The Nordic Debates and Tour

The Nordic Debates and Tour

Traveling the Nordic countries and Scandinavia, Dr. Craig observes the continuing influence of Richard Dawkins. He also distinguishes between "atheism" and "non-theism" and answers whether God is a "meaningless question".

Transcript The Nordic Debates and Tour

The topic that they had selected for the debate was rather odd, it was called “Can the universe exist without God?” And what the topic required me to argue was that there is no possible world in which the universe exists without God.

What is God? To me the sentence “God exists” is an expression of emotion, not a factual proposition.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, in April of this year you had a chance to do a Nordic speaking tour. Now, right off the bat, we need to understand the difference between Scandinavian countries and Nordic countries. You learned that when you got there – didn't you?

Dr. Craig: Right, we had been calling this our Scandinavian speaking tour, and the very first night that we arrived in Finland the Fins informed us in no uncertain terms that Finland is not a Scandinavian country, it is a Nordic country, and Scandinavia apparently refers only to Sweden and Norway. Since we were visiting Finland and Denmark as well, we had to begin calling this our Nordic speaking tour. And so that's what we've called it since then.

Kevin Harris: How did this tour come about?

Dr. Craig: Mats Selander in Stockholm, Sweden was the genesis of this tour. Mats had invited me to Sweden the first time several years ago and set up a wonderful speaking tour of Swedish universities. Then a few years later Mats came to Talbot School of Theology and was there for two years and completed our masters degree program in Philosophy at Talbot. He then returned to his native Sweden where he works for the Credo Academy, which is a sort of outreach of InterVarsity, a sort of teaching institute in Stockholm. He organized a tour for Paul Copan, Doug Gievett, and me of Swedish universities and churches, and then a large apologetics conference which was a great success. And so Mats felt that it was time to do this again, since several years had elapsed. And so he wanted to bring me over for this trip, and the Fins and the Danes got wind of this, and said, “We want to get in on this as well.” And so it expanded to a four country tour that was supervised by Mats, but then we had local people in each country who were in charge of what would happen in their respective countries.

Kevin Harris: The highlight of your time in Finland was a debate – the University of Helsinki.

Dr. Craig: Right, I had a debate there with a professor of theoretical cosmology named Kari Enqvist, and the topic that they had selected for the debate was rather odd – it was called, “Can the universe exist without God?”[1] Now when you think about that, Kevin, they probably thought this was just equivalent to the topic “Does God exist?” But when you think about it – can the universe exist without God? – an affirmative answer to that, yes the universe can exist without God, would put Enqvist in the drivers seat, he would be, then, the opening affirmative speaker, and I would actually be on the negative. So this debate was a little unusual in that he went first and I went second. And what the topic required me to argue was that there is no possible world in which the universe exists without God. In effect, an affirmative answer would be to say, there is a possible world – maybe this one – but a possible world in which the universe exists and God does not exist. And so what I needed to do was to pull out arguments for the existence of God as a metaphysically necessary being, because if you can show that God exists in every possible world then that entails that there is no possible world in which the universe exists without God, therefore supplying or justifying a negative answer to the question. So my case for a negative answer here was rather different than the case I normally give. I had to focus on arguments for God as a metaphysically necessary being.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, and also the topic of the debate (the question) can be construed as “Can the universe exist without God?” Not only God as metaphysically necessary in the cause but also it can be interpreted as “Can the universe be sustained in existence without God?” When I first saw the topic I wondered if you were going to have to argue that God sustains the universe in existence.

Dr. Craig: I see. Well, I interpreted it differently than that.[2] I see what you're saying. I interpreted it to mean, “Is there a possible world in which the universe exists but God does not exist?” That would be to say the universe exists without God. But you're quite right in saying that if things endure through time you can also interpret the question to say, “Can the universe continue to exist without God?” Does it need to be sustained in being by him moment by moment?

Kevin Harris: And that's a secondary question – isn't it?

Dr. Craig: Right, right. That's a question, really, that's an in-house question among Christian theologians – whether or not God not only creates the world but sustains it or conserves it in being.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, and you interpreted the debate topic the way it was intended to be interpreted. I think that's what they wanted.

Dr. Craig: I think so. What they thought they were doing is having a debate over theism vs. atheism. Although, when you think about it, you could say or he could have said, “Yes, God does exist in the actual world. The universe does not exist without God, but it could. There is a possible world in which the universe exists and God does not exist.” So that would have been a very odd line to take, and as a theoretical physicist, not a philosopher, he wasn't into those kind of subtleties.

Kevin Harris: What did he argue then? What was his case?

Dr. Craig: Oh, I must say, Kevin, he mainly simply said that the question under debate that evening was meaningless. Which made me think, well, then why did we pick this topic? It was picked at his behest. This was the topic he wanted to debate. And then he says it's meaningless. Now, why would anyone pick a meaningless topic to have a debate on? That struck me as very odd. But the reason he gave for thinking that the question was meaningless was the old falsification principle of meaning, which says that if it is in principle impossible to falsify a statement through empirical means, therefore that statement is meaningless. This falsification principle was floated by logical positivists back in the forties and fifties, and it's been utterly abandoned among philosophers since then since there are obviously meaningful statements which are not falsifiable. And so no current philosopher would hold to the falsification principle of meaning, but Enqvist, as an older scientist who was probably educated during the positivist era, was still holding on to this sort of lingering positivism and used that as a justification for saying it's a meaningless question.

Kevin Harris: And that would do an end-run on the whole thing – wouldn't it? – just to say, “It's a meaningless question.”

Dr. Craig: It would say that the whole question of God's existence just has no answer. It is neither true nor false. This is why, by the way, Kevin, atheism is not the same thing as non-theism. Non-theism can include atheism, the claim that God does not exist; it can include agnosticism, which is just the lack of belief in God, “I don't know whether God exists or not;” and it can contain what one of my former professors has called acognosticism, that is to say, it's a meaningless question, it's neither true nor false that God exists, it's just meaningless. And all three of those would be non-theistic points of view. So Enqvist was taking this sort of acognostic position.

Kevin Harris: Your case involved contingency and the ontological argument?

Dr. Craig: Yes, I used that as well.

Kevin Harris: You're getting very brave with that. [laughter]

Dr. Craig: I know, I know, I have been getting increasingly bold in using the ontological argument in debates. I guess I just am convinced it's a good argument, and so I lay it out there and I never hear a good response to it from my opponents. And then I use the moral argument, as well, because if moral truths are grounded in God certain moral truths are metaphysically necessary truths and so true in all possible worlds. So they would give you a metaphysically necessary being. And as I recall I used some version of the kalam argument where I argued that there would also have to be a metaphysically necessary being in order to bring the universe into existence.

Kevin Harris: Let's go to another highlight of the debate on “Does God exist?”

Dr. Craig: This was a debate in Denmark. They also had a debate with a professor at the University of Copenhagen named Klemens Kappel, who is a very well-known atheist in Danish culture.[3] He's very outspoken and very bold.[4] He asserts that everyone knows that God does not exist. We all know that. And so in a sense there's no need to even argue for it, he just asserts it without argument because he says “we all know it's true.” And so I presented the usual arguments that I have for the existence of God. And to my surprise, Kevin, Kappel had no more response to these arguments than did Kari Enqvist. Now Enqvist at least had an excuse for not engaging with these arguments, namely, he's not a philosopher, he's a scientist. But Kappel had no such excuse. He is a prominent Danish philosopher, and in his written work he said that one could furnish, in principle, evidence for God's existence by either giving philosophical arguments, inference to the best explanation, or testimonial evidence. And when I read that I thought, “That's very interesting,” because my arguments that I typically give could all be categorized as one of those three sorts. And so that was the way I presented my case. I said, “I am going to meet Professor Kappel's own standards for providing evidence for God's existence.” So I gave for my philosophical argument the contingency argument, and I mentioned as well in passing the moral argument and ontological argument as also types of philosophical arguments. They belong to that species. For inference to the best explanation I used the origin of the universe and the fine-tuning of the universe and argued that in each case these are best explained by an intelligent creator and designer of the universe. And then for testimonial evidence I gave the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus because our knowledge of history is based upon testimony, in this case literary testimony to the occurrence of these past events, which are then best explained by the resurrection. So it was very nice to lay out the case in such a way that it fell into the taxonomy of arguments or evidence that Kappel himself proposed.

Kevin Harris: Yet it seems that he was not interested in responding to any of that.

Dr. Craig: He wasn't. He wouldn't respond to the specific arguments. In fact what he got up and said was: “I don't think we're here tonight to be debating these kinds of arguments. What we ought to be debating is why a debate like this should even take place. That's what I want to discuss. Why should we even have a debate like this?” So he didn't want to have a debate on the existence of God. He wanted to have a debate on why we should have debates on God's existence.

Kevin Harris: Well, that's just nauseous, given the topic of the debate.

Dr. Craig: Exactly, he had agreed to the topic. It was so strange.

Kevin Harris: Well, Bill, you're not saying this, but I am: I think that's a desperate measure, when he says, “OK. I'm not going to be able to say anything about this or bond, so let's talk about why we have these debates, and we ought to recycle, and go green!” [laughter]

Dr. Craig: Yes, you know, he even ran out of things to say about why we should be having this debate and attempted to end his speech early and go to the audience to take questions instead. And the moderator said, “No, no, we'll have a question period at the end of the debate. You need to complete your speech and then we'll have questions later.” And so he simply sat down because he had nothing more to say.

Kevin Harris: Next, we're off to Sweden.

Dr. Craig: That's right. From Copenhagen we flew to Stockholm where Mats Selander met us, and Mats had organized a large apologetics conference in a local church there at which I spoke. And they made me do full duty here. I was speaking all day long and then preaching Sunday morning in the church services that followed. There were over four hundred young Swedes that came out to this conference. It was marvelous to see their enthusiasm and their commitment. One of the things I forget to mention, Kevin, was when we arrived in Helsinki in Finland we discovered that the book On Guard had just come out that very week in Finnish. When we got to Stockholm in Sweden we discovered that On Guard had just appeared in Swedish about two weeks prior. So in each of these countries at the conferences they were able to furnish people with copies of On Guard in their own language, which was just a great follow-up then to the conferences at which I spoke. People then had a tool or a resource to which they could go for further study and information.[5] And so it was really a wonderful conference that we had there in Stockholm.

Kevin Harris: After that, another public lecture at the University of Bergen in Norway: “God is Not a Delusion.” How was that received?

Dr. Craig: Very, very well. The University of Bergen is a large secular Norwegian university in a very beautiful coastal town, by the way. And the auditorium that night was absolutely crammed with students sitting in the isles, lining the walls. It was an electric atmosphere. I spoke on Richard Dawkins' critique of arguments for the existence of God, and examined them one by one, and showed how Dawkins had in fact failed to offer any sort of serious criticism of these arguments. And then it was thrown open to questions from the audience, and we had a really good time of interaction with the Norwegian students. In all of these Nordic countries – Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway – I spoke in English without a translator, and these students are so proficient in English that they were able to understand it, and then interact with me in English. It's very impressive, and we had a wonderful time of dialogue and conversation there.

Kevin Harris: Does Dawkins have some influence in these countries, too, on this Nordic speaking tour?

Dr. Craig: Yes, I am really struck, Kevin, everywhere I go at the worldwide influence that Richard Dawkins has had through his books. We do not realize the worldwide impact that he's had. This first hit me when I was in Mexico City for the La Ciudad de las Ideas conference a couple of years ago at which Dawkins spoke. And when he spoke he gave an angry, hateful diatribe against Christianity – this was not the debate, this was in a lecture he gave the day before the debate – in which he had ridiculed and attacked the virgin Mary. I mean, and this in Mexico, a Catholic country. And I would say about sixty percent of the audience gave him a standing ovation when he was done. The other forty percent, interestingly enough, remained seated. But at least sixty percent of that audience just adored him, they thought he was just wonderful. And I thought, this man is really having a remarkable impact in other countries through his books as they're translated into various languages.

And that underlines the importance of getting our materials translated as well, and why we're so eager to have our materials available in Portuguese and Spanish, and now we're working on Chinese. In fact, Kevin, I got an email the other day from someone in Karachi, Pakistan saying that the academics at the University of Pakistan were all influenced by Richard Dawkins' atheism, and he was so grateful for the materials that I had provided in response to Dawkins because this was his best defense for the belief in the existence of God. Now, that made me have sort of double feelings. One the one hand, given the nature of Pakistan as a haven for terrorism and so forth, you almost could be thankful for Richard Dawkins' secular influence in a country like that. On the other hand, you don't want people to become atheists; you want them to become Christians. So there, again, I'm grateful that my materials are being read and are available apparently to some at least in that country. But, again, just to underline the point that he is having a tremendous influence worldwide.

Kevin Harris: In Norway, in fact, one student stood up and he said, “I don't have a question, but I just have to tell you, I'm feeling very glad that you have so taken apart these arguments from Dawkins.”

Dr. Craig: Yes, he said, “I'm a Christian but I read Dawkins' book The God Delusion and it caused me deep doubts. But after hearing you tonight I'm very glad that you came and to have learned that these arguments are really as bad as you say they are.” So it was really wonderful to see that victory in this young man's life.

This also emphasizes an interesting point, Kevin. Often I'll hear atheists and agnostics say how closed-minded believers are, how they don't follow the evidence where it leads, how they're dogmatic and narrow-minded, and so forth. I think that is very untrue,[6] and I think the best evidence for that is the tremendous amount of doubt that many, many believers struggle with. I encounter all the time Christians who have read these works by Dawkins and so forth and who are deeply shaken in their faith and struggling with doubt about this. They are very open-minded, very open to the evidence, and troubled by it. Much more so than atheist students. I don't hear many atheists who are really struggling with doubts about their atheism and really deeply conflicted by the fact that some of the world's most intelligent scholars like Alvin Plantinga and N. T. Wright and Christopher Isham and so forth are outspoken Christian believers. They seem far more impervious to the evidence than do Christians.

Kevin Harris: Bill, the tide has turned. If you want to see a narrow-minded person, the New Atheists, just hang out on YouTube and some of the internet sites, and things like that. Extremely narrow-minded. They are the new fundamentalists.

Dr. Craig: That's what they've been called.

Kevin Harris: And I'm afraid that's the case. A lot of so-called atheist leaders are now lamenting that, and all I can say is, “Well, let's see how you like it for a while!” [laughter] Because we've certainly been accused of that, and maybe rightly so in the past. And best-sellers like Dawkins are responsible for that internationally.

Dr. Craig: I think it's important to remember that these are countries that are deeply, deeply secularized. In Denmark something like only two percent of people will attend church on a Sunday morning. These are some of the most secular countries in the world. And yet we encountered their vibrant Christian believers who are informed, intelligent, and very much involved in the defense of the faith, and in seeing the need for equipping the church to give an answer for the hope within. So I was very encouraged, very optimistic, for what the future holds even in these countries.[7]

[1] For a video of this debate, see (accessed March 18, 2014).

[2] 5:00

[3] For a video of this debate, see (accessed March 18, 2014).

[4] 10:00

[5] 15:02

[6] 20:00

[7] Total Running Time: 22:21 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)