener expresses. You have certain folks who will give lip service to the fact that there are non-scientific forms of truth, and truths that can be known even though they're not capable of being scientifically proven. But then you have this, as he puts it, hypocritical reaction where they will be very dismissive of philosophy when it begins to analyze concepts and implications involved in scientific thinking. And in terms of his question – why are they allowed to get away with this? – well, I hope they're not allowed to get away with it. I try to call them on it, and I hope others will do so, as well. The fact is that there really aren't these sort of artificial distinctions where you can hermetically seal off philosophy from science and from other disciplines; they're all intertwined and overlapping and working together.
So I would agree wholeheartedly that science has a great deal to say that is relevant to religion, to theology, and to philosophy, and therefore I am very zealous about informing myself about the worldview that one finds in contemporary natural sciences. But by exactly the same token that he suggests, philosophy is part and parcel of the natural sciences as well both in the assumptions of the natural sciences, in the tools of the natural sciences in terms of logic and probability theory, and then also in teasing out and finding the implications and ramifications of certain natural scientific theories. So these people who try to immunize themselves against philosophical critique, I think, are doing something that is really impossible to do. They cannot so immunize themselves. They're already up to their necks in doing philosophy anyway, and ultimately their attempt to do this is, I think, indefensible and won't go through.
Kevin Harris: And he says, yeah, here's the move that he sees time and time again: making philosophical claims and discarding the primary means to analyze those claims. Well, and he says, you know, why are they allowed to do this? Well, point that out. You are making philosophical claims and therefore they are open to philosophical scrutiny.
Dr. Craig: Yes.
Kevin Harris: Well, point it out. Don't call him a jerk, don't say “you're stupid.”
Dr. Craig: Yes, and I think we've seen in reaction to the claims of certain natural scientists like Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss some push back on the part of philosophers like Tim Maudlin, Gary Gutting, and others, who have insisted that philosophy is part and parcel of contemporary science and is a great aid to science in making conceptual distinctions and drawing implications and so forth, and therefore these are partners in dialogue. And I'm glad to see these philosophers pushing back against these really quite outrageous claims made by some natural scientists to be able to dispense with philosophical thinking.
 The questioner is referring to Defenders 2, Section “Existence of God”, Lecture #24. For a transcript that includes the Q&A being discussed, see http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s4-24 (accessed February 27, 2014).
 Total Running Time: 20:15 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)