“Is God a Delusion?”June 2018
William Lane Craig vs. Mike Begon
Mountford Hall, Liverpool University
- IntroductionDaniel Hill
- Opening StatementMike Begon
- Opening StatementWilliam Lane Craig
- First RebuttalMike Begon
- First RebuttalWilliam Lane Craig
- Second RebuttalMike Begon
- Second RebuttalWilliam Lane Craig
- Closing StatementMike Begon
- Closing StatementWilliam Lane Craig
- Closing remarksChairman
- Q & AQ & A
Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening. I hope you are all sitting comfortably. Welcome to the University of Liverpool, Mountford Hall, kindly provided by the guild of students for tonight’s debate. I apologise to those of you that are having to stand up in the gallery. All I can say in our defence is to quote the Daily Telegraph of Saturday where John Humphrys of the BBC said, You can tell the amateurs from the professionals when it comes to conference organisation; the amateurs put out far too many chairs. Thank you very much for coming here tonight. Let me introduce myself – my name is Daniel Hill. I teach in the department of philosophy here at the University.
To propose tonight’s motion that “God is a delusion” we have Professor Mike Begon sitting on the right hand side, who is Professor of Ecology here in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Liverpool. He came to Liverpool in 1975 after gaining a PhD at the University of Leeds. He’s the author of around 150 articles in professional scientific journals and also co-author of three text books: Ecology, Essentials of Ecology, and Population Ecology, which are used in hundreds of universities around the world.
To oppose tonight’s motion, arguing that God is not a delusion, we’re very pleased to have Professor William Lane Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology in California, sitting on my left. He gained a doctorate in philosophy at Birmingham University and then a doctorate in Theology at the University of Munich. He’s a popular lecturer on university campuses throughout the world and he’s authored, or edited, over thirty books as well as over a hundred articles in professional journals of philosophy and theology. And if you want to read more of them, many of them are available on his website www.williamlanecraig.com. You may have seen the interview with him that I mentioned before in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday by John Humphrys.
We also have a bookstall here at the back on my right hand side, on the back corner of the bottom floor here. Professor Begon has chosen, for his side of the argument, to be represented by Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion and Lewis Wolpert’s book Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Those books are available on the stall. Professor Craig is represented tonight by his signature work, Reasonable Faith, which I’m asked to tell you is available at a specially discounted price of ten pounds, rather than the usual £16.99. For those of you who can’t even afford that, there’s a two pound booklet that sets out the bare bones of Professor Craig’s case tonight, and that’s also available.
Let me outline proceedings for tonight. Each of our two speakers is going to speak four times. Professor Begon will speak first for twenty minutes, and then Professor Craig will reply for twenty minutes. Then Professor Begon will speak again, this time for twelve minutes, and Professor Craig will reply for twelve minutes. Professor Begon will speak for the third time, now for eight minutes; Professor Craig will reply. And then last, Professor Begon will speak for five minutes and Professor Craig will respond. So each speaker will have forty-five minutes to present his case in total, and time limits will be strictly enforced. After that we will have a five minute break to enable you just to stretch your legs if you’ve been uncomfortable up in the balcony. And then we’ll have question time for about twenty minutes, and then we’ll finish proceedings just a bit after 9:30pm. There won’t be any speeches after the break. I’d like you to leave all your questions and comments please to the question time, and I will explain how that will work after our break.
So, to start tonight going I’d like to invite Professor Begon to propose the motion that “God is a Delusion” and then Professor Craig to reply.
 Dr. Craig’s ministry website can now currently be found at ReasonableFaith.org.
Well, thank you, Daniel, and welcome everybody. I’m not sure if I’m unusual in just occasionally wondering whether anybody will turn up to my funeral. I have to say I feel a bit more optimistic after this evening. Not that I expect this evening’s proceedings to bear any relation to anything like that.
I stand before you as a biologist, but I’m not going to speak about biology or not to any great extent this evening. But that also makes me a scientist, and I think I am going to speak a certain amount of science. And as a scientist I’m going to have to be very careful with the meaning of the words that I use. And so we begin, really, with some definitions.
What do we mean by “God?” Clearly not an old man with a grey beard. Nor, I hope, some kind of airy-fairy notion like “God is love,” because that would leave me proposing the motion that love is a delusion which is another issue altogether. I think what we have to see is that God, if we’re going to have an argument at all, has some kind of extraordinary powers that the rest of us don’t have, and that God has used those powers at some point, has done something – has left some mark. Now, from my point of view, I don’t really care whether what God has done is “create the universe” or “breathe life into man” or “perform miracles in the here and now,” but God has to have done at least one of those things for us to have, I think, a meaningful argument this evening.
A bit more difficult: what do we mean by “a delusion?” I put up the two points that, it seems to me, define a delusion for us. A delusion is a belief held even when there is no evidence to support it and/or a belief held on the basis of an assertion. I’m going to come to these in turn. If they don’t make sense to you immediately, don’t worry because I’m now going to deal with those two bullet points one by one.
The second one first: what do we mean by “an axiom?” Because a delusion is something, it seems to me, held on the basis of an assertion posing as an axiom. An example of an axiom is there on the slide before you – it’s something that is incontrovertibly, irrefutably true; accepted by everyone. Something like, and there’s an example there, “a part of something is smaller than the whole of it.” In other words, the red part of that object is smaller than the whole object. I don’t think anybody would deny that that’s true. And things that follow logically from an axiom are equally incontrovertible. So it follows that if we remove part from the object something smaller will be left behind. If you don’t believe me, there you are, but you did believe me anyway because it’s incontrovertible. On the other hand, if we start with something which is no more than an assumption or an assertion, things begin to go a little wrong. I could assume, or perhaps I ought to say assert, that there are navy-blue potatoes on the moon. Nothing’s to stop me; there’s free speech. I can assume whatever I like. And if I make that assumption it follows by perfect logic that on the moon potato soup is navy-blue. Now, if I were to believe that that were true, you would all consider me to be deluded, and you would be right in doing so in spite of the fact that the logic by which I arrived at that conclusion is perfectly sound. The problem is that the assumption on which I based it – really the assertion on which I based it – was itself baseless and fallacious, which makes a pretty obvious point, really. That an assertion is not an axiom, something that follows logically, however logically, from an assertion is not, by any means, inevitable. Or, and this is really just putting the same thing in another way, a conclusion can be no more reliable than the assumption on which it is based.
So a delusion, that’s my second point made, really, something is a delusion if it is based on no more than an assertion treated as if it were an axiom.
And then I go to the first point there. Evidence. What do we mean by evidence? And to discuss what we mean by evidence really we have to discuss, I think, what we mean by science. For me, at least, and I think for most people, science and evidence are kind of inextricably linked to one another. So I’m going to talk about evidence.
In the same way as I chose a very simple idea of an axiom in order to describe what I mean by that, I’m going to have a very simple example of the use of evidence. And the example I’m going to use, if he’ll forgive me, are our chairman’s boxers. By which I don’t mean his dogs, or his chain of prize fighters, but his boxer shorts. And I’m going to make, to begin with, an assumption: that our chairman is wearing Union Jack boxer shorts. But it’s not quite just an assumption, because this could be supported by evidence. I’m not going to ask him to reveal . . . he may not even have boxer shorts on at all! I’m not going to ask him what kind of boxer shorts he has on, but clearly that assumption is testable by evidence. In other words, it’s not really an assertion at all, it’s a hypothesis. It’s a very trivial hypothesis, trivial in the sense that we could settle the matter once and for all by asking to see his boxer shorts. I’m not going to do so. But we could do. We could refute, at a stroke, my hypothesis, or we could confirm it, and that would be the end of the matter. But scientifically this is trivial and not very useful to us, and really very, as you might imagine in all sorts of ways, atypical of science in general. But it’s atypical in a particularly important way that I want to explain now. And I’ll replace my first hypothesis with a more scientifically meaningful one.
My more scientifically meaningful hypothesis is that our chairman always wears Union Jack boxer shorts. Now we can make a start this evening in testing that hypothesis. If we saw his boxer shorts and they were not Union Jack boxer shorts, that hypothesis would be refuted at a stroke. If he was, that could do no more than increase my confidence somewhat that my hypothesis is correct. I could then come back tomorrow and ask to see his boxer shorts again, and if they were Union Jack, my confidence would grow a little more. And then come back and again my confidence would grow a little more if his boxer shorts were Union Jack, and so on and so on. And this could go on for a year; it could go on for two years. And with each increment of evidence, with each repeated test that my hypothesis had, so to speak, survived, my confidence in my assertion, my hypothesis, would grow. And we would get to a point where I may be said to believe that our chairman always wears Union Jack boxer shorts. But what does that mean? What does it say for a scientist to believe that that is the case? It does not mean that I am certain that he always does. Because I must know, as you must realise, that on any one day I could come back again and ask to see, and he would not be wearing Union Jack boxer shorts. When a scientist says that he believes something, it means that his confidence in the hypothesis that he has made has grown to such an extent that the probability of it not being true is, so to speak, negligible. And that’s what a scientific belief means.
So what do we mean by science based on that, I admit, very trivial but nonetheless kind of typical example of science? Science does not claim to know the truth. No science claims to know the truth. Not just in this trivial example, but science in general. What it does do is it takes evidence, and this is its strength, in order to attach a likelihood or a probability of something being the case. That likelihood is always less, by definition less, than one hundred percent because it is always possible that something unexpected will, so to speak, come round the corner and refute that hypothesis. Science, therefore, expects, in a sense, to change its mind. It expects to modify its beliefs repeatedly in the face of new, better evidence, new technology, whatever it may be. It does not equate belief with certainty. When I say, as a scientist, I believe something to be the case, I’m using belief as a kind of a shorthand. What I’m saying is that my belief in this is so probable that I’m going to neglect, for the time being, the possibility that there will be some alternative there. But I never claim to be certain; I never claim that the case is closed.
So, retracing our steps, what have I said? Retracing our steps in this initial part which I see I’m rushing through and I’m probably going to stop slightly early nonetheless. I’ve suggested to you, I’m proposing the motion insofar as there is a motion here tonight, that God is a delusion. My basis for saying that is that there are two definitions of a delusion: either it’s a belief held with no evidence, or it’s a belief held on the basis of an assertion posing as an axiom. If, in the course of this evening, or at any other time for that matter, evidence of God can be provided, real evidence, then clearly I am wrong. Or if, and I apologise for the awfully sounding word in the inverted commas there, “evidentialism” is itself too narrow (by which I mean if it can be shown to us that there are other ways of knowing the facts about the world in which we live; we don’t need to rely on evidence; there are other things that can inform us about the world) then, again, perhaps, I am wrong. Or, if “God exists,” the phrase “God exists,” is axiomatic, it’s an axiom, or God follows necessarily and logically from some other axiom, not from an assertion, then I would have to accept that I’m wrong.
But the onus, it seems to me, is on the theists, the believers in God. The onus is on the other side if you like – is on Professor Craig. Either he must provide scientific evidence of God for me to be convinced, or he must convince us that evidence and sound logic are no better as ways of arriving at some knowledge of the world around us than authority. And what do I mean by authority? “It says so in the Bible” is no better than inspiration – “I feel in my heart that there must be a God”; that evidence is no better than that. He must be able to convince us that they are, so to speak, of equal value in determining the truth about the world. Or, he must show us that God is an axiom or an inevitable consequence of an axiom. And let’s be clear about this because, as I understand it, the point has been put that the onus is on me somehow to prove that God does not exist. That’s not true. The onus is on the other side. The burden of proof, the burden of evidence, is on the other side. I am not claiming, as a positive statement, that “God does not exist.” What I’m claiming is that God is a delusion – a belief held without any evidence. What the other side is saying, what the other side will say, is that there is evidence. Theirs is the positive belief. The onus of proof is on them. In the absence of that proof, in the absence of that evidence, our motion stands and their opposition to it falls. And I’ll stop there for now. Thank you.
William Lane Craig
Good evening. I want to begin by expressing my thanks to UCCF for inviting me to participate in tonight’s debate, and I also want to say what a privilege it is to be sharing the podium tonight with Dr. Begon.
I hope that our discussion this evening will be of practical benefit to you in your own personal thinking about this most important of questions. Now in asking “Is God a Delusion?” it’s imperative, right from the start, that we define our terms clearly. And I accept Dr. Begon’s definition of God for the purposes of this debate. However, I reject categorically his definition of a delusion. You remember he defined a delusion to be a belief which is held without evidence which is not self-evident. And I would argue that this form of evidentialist epistemology is widely recognised among contemporary philosophers to be simply untenable for two reasons.
Number one: it’s far too restrictive. It would make us skeptical about vast tracks of human knowledge. In fact, it would undermine science itself. Science is permeated with unprovable assumptions which must be accepted without evidence in order for science to operate. One example only: in the special theory of relativity, it is assumed that the one-way velocity of light is constant. But, in fact, we can only measure the round trip velocity of light. It could go out at one velocity and come back at another, but always be constant in the round trip. We simply have to assume that the one-way velocity of light is constant in order for the special theory to be valid. So if you adopt Dr. Begon’s epistemology, you will undermine science because it’s permeated by these sorts of assumptions.
Second reason that philosophers have rejected this theory of knowledge called evidentialism is that it’s self-refuting. No more damning charge can be lodged against a view than this – it refutes itself. Just ask yourself the question, “Is the proposition ‘Only believe what is self-evident, or inferred on the basis of evidence’ – is that proposition itself self-evident or inferred on the basis of evidence?” Well, evidently not. It’s simply an arbitrary definition, and not even a very good one at that. Therefore the principle is literally self-refuting. It can never be believed to be true by its own lights.
So what is a delusion? The dictionary definition of a delusion is “a false belief or opinion.” That’s the way the dictionary defines it. I also note that that is the way Richard Dawkins defines it in his book, The God Delusion. Therefore, if Professor Begon is to persuade us that belief in God is a delusion he must show that belief to be false.
So in tonight’s debate I’m going to defend two basic contentions. Number one: there’s no good reason to think that belief in God is false. And number two: there are good reasons to think that belief in God is true.
Consider my first contention: there’s no good reason to think that belief in God is false. I had hoped at this point to respond to any arguments that Professor Begon might have offered in his opening speech to show that belief in God is false. Unfortunately he didn’t offer any, so we have no reason to think the proposition that God exists is not true. So let’s turn then to my second major contention, that there are good reasons to think that belief in God is true. Let me just sketch briefly some of those reasons.
Number one: God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe. Have you ever asked yourself where the universe came from? Why anything at all exists instead of just nothing? Typically atheists have said that the universe is just eternal and uncaused. But there are good reasons, both philosophically and scientifically, to doubt that this is the case. Philosophically, the idea of an infinite number of things seems absurd. If the universe never had a beginning, that means that the number of past events in the history of the universe is infinite. But mathematicians recognise that the existence of an actually infinite number of things leads to self-contradictions. For example, what is infinity minus infinity? Mathematically you get self-contradictory answers. This shows that infinity is just a concept in your mind, not something that exists in reality. But that entails that the number of past events must therefore be finite. Therefore, the series of past events can’t just go back forever; rather there must have been a first event which marked the beginning of the universe.
Moreover, we now have pretty strong scientific evidence that the universe is not eternal in the past but had an absolute beginning about thirteen billion years ago in an event known as the Big Bang. What makes the Big Bang so startling is that it represents the origin of the universe from literally nothing for all matter and energy, even physical space and time themselves, came into being at the Big Bang. Although many alternative theories have been crafted over the years to try to avert the beginning predicted by the Big Bang theory, none of these theories has commended itself to the scientific community as more plausible than the Big Bang theory. In fact, in 2003, Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin were able to prove that any universe which is, on average, in a state of cosmic expansion cannot be eternal in the past but must have an absolute beginning. Vilenkin pulls no punches. He says,
It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.
That problem was nicely captured by Anthony Kenny of Oxford University. He writes, “A proponent of [the Big Bang] theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that . . . the universe came from nothing and by nothing.” But surely that doesn’t make sense. For such a conclusion is in head-on collision with the most successful ontological commitment in the history of science, namely, the 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 cause which brought the universe into being. We can summarize our argument thus far as follows:
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
Now, as the cause of space and time this being must be an uncaused, timeless, spaceless, immaterial being of unfathomable power. Moreover, it must be personal as well. Why? Because this cause must exist beyond space and time, therefore it cannot be physical or material. There are only two kinds of things that fit that description: either abstract objects, like numbers, or else an intelligent mind. But abstract objects can’t cause anything. Therefore, it follows that the cause of the universe is a transcendent, personal mind. And thus we are brought, not merely to a transcendent cause of the universe but to its personal creator.
Number two: God is the best explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life. In recent decades, scientists have been stunned by the discovery that the initial conditions of the Big Bang were fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent life with a precision and delicacy that literally defy human comprehension. This fine-tuning is of two sorts. First, when the laws of nature are represented as mathematical equations you find appearing in them certain constants, like the gravitational constant. These constants are not determined by the laws of nature. The laws of nature are consistent with a wide range of values for these constants. Secondly, in addition to these constants there are certain arbitrary quantities which are just put in as initial conditions on which the laws of nature operate; for example, the amount of entropy in the universe. All of these constants and quantities fall into an extraordinarily narrow, life-permitting range of values. Were these constants or quantities to be altered by even a hair’s breadth the life-permitting balance would be destroyed and life would not exist. For example, if the atomic weak force or the force of gravity were altered by one part out of ten to the one hundredth power, the universe would not have been life-permitting.
There are only three explanations of this extraordinary fine-tuning: physical necessity, chance, or design. It can’t be due to physical necessity because the constants and quantities are independent of the laws of nature. In fact, string theory predicts that there are ten to the five hundredth power different possible universes compatible with nature’s laws. Could the fine-tuning be due to chance? The problem with this alternative is that the odds against the fine-tuning’s occurring by accident are so incomprehensibly great that they cannot be reasonably faced. The probability that all the constants and quantities would fall by chance alone into the life permitting range is vanishingly small. So if the universe were the product of chance, the odds are overwhelming that the universe would be life-prohibiting. Hence, we may argue as follows.
1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
2. It is not due to either physical necessity or chance.
3. Therefore, it is due to design.
Thus the fine-tuning of the universe implies the existence of a designer of the cosmos.
Number three: God is the best explanation of objective moral values in the world. If God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist. By objective moral values I mean moral values which are valid and binding independently of whether anybody believes in them or not. Many theists and atheists agree that if God does not exist then moral values are not objective in this way. Michael Ruse, a noted philosopher of science explains,
The position of the modern evolutionist . . . is that . . . 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. I appreciate that when somebody says ‘Love they neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves . . . . Nevertheless, . . . such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory . . . .
Like Professor Ruse, I just don’t see any reason to think that, in the absence of God, the morality evolved by Homo sapiens is objective. On the atheistic view, some action, say rape, may not be socially advantageous and so in the course of human development it has become taboo, but that does absolutely nothing to prove that rape is really wrong. On the atheistic view, there’s nothing really wrong with your raping someone. But the problem is that objective values do exist, and deep down I think we all know it. There’s no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world. Actions like rape, cruelty, and child abuse aren’t just socially unacceptable behaviours, they’re moral abominations. Ruse himself admits, and I quote, “The man who says it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says that 2+2=5.” Some things, at least, are really wrong. Similarly love, equality, and self-sacrifice are really good. Hence, our argument can be summarized as follows:
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective values do exist.
From which it follows logically and inescapably that,
3. Therefore, God exists.
Number four: God is the best explanation for the historical facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The historical person Jesus of Nazareth was a remarkable individual. New Testament critics have reached something of a consensus that the historical 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 miracles and exorcisms. But the supreme confirmation of his claims was his resurrection from the dead. If Jesus did rise from the dead then it would seem that we have a divine miracle on our hands and thus evidence for the existence of God. Most people would think that the resurrection of Jesus is just something that you believe in by faith or not. But there are actually three established facts recognised by the majority of New Testament historians today which I believe are best explained by the resurrection of Jesus.
Fact number one: on the Sunday morning following his crucifixion Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers. Fact number two: on separate occasions and under a variety of circumstances, different individuals and groups of people saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death. Fact number three: the original disciples suddenly came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus despite having every predisposition to the contrary.
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 facts. Therefore, it seems to me that the Christian is amply justified in believing that Jesus rose from the dead and was who he claimed to be. But that entails that God exists. And thus we have a good inductive argument for the existence of God based on the resurrection of Jesus.
1. There are three established facts about Jesus: his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.
2. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of these facts.
3. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” entails that God exists.
4. Therefore, God exists.
Finally, number five: God can be immediately known and experienced. This isn’t really an argument for God’s existence. Rather it’s the claim that you can know that God exists wholly apart from arguments simply by immediately experiencing him. This would be what Professor Begon calls, I think misleadingly, an axiom. Axioms need not simply be self-evident truths, like the truths of mathematics and logic. Rather, they can be foundational beliefs which are grounded in our experience. Philosophers call these properly basic beliefs. Beliefs like the reality of the external world, the reality of the past, the presence of other minds. None of these can be scientifically proven. How can you prove that you’re not a body lying in the Matrix wired up with tubes and electrodes believing that you’re here in this room listening to this debate when in fact it’s all a virtual reality created in you by some mastermind? There’s no way to disprove that hypothesis scientifically, but clearly we are rational in believing in the reality of the external world as a kind of properly basic belief grounded in our experience. Similarly, belief in God can be grounded in the immediate experience of God wholly apart from arguments. This was the way people in the Bible knew God. As Professor John Hick explains:
God was known to them as a dynamic will interacting with their own wills, a sheer given reality, as inescapably to be reckoned with as destructive storm and life-giving sunshine . . . To them God was not . . . an idea adopted by the mind, but an experienced reality which gave significance to their lives.
If this is the case then there’s a real danger that arguments for God could actually distract your attention from God himself. If you’re sincerely seeking God then God will make his existence evident to you. The Bible promises: draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. We mustn’t so concentrate on the external arguments and evidence that we fail to hear the inner voice of God speaking to our own hearts. For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives, and the belief in God can be accepted as properly basic.
In conclusion then, if Professor Begon wants us to believe that belief in God is a delusion then he must tear down all five of the reasons that I’ve presented for thinking that belief in God is true and in their place erect a case of his own in order to prove that belief in God is false. Unless and until he does that, we have no good reason to think that belief in God is a delusion, indeed quite the opposite.
 Alexander Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), p.176.
 Anthony Kenny, The Five ways: St Thomas Aquinas' Proofs of God's Existence (New York: Shocken Books, 1969), p. 66.
 Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262, 268-9.
 Michael Ruse, Darwinism Defended (London: Addison-Wesley, 1982), p. 275.
 John Hick, "Introduction," in The Existence of God, ed. with an Introduction by John Hick, Problems of Philosophy Series (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1964), pp. 13-14.
Okay. Sorry, after that brief technical hitch on my part. Well, thank you for that invitation. That’s indeed precisely what I plan to do. In this next slot I will take those five arguments one by one and deal with them. And then in the following slot I’ll kind of deal with the more, I guess, rhetorical devices, or philosophical points. Just as a point of clarification, I’ve used a kind of a colour coding here. You’ll see that where there is a slide with thoughts that are Professor Craig’s and not my own, I’ve coloured them brown. So if anyone should fall asleep and wake up again and see something up there and think to themselves, Is he really saying that?, the answer is No, not if it’s in brown.
Okay, so there’s on the board, so to speak, the argument that we’ve had presented. The first argument that we’ve had put before us. The origin of the universe, the cosmological argument. Six points. Let’s deal with them. In spite of what you’ve heard, it is by no means uncontroversial among physicists that “what begins to exist has a cause.” Physicists disagree. It has to do with the nature of time, but I’m not a physicist. I’m not, any more than Professor Craig, really qualified to discuss these sorts of things. The difference is perhaps that I accept that I’m not, and therefore, from my point of view, I’m quite happy, so to speak, to give him this one. It’s not uncontroversial, but let’s let it pass. Let’s pretend, so to speak, that it is indeed the case that whatever begins to exist has a cause. The same is true of the second that “the universe began to exist.” Physicists disagree as far as this is concerned. I don’t know what the truth of the matter is; I’m not a physicist. So, let’s let that one pass as well. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that indeed the universe did have a beginning. So we look at the argument, and it’s certainly the case that given the first two points the third point follows. If that were the case then it must be true that the universe does indeed have a cause. And the fourth point is equally true, that if we are to look for a cause then that cause can’t suffer from the same constraints. We can’t propose a cause which itself needs a cause which needs a cause which needs a cause. It gets us nowhere. So that is true. Then we come to point five which, to me, really is the crux of the matter. God has no beginning or end. I hope you’ll see that on the basis of what I’ve said, this is no more than a simple assertion. It’s not an axiom; it’s certainly not something that is indisputably true that everybody necessarily accepts. But it’s posing as an axiom. What we do is we imagine something; it would be convenient for this argument to have something with no beginning nor an end, and we call that something “God.” We don’t observe God and discover that God has no beginning or end. In other words, the whole basis of this point is God is the naming of a mere assertion. And the same is true of our second argument. So the first argument collapses. I’ve tried to explain, I’ve tried to put the point to you, perhaps ‘explain’ is too patronising. I’ve tried to put the point to you that an argument based on an assertion is no better than the assertion itself, and a mere assertion really has no value. The first argument falls on that basis even if we give points one and two.
Pretty much the same thing is true of the second argument: that God makes sense of this complex order of the universe. The idea that moving the values of constants by one times ten to the twenty or whatever it maybe and the universe would collapse. Again physicists, people in a sense who are experts in this area, disagree as to whether or not this is a valid argument. But I don’t want to go there; it’s not appropriate for me to go there, it’s not my field. There’s the argument set out for you. This is what Professor Craig said: “the fine-tuning of the universe is due to either law or chance, etc. etc.” Therefore, and this again is the crux, there must be in order, so to speak, to break the chain a Designer, with a capital letter, that does not require a designer. And we’re back to the same thing again. An assertion that there is a God who can be a Designer because God has no beginning or end: merely an assertion. We do not observe God and discover that God has no designer. We imagine something because we wish to for this argument that has no designer, and we call that something “God.” God, again, in this argument is the naming of an assertion. It is an argument founded on an assertion. It is an argument with no value whatsoever as a consequence.
Number three: God makes sense of the objective moral values in the world, we hear. I need to take these points, well the first two points, one by one. “If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.” Of course, it entirely hinges on what we mean by objective. If we mean by objective as we have had, so to speak, foisted upon us, the meaning “handed down from on high, values that are everlasting, that were here before people were here, and will be here after people have gone,” if that’s what objective means, if objective as a word entails a God, then clearly this must be true. But from my point of view, when I mean objective, and most people I speak to when they mean objective, what in practical terms they mean is the second alternative there. Something shared by all people with a semblance of humanity and sensitivity. Insofar, and I’ll come to this in a minute, whether there are objective moral values, but insofar as there are objective moral values that is what I mean. Something that is outside us insofar as it’s shared by almost all of us. However, what about the second point: objective moral values do exist? That’s an assertion, and where’s the evidence for it? And indeed there is evidence against it. Are there universal moral values within any one society? As we look back, have moral values been the same throughout? Of course, they have not. What is morally reprehensible to us now has been taken as commonplace in the past. And, no doubt, well how can I doubt, but why should we doubt that in the future things that we do now may be considered morally reprehensible in the future? There is no evidence whatsoever that there are eternal, or universal I should say, I’m dealing with eternal, eternal moral values. Equally there is no evidence that there are universal moral values. As we move around the world, as we go from society to society, moral values are different. And so we have assertion piled upon assertion. We take away the first as an assertion, the second as an assertion. The conclusion disappears because it’s based on no more than assertions, and the third, the argument itself, disappears.
Number four: God makes sense [of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus]. Actually we must have lost one. I actually got four established facts, these are quotes from Professor Craig’s book so we must have lost an established fact on the way because he said there are only three, but nevertheless, the argument is pretty much the same. Let me ask you, all of you, how many of you have been to an event, a public event, any kind of event, and read about that event the next day in the newspapers? Don’t they always get it wrong? The next day when they know that there are going to be people reading that who were there themselves. When in many cases they had no particular axe to grind, and we are asked to believe that there are established facts about the death and resurrection of Jesus written sometime afterwards with the unashamed purpose of propagandising, bringing people to Christianity or keeping them in Christianity. These are not established facts. They are assertions. And it’s not a hypothesis. It’s not something were going to test, that God raised Jesus from the dead. It’s an assertion. Again, we have assertion piled upon assertion, piled upon assertion, and the whole argument just collapses.
And the fifth won’t take me very long because, as Professor Craig said himself, of the five reasons, or the five arguments, for God’s existence, number five isn’t really an argument for God’s existence. Well, I guess that’s one thing we can agree on.
So what are we left with? I was invited to deal with the five lines of evidence. What are we left with? As far as I can see, we’re left with the fifth which isn’t really evidence at all. And the other four, all of which rely upon assertion masquerading as axiom, and you can call it axiom, you can call it properly basic, but an assertion is worthless in an argument, and the arguments themselves, in my opinion, are equally worthless.
William Lane Craig
You’ll remember that in my first speech I said I would defend two basic contentions in tonight’s debate. First, that there’s no good reason to think that belief in God is false, which Professor Begon must show if he’s to defend that it is a delusion. Unfortunately, we’ve yet to hear any arguments tonight to think that that belief is false. I was concerned when Professor Begon said, I’ll do that in my next slot. Well, that comes far too late in the debate. All that’s left then is my five minute closing statement. These arguments need to be presented in one’s constructive speeches so that I can have a legitimate chance to respond to them, and so far we’ve not heard any grounds for thinking that belief in God is delusory.
What about my arguments to show that belief in God is not delusory, but is in fact a true belief? Here I am surprised by how conciliatory Dr. Begon is toward my arguments. Take the first one based on the origin of the universe: he accepts the first premise, he accepts the second premise, therefore it follows with logical necessity that the universe has a cause of its existence. Now I wonder what Professor Begon thinks that cause is? If those two premises are true, there must be a transcendent cause beyond space and time, beyond the universe, which brought the universe into being. Who or what is this? Well, I argued that it must be, and I quote from my opening speech, “A being which is timeless, spaceless, uncaused, immaterial, and having unfathomable power.” All of those follow from the properties of being beyond time and space. Moreover, I argued that it had to be personal as well because the only thing that fits those descriptions are either abstract objects or a mind, and abstract objects don’t stand in causal relations. So these are not mere assertions; on the contrary, a timeless being cannot have a beginning. That is entailed by the concept of timelessness. Moreover I argued that it must personal, so we’re not talking about some impersonal cause. We’re talking about a personal creator of the universe. So I think that this first argument gives us very good grounds for believing in a transcendent, timeless, immaterial, personal creator of the universe. And nothing that Professor Begon has said undermines that conclusion.
What about my second argument based on fine-tuning? Again, he grants the premises that the alternatives to explain fine-tuning are necessity, chance, or design; that it’s not due to necessity or chance; and, therefore, it is due to design. So, I wonder, whom does he think this designer is that exists beyond space and time that has designed the universe and the laws of nature? He asked, But is there a designer of the designer? Well, it’s no part of the argument to assert that one way or the other. The argument itself leaves that open. It just merely concludes that there is a cosmic designer of the universe. However, mine is a cumulative case, and we know from the first argument based on the origin of the universe that this must be an uncaused first cause which has caused the universe with all of its laws and constants and quantities fine-tuned for our existence. So this gives us good reason to think that this is an uncaused designer, indeed that there is no designer of the designer. So, again, the argument is logically valid and the premises are true so the conclusion follows with logical necessity.
What about the third argument based on moral values? Again, he agrees with the first premise that if God does not exist then objective moral values, as I defined them, do not exist. That is to say, moral values are not something, in his words, that existed before people came on the scene or will exist after people came on the scene. They’re just socio-biological behaviour patterns ingrained into us by evolution. So he agrees with the first premise, but he disputes the second premise that objective values exist. He says, Morality changes over history. Of course. That’s not inconsistent with morality being objective. If moral values are gradually discovered rather than invented then our gradual and fallible perception of the moral realm no more undermines the objectivity of that realm than our gradual, fallible apprehension of the physical world through science undermines the objectivity of the physical world. He says it’s mere assertion to say that objective moral values exist. I think not. It is grounded in our moral experience. Take a man like Richard Dawkins, for example. Dawkins asserts, “There is at bottom . . . no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference. . . . We are machines for propagating DNA. . . . It is every living object’s sole reason for being.” Dawkins goes on to say we are possibly the only planet in the universe where chunks of matter are so complex that they can swim, run, jump, see, hear, capture, and eat other such animated chunks of complexity. They are capable, in some cases, of thinking and feeling, and falling in love with other animated chunks of complex matter. Now that’s the atheistic worldview. But Dawkins himself cannot live with such a worldview. He recognises that there are objective moral values, and all through his book he makes moral judgements. Though he espouses physical reductionism and he treats love and compassion for persons unrelated to ourselves as, I quote, a “misfiring” in our brains, a “Darwinian mistake” in his words, he hastens to reassure his readers that, “it is a blessed, precious mistake” in no way “demeaning . . . the noble emotions of compassion and generosity.” He says he was mortified to learn that his book The Selfish Gene was the favourite book of Jeff Skilling whom, you’ll recall, was convicted for swindling millions of dollars from other complex chunks of matter in the struggle for survival. In order to provide some inspiration in life, Dawkins admits “the method of argument I must employ is rhetoric rather than logic.”
The fact is that even atheists cannot live as though objective moral values do not exist. I think every one of us, if he’s honest with himself, recognises that torturing a child for fun is not a morally indifferent act; it is objectively wrong. It is not something that is simply dependent upon human subjective opinion or on biological evolution. It is a morally wrong act to torture a little child for fun. And yet this is what the atheist cannot affirm because he believes that, in the absence of God, there are no objective moral values.
So if you agree with me that there are objective moral values such as that love is good, that terrorism is not a morally indifferent action (equal to its opposite), that spousal abuse is really morally wrong (it’s not just evolutionarily disadvantageous or socially unacceptable), then you will agree with me that logically and inescapably it follows that God exists. I see no reason to distrust my moral perceptions of this realm of objective value. Any argument that you might run to be skeptical of our moral perceptions, I can run a parallel argument as to why you should be skeptical of our sense perceptions of the external world and think that you might be a brain in a vat or a body in the Matrix. In the absence of some sort of defeater I see no reason to deny the veridicality of our moral perceptions which I think most of us do share.
What about number four, the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus? Here he says Well, newspapers always get it wrong. If we take that kind of glittering generalisation seriously, we might as well close the history department here at the university. You can’t refute specific historical facts on the appeal to generalities. You’ve got to look at the case specifically, and when historians do look at the case then these three facts emerge as the majority view of investigators of the historical Jesus. Michael Grant is an historian who wrote a book called Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels. He says,
True, the discovery of the empty tomb is differently described by the various Gospels. But if we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.
So it seems to me that we’ve got good grounds for believing in these three facts. In fact, N. T. Wright in his epical book on the resurrection of Jesus has said the empty tomb and appearances of Jesus have a historical probability so high as to be “virtually certain” like the death of Augustus in AD 14 or the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. So I don’t need to show that these are certain, that they have certainly occurred. What I need to show is that these events are as equally well established by the historical evidence as other events in ancient history which are generally accepted by historians. And, in fact, that is the case with regard to these three beliefs, or three facts.
What then is the best explanation of these facts? I submit to you that the best explanation is the one that the eyewitnesses gave: that God had raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. Down through history various alternatives have been proposed: the conspiracy theory, the hallucination theory, the wrong tomb theory. None of these has generated any significant following among contemporary historians or biblical critics. I know of no hypothesis that explains the data as well as the resurrection hypothesis. Therefore, I think I’m well within my rights in believing that Jesus was who he claimed to be, that he rose from the dead, and that therefore the God revealed by Jesus exists.
Finally, number five, personal experience of God. Here Dr. Begon writes the argument off far too quickly. He says, We agree this is not an argument, therefore it can be dismissed.’ Not at all. His own evidentialism, which I showed to be untenable in my first speech, recognises that you can accept some beliefs as properly basic. Beliefs like the reality of the external world or the reality of the past. And I submit to you that, given my experience of God as a living reality in my life, in the absence of some sort of defeater like some arguments for atheism which haven’t been offered yet in the debate tonight, I see no reason to think that my experience is delusory, and therefore I’m perfectly within my rational rights to believe that God exists on the basis of my personal experience of God. So there is an argument here. The argument is that we can rationally accept belief in God as a properly basic belief grounded in one’s experience of God in the absence of any defeater of that belief.
In summary then, it seems to me that Dr. Begon’s epistemological evidentialism is naïve, it is overly restrictive, and in the end self-refuting. And in any case, I met his challenge by giving good evidence for God’s existence – five reasons to think that God exists. On the other side of the ledger, we’ve yet to hear any evidence to think that God does not exist. Therefore, I think we have got good grounds for thinking that belief
 Cited in Lewis Wolpert, Six Impossible Things before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief (New York: Norton, 2006), 215. Unfortunately, Wolpert’s reference is mistaken. The quotation seems to be a pastiche from Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York: Basic, 1996), 133, and Richard Dawkins, “The Ultraviolet Garden,” Lecture 4 of 7 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (1992), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_igTWNidwnk (accessed June 12, 2018).
 c.f. Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, First Mariner Books Edition, 2008, p. 411).
 Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977), p. 176.
 N. T. Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of God, III: The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 710.
Okay, I’m very sorry again. I apologize as well for the inconvenience of the order in which I’m introducing my arguments. Had I realized that Dr. Craig would have preferred me to introduce them in a different way perhaps I would have considered doing so, but it’s too late now.
I’ve dealt, I hope, with the five arguments as such. But he’s repeatedly referred to these rhetorical devices apparently. And this is the first: that evidentialism is wrong, self-defeating, self-refuting. And just to remind you he said that the reason for this is that I believe, as do most of us, in a number of things as axiomatic (he said “properly basic;” it doesn’t really matter which) like the past, other people’s minds, the external world, even though there is no evidence for them. How do I know, he says in the case of the external world, that I’m not just a character in the Matrix? Quite simply, as far as I can see, he’s wrong. The external world, to take just one of the examples, and clearly I’m not going to deal with all of them. I’m not going to deal with other people’s minds and the others. But let’s just take one exemplar, if you like, the external world. He said, It’s properly basic. We believe in it even though there’s no evidence for it. He’s wrong. The external world is a hypothesis supported by evidence. My belief in the external world – and your belief in the external world, everybody’s belief in the external world – is just like any other scientific belief. It started, more or less, as soon as we were born as a kind of a working hypothesis. Now, precocious as I was, I’m not suggesting that I posed it as a formal hypothesis at that point. But that’s what it amounted to. As a working hypothesis there is an external world out there. And everything that has happened to me since, in effect, has been evidence which has supported the idea that there is an external world; everything that I’ve seen, everything that I’ve felt has supported that.
Now, of course, that could also be taken, all of those things, could also be taken as evidence for the much more contrived, convoluted, fanciful alternative that I’m a character in the Matrix. But there is no evidence to support that contrived and convoluted alternative. So what has happened? My confidence in the reality of the external world has grown incrementally with each piece of evidence until I find myself today in a position believing, as I’m sure you all do as well, in the reality of the external world, in the same way as I believe in anything else that started as a working hypothesis and has been repeatedly supported and supported and supported. Whereas the alternative has never had anything in support of it to make it a serious competitor. However, as a scientist, I am not certain. I would never say that it is impossible that we are characters in the Matrix because that is the nature of scientific belief. But in the shorthand of scientists, I believe in the external world and, in short, I do not believe in things like this, like the external world, like other people’s minds, on the basis of things other than evidence, and therefore my reliance on evidence is not in any sense self-refuting. And the accusation held against me, and against evidence in general, it seems to me, just falls away.
The second thing that he said, not so much this evening, but has said elsewhere, but is in the basis of much of what we’re having here – competing explanations – is quoted there: “For an explanation to be the best, you don’t have to explain the explanation.” And that’s been at the heart of it, though he hasn’t said it in those terms, but that’s a quote from Dr. Craig. Now, I don’t quite know what this means, but we kind of know what it implies. What it implies is, and I’m putting words into his mouth which I guess is unfair in a way but nonetheless, I think it’s not unfair to say that this is what we’re talking about here: If I want to propose God as a best explanation, I don’t have to explain God so don’t ask me to. But in a phrase, once again it seems to me, he’s quite wrong here.
An assertion can never be a best explanation. An assertion can never be an explanation at all. And let’s just be clear about this quote at the top here, there is no philosophical pedigree for this. This just seems to be something plucked from the air for the matter of convenience. Even a hypothesis cannot be an explanation for something. A hypothesis can be a best working hypothesis, but for as long as it remains a hypothesis, for as long as it is not tested, it cannot be an explanation. Only once something has started as our hypothesis and, so to speak, has been promoted through testing and through surviving those tests into something with evidential support, can it be a best explanation. The alternative that we have, Professor Craig’s best explanations, are all assertions. All assertions. And he’s asking us to say, It’s the best explanation. Don’t ask me to explain it because I don’t have to. It seems to me that those explanations are empty, as is that argument.
Now, finally, since I’ve got a couple of minutes left, we’re getting this kind of to’ing and fro’ing “the onus is on you, the onus is on me.” I started off by saying the onus is on Professor Craig to provide evidence of God, otherwise God is a delusion. He, of course, would prefer it to be the other way round; that the onus should be on me, and he says that I must show that a belief in God is false. I don’t know why the onus has to be on me, I thought it was on him. But let’s just consider that a moment in my last half minute here. It seems to me that a belief is false if it is held in the absence of evidence. There is no evidence for this belief, therefore a belief in God is false.
William Lane Craig
Before I look again at those two contentions that I said I’d defend tonight, let’s try to say something more about these matters of epistemology. Remember I argued that the dictionary definition of a delusion is a false belief or opinion. So Dr. Begon is offering us a revisionary definition of what a delusion is. And he’s saying that something is a delusion if it is neither self-evident nor held on the basis of evidence. In his last speech he made the astonishing assertion that a belief is false if it is held in the absence of evidence. Well, that is patently wrong. It’s easy to give counter-examples. Suppose I believe that there is a person standing right outside this door at this very moment. I have no evidence for that. Does that mean that that belief is false? No! He could be there right now. In fact, when we make predictions about the future, we don’t know whether they’ll come true or not. But if they do come true then those were true predictions. So, it’s patently wrong that a belief is false if it is asserted in the absence of evidence.
But I gave two criticisms of his evidentialism. First, that it is overly restrictive. Remember my example of how it undermines science. The special theory of relativity is based upon certain assumptions about the one way velocity of light that cannot be scientifically proven. Another example, the Copernican principle. This underlies all of modern astronomy. It states that we occupy no special place in the universe. Without the assumption of this principle it’s possible that the distant galaxies operate according to other laws of nature and therefore all of our data about them is wrong. You simply have to assume the Copernican principle that the same laws operate there that operate here in order for astronomy and astrophysics to be even possible. So his evidentialism would destroy science if you adopted it. Moreover it would mean our beliefs in the external world, the reality of the past, are not justified. He says, No, no, these are based on evidence. Well, this is just philosophically naïve. I think he needs to take a good dose of reading in skeptical thinkers like Descartes and David Hume, who will show that all of my experience would be exactly the same if I were a body in the Matrix. There’s nothing you can do scientifically by way of gathering experience to show that that’s false. It is simply a properly basic belief that is grounded in our experience of the external world, but you can’t provide evidence for it because that assumes that the evidence we gather is veridical which is what the hypothesis denies! Moreover, I pointed out that it’s self-refuting. The statement “Only believe in what is self-evident or inferred by evidence” is not itself self-evident. In fact, most philosophers today disagree with it. Neither is it based on evidence; it’s an arbitrary definition, and a bad one at that.
Now, what’s the cash value of this? It means that if you’re to show that God is a delusion, you’ve got to show the belief to be false. That’s what the definition of a delusion is, it’s a false belief or opinion. And we’ve yet to hear any evidence tonight to show that it is false. However, I have at least tried to meet the burden of evidentialism that he would place on me. I reject evidentialism as an epistemology, but nevertheless I’ve given five arguments for God’s existence.
Now, he did not respond to any of my specific refutations except to say that you have to test an explanation if it’s to be the best. No problem, all of my premises are testable. Take the first one: that whatever begins to exist has a cause, the universe began to exist, therefore the universe has a cause. Those are falsifiable assertions. If you could give some evidence that things can pop into being uncaused out of nothing, show us a counter-example, that would do the trick. I said in my opening speech that model after model after model has been proposed to try to avoid the second premise – the beginning of the universe – steady state theories, vacuum fluctuation models, inflationary models, oscillating models – and one after another these have failed to avert the conclusion or prediction of the standard Big Bang model that the universe had an absolute beginning. Similarly with the design argument. If you could show that the fine-tuning is physically necessary by developing some theory of everything or if you could show that it’s the result of chance in some way, that would falsify the argument. So these premises that I’ve offered are empirical premises that are open to scientific verification or falsification. They are not assertions. They’re not assertions. I’ve given arguments and evidence for each of these premises and the conclusion follows with logical necessity. You see, we’re talking here about the rules of logic. If you have an argument that is composed of true premises and the rules of logic show that the conclusion follows from those premises then you cannot deny the conclusion if the premises are true and the logic is valid. Well, the logic is valid in all of these arguments, I can assure you of that. And, moreover, Dr. Begon hasn’t disputed the truth of the premises. So I think in every case we’ve got good reason to believe that there’s a creator of the universe, that there is a designer of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, there is a ground of objective moral values in the world, that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead and that therefore the God revealed by Jesus exists, and, finally, that God can be known in personal experience and this can be a properly basic belief.
Well, I always try to use up all the time that’s allotted to me. I see I have three minutes left, but in this case I simply have nothing more to say. It seems to me that Dr. Begon has just failed to refute any of the arguments that I have offered for God. He’s not given us any arguments to think that belief in God is a delusion. On the contrary, he’s offered a naïve and philosophically defective epistemology that would ultimately destroy all of science and leave us in skepticism. So, I think we have good grounds for thinking that God exists and that therefore belief in God is not a delusion.
Okay, well I guess by this point you will feel perhaps as I do that we could kind of go back and forth like this all the time, and I don’t really want to use up my last five minutes doing this. Only to say that to suggest that I have suggested the truth of the premises on which Professor Craig has based his arguments is clearly not a reflection of what I think I have been saying. The key premises, those which I have decided simply not to let go by, I consider to be not premises at all but assertions. And one can’t really talk about the truth of an assertion.
So I want to spend these last five minutes by suggesting to you that actually what we’re talking about here is not really the motion “Is God a delusion?” In fact, to quote, or slightly misquote, Bill Shankly, It’s much more important than that. We’re talking about an argument between those that would have us have beliefs based on assertion, or on authority (I believe it because the Bible says so), or on fear (I believe it because something may happen to me if I don’t), and those of us that would like to base our beliefs on evidence. And the reason I say that that’s important is because it seems to me that there are habits of thinking, good and bad. Once you believe one thing in the absence of evidence, then surely you can believe all sorts of things. Once you consider it to be appropriate to believe things on the basis of assertions, or because you’ve been brought up to believe them or because it’s comforting to believe them, then you can believe anything on that basis.
And if you don’t think that this is important, consider there’s a war going on. And the war is between those people who, on the one hand, would like to take rational belief, evidential belief, and apply it to the plight of our planet which we are in danger of destroying. And those on the other hand who would like us to be complacent, to believe that it’s all going to be okay, to say that, well, these scientists, rationality, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, there are other ways of knowing about the world, and so on. We have to win this war, the war for rational, evidential-based belief. Otherwise, the planet will be destroyed, and I think we all realise this now. And it’s important, too, in a much more literal sense of battle. Here’s a poster about Darfur, it’s one in a whole series of incidents of genocide. And what is at the basis of most of these genocidal massacres? It is an irrational evidenceless belief held by one group of people about another group of people. Usually that that other group of people is less than human or is in league with the devil. And therefore whatever we may do to them is justifiable.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not accusing any particular religion of this, or of being the cause of all of this. And, indeed, I’m not even accusing religion in general of being the cause of these problems. The twentieth century was littered with sufficient monsters – Hitler, Mau, Polpot, Stalin – monsters who killed millions of people not on the basis of any religious belief but in every case on the basis of belief held wholeheartedly but with the absence of any evidence whatsoever. And that kind of irrational, evidenceless belief leads to behaviours that we can see like this.
So my point, finally, in my final minute here with you, is not just that God is a delusion, but that all beliefs held without evidence are delusions. Such beliefs can clearly be dangerous and all such beliefs should be opposed whenever we can do so. Thank you.
William Lane Craig
We’ve been discussing tonight whether or not belief in God is a delusion. A delusion is a false belief or opinion. Dr. Begon says if you can believe something without evidence then you can believe anything on the basis of [no] evidence. No, that’s philosophically naïve. If you have a defeater for some belief then you cannot simply believe in it in a properly basic way. In order to maintain that belief as a properly basic belief, you would need to have a defeater of the defeater. So his epistemology is just philosophically naïve. He doesn’t literally know what he’s talking about. If he’s right that to believe things without evidence is irrational, as he claims, then we are going to scuttle the special theory of relativity as irrational, all of modern astronomy and astrophysics as irrational, indeed the whole of science is ultimately irrational. Indeed, as I argued, his evidentialism itself is irrational because it is self-refuting, and this is widely recognised by epistemologists today. But don’t think that this leads to some sort of relativism. On the contrary, if there is a defeater for some purported basic belief then you cannot hold it in a properly basic way.
Now unfortunately tonight we heard no arguments at all to defeat belief in God. We heard nothing tonight by way of arguments to show that belief in God is false. So at ground level we’re left with just agnosticism. Even if all of my arguments for God fail, we’re just left with wondering, Is there a God? We don’t know because we don’t know one way or the other. But I suggested, in fact, that we have good reasons to believe in God, and I gave five arguments for it. Notice that these premises of my arguments are not assertions based on either authority, or fear, or mere assertion. Premises like “the universe began to exist” are supported by both philosophical arguments and the best evidence of contemporary astrophysics. Same with the fine-tuning. The argument based on moral experience is based upon what atheists themselves believe about the absence of objective moral values and our moral experience of the world. The argument for the resurrection of Jesus is inductive and based upon the historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth. So the premises of my argument are well established, the conclusions follow logically, and I’ve answered all of Dr. Begon’s objections to them.
Let me just note in passing with respect to the moral argument that all of those moral monsters that he showed, all of the genocidal massacres he was concerned about, on the atheistic view are not morally wrong after all. They are morally indifferent because in the absence of God all these are are just subjective societal morays that the Nazi war criminal or the soviet Marxist is free to reject. Why is your opinion better than his opinion of what moral values are? Dr. Begon himself admits that moral values are not objective in the way that we define them if God does not exist. He attributes these moral massacres to beliefs not based on evidence. I can assure you that’s not true. I’ve done a lot of speaking in the Soviet Union before the wall came down, and Marxists are evidentialists. They accept his epistemology: “only believe in things on the basis of evidence” and you heard this constantly from the Marxists who were in the supposed philosophy departments of these universities. So don’t write off these moral monstrosities to the absence of an epistemology of evidentialism. On the contrary, they held to that sort of epistemology. So if you do think that these are moral monsters and you do think that these massacres are objectively wrong then I think you should agree with me that God exists.
Finally, with respect to personal experience, again in the absence of some defeater, I’m within my rights in believing that I have a relationship with God that is real and that, therefore, God exists. And if you’ve been searching for God, to find if God is a reality as well, I’d encourage you to do what I did as a non-Christian when I was a non-believer. I began to read the New Testament, and as I did so I was captivated by the person of Jesus of Nazareth. After a period of about six months of intense soul searching I finally came to experience God as a kind of inner spiritual rebirth took place in my life by which God became a living reality in my life. And I believe that you can have the same immediate experience of God if you will search for him with an open mind and an open heart and follow the evidence, unflinchingly, where it leads.
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, for listening so patiently and attentively to those speeches. Thank you for containing yourself and your questions for a moment. I’m going to suggest we have now a five minute break for you to get up, stretch your legs, or sit down in some cases. And after the five minutes break we’ll have a question time.
This is how it’s going to work: if you have a question for Professor Begon, if you could queue up behind this microphone here, and then you will have a maximum of thirty seconds to ask you question. Professor Begon will have two minutes to respond, and then Professor Craig will have one minute to counter-respond. If you have a question for Professor Craig, if you could queue up behind this microphone on my right hand, and the procedure is reversed. We’ll have time for only about four questions to each speaker I’m afraid to say, but both speakers have indicated they’ll hang around for a little while afterwards to answer personal questions. Then we are going to take the questions seated where we are from our seats here. So you have five minutes to stretch your legs, we’ll reconvene at quarter past nine.
Q & A
Q to MB: Thank you. I’d like to question you on your own logic. Have you got children?
MB: Is that the question? Have you watched ‘Phoenix nights?’
Q to MB: It is part of a short string of questions.
Q to MB: Have you had them scientifically tested, genetically tested, to show that they’re your children?
Q to MB: Ah. So, under your logic that’s a delusion, you are deluded that you have children, using your logic, sir.
MB: Is that your question?
DH: Okay, thank you, we’ve got the question. Thank you. Professor Begon.
MB: So, it’s not . . . it’s just like everything else. It started off, if you like, it’s life as a hypothesis. That hypothesis has been supported by evidence. The evidence of the fact that I committed the sexual act with my wife, my belief that she did not commit based on evidence [questioner tries to interrupt] – no, no hang on. I don’t think you get any come back – a belief based on evidence that she is faithful to me and therefore it is unlikely that, most unlikely, improbable to the point of negligible (she’s sitting there in the second row!) . . . [crowd laughs]. They look like me, they’ve got all my failings, there’s any amount of evidence. It is not simply an assertion; it is not simply something which I just choose to believe as properly basic or anything else. It is based in the same way as my other beliefs are: on a combination of a good working hypothesis and a series of evidential experiences which support that. And I dare say everybody else in the audience feels the same way about their own kids.
DH: Professor Craig?
WLC: No, I’m not going to touch that one. I don’t have a response. [smiling]
DH: We’re going to go for a question now for Professor Craig. Can I remind you, you have one question only please, and there’s no comeback. Your question for Professor Craig please.
Q to WLC: Okay, this relates generally to your misrepresentations of scientific arguments and mathematical arguments. But just a specific point about . . . you were saying that special relativity is based upon the assumption that the two-way velocity of light is the same as the one-way velocity of light. I won’t go into the experimental possibilities of measuring this, but the fact is either this has a physical consequence or it doesn’t have a physical consequence. If it has a physical consequence then it’s measurable and testable. If it doesn’t have a physical consequence then saying that the two-way velocity is the same as the one-way velocity is just a mathematical convention which makes calculations simpler. It’s not an assumption. Physicists often are happy to manipulate the mathematics and use different representations so long as the physical consequences are the same.
DH: Thank you. Dr. Craig?
WLC: Thank you. You seem to be presupposing a type of epistemology called verificationism which was very widespread in the philosophy of science during the early part and middle part of the twentieth century but has now been widely rejected for the sorts of reasons that I gave. The fact is that in the special theory of relativity all we can measure is the round trip velocity of light, and there would be no empirical differences if light went from A to B at one velocity and came back from B to A at a different velocity so long as the round trip velocity were always the same. But this makes a huge difference in terms of what’s happening in the theory theoretically because, in fact, on the interpretation of relativity theory that Lorentz offered – Einstein’s Dutch colleague, Lorentz – that is what happens with the speed of light, that it will not be the same from A to B as from B to A. So the difference between an Lorenztian understanding of relativity theory and an Einsteinian difference will be upon this non-empirical assumption. So this is characteristic of all of science. It goes all through science, that you have these sorts of unverifiable assumptions, and that doesn’t mean that they’re meaningless. These can lead to quite different physical interpretations of the theories that are masked over by this verificationist epistemology which, I think, ultimately is self-refuting and far too narrow. And that’s why it’s widely rejected today by philosophers of science.
DH: Professor Begon.
MB: Well, you’ll be relieved to know that I’m not going to make any comment on the special theory of relativity in a specific sense, but I am going to make a general comment. And it’s this: that what we see in this exchange, it seems to me, is something that has pervaded much of this evening, namely a series of complicated issues in science over which scientists are not yet themselves certain, and as I’ve tried to make the point scientists are never certain. Science is always and will always be a work in progress. And what we’ve had foisted upon us on a number of occasions is the idea that somehow the book is closed on this, that there is some particular form, some particular conclusion, that can be drawn which happens to suit Dr. Craig’s arguments. What we see from this disagreement between somebody who seems to know their physics and somebody who has mugged up their physics is that these are not settled issues and we should not have believed during the course of this evening that they are.
Chairman: Thank you. Next question please for Professor Begon.
Q to MB: You say that beliefs held without evidence are irrational. Would that not make your own belief that God does not exist irrational, given that you have no evidence for it?
MB: Well, I do not believe . . . I do not hold the belief that God does not exist. That is an accusation that is often made against atheists. I believe that God is a delusion. I am here to defend the proposition, or to propose the proposition, that God is a delusion. A delusion, to me, is a belief held when there is no evidence to support that. I am not making the positive statement that God does not exist, and you should really not accuse me of saying that. To say that God is a delusion is very different from saying that God does not exist. As a scientist, I wouldn’t make such a statement.
WLC: Those statements are only different if you adopt this non-standard definition of a delusion that he’s offered us tonight. But according to the dictionary a delusion is a false belief or opinion. So if the statement “God exists” is a delusion, that means that that is false. And if one asserts that that is false then the questioner is quite right, this is an assertion to know something, it’s a claim to knowledge. As opposed to agnosticism which says, “God may or may not exist.” But if you claim that God does not exist you’re making a knowledge claim and that therefore requires warrant, particularly on evidentialism as she rightly saw. The evidentialist would need to provide some sort of argument. And traditionally atheists have tried to do this – the evil and suffering in the world, can God make a stone heavier than he can lift? You know all the arguments. But none of these, I think, are successful in supporting atheism. So I don’t think there are good grounds for thinking that the evidentialist atheist can bear his share of the burden of proof.
DH: Okay, thank you very much. Next question for Professor Craig please.
Q to WLC: Okay, I’m not very interested in whether God created the universe or not. I think that’s a kind of boring claim about God. I’m much more interested in the kind of socially involved manipulator kind of God, and you made some extraordinary claims which seems to me require extraordinary evidence particularly about whether Jesus died and was then resurrected again. You’ve provided very ordinary evidence that that may be true on a historical basis, that morality is God-given in some way, whereas in fact there are very plausible arguments about the biological basis of morality. And I just think that you didn’t really provide enough serious evidence in those kind of more interesting areas about what God may or may not be up to.
WLC: Interests are person-relative. I, myself, am terribly interested in contemporary cosmology both with respect to the origin of the universe and the fine-tuning of the universe for life. I am captivated by the universe and its beauty, its wonder, its origin, its end. So I find those very interesting whether you do or not. But with respect to the God involved in human history, this claim, this slogan, “extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence” – that sounds so right, doesn’t it? It sounds so common-sensical. But, in fact, it’s demonstrably false. Probability theorists from the time of Condorcet to John Stewart Mill worked on the problem of what kind of evidence would it take to establish a highly improbable event. And what they found was that you can’t just consider the probability of that event relative to our sort of general background knowledge of the world so as to say, An extraordinary event requires extraordinary evidence. You also have to consider what is the probability that the hypothesis in question is false, given the evidence that we have? And if that probability is sufficiently low, if given the evidence that we have the probability is low that the hypothesis is false, that can balance out any intrinsic improbability in the event being very extraordinary or highly unusual with respect to our general background evidence. So this claim “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is actually a false assertion. I would say that in the case of the empty tomb, the origin of the Christian faith, the appearances of Jesus – these are not, in any case, extraordinary events. Those are non-miraculous events that can be established by ordinary secular historians. What would be miraculous would be when you come to the step: What’s the best explanation of those? That’s where the extraordinary part would come in and, as I say, I don’t think you need extraordinary evidence for that.
DH: Professor Begon.
MB: Well, it seems to me I’d be surprised if the events at the heart of the Christian religion are not considered by many Christians to be extraordinary that Jesus was resurrected. So it seems to me that the burden of proof is to provide evidence. Whether it’s extraordinary evidence is, again, a matter of opinion, I guess. But these are certainly, I can’t understand why anybody would suggest that these are not extraordinary events and that they are extraordinary claims that these events were true. And to suggest that there is evidence for them, it seems to me, is extraordinarily arrogant really.
DH: Next question please, to Professor Begon.
Q to MB: I used to work as a psychiatric nurse and the definition we worked with, from my memory, for people who suffered with delusions was ‘a firm, false fixed belief that is neither open to reason nor experience’ and that was the kind of all-encompassing thing. When we tried to therapeutically engage with people you worked on the assumption that it was a delusion and that therefore was a false belief and the background of it was false. So in my question I’m assuming that you are believing that there isn’t a God, just as the base of the question. And it would seem that when people deny the existence of God they place at the beginning of time, or wherever else in the universe, the notion of chance as a totalising explanationary concept to try and explain the universe and meaning and existence. That being so, it would seem that everything then, logically and rationally, is based upon chance – from the firing of the neurons in my brain to my emotional response to my children to the scientific enquiry all the way down the line, right down the blocks. If that’s true, if the notion of chance is true and taken as axiomatic then it doesn’t explain the world as we experience it.
MB: Well, you’re accusing me of something I haven’t said. What you seem to have said is that if you didn’t believe in God then you would have to believe in chance. And you’re extending that to say since I do not believe in God in the sense that I see no evidence for God, I must therefore believe that chance is at the centre of everything that we see. I don’t have any such firm belief. It would be equally deluded to believe in chance, a name given to something I don’t understand, as to believe in God, a name given to something I don’t understand. I take a much more practical view. I deal in the here and now. I deal with what’s going to happen tomorrow. I deal with trying to do good today, as good as I can, and so on. And so you’re accusing me of, If you were in my position, you would feel that we’re ruled by chance. I don’t particularly feel like that. It’s an accusation. I never said it. I don’t believe it.
DH: Professor Craig.
WLC: I really appreciated what you said about the definition of a delusion in psychiatry: a firm, fixed false belief that is not open to reason or evidence. And what’s striking to me is that that sounds like a description of atheism many times – a firm, fixed, false belief that is not open to evidence or reason. Instead, what we get are slogans, easy dismissals of theistic arguments. I think we need to recognise that not just theists, but atheists can be victims of delusions as well. So thank you for that interesting contribution.
DH: Next question for Professor Craig, please.
Q to WLC: I’d like to address it to the last point that you made about discovering God through reading the New Testament. And I was wondering whether you would have considered me delusional if I’d spent fifteen years studying the Lord of the Rings and arrived at the conclusion that Aragorn was a real person and that he was here and he helped me find my car keys when I was confused, that Sauron was the creator of the universe and that me and Aragorn had to go and get swords and take him down. Would you try and have me sectioned?
WLC: Yes. Yes, I would regard that as delusional and I, of course, don’t think that that’s at all analogous to belief in God or Jesus of Nazareth. [questioner responds but cannot be heard] That’s because you don’t follow the evidence where it leads.
MB: The point being, presumably, that there is no evidence, other than the Bible is based on some factual events, but at their heart the point being made presumably that there is no evidence to distinguish these two works of fiction from one another, and I think that’s probably a fair point.
DH: Next question for Professor Begon, please.
Q to MB: You’ve repeatedly asked tonight for evidence of God. That’s a common trait amongst people, skeptics like yourself. In all I’ve heard over the years I’ve still not heard a skeptic put forward what they would accept as valid criteria for the evidence of God. So what are the criteria you set forth for people like me [and] Professor Craig to give to you as valid evidence of God.
MB: Well it’s . . . I could respond flippantly to say it’s not for me to design your experiments for you really. You write your own grant applications. I tried as best I can not to rely on anybody else, as you’ve probably gathered in framing what I say here, but it seems to me that Dawkins has something to say about this. If I and others like me have been asking for evidence all this time, if there were evidence do you not think that it would have been presented before us? If it were possible, for example, to prove that prayer improved one’s chances of surviving an illness do you not think that those who believe in the power of prayer would have brought forward evidence in favor of that? They have tried and they have failed. Now I can’t say that I can write a research agenda for you and tell you . . . I can’t pretend that I know exactly what I want to see before I accept evidence of God. In fact, I’m open-minded. I’ll accept anything. I’m not restricting you. Bring forward anything you like that satisfies the normal rules of evidence and I’ll believe you.
WLC: [to questioner] You still haven’t heard the answer, have you? It’s astonishing; it’s just astonishing. You ask what are the standards of evidence would it take to prove to you that God exists, and no answer is forthcoming. Why? Because atheism is a firm fixed belief that is not open to reason or evidence, just like this fellow who says it’s like believing in Lord of the Rings. You wonder what would it take to convince somebody who’s that closed-minded? I submit to you that believers in God are far more open-minded to follow the evidence where it leads, and I think your question just illustrates it so beautifully.
DH: Thank you. Next question for Professor Craig, please.
Q to WLC: So, four out of five of your reasons for the existence of God could equally apply to any God, or indeed the flying spaghetti monster. I’d like to ask what gives you the right to define God?
WLC: What would I provide to define God? Was that the question?
Q to WLC: Why do you define God according to some Judeo-Christian mythology?
WLC: Well, you’re quite right that my opening three reasons based on the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning, and the existence of objective moral values would be common to any of the great monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Islam, Christianity. So, yes, that’s right, these are common to all monotheisms. They would be inconsistent, however, with religions like Daoism, Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, Buddhism, which lack a personal creator and designer of the universe, an objective lawgiver for moral values, so it would narrow down the field not only eliminating secularism but also non-theistic religions to the world’s great monotheisms. And then my fourth reason, based on the evidence for Jesus, his personal claims and his resurrection from the dead, would narrow the field of monotheisms down to Christian monotheism. So mine is a cumulative case that will issue in the conclusion that the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth exists.
DH: Professor Begon.
MB: I have nothing to say on that really.
DH: Next question, last question, for Professor Begon, please.
Q to MB: Professor, would you believe me if I gave you evidence that I have heard God speak to me?
MB: Carry on because otherwise I would have to claim that I have already answered your question.
Q to MB: I’ve broken all the ‘Ds’ – you know dives, donkeys, dames, drugs and drink. And in September I knelt down – I was brought up as a Christian but I didn’t believe in Jesus. I prayed in his name that he would help me and I heard an audible voice saying, “Read Psalm 51,” as God as my witness. Do you believe that, or am I lying to you?
MB: Certainly you’re not going to tempt me into saying that you’re lying to me and I, of course, if you believe that it’s true, I’m happy for you and I believe that you believe that it’s true. If you ask me, Do I believe that God actually spoke to you?, no, the answer is that I don’t. I mean, there are many things that go on in our minds that we perhaps have got wrong. I’m not denying your experience or the depth of your experience or what it may have done to your life or any of that. Nor am I trying in any sense to kind of diminish that or be patronizing to you or anything else. But if you put me point blank, Do I believe that God spoke to you in an audible voice and told you to read Psalm 51? No, I don’t believe that.
DH: Professor Craig.
WLC: No comment.
Q to WLC: Professor Craig, I was interested to hear what you were talking about morality. You said it was an objective truth that torturing children, you added “for fun” rather disturbingly, was never acceptable. Given that we’re in the twenty-first century and given that people, in the name of God, are torturing children, what circumstances would you find it acceptable to torture children.
WLC: I didn’t quite catch the last part. Given that people who believe in God have tortured children . . . ?
Q to WLC: In the name of God are torturing children to drive out demons. Are there any circumstances where you would say that it is acceptable to torture children?
WLC: Okay, if I understood the question, the mic is a little bit fuzzy, you’re saying people have tortured children in the name of God and so what would I say in response to that?
Q to WLC: Yes, well I was interested . . . you added ‘for fun’ when you were giving your initial address. You said it’s immoral to torture children, and then added “for fun” which disturbed me a little bit. And I was wondering whether there were any other circumstances?
WLC: I would say it’s immoral to torture children for fun, but I would also affirm it’s immoral to torture children in the name of God, too, absolutely. So, those religions that practice child sacrifice, for example ancient Aztec religions in ancient Mexico, I would say they were dreadfully wrong. What they were doing was morally abhorrent. So I don’t give a fig for political correctness. I’m not at all reluctant to say that there can be whole cultures that have fallen into morally abhorrent behaviours. I think we saw some pictures on the screen of people like that – Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao and so forth. So I have no reluctance at all to say that people, in the name of God, have done horrible and monstrous things that are, in fact, wrong. I can say that, you see, because I believe there is an objective standard of moral values. The atheist cannot say that because he thinks that we’re just animals. And animals don’t have moral values. Animals – we’re just relatively advanced primates. And animals aren’t moral agents. When a lion kills a zebra, it kills it, but it doesn’t murder it. Or when a hawk takes a fish from the talons of another hawk, it takes the fish, but it doesn’t steal it. You see there’s no moral dimension to these acts in the animal world. And on atheism that’s all we are. We’re just animals; relatively advanced primates. So the atheist cannot say that it’s objectively wrong to torture little children whether for fun or in the name of God. And I want to insist, emphatically, that it’s wrong whatever that motive might be.
MB: Well, I would just pick up not so much on the answer but on the question, as being yet another example – of course, we would all agree, I’m sure believers and non-believers alike here, that torturing children in the name of God in order to drive demons from them is wrong. Of course, we would all believe that – but the point I tried to make at the end is that the people that do those sorts of terrible things are always invested with a dreadful certainty in their own beliefs. And really what I feel that we should all be protected from is that kind of certainty, a certainty that never goes with rationality and evidentialism where open-mindedness is always there at the base of it all. These people are just extreme examples of people so certain that what they believe is right, is right in all eternity, that they do these dreadful things, thinking they’re immune from the normal constraints that surround us all.
DH: Thank you very much. Ladies and Gentlemen, that concludes our formal proceedings for tonight, but I know some of you have got further questions for Professor Craig or Professor Begon and each of them has indicated that he’s happy to hang around for just a few minutes to take questions in private. Don’t forget, if you haven’t got time for that, the bookstall is available for you to read both sides of the debate and listen to and watch on the DVD both sides of the debate in your own spare time. So let me conclude by thanking you all for coming. Thank you for sitting in some discomfort some of you, for listening attentively, and for your insightful and good tempered questions. Thank you to the guild of students and porters for the use of the room. Thank you to Dr. May for his national organisation. Thank you, the stewards and helpers, and let’s conclude by thanking once again our two speakers for tonight.