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The Existence of the Christian God: The Craig-Curley Debate

February 1998

William Lane Craig vs. Edwin Curley

University of Michigan, Michigan, United States - February 5,1998

Opening Speech - Dr. Craig

1. Good Evening! I want to begin by thanking MC Grads for inviting me to participate in tonight's debate. And I want to say what a privilege it is to be debating so eminent a scholar as Professor Curley. When I was a doctoral student writing my dissertation on the cosmological argument for God's existence, Dr. Curley's work on the famous philosopher Benedict de Spinoza was a valuable resource to me in trying to analyze Spinoza's own argument for God. So it's a genuine honor to be sharing the podium with Dr. Curley tonight.

2. Now in tonight's debate it seems that there are two basic questions that we need to ask ourselves:

(I.) Are there any good reasons to think that God does not exist?


(II.): Are there good reasons to think that God does exist?

3. Now with respect to the first question, I'll leave it up to Dr. Curley to present the reasons why he thinks that God does not exist. Atheist philosophers have tried for centuries to disprove the existence of God. But no one has ever been able to come up with a convincing argument. So rather than attack straw men at this point, I'll just wait to hear Professor Curley's answer to the following question: What good reasons are there to think that God does not exist?

4. So let's move on, then, to that second question: Are there good reasons to think that God does exist? Tonight I'm going to present five reasons why I think that God exists. Whole books have been written on each one of these, so all I can present here is a brief sketch of each argument and then go into more detail as Dr. Curley responds to them. [1] These reasons are independent of one another, so that if even one of them is sound, it furnishes good grounds for believing that God exists. Taken together, they constitute a powerful cumulative case that God exists.

5. 1: God makes sense of the origin of the universe. Have you ever asked yourself where the universe came from? Why everything exists instead of just nothing? Typically atheists have said that the universe is eternal, and that's all. But surely this doesn't make sense. Just think about it for a minute. If the universe never began to exist, then that means that the number of events in the past history of the universe is infinite. But mathematicians recognize that the idea of an actually infinite number of things leads to self-contradictions. For example, what is infinity minus infinity? Well, mathematically, you get self-contradictory answers. This shows that infinity is just an idea in your mind, not something that exists in reality. David Hilbert, perhaps the greatest mathematician of this century states, "The infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought. The role that remains for the infinite to play is solely that of an idea." [2]

But that entails that since past events are not just ideas, but are real, the number of past events must be finite. Therefore, the series of past events can't just go back forever. Rather the universe must have begun to exist.

6. This conclusion has been confirmed by remarkable discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics. The astrophysical evidence indicates that the universe began to exist in a great explosion called the "Big Bang" about 15 billion years ago. Physical space and time were created in that event, as well as all the matter and energy in the universe. Therefore, as Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle points out, the Big Bang Theory requires the creation of the universe from nothing. This is because, as you go back in time, you reach a point in time at which, in Hoyle's words, the universe was "shrunk down to nothing at all." [3] Thus, what the Big Bang model requires is that the universe began to exist and was created out of nothing.

7. Now this tends to be very awkward for the atheist. For as Anthony Kenny of Oxford University urges, "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." [4]

8. But surely that doesn't make sense! 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. And from the very nature of the case, this cause must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being which created the universe. It must be uncaused because there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. It must be timeless and therefore changeless at least without the universe because it created time. Because it also created space, it must transcend space as well and therefore be immaterial, not physical.

9. Moreover, I would argue, it must also be personal. For how else could a timeless cause give rise to a temporal effect like the universe? If the cause were an impersonal set of sufficient conditions, then the cause could never exist without the effect. If the sufficient conditions were timelessly present, then the effect would be timelessly present as well. The only way for the cause to be timeless but for the effect to begin in time is if the cause is a personal agent who freely chooses to create an effect in time without any prior determining conditions. And, thus, we are brought, not merely to the transcendent cause of the universe, but to its personal Creator.

10. Isn't it incredible that the Big Bang theory thus fits in with what the Christian theist has always believed: that in the beginning God created the universe? Now I put it to you, which do you think makes more sense: that the Christian theist is right or that the universe just popped into being, uncaused, out of nothing? I, at least, have no trouble assessing these alternatives.

11. 2: God makes sense of the complex order in the universe. During the last 30 years, scientists have discovered that the existence of intelligent life depends upon a delicate and complex balance of initial conditions simply given in the Big Bang itself. We now know that life-prohibiting universes are vastly more probable than any life-permitting universe like ours. How much more probable?

12. Well, the answer is that the chances that the universe should be life-permitting are so infinitesimal as to be incomprehensible and incalculable. For example, Stephen Hawking has estimated that if the rate of the universe's expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have re-collapsed into a hot fireball. [5] P.C.W. Davies has calculated that the odds against the initial conditions being suitable for star formation (without which planets could not exist) is one followed by a thousand billion billion zeroes, at least. [6] [He also] estimates that a change in the strength of gravity or of the weak force by only one part in 10 raised to the 100th power would have prevented a life-permitting universe. [7] There are around 50 such constants and quantities present in the Big Bang which must be fine-tuned in this way if the universe is to permit life. And it's not just each quantity which must be finely tuned; their ratios to each other must also be exquisitely finely tuned. So improbability is multiplied by improbability by improbability until our minds are reeling in incomprehensible numbers.

13. There is no physical reason why these constants and quantities should posses the values they do. The onetime agnostic physicist P.C. W. Davies comments, "Through my scientific work I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact." [8] Similarly, Fred Hoyle remarks, "A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics." [9] Robert Jastrow, the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, calls this the most powerful evidence for the existence of God ever to come out of science. [10]

14. So, once again, the view that Christian theists have always held, that there is an intelligent Designer of the universe, seems to make much more sense than the atheistic interpretation that the universe, when it popped into being, uncaused, out of nothing, just happened to be, by chance, finetuned for intelligent life with an incomprehensible precision and delicacy.

15. 3: God makes sense of objective moral values in the world. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. Many theists and atheists alike concur on this point. For example, the late J. L. Mackie of Oxford University, one of the most influential atheists of our time, admitted: "If...there are...objective values, they make the existence of a god more probable than it would have been without them. Thus, we have a defensible argument from morality to the existence of God." [11] But in order to avoid God's existence, Mackie therefore denied that objective moral values exist. He wrote, "It is easy to explain this moral sense as a natural product of biological and social evolution." [12]

16. Professor Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science at the University of Guelph, agrees. He explains:

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 thy 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. [13]

Friedrich Nietzsche, the great atheist of the last century who proclaimed the death of God, understood that the death of God meant the destruction of all meaning and value in life.

I think that Friedrich Nietzsche was right.

17. But we've got to be very careful here. The question here is not: Must we believe in God in order to live moral lives? I'm not claiming that we must. Nor is the question: can we recognize objective moral values without believing in God? I think we can.

18. Rather the question is: If God does not exist, do objective moral values exist? Like Mackie and Ruse, I just don't see any reason to think that in the absence of God, the morality evolved by homo sapiens is objective. After all, if there is no God, then what's so special about human beings? They're just accidental byproducts of nature which have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time. On the atheistic view, some action, say, rape, may not be socially advantageous, and so in the course of human development 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. Thus, without God there is no absolute right and wrong which imposes itself on our conscience.

19. But the problem is that objective moral values do exist, and deep down 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, torture, and child abuse aren't just socially unacceptable behavior, they're moral abominations. Some things, at least, are really wrong. Similarly, love, equality, and self-sacrifice are really good. But if objective values cannot exist without God, and objective values do exist, then it follows logically and inescapably that God exists.

20. 4: God makes sense of 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. That's why the Jewish leadership instigated his crucifixion for the charge of blasphemy. He claimed that in himself the Kingdom of God had come, and as visible demonstrations of this fact, he carried out a ministry of miracle working and exorcisms. But the supreme confirmation of his claim was his resurrection from the dead. 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.

21. Now most people would think that the resurrection of Jesus is just something you believe in by faith or not. But, in fact, there are three established facts, recognized by the majority of New Testament historians today, which I believe support the resurrection of Jesus: the empty tomb; Jesus' postmortem appearances; and the origin of the disciples' belief in his resurrection. Let me say a word about each one of these.

22. Fact # 1: On the Sunday following his crucifixion, Jesus' tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers. According to Jacob Kremer, an Austrian scholar who has specialized in the study of the resurrection, "By far most scholars hold firmly to the reliability of the Biblical statements about the empty tomb." [14] According to the New Testament critic, D.H. van Daalen, it is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions.

23. Fact # 2: On separate occasions different individuals and groups saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death. According to the prominent, skeptical German New Testament critic Gerd Ludemann, "It may be taken as historically certain that...the disciples had experiences after Jesus' death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ." [15] These appearances were witnessed not only by believers, but also by unbelievers, skeptics, and even enemies.

24. Fact # 3: The original disciples suddenly came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus despite having every predisposition to the contrary. Jews had no belief in a dying, much less a rising, Messiah, and Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone's rising from the dead prior to the end of the world. Luke Johnson, a New Testament scholar at Emory University, muses, "Some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was..." [16] N. T. Wright, an eminent British scholar, concludes, "That is why, as an historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him." [17]

25. Therefore, it seems to me, 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.

26 5: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 God exists wholly apart from arguments simply by immediately experiencing Him. 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 a destructive storm and life-giving sunshine...To them God was idea adopted by the mind, but an experiential reality which gave significance to their lives. [18]

Now if this is so, then there's a danger that proofs for God could actually distract our 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" (James 4. 8). We mustn't so concentrate on the proofs that we fail to hear the inner voice of God speaking to our own heart. For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives.

27. So, in conclusion, we've yet to see any arguments to show that God does not exist, and we have seen five reasons to think that God does exist. And, therefore, I think that theism is the more plausible worldview.

Opening Speech - Dr. Curley

1. O.K. I have places I'd rather be tonight. And my wife certainly has places she'd rather have me tonight. But I am here to argue against the existence of the Christian God. I am not here to defend atheism, contrary to the impression Dr. Craig's talk might have given you. Look, I think there are many ways of thinking about God. And I think some of them are ways I might accept. I just can't accept the Christian God.

2. When I was a child, I was a Christian. As I came to be an adult, I came to have doubts about that faith. For a while I called myself an agnostic. These doubts led me, while I was in college, to the study of philosophy and its history. Many of the philosophers I studied were Christians, for whom the rational defense of their religion was very important. My studies did not lessen my doubts; they increased them. Now I think there is hardly any chance the Christian religion is true. 'Agnostic' no longer seems the right label, not when we're talking about the Christian God.

3. The usual label for someone who once embraced Christianity and then rejected it is 'heretic.' I have no objection to that label, now that we've agreed to abolish the death penalty for heresy. (Laughter)

4. What started me on this path was reading the prayer book my mother gave me when I was 16. At the back were printed the Articles of Religion members of my church, the Episcopal Church, were expected to accept. I had not read them carefully when I was preparing for confirmation. Then I was only 13, and there was much I did not understand. Our minister was a good man: highly intelligent, cultured, and humane. At 13, I was content to accept what he told me, simply on his authority.

5. Then, at 16, I read those Articles of Religion, carefully and critically for the first time. I was disturbed that my church accepted pre-destination. Before the foundation of the world, the Articles said, God had chosen some vessels for honor and others for dishonor. So far as I could see, there was as good scriptural foundation for this teaching as there was for any doctrine the church affirmed. One of the first principles of my church was that no one should be required to believe, as necessary for salvation, any doctrine which could not be proved from scripture.

6. There were also strong philosophical reasons for accepting pre-destination. If God is omniscient, if he knows everything, he must have foreknowledge of his creatures' fate. If he is omnipotent, can do anything, or anything that is logically possible to do, then nothing happens except by his will. So, if I wind up in Hell, he will have known that from eternity, and he will have willed it from eternity.

7. Pre-destination is not so widely accepted now as it was when my church was founded in the 16th century. I find many Christians who reject it. And I sympathize with them. Their hearts are in the right place, certainly. I cannot believe that a just and loving God would create beings he knewand had pre-determined would spend eternity in hell. But Christians can reject pre-destination only at the cost of ignoring the authority of their scriptures and the implications of their theology.

8. Forget pre-destination. What about Hell? That's a different situation. I see no philosophical reason for believing in an eternal punishment for sinners. Philosophy is against it.

9. Philosophy teaches that the punishment should be proportionate to the crime. Let's concede, for the sake of argument, that we are all, in some sense, sinners. Which of us, looking into his heart, can honestly say that he has never done anything seriously wrong, at least once in his life? But the doctrine of Hell requires that most of us sinners will suffer eternal torment.

10. In some cases that may be just. Hitler was responsible for the horrifying deaths of millions of Jews, not to mention gypsies, Slavs, and homosexuals. Perhaps for crimes of that magnitude eternal punishment can be justified.

11. I am, in the sense I have specified, a sinner. But, in all candor, I must say that to me my sins seem pretty minor compared to those of Hitler. I haven't killed anyone, or tortured anyone, or been responsible for anyone's torture or death. Yet, if the doctrine of hell is correct, I shall be keeping Hitler company in Hell. No doubt I'm not an impartial judge in this case, but it doesn't seem fair. (Laughter)

12. In spite of these difficulties, Hell was part of the teaching of my church, and is part of the teaching of many Christian churches. This is no accident. The doctrine has strong support in the Christian scriptures.

13. Hell, too, is less widely believed in now that it was when my church was founded. I find many Christians who reject Hell. Their hearts are in the right place, certainly. I cannot believe that a just and loving God would consign the majority of his creatures to spend eternity in Hell. But Christians who reject Hell can do so only at the cost of rejecting also the authority of their scriptures.

14. I conceded, for the sake of argument, that we are all sinners. Now let me qualify that. Very likely all of us, in this room, are sinners, provided it's enough, to be a sinner, that once in your life you did something seriously wrong. But I don't concede that absolutely all humans are sinners.

15. I have a granddaughter, whom I love. She's a sweet girl, but she's seven. By now she must have committed quite a number of sins. I know sometimes she doesn't mind her mother very well. Sometimes she's mean to her baby brother. I don't find any of this serious enough to deserve eternal punishment. But perhaps there are sins I don't know about. In any case, she's not completely innocent. Probably no child that age is completely innocent. And Jesus did say that we should be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. That's a tough standard.

16. But, when I think about my granddaughter at an earlier age lying, say, in the neonatal intensive care unit, where she spent the first few months of her life, with an oxygen tube, and a feeding tube, and a heart monitor all taped to her tiny body for she was born in the 29th week of my daughter's pregnancy, and weighed less than 3lbs.then, I cannot think of her, at that stage of her life, as a sinner, deserving of Hell.

17. In the Christian tradition it is normal to baptize infants at an early age because it is believed that they come into the world tainted by the sin of Adam and Eve. This is the doctrine of original sin. I cannot believe in original sin. My granddaughter may be a sinner now, but not when she was in the intensive care unit.

18. Original sin is less widely accepted now than when my church was founded. I find many Christians who reject original sin. I sympathize with them. Their hearts are in the right place, certainly. But, Christians can reject original sin only at the cost of a substantial re-interpretation of their scriptures and traditions.

19. Consistently with the doctrine of original sin, it is common among Christians to believe that if we are justified, it is by faith in Jesus. Since we are all sinners, we cannot earn salvation by our works. But we can be forgiven and treated as if we were righteous. The mark of our having been forgiven is that God, by an act of grace, gives us faith.

20. This doctrine has implications I find appalling. It implies that those among us who lack faith in Jesus have not received grace, have not been forgiven, and will, if we continue in that state, go to Hell. So the doctrine of justification by faith, which has strong support in the Christian scriptures, leads inevitably to exclusivism, to the idea that all who reject Christian doctrine must be damned, no matter how good they may be, by ordinary standards.

21. If God chose the beneficiaries of his grace on the ground of some distinctive merit they possessed, this might not be unfair to those he didn't choose, whom we would presume to lack that merit. But that would be contrary to the idea of grace, which implies a free gift, not something given to someone who deserves it on account of merit.

22. So usually it is held that God has no reason for choosing some and not others. He acts quite arbitrarily. It's a hard and ugly doctrine, this doctrine of grace. I suppose that if you have already accepted Hell and original sin, you may be grateful for having a shot at salvation even if it does seem to be a lottery in which the odds are not on your side. Of course, if you think you have faith, then you may also think you have won the lottery and you may set aside thoughts about the unlucky losers.

23. Well, so far my objections have been mainly theological; they are objections to teachings whose basis is primarily scriptural rather than philosophical. The main exception to that generalization is the doctrine of pre-destination, which has philosophical grounds as well as scriptural grounds. I know many Christians here tonight will not feel that their understanding of Christianity requires them to accept all these doctrines, either because they have a different interpretation of scripture, or because they do not regard the Christian scriptures as absolutely authoritative in determining their beliefs and conduct. I've said I think those Christians who adopt a freer attitude toward scripture and do not feel that their acceptance of Christianity commits them to pre-destination, or Hell, or original sin, or justification by faith, or exclusivism those Christians have their hearts in the right place, I say. But I also think their feet may be planted on the slippery slope to heresy, and that more conservative Christians, who would accord greater authority to scripture, have a clearer right to call themselves Christians. How much of traditional Christianity can you reject and still be a Christian?

24. Let's turn now to objections not so scripturally based. It is common among Christians to believe that God is a personal being, who created the universe, and who is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good. Indeed, it is commonly said that God must possess all perfections.

25. Yet we observe that the world this perfect being created has many imperfections: there is much joy in the world; but there is also much suffering, much of it apparently undeserved; and there is sin. We call these things evil. How can they exist in a world which owes its origin to a God with the attributes Christians believe their God to possess?

26. The usual response now is to say that though God could have created a world without evil, it was better for him to have created the world he did, in spite of the evils it contains. The occurrence of those evils was necessary for goods which are even greater. If God had so created the world that it contained no evil at all, that world would have been less good, all things considered, than it is even with all the evil it contains. This is called the greater goods defense.

27. The Christian may say: We humans rightly do many things we expect to cause avoidable harm. We build a bridge from San Francisco to Marin County, knowing that in the construction some workmen will fall into the water and drown. We could avoid their deaths by not building the bridge. But the bridge is a great good. Given our human limitations, we cannot build it without some people dying a result. So we build it and accept their deaths as part of the cost of bridging those waters. And God's permission of evil may also be justified by the greater goods it leads to.

28. An omnipotent being, of course, does not face all the hard choices we do. If he wants a bridge across those waters, he need only say, "Let there be a bridge." And there will be.

29. One question the greater goods defense raises is: what kind of good could be so intimately connected with evil that even an omnipotent being would have to accept the evil, as the price of realizing that good? And what good could be so great that it would justify such a being's accepting the amount of evil there is in the world as the price of attaining that good?

30. The usual answer these days is: freedom. There must be freedom, if there is to be moral goodness. And the price of giving humans freedom is that sometimes they will misuse it. Even an omnipotent being can't cause a person to freely do good. And freedom, with the moral goodness which sometimes results from it, is a good sufficiently great that it makes the evils which also result worth accepting. [This is what is called the free will defense.]

31. There is a problem, of course, about appealing to human freedom to solve the problem of evil when you also believe in pre-destination and divine foreknowledge. This is a problem of long standing, which many philosophers have wrestled with. No solution has gained general acceptance. If Dr. Craig accepts the doctrines of pre-destination and divine foreknowledge and also appeals to human freedom to solve the problem of evil, he will have worked out a way of explaining how these things are consistent, and I will listen with interest to that explanation.

32. In the meantime, though, there are other problems about the appeal to freedom. There are evils whose occurrence has no discernible connection with freedom. Theologians call them natural evils, meaning such things as earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, diseases, and so on. If a deer dies in a forest fire, suffering horribly as it does so, that is an evil. It is not only human suffering we must take into account, when we are weighing good against evil in this world.

33. Now, if you accept anything like the theory of evolution, you will believe there were other animals on this planet long before humans appeared on the scene. Many of them must have suffered horribly as their species became extinct. None of that suffering can be justified as a necessary consequence of permitting humans freedom. We weren't around then. So, none of it seems beyond the power of omnipotence to prevent without the loss of that good.

34. Another objection: The greater goods defense can easily lead to a kind of cost-benefit analysis which is deeply repugnant to our moral sense. Consider the kind of case which troubled Ivan in Dostoevsky's great novel, The Brothers Karamazov. A little girl is treated quite brutally by her parents, who beat her because she has done something which made them angry. Perhaps she wets the bed repeatedly, and they think she ought to be old enough to control her bladder. Or perhaps the father is an alcoholic who abuses his daughter sexually. The Brothers Karamazov is fiction, but to hear about real cases like this, you need only listen regularly to the 11 o'clock news.

35. The free will defense seems to say, in cases of this kind: well, it's all very unfortunate, of course, but this is the price we must pay for having freedom. For the father to have the opportunity to display moral goodness, God must give him the opportunity to choose evil. You can't have the one opportunity without the other. And the father's having the opportunity to display moral goodness is such a great good that it outweighs the fact that he chooses evil.

36. But notice who gets the good here. It's the father. And notice who suffers the evil. It's the little girl. Let us grant, for the sake of argument, that the benefit outweighs the cost. Freedom is a very great good. Still it makes some difference who pays the cost. Freedom may be a great good, even a good so great that it would outweigh really horrendous suffering. But justice requires some attention, not only to the net amount of good, after you have subtracted the evil, but also to the way the goods and evils are distributed. Some distributions just aren't fair.

37. The mention of Ivan Karamazov brings me to my final objection. Ivan claims that if God does not exist, everything is permissible. Dr. Craig believes the same thing. Dostoevsky, speaking through Ivan, may have stated the problem of evil as powerfully as any atheist; but he was himself a Christian, who believed that God must exist if we are to make sense of morality.

38. I think the opposite is true. I think Christian belief makes morality, as we normally think of it, unintelligible. Consider the story of Abraham and Isaac. One day God put Abraham to the test. He said to Abraham: "Take your son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering." God gives no reason for this horrifying command. And Abraham asks none. He simply sets out to obey the command. And he nearly does obey. He has the knife raised to kill his son, when God sends down an angel to stay his hand. God then says he is satisfied with Abraham: "Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your favored one, from me." In the end God does not actually require the sacrifice. But he does require that Abraham demonstrate his willingness to carry out the sacrifice.

39. What's the moral of this story? I suggest it's this: as God's creatures, our highest loyalty must be to God, even if this requires the sacrifice of our deepest human loyalties; God is our Creator, our Lord, and we owe him absolute obedience, no matter what he commands and he might command anything. There are no constraints on his will; so we might be required to do anything. There is no predicting what he might require; and there is nothing to say that his commands will not change from one moment to the next. At the beginning of the story, God commands Abraham to kill Isaac; in the middle he commands Abraham not to kill Isaac.

40. If there is a God who is liable to command anything; and if our highest loyalty must be to this God, there is no act, save disobedience to God, which we can safely say is out of bounds, no act of a kind which simply must not be done, even rape, to use Dr. Craig's example. If this God exists, and we must obey him unconditionally, then anything whatever might turn out to be permissible. This view is destructive of morality as we normally think of it.

41. So there you have my opening argument. I have offered seven objections, seven deadly objections, I would say: Christian theism is committed to pre-destination, to Hell, to original sin, to justification by faith, and to exclusivism; it has no good solution to the problem of evil; and it is destructive of morality as we understand it. These are only some of the objections which make it impossible for me to believe in the Christian God.

First Rebuttal - Dr. Craig

1. I want to thank Dr. Curley for his very personal and sensitive remarks. In this speech, I hope to show, however, that most of his objections are aimed at a false target, at a conception of God which I, as a Christian, reject. What Dr. Curley offers is really seven deadly objections to the Calvinistic God, not the Christian God. It is only by equating Calvinism with Christianity that his objections have any force. And I just deny that equation. I am not a Calvinist.

2. Now, for those who are unfamiliar with this terminology, let me explain. Calvinism is a type of theology stemming from the French Protestant reformer John Calvin. It holds that all people are enslaved to sin, but that God, in His grace, sovereignly chooses to save some of them and to leave the rest to be damned. Those He has pre-destined to salvation, He irresistibly draws and imparts to them justifying faith. Thus, one's salvation or damnation is not a result of human free will, but of God's sovereign choice.

3. Now Calvinism is the theology of the Anglican, or the Episcopalian, Church in which Dr. Curley was raised. But most Christian denominations don't hold to Calvinism. Its simply parochial to think that all of these other denominations are, therefore, not faithful Christians. Are Catholics, and Methodists, and Baptists, and Eastern Orthodox all on the slippery slope to heresy, as Dr. Curley alleges? I think that would be a rather narrow-minded dogmatism.

4. My own theological views are broadly Wesleyan, named after John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. I believe in human free will and that where we spend eternity is, ultimately, the result of our choice. So let me consider specifically Dr. Curley's theological objections.

5. 1. Pre-destination. Dr. Curley presents the following argument:

1. Pre-destination is incompatible with God's love and justice.

2. Pre-destination is taught in the Bible.

3. Therefore, the God of the Bible does not exist.

6. Now I agree with his first premise, but I deny the second, that pre-destination, as he defines it, is taught in the Bible. On the contrary, I think that the Bible teaches that it is God's will that every single person be saved. II Peter 3:9 states, "God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." And I Timothy 2:4 says, "God, our Savior, desires all persons to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." So God's will is that everyone be saved, and the only obstacle to His will coming true is human freedom.

7. But then what about the biblical passages on pre-destination? I suggest they be understood corporately. God has predestined a group, a people, for glorification and salvation. But who is it that is a member of the group? Those who freely respond to God's offer of forgiveness in Christ Jesus, and place their trust in him. And, thus, I think that Dr. Curley is simply mistaken that a faithful, Bible-believing Christian has to believe in arbitrary individual pre-destination.

8. 2: The argument from hell. Dr. Curley presents the following argument:

1. Minor sins do not deserve eternal punishment.

2. The Bible teaches that God will eternally punish minor sins.

3. Therefore, the God of the Bible does not exist.

9. Now in this argument I think that both of those premises are false. But time only allows me to deal with the second. With regard to the second premise, it is far from obvious that the Bible teaches eternal punishment for minor sins. Rather, what separates us from God forever is the sin of freely rejecting God out of our lives. This is a sin of infinite gravity and proportion, since it is the creature's free decision to reject God Himself. Admittedly, Dr. Curley's Calvinism has no room for this sort of sin. But on a biblical view, it is not so much God, as creatures themselves, who determine their eternal destiny.

10. 3: Original Sin. Dr. Curley gives the following argument:

1. Infants are damned because of original sin.

2. The Bible teaches original sin.

3. Therefore, the God of the Bible does not exist.

11. I dispute the first premise. In fact, I challenge Dr. Curley to read me a single passage of Scripture that teaches that infants are damned because of original sin. The Bible teaches no such thing. On the contrary, Jesus took up the little children in his arms and blessed them, saying "Let the little children come to me... for such is the kingdom of heaven" (Mark 10.14).

12. Arguments 4 and 5 are lumped together: Justification by Faith and Exclusivism. Here Dr. Curley's argument seems to go like this:

1. The Bible teaches that God gives justifying faith to those He arbitrarily chooses and excludes others.

2. It is unfair to do this.

3. Therefore, the God of the Bible does not exist.

13. I think the first premise is false. Nowhere does the New Testament teach that justifying faith is arbitrarily bestowed by God. Rather, justification by faith is the wonderful doctrine that God's forgiveness and salvation is a free gift that you can't do anything to merit. This is a wonderful doctrine because it gets us off the treadmill of trying to earn favor with God and trying to merit salvation. All we have to do is freely place our trust in Him. God, therefore, excludes no one. Jesus said, "Whosoever will, may come" (John 7.37). But some people freely exclude God from their lives.

14. So, in summary of the five theological objections, I want to say: Dr. Curley and I mean this sincerely, I have good news for you. (The word "gospel" means "good news.") You don't have to be a Calvinist to be a Christian! (Laughter)

So let me turn to the remaining philosophical objections.

15. 6. The Problem of Evil. Here Dr. Curley's argument seems to go something like this:

1. God exists.

2. If God is all-powerful, He can create any world that He wants.

3. If God is all-good, than He would create a world without evil.

4. Therefore, evil should not exist.

But, evil does exist. So it follows, therefore, that God does not exist.

16. Now the problem with this argument is that Dr. Curley hasn't shown either of the two crucial premises to be necessarily true. Take premise (2), that an all-powerful God can create any world that He wants. If God wills to create free creatures, then it's logically impossible for Him to make them freely do what He wants. So Dr. Curley would have to show that there is a world of free creatures, which God could create, which has as much good as this world, but which has less evil. But how could he possibly prove such a thing? It is pure speculation.

17. What about premise (3), that an allloving God would prefer a world without evil. Now that premise might be true if God's purpose were to create a comfortable environment for His human pets. But on the Christian view, we are not God's pets. And the purpose of life is not happiness, as such, but rather the knowledge of God and His salvationwhich will ultimately bring true happiness. But many evils occur in life which are utterly pointless with respect to producing human happiness. But they may not be pointless with respect to producing a deeper knowledge of God. Dr. Curley would have to prove that there is another world that God could have created with this much knowledge of God and His salvation but with less evils. But how could anyone prove such a thing? Again, it is pure speculation. And, therefore, the problem of evil, I think, is simply inconclusive and doesn't disprove Christian theism.

18. Finally, 7: The Problem of Morality. Here the argument runs like this:

1. If divine command morality is true, then God is liable to command almost anything.

2. This is destructive or morality as we normally think of it.

3. Therefore, divine command morality is not true.

19. Now on the face of it, even if the premises of this argument were true, the argument is unsound because it's just invalid. The conclusion doesn't follow from the premises. Divine command morality could still be true even if it has the deleterious consequences that Dr. Curley ascribes to it.

20. But are the premises, in fact, true? Well, I think not. First, it is not the case that God is liable to command anything. God's commands flow necessarily from His own nature and character, which is essentially loving, holy, compassionate, just, and so forth. And thus, His commands are not arbitrary, but reflect God's own morally perfect nature.

21. Secondly, divine command morality is not destructive of morality precisely because God's commands are stable and steadfast. The case of Abraham and Isaac is the exception which proves the rule. I think we can safely guide our lives by the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule without worrying that God will command us to do something otherwise. And remember the alternative: if there is no God, then everything is relative, and we have completely lost our moral compass. As Dostoevsky rightly said, "All things are permitted."

22. So while Dr. Curley, I think, has given us, perhaps, good reasons to think that Calvinism is not true, he has not given us good reasons to think that Christian theism is not true. On the contrary, I think we've seen, as yet unrefuted, five good reasons for thinking that a Creator and Designer of the universe exists who is the locus of absolute value and who has revealed Himself decisively in Jesus Christ. And, therefore, I think that Christian theism is the more plausible world view.

First Rebuttal - Dr. Curley

1. O.K. Well, Dr. Craig's given me a lot to talk about here, and I'm sure I won't be able to talk about all of it. But I'll do my best to cover as many of the points as I can. I've got now to respond, not just to his opening statement, but to his first rebuttal, if I can.

2. What's the subject of the debate? He said, in his opening statement, that it was about the Judeo-Christian God, whether that God exists. No, actually, what I had insisted on was that we talk about the existence of the Christian God. It may sound ecumenical and nice to say that Jews and Christians all worship the same God, but that's not true. Christians, because they recognize the authority of the New Testament, are committed to lots of doctrines Jews aren't committed to, most of the doctrines I talked about. I framed my opening statement specifically with Christianity in mind. Judaism and Christianity do have some common problems. Evil is hard to understand in both religions. The relation between religion and morality is hard to understand in both religions. But most of the doctrines I discussed in my opening statement are not doctrines a Jew would feel himself committed to by his Judaism. I know that a lot of Christians don't feel themselves committed to them either. But you notice I didn't cite any biblical passages in support of my attributions of those views to the New Testament. Look, I am perfectly prepared to admit that there are lots of passages in the New Testament that are inconsistent with the passages that John Calvin thought were a basis for ascribing pre-destination, and original sin, and Hell. Did he actually deny that Hell exists? You didn't deny that there is such a thing as Hell, did you?

Dr. Craig: No! (Laughter)

3. No, O.K., Sorry! I know we're not supposed to talk to each other in these things. Let's see, where was I? Look, I am perfectly prepared to believe that the Christian scriptures are inconsistent on these various matters. I've been studying the history of this stuff for a while, and I know that there are texts on the other side, and I know that it's enormously difficult to try to work out exactly what the teachings of the scriptures are. If you would like, particularly with the issue of free will and pre-destination, to have a good look at what the scriptural texts are and how they used to be debated, I recommend that you read an exchange between Luther and Erasmus. Erasmus had written a work defending free will. Luther wrote a work which he entitled On the Bondage of the Will. Luther's work was much longer than Erasmus' because he had much more text to support him. It wasn't only Calvin who held this pre-destinarian view, it was also Luther. It was also Thomas Aquinas, actually. If you look at Thomas Aquinas, he holds a doctrine of double pre-destination: People are pre-destined both to Hell and to Heaven and the numbers are known by God in advance, as they would have to be. The basis of the doctrine of pre-destination is, after all, not merely scriptural, it's also philosophical.

4. OK. Second point: I am not here to defend atheism. I'm here to defend rejecting the Christian God. There are many ways of thinking about God; I'm not prepared to reject them all. Haven't thought hard enough about some of them! Have thought pretty hard about the Christian God, and I know pretty much what I think about that!

5. Appeals to authority, that's my third point. Craig makes them very frequently. And they're necessary, sometimes; they're necessary a lot of the time. We live in an age when knowledge is rapidly growing, and it leads to specialization. Really understanding contemporary physics and mathematics takes a lot of work. So those of us who do not specialize in these areas must rely for our opinions, very largely, on what the people who do specialize tell us. Some degree of reliance on authority cannot be avoided by anyone trying to form an intelligent view of the world today. But reliance on authority can be tricky. Often the authorities disagree. How, then, do we, who are not knowledgeable about the field, decide which authorities to believe?

6. I'll take two examples of his use of arguments from authority. He mentioned David Hilbert, that great mathematician. Perhaps the greatest mathematician of the century, he said. Well, he was a great mathematician, indeed, and, he certainly didn't like the idea of an actual infinite. He built a whole program in mathematics, the formalist program, on the hope that it would be possible to allow for transfinite arithmetic without incurring the paradoxes of set theory. You don't know what transfinite arithmetic is or [what] the paradoxes of set theory [are]? Take a course in the philosophy of mathematics! We offer one pretty regularly! (Laughter) His hopes were disappointed, Hilbert's were, because Gödel came along, and he proved his incompleteness theorem: that the formalist program could not succeed. At one stage in his life Hilbert did, indeed, say what Dr. Craig says he said; but subsequent developments in mathematics forced him to abandon that view.

7. Second example, Anthony Kenny, of Oxford University, is quoted on the implications of the Big Bang theory. Kenny did, indeed, sayin a book written 30 years ago, a passing remark of only a few lines, in a book about some 13th century arguments for the existence of God by Thomas Aquinas, hardly a context in which we could expect a measured assessment of the implications of Big Bang cosmology, even as it was understood 30 years ago Kenny's a philosopher, not a physicist, and it's just possible that he may not understand Big Bang theory very well. I don't.

8. Next point: Our concept of God must be coherent, if it is to play the role Craig wants it to. Craig's arguments have a common structure: invoke God as a hypothesis to explain something: the origin of the universe; the complex order of the universe; objective moral values; the resurrection; religious experience. For a hypothesis to explain a phenomenon, it must be logically consistent. So before we consider the arguments, we need to ask about the consistency of the hypothesis. If it turns out to be inconsistent, there's no need to deal with the arguments one by one.

9. Well, Anthony Kenny, actually, whom he quoted on the theistic implications of Big Bang theory, in a more recent book, The God of the Philosophers, writes as follows, this is the beginning of the concluding chapter of his book:

If the argument of the previous chapters has been correct, then there is no such being as the God of traditional, natural theology. The concept of God propounded by scholastic theologians and rationalist philosophers is an incoherent one. If God is to be omniscient, I have argued, then he cannot be immutable. If God is to have infallible knowledge of future human actions, then determinism must be true. If God is to escape responsibility for human wickedness, then determinism must be false. Hence, in the notion of a God who foresees all sins but is the author of none, there lurks a contradiction.

Kenny, it seems to me, is moving away from Christianity, in so far as he takes that position.

10. But, you might, if you want to pursue this issue further, have a look at a book [called The Coherence of Theism] by Richard Swinburne, who's still firmly in the Christian camp, so he thinks, but who (on pages 180-183 of that book, which is the conclusion of his chapter on omniscience) argues that in order to really understand, not merely human freedom, but also divine freedom, it's necessary to restrict God's omniscience, and to assume that God does not have foreknowledge either of human actions, or of his own future actions.

11. My opening statement pointed out further difficulties in the coherence of the Christian concept of God. Is pre-destination consistent with God's justice and love? Of course, if you reject pre-destination, you won't find a problem here. But then you've got to make sure that you've dealt not only with scriptural arguments for pre-destination, but also with the philosophical arguments for pre-destination. Is justice consistent with making no distinction among sinners? Is justice consistent with excusing some people from their due punishment for no reason at all?

12. Here's one more problem of coherence. Dr. Craig holds that God is both timeless and personal; that because God is timeless he must be personal. The only way a timeless God could create an effect in time would be if God were a personal agent, freely choosing to create without prior determining conditions. Now the notion of a timeless personal agent who chooses to create an effect in time is incoherent if that agent is, as Dr. Craig's God is supposed to be, omnipotent. If an omnipotent being chooses to create an effect, his choice should be sufficient to bring about the effect. If he is timeless, this choice must have been his will from eternity. But the effect is not supposed to be eternal. How can the will be sufficient for the effect, and the will be eternal, and the effect not be eternal? I leave that for Dr. Craig to explain.

13. Even the idea of a timeless person, forget about the fact that this timeless personal must create effects in time, even the idea of a timeless person is deeply problematic. What is it to be timeless? Well, it means that no temporal predicates apply to the timeless entity. So no change is possible. A timeless being must be immutable. What is it to be a person? Well, that involves at least having beliefs and desires. How can a perfect being have desires? To have a desire is to be in need of something which you hope to attain in the future. But a perfect being cannot be in need of anything.

14. Again, a person must be capable of interacting with other people, as the biblical God does. But a timeless person could not interact with other people because that would imply that it would have to change. The whole theology is riddled with contradictions.

15. Well, although I don't think that I actually am required to do so by the logic of my argument, because if what I have said about the inconsistency about the concept of God is correct, there is no need really to ask further whether God is a satisfactory explanation of these various phenomena which are so mysterious, nevertheless, I think I should say something about some of the arguments that Dr. Craig made, because I know you won't be satisfied unless I do.

16. So, Dr. Craig thinks the universe must have a finite past because an actual infinite is impossible. If the past were infinite, there would be an actual infinite. He owes us an explanation, I think, of how you can deny that there's an actual infinite and still believe in God, who is supposed to be, as I understand it, both infinite and actual. I'm sure he has an answer to that. I'm sure he will have an answer to every objection that I raise. Whether they will be good answers, well, that is for you to decide at the appropriate time.

17. Now I already discussed his strange attempt to use the authority of David Hilbert to establish the proposition that there can't be an actual infinite. But consider the question on its merits, setting aside the authority of famous mathematicians. If it were logically impossible for there to be an actual infinite, then it would be a necessary truth that Euclidean geometry does not describe actual space. But this is not a necessary truth. It is a contingent empirical issue, to be decided by determining whether the best overall scientific theory is one which incorporates a Euclidean or a non-Euclidean geometry. It used to be thought, prior to the 19th century, that the only possible geometry for space was Euclidean. And, then, in the 19th century mathematicians discovered that there were alternative geometries, non-Euclidean geometries which made different assumptions about space. And so it became a question how do we decide between these. And the answer that most physicists and philosophers of physics nowadays accept, I think, is: which one works best in the context of the overall physical theory. So it can't be decided a priori whether Euclidean geometry describes the space in which we live.

Well, let's see, How much time do I have?

Dr. Larson: You need to stop.

Dr. Curley: I need to stop now. (Laughter)

Dr. Larson: Yes, please.

Dr. Curley: I'll be back. (Laughter)

Dr. Larson: Dr. Craig. Be quiet please, we need to proceed. Dr. Craig.

Second Rebuttal - Dr. Craig

1. Now you'll remember in my opening speech I said that there were two questions we needed to decide in tonight's debate:

First, are there any good reasons to think that God does not exist?

Now as I look at my notes from what Dr. Curley said in his last speech, it seemed to me that he dropped his defense of most of his seven objections.

2. He said: "I'm aware that there are passages inconsistent with Calvinism, but that just shows that the Bible is inconsistent." Well, I think I gave, in my [first rebuttal], a consistent interpretation of those passages. If we interpret pre-destination as a corporate notion primarily, then it is perfectly compatible with freedom of the will to say: "Anyone who wants to be a member of that pre-destined body can freely do so." So until he shows some incoherence in that position, I think that all of his objections fail. He recommended a book. I'll recommend one of my own: Robert Shank wrote a book called Elect in the Son, which is a wonderful study of the doctrine of pre-destination from the point of view that I've laid out. [19] And I think that it is a coherent view.

3. In the last speech, however, we got a number of new objections to the concept of God, that the concept of God is incoherent. But notice that we got very little argument to support those assertions. In fact, it was Dr. Curley now appealing to the authority of Anthony Kenny and Swinburne that the concept of God is incoherent! But what is the argument here?

4. Well, for example, he says foreknowledge is not compatible with freedom. Well, I think that this is simply an invalid argument. It goes something like this:

1. Necessarily, if God foreknows X, then X will happen.

2. God foreknows X.

3. Therefore, necessarily X will happen.

5. Well, that simply commits an elementary fallacy in modal logic. It is simply a fallacious argument, and most people recognize it as such. It is possible that X not happen even though God foreknows it. What is true is that if X were not to happen, then God would not have foreknown X. And as long as that subjunctive counterfactual is true, there is simply no incoherence in God's having knowledge of future contingents.

6. He also presented an argument to suggest that divine timelessness is incompatible with personhood. Well, I would simply disagree with this. I think what's essential to personhood is self-consciousness and freedom of the will, and those are not inherently temporal concepts. A good study of this is John Yates' book, The Timelessness of God. Let me quote from Yates; he says:

The theist may immediately grant that concepts such as memory and anticipation could not apply to a timeless being. But this is not to admit that the key concepts of consciousness and knowledge are inapplicable to such a deity. There does not seem to be any essential temporal elements in words like 'to understand,' 'to be aware,' 'to know.' An atemporal deity could possess maximal understanding, awareness, and knowledge in a single, all-embracing vision of reality. [20]

So, I think there's no incoherence in the notion of a timeless, personal being.

7. Well, basically then, I don't think we've heard any good reasons to think that Christian theism is not true. Now what about my reasons for thinking Christian theism is true?

First, I argued that God makes sense of the origin of the universe; and notice the structure of the argument here is a deductive argument. I argue:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

And then you philosophically analyze the concept of a cause of the universe, and you can recover several of the traditional divine attributes.

8. Now Dr. Curley raises a number of objections without really disputing the truth of the premises. He says, for example, that I'm arguing from authority. Hilbert abandoned his formalist program. That's true, that he abandoned his formalist program. But Hilbert never abandoned the view that an actual infinite cannot exist in reality. And the very fact that, as I said, you cannot do inverse operations like subtraction in transfinite arithmetic with infinite quantities shows that an infinite can't be instantiated in the real world, because in the real world you can take away from things, if you want to, and, therefore, you are going to have self-contradictions. And so I don't think that that undermines my objection to the actual infinite.

9. He says: "Well, but then how can God be actual and infinite?" Well, I do have a good answer to that! Namely, when theologians talk about the infinity of God, this isn't a mathematical concept. In set theory, the idea of an actual infinite is a collection of an infinite number of definite and discrete finite parts. But the infinity of God isn't a mathematical concept at all. It just means God is all-knowing; He's all-powerful; He's all-loving; He's eternal; He's necessary; and so forth. It's just totally different concepts. It's not a univocal concept of infinity.

10. He says: "Well, if your argument were correct, then space is necessarily non-Euclidean and, surely, that's not right." Well, I have two responses here.

First, I would say that Euclidean space can be finite, if you adjust the topology of space. For example, if you make it into a cylinder and then bend it into a torus or a donut shape, you can have a Euclidean space that is finite.

11. But, secondly, I argue that even if a Euclidean space, a flat Euclidean space that has a topology of a plane, might be logically possible, that's no proof that it's metaphysically possible. And my argument is that, in fact, actual infinities are metaphysically impossible.

12. He then asks: "Well, how could you have an eternal will without the effect being coeternal?" Well, I think very easily. God could have a timeless intention to create a world with a beginning. Since He is omnipotent, His will is done, and a world with a beginning starts to exist. Now I actually think that at the moment of creation, when God creates the world, He does enter into time. I think God becomes temporal, so that His decision to create a temporal world is a decision as well for God to enter into time in virtue of His real relations with the universe. But I would say that without the universe God is timeless.

13. Now, as far as I can see, that is all of the objections to the first argument. Oh, except for saying that Anthony Kenny perhaps didn't understand the Big Bang! Notice my quotation from Kenny was simply to show that if you're an atheist, you've got to believe that the universe popped into existence out of nothing. And Dr. Curley doesn't dispute the point.

14. Let me just quote from a couple of more recent authorities on this. Stephen Hawking, in The Nature of Space and Time, published in November of 1996, says, "Almost everyone now believes that the universe and time itself had a beginning at the Big Bang." [21] And, therefore, you've got to explain how the universe came to exist. Quentin Smith, a philosopher of science at the University of Western Michigan, says in Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology (1993): "It belongs analytically to the concept of the cosmological singularity that it is not the effect of prior physical events. The definition of a singularity entails that it is impossible to extend the spacetime manifold beyond the singularity. This effectively rules out the idea that the singularity is the effect of some prior natural process." [22] It can only be the result of a supernatural process, a supernatural being.

15. Notice that Dr. Curley hasn't yet responded to my arguments based on the complex order in the universe, the existence of objective moral values, and the historical facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. So I think that my case this evening is still basically intact and that we have good grounds for believing in the truth of Christian theism.

Second Rebuttal - Dr. Curley

1. O.K., well, let's see. I'd better say something about the complex order argument.… Oh, but wait a second! I can't let this one go! He accused me of committing an elementary modal fallacy, when I inferred from God's foreknowledge that human actions are necessary. No, I don't think so, actually. I think the argument that I was relying on is pretty nicely laid out by Nelson Pike in an article in the Philosophical Review about 25 years ago now, I think it wasin which he argued that the only way you could make sense of God's foreknowledge consistent with the kind of indeterministic human freedom which Dr. Craig favors is by assuming the possibility of backwards causation. And backwards causation is a pretty hard notion to understand.

2. Look, here's the idea, I'll try to explain it very simply, it's a complicated argument, but it goes like this: what do we mean when we say that a person acts freely when he does something? Well, on an in-deterministic conception of freedom, what we're saying is that, at the point of action, the person had the power to act otherwise than he, in fact, did act. Now 20,000 years ago, not to go too far back, God knew, if he has foreknowledge, that the person would make the choice he made. So what are we saying when we say that at that point in time he had the power to act otherwise? Well, we seem to be saying that he had the power to change what God believed 20,000 years ago. That's backward causation, and I don't think it makes any sense. So I know about the modal fallacy he accused me of committing. It's an old story, and this argument doesn't depend on it.

3. O.K., let's see now. So many things, so many things! O.K. here's one: this is another appeal to authority. This actually comes out of Dr. Craig's book. (Laughter) Here's what he writes on page 46 of his book, "The majority of scientists who adhere to the Big Bang model of the universe probably see no theistic implications in it whatsoever." This is an appeal to authority within an appeal to authority, mind you. I'm appealing to Dr. Craig appealing to the authority of Dr. Tinsley of Yale, Beatrice M. Tinsley: "When I asked Dr. Tinsley of Yale what relevance the model has to the question of the existence of God she replied, 'I don't see that all this has any bearing on the question. I asked your question to a group of my colleagues and their initial reactions were the same as mine, no relevance.'" I congratulate Dr. Craig on his candor in reporting Dr. Tinsley's response. I think it's admirable of him to admit that most physicists don't see that there's any theological relevance to their theories; but there you are!

4. On the business about the complex order of the universe. I must say something about that because those numbers that he pulls out are awfully impressive. I mean, Good Lord! (Laughter) Old habits die hard! (Laughter) Do I get some extra time now? (Laughter) Dr. Craig relies heavily on the claim that it's wildly improbable that there should be a life-permitting universe. Of all the possible universes, only a very few are of such as to permit the development of life; most are life-prohibiting universes. Now I'm very skeptical about our ability to calculate these probabilities with any accuracy. And here I'm going to quote from my colleague, Larry Sklar, who is a specialist in the philosophy of physics, whom I asked about, I showed him, actually what I showed him was not the draft of Dr. Craig's opening statement for this debate, but I showed him a draft from one of his previous debates. Some of his debates are available on his website, and I was able to procure some others that weren't on his website. Here's what Larry said about this business of improbability:

The whole issue of the improbability of the world is a mess. The stuff about how delicately the parameters would have to be balanced rests upon very speculative cosmology. All of these arguments rest upon the dubious assumption that any legitimate sense can be given to the probability of some initial state. What is the reference sample of events from which we observe frequencies and, hence, infer to probabilities: a vast number of creations of which our kind of universe is created only rarely? Has Craig observed them? Is the probability from some a priori measure of chances? Who told him what that was? If one applies certain kinds of reasoning that are legitimate in the universe as it is, in specified contexts where appropriate reference classes exist, to the cosmic case, you can generate those numbers. But such wild extra-polations of probabilistic reasoning are simply not justified.

Well, that's what our local expert on these matters thinks.

5. I better say something about, how much time have I got?, two minutes, O.K., I'd better say something about this business of objective values, and so on. Look, I believe in objective values. I even believe, near to atheism as I am, and it is, in a way, a bit of a quibble to say that I'm not an atheist because I'm an atheist with respect to the most important kind of God that people in this society think about, I happen to think there's a decent chance that there might be some other kind of God, but most of you wouldn't recognize that kind of God as being God, because it's so remote from what you think of as God.

6. But for practical purposes, let's say that I'm an atheist because my own peculiar religious inclinations don't come close enough to what's normal. O.K. But I still think rape is wrong. In fact, I wrote an article, it's interesting that he should have chosen that example, I wrote an article, about twenty-some years ago, I don't always work in history of philosophy and I did an article for Philosophy and Public Affairs, I think it was 1975, in which I was arguing, among other things, that rape was wrong. I was also concerned, however, about the conditions under which people could be excused from raping, excused for having raped someone, because there had been a court decision which said that if the defendant believed that the woman was consenting, no matter how unreasonably, he couldn't be convicted. Look, I think an atheist, any kind of non-believer, can make a perfectly good case against the wrongness of rape. And I think Dr. Craig does morals no service by supposing that we have to believe in God in order to think that rape is wrong.

Closing Statement - Dr. Craig

1. In my closing statement, I'd like to shift gears a little bit and look at that fifth reason I gave for believing in God, that God can be immediately known and experienced. Dr. Curley shared with you personally a little bit about his own spiritual journey. And as I read what he shared, it struck me that, at exactly the same age, I was moving in the opposite direction. I wasn't raised in a Christian home or a churchgoing family. But when I became a teenager, I began to ask the big questions in life: "Why am I here?" "Where am I going?" And in the search for answers, I began to attend a large local church in our community. But instead of answers, all I found there was a social country club where the dues were a dollar a week in the offering plate, and the other high school students, who claimed to be such good Christians on Sunday, lived for their real God the rest of the week, which was popularity. And this really bothered me because I felt so empty inside. And yet I was living, externally at least, a more moral life than most of them were. And this deeply bothered me. I thought: "They're all hypocrites; they're just phonies!" And I began to become very alienated, very bitter and angry, toward people because of their phoniness.

2. Well, I walked into my German class one day and sat down behind a girl who is one of these types, you know, that is always so happy that it just makes you sick! (Laughter) I tapped her on the shoulder, and she turned around, and I said to her: "Sandy, what are you always so happy about for anyway?" And she said: "Well, Bill, it's because I know Jesus Christ as my personal Savior." And I said: "Well, I go to church." And she said: "Well, Bill, that's not enough. You've got to have him really living in your heart." And I said: "Well, what would he want to do a thing like that for!" And she said: "Because he loves you, Bill!" And that just hit me like a ton of bricks. Here I was so filled with anger and bitterness, and she said there was someone who really loved me. And who was it, but the God of the universe! And that thought just staggered me.

3. Well, to make a long story short, during the next six months I read the New Testament from cover to cover. I was arrested by the person of Jesus, and I could not throw him out along with the church and the hypocrisy I saw there. There was an authenticity, a ring of truth, about him that I didn't see in the lives of those who claimed to be his followers. And I met other Christians in the high school. I didn't know that people like this existed. They seemed to be in touch with a higher plane of reality that I didn't know was there. And I wanted that for my own life. Well, after about six months of intense searching, I just came to the end of myself and I just cried out to God, and I experienced the sort of spiritual rebirth within. It was as though someone turned on the light. I felt an infusion of joy, and God became an immediate reality in my life, a reality which has never left me as I've walked with him day by day, year by year, over the last 30 years. And I believe that you can find God in that same way, as an immediate and personal reality in your life.

4. Now somebody might say, " Well, Bill, you're just delusory; that's just psychological, your experience." But in the absence of any good reasons to think Christian theism is false, I don't see any reason to regard my experience as delusory. And I don't think we've heard any good reasons in the debate tonight to think Christian theism is false. Basically, it's boiled down to Nelson Pike's article against divine foreknowledge and human freedom, an article which has been endlessly refuted in the literature, including by Alvin Plantinga in his book God, Freedom, and Evil[23] Pike thinks that "the ability to do otherwise" means you can erase God's past belief. But it doesn't. It means that you have the ability to act in such a way such that if you were to act in that way, God would have believed differently. Pike never understood the counter-factual involved. So we don't have any reason to think Christian theism is false.

5. Moreover, we've got good reasons to think Christian theism is true:

The Origin of the Universe. It's true most scientists may not draw the metaphysical or theological implications. But as Albert Einstein once observed: "The man of science is a poor philosopher." I think that the metaphysician, the philosopher, certainly recognizes that out of nothing, nothing comes and that, therefore, there must be a supernatural cause of the universe.

6. As for the Complex Order in the Universe, this is easy to explain: Just alter things like the force of gravity or the neutron-proton mass ratio infinitesimally, and it makes matter impossible; it makes planets impossible; it makes a universe impossible. So we are balanced on a knife's edge which is literally incomprehensible in its delicacy and balance. This is best explained as a result of intelligent design.

7. As for Objective Moral Values, I admit that atheists can often live moral lives and think rape is wrong. But my point, as you remember, was that apart from God there isn't any objective reason for regarding human beings as the locus of value. They're just advanced primates, and animals don't have morality.

8. We've never talked about the life, death, or resurrection of Jesus. So, basically, what I'm suggesting is that there are good reasons to think that my experience of Christ and God that I had as a 16-year old was not delusory. It was real. And I believe that if you seek for this, if you seek for God, you will meet Him, too. He could change your life in the same way that He changed mine. Thank you.

Closing Statement - Dr. Curley

1. O.K. Obviously, a lot of questions are going to be left unanswered at the end of this evening. I promise to stay as long as anybody wants to. I understand the hall has be cleared by 10 o'clock. I'm willing to go out for coffee afterward, if you want to keep talking. (Laughter) I promise in the question and answer period to address some of the questions that I didn't get a chance to talk about in my rebuttal periods. I didn't say anything about his arguments about the resurrection. I have some things to say about the resurrection. I didn't say anything about the argument from religious experience. And if you want to know why I think rape is wrong, and how I think it can be rationally justified to hold that judgment, I'll be perfectly happy to talk about that.

2. The advertising for tonight's debate invited you to come, hear the debate, and draw your own conclusion. In a few minutes the organizers, well, actually they distributed the comment cards at the beginning of the evening, I didn't realize that was going to happen, inviting you to say which of the two speakers has made the better case, inviting you, by your votes, to declare a winner.

3. By all means, you must draw your own conclusions from what you have heard. But I suggest that it is premature at this point to come to any firm conclusion as to which of us has the truth on his side. These are complicated and difficult issues. Each of us has made many arguments. The proper assessment of any one of them could easily be the subject of an entire college course.

4. The conditions under which this debate has operated do not really encourage adequate reflection on the arguments. The recommended strategy in these situations is to put up a lot of arguments, more than your opponent can really respond to in the time allotted for his rebuttal, and then to claim victory by pointing out that your opponent has not answered all your arguments. Dr. Craig has followed that strategy. Having been forewarned that he would do this, I have tried to emulate that strategy.

5. Yet the matter you are asked to decide seems to be of the utmost importance. If Dr. Craig is right in his beliefs, your eternal salvation is at stake. And the consequences of not being saved are awesome. So he has a very powerful altruistic motive for trying to persuade non-believers that he is right.

6. If I am right in my beliefs, however, the stakes are not so high. I cannot hope to win eternal joy for anyone by persuading them to reject the Christian God. Nor can I hope to save anyone from Hell. If I am right, there is no life after death. And if I am wrong, I will pay a terrible penalty for being wrong. If, in addition to being wrong, I persuade others to join me in my error, thereby procuring their damnation (Laughter), I may indeed deserve eternal punishment. So I don't have quite the same motivation to persuade that Dr. Craig has. (Laughter)

7. Why, then, debate? That's a good question. Those of us who dissent from the Christian majority in this country are able to live here and go about our business undisturbed only because the majority have decided to extend to us the freedom to think what we like, and to say what we think. It may seem to some among that majority that we go beyond the limits of what is proper if we accept an invitation to speak against the majority religion, or if we press our case too vigorously.

8. My wife would have preferred that I not appear here, as I said earlier. Sometimes the sins of the husband are visited upon the wife. (Laughter) Ask Hillary. (Laughter) Now, I'm a Democrat, O.K. But social disapproval is a small matter compared to the penalties heretics used to suffer. Not very long ago, I might, in some Christian countries, have been burned at the stake even for holding the views I do, much less stating them candidly. Dr. Craig remarked that atheists had failed to make an adequate case against the existence of God. Well, yeah, there's a reason why they were keeping quiet! (Laughter)

9. Our Supreme Court now interprets the First Amendment to imply that freedom of religion extends, not only to those who accept one of the many varieties of Christianity, but also to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and those who accept no religion at all. This freedom not to believe, and to say why I do not believe, is precious to me.

10. I suppose that is the deepest reason I have for my decision to appear here. Not to convert believers to disbelief, but to put a human face on disbelief, which still often feels that it must hide itself. There are politicians in this country who do not believe that the protections of the First Amendment should extend to those who reject all organized religion. If you doubt me, I invite you to consult Patrick Buchanan's web site.

11. Putting a human face on disbelief means, among other things, trying to show that my position is one which might be held by a reasonable man, a man of some intelligence, who has, within the limits of his abilities, God knows there are limits, given long, and careful, and fair-minded consideration to the arguments of the other side, and who has concluded, with some regret, that he cannot accept them.

12. What should you do if you wish to reflect further on this issue before reaching a decision? Come to the meeting of the undergraduate philosophy club, scheduled for 8pm, February 24th in Angell Hall 2271. I'll be at that meeting to discuss the issues of the debate further.

13. I'll also put material relating to this debate on my web site. You have my web address on the article the organizers circulated. I don't know that they actually circulated that article of mine on Spinoza. But I think they've offered to circulate it to those who want it. So that'll give you my web site, if you're interested. I'll put up my opening and closing statements by the weekend, and with Dr. Craig's permission, I'll add the full transcript of both sides as soon as they become available. I'll also put up a transcript of the very interesting debate Dr. Craig had with Michael Tooley, at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

14. Finally, one of my projects this year has been a seminar on religious toleration. I want to put in a plug for that. Next week we're having a distinguished visiting speaker from Great Britain, Professor David Wootton, who will be speaking on the toleration of atheists in early modern society. The title of his talk is "Enemies of All Society." I invite you all to hear his public lecture, at 4pm next Monday. Further details about that will be on my Web site.

Moderated Dialogue - Q&A

Dr. Larson: Let's give applause to both speakers. (Applause) We're going to take questions now. But before doing so, it's been a long haul; we've gone through some difficult arguments. Let's take about two minutes and just scratch your neighbor's back, stretch, and don't leave. If you can stay, please, there's more to come.

On your right! If you have a question for Dr. Curley, please line up at the other microphone. Dr. Curley will be back very shortly. So we'll begin by taking questions for Dr. Craig, and we'll give Dr. Curley and equal number of questions when he arrives back from a very brief break. So let's take the first question. I want to encourage you, please frame it as a question. So limit any comments or remarks you have simply to preliminaries to the question and avoid making extended statements. Could we have the first question, please?

1. Question: Hi, Dr. Craig! It's an honor to ask you a question. I was thinking about your reasoning about the order and complexity of the universe and, you know, I see a piece of dirt, and that has lots of atoms and lots of order, and I see a raindrop and that has lots of atoms and lots of order. I think of the infinite possibilities to where that raindrop could have fallen. And I posit a dirt God and a rock God at the same time, a dirt God and a rain God. How am I wrong in my reasoning, according to your basis?

2. Dr. Craig: Well, I think that the way you would be wrong is that things like a raindrop, for example, don't have the kind of complex order that I'm talking about that would be exhibited by the initial conditions of the universe. What would have order would be things like the atomic structure of that raindrop, and that, I think, does cry out for some sort of explanation. Why is it that the weak force and the strong force have the exact ratios and values they do? Why is it that the proton and the neutron have the mass ratios that they do? I think that that sort of thing does cry out for a fundamental explanation because those are contingent quantities that just appear out of nowhere in the beginning of the universe and, yet, are fine tuned for a life-permitting universe. So I would agree that at the most fundamental level there is order there that needs to be explained, but not at the macroscopic level of a raindrop or a piece of dirt.

Dr. Larson: Could we take a question for Dr. Curley?

Dr. Craig: He gets a one minute response if he wants.

Dr. Larson: If you want.

3. Dr. Curley: Yeah, I think I would like to say something actually about that. Order cries out for explanation. Yes, that's right, I think. I think order does cry out for explanation. But the question is whether positing any kind of godlet's forget about Christian, whether that explains anything. Look, what's in it for God whether there's a Big Bang universe or a steady-state universe? It's really very hard to see that there's any difference between the two. I mean, what exactly is his interest in having the particular kind of order that, on the theistic hypothesis, he's chosen to have? It seems like whatever purposes he might have had, it's very mysterious, on the whole, what those purposes were. He could have realized those purposes in any number of possible ways.

Dr. Larson: A question for Dr. Curley.

4. Question: O.K. Dr. Curley, are you familiar with Ockham's Razor?

Dr. Curley: Oh, yes!

Question: Well, for those who are not, Ockham's Razor says that the simplest explanation is right, whereas the less assumptions, the less suppositions, is the rightest answer. His theory is filled with infinity divided by infinity, etc., saying that everything was at the right temperature, we'd have an explosion. A neutron goes here and there, and we have the universe. Well, clearly, his explanation is much simpler. So then my question is, you tell that if we disavow pre-destination, we're undermining God as a whole, now I ask you if you're violating Ockham's Razor, are you violating everything that Ockham's Razor supports, which would be astrophysics, the Big Bang, everything that you're arguing for?

Dr. Curley: No, no! Are you through with your question?

Question: That's the question. You're violating Ockham's Razor, so are you not in fact violating all of astrophysics?

5. Dr. Curley: Well, no, I don't say that I'm violating Ockham's Razor. I mean Ockham's Razor is a little tricky to apply. Actually, you might get cut. (Laughter) The first of all my argument didn't depend solely on pre-destination, Good Lord! But the, I guess I really should be careful about that, shouldn't I? (Laughter) Anyway, no, look, it's a question as to whether the theistic hypothesis is really as simple as it's alleged to be. I mean, Richard Swinburne likes to run this argument a lot, that, you know, here you've got all these things like the existence of the universe, and the order in the universe, and you've got one simple hypothesis to explain all these various phenomena. And isn't that wonderful? But, I mean, it seems to me that if you're really going to give a personalistic explanation, as he calls it, of the various phenomena, the personalistic explanation has the logical form of: a person does something to achieve an end. O.K. And, so, if you're going to explain why things are arranged the way they are, you have to explain what, exactly, is the end that God had. And so all the facts that are supposed to be explained by this one simple hypothesis; the hypothesis has to be embellished with a lot of explanations as to why all these things are good from the point of view of God. And I don't know that any theist has made any serious attempt to do that.

6. Dr. Craig: Well, I think it is remarkable that the God hypothesis does have such explanatory scope. The case I've drawn tonight appeals to philosophy, science, ethical theory, history, and personal experience. And, in all of these, the God hypothesis helps to make sense of a wide range of data in the world today and is a simple hypothesis, I think. We don't need to know what God's purposes are in every case, I think, to employ the idea of a personal creative intelligence behind the world. And I think it is a hypothesis with remarkable power and explanatory scope.

Dr. Larson: Question for Dr. Craig.

7. Question: Good evening! It seems to me at the end of the day that your hypothesis pretty much can be summarized this way, and I ask a question here, it seems that, because we cannot explain the origin of the universe, and because of the Elvis-like reappearance of Jesus Christ, that there must be a God, you say. I would ask you what distinguishes this rationale from the belief of ancient people who ascribe to the existence of God to the sun, there was a sun God, and a wind God, and a God of flight, and any of a number of manifestations of God which, at the end of the day, symbolized man's inherent refusal to acknowledge his own ignorance and the fact that we just don't know.

8. Dr. Craig: I'm not positing God as the so-called "God of the gaps," to explain gaps in our scientific knowledge. Rather, my argument is based upon the best of what we do know in science. For example, take my first argument: it's a deductive argument. Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause. Now that second premise, that the universe began to exist, is not a religious statement, not a theological statement. You can find that statement in any contemporary textbook on astrophysics or cosmology. And it is supported, as we've seen, by the vast majority of cosmologists today. So I'm simply saying that the best scientific evidence we have today supports the truth of that second premise. And from that, the rest of the deductive argument follows. So in no way is this an appeal to ignorance, to try to punt to God to explain what we don't understand.

9. As for Elvis, I don't think that the people who claim to have had those sightings actually saw Elvis. I think that they were either lying or they were hallucinating. (Laughter) Now with respect to the disciples, neither of those hypotheses is plausible. They clearly weren't lying because they were willing to go to their deaths for the truth of this message they proclaimed. Nobody who reads the New Testament can doubt these people sincerely believed what they said. And, as for hallucinations, I think this is disqualified by such things as the diversity and the breadth of the experiences of the appearances after Jesus' death. [The hallucination hypothesis] has weak explanatory scope in that it can't explain the empty tomb. You'd have to have an independent hypothesis conjoined to the hallucination hypothesis to account for the full data. And, thirdly, I don't think that hallucinations would have lead to their belief in the resurrection. At most, it would have lead them to believe that Jesus had been assumed into heaven, glorified into paradise, where Jews believed the righteous dead went upon death. But it would have gone contrary to Jewish beliefs that he was literally raised from the dead. So I don't think the hallucination hypothesis cuts mustard with respect to the resurrection appearances.

Dr. Larson: Dr. Curley.

10. Dr. Curley: Yeah, O.K. I think I should take this opportunity to talk about the resurrection because I didn't do so in my earlier talk. Look, first, I recommend a book by a man named Randel Helms called Gospel Fictions which has a very interesting study, actually, he doesn't understand the term "fiction" in quite the way you might think from the title, but never mind, very interesting study of the resurrection stories. And there are some basic facts that you can just verify for yourself by going to scripture. The earliest reports of Jesus having survived his crucifixion are in St. Paul, of course, which is about 20 years after the crucifixion. And he mentions various post-resurrection appearances, but not the empty tomb. It's only later when you get the Gospels, the Gospels are quite a bit later, another 20 years or so, the earliest of the Gospels, and some of the Gospels come quite a bit later than that. So there's been quite a long time for an oral tradition to develop, and if you look at a work by A. D. White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, and particularly the chapter on the growth of healing legends, where he endeavors to document, in the case of Francis Xavier, about whom many legends grew up over time, although we have contemporary accounts which make it quite clear that these things didn't, in fact, happen in his lifetime, healing wonders that St. Francis was supposed to have been able to achieve.

11. Legends grow up about charismatic people. And the accounts we have, first of all, they're only from Christians. I mean, we don't have pagan accounts of what happened. The Gospel stories are inconsistent with one another in their details about the various appearances. And the oldest of the Gospels, the Gospel of Mark, the part of the Gospel of Mark in which the appearances are recounted is in modern critical editions now relegated to a footnote because it doesn't appear in the oldest manuscripts, which means it's evidently been added to later manuscripts because it was felt that the Gospel of Mark needed to have its story about Jesus' appearances to his disciples.

Dr. Larson: A question for Dr. Curley.

12. Question: You seem, both of you, actually, seem to be using arguments that premise logic as a major component, obviously, because you're debating. For example, Dr. Curley, you use this argument: that if God is loving and God is omnipotent, then God cannot pre-destine people to go to Hell. I would like to know why you think that, if there is a God, that God must obey the laws of logic and, you know, not something else, since by definition he would be above something.

13. Dr. Curley: Oh, well, yeah, O.K. Well, there have certainly been theists who have held that God was not bound by the laws of logic. Although the one whom I know best (and I wrote an article on this back in the 80's, it was in the Phil Review that you could go look at, if you want to) was Descartes, who held that God had created the eternal truths, by which he meant to include both the truths of logic and the truths of mathematics. It seemed to me on examination it's a rather technical article, I'm afraid, but it seemed to me on examination that that view wouldn't hold up. And even in Descartes' case, although he held that God created the laws of logic, and that belief in God's omnipotence required us to suppose that, he didn't think that God, once he had created those laws, was not bound by them. He thought that after God had created the laws of logicit's a little hard to know how to take this "after he had created the laws of logic," because, of course, Descartes believed (as Dr. Craig does, and as most theologians in the Christian tradition do) that God is eternal, so the date of his creation, I mean there is no date for his creation of the laws of logic, so it's quite a mysterious notion, this business of his priority to the laws of logic. But, in any case, to put it in temporal language, he said after the creation of the eternal truths, God is bound by them. And I imagine that Dr. Craig probably wouldn't want to deny the laws of logic either. You hold a view of God's omni-potence [according to which] he has to act within the laws of logic, right?

Dr. Craig: Right.

Dr. Larson: See, we've got agreement, finally!

Dr. Curley: And most people do nowadays. It's not really a very attractive alternative, the one you're proposing.

Dr. Larson: Would you like to say something?

14. Dr. Craig: I would say, philosophically, that the idea that God somehow transcends the laws of logic is just unintelligible, and I think here Dr. Curley and I would agree.

Dr. Curley: Finally! (Laughter)

Dr. Craig: Right! It's to say there's a possible world in which God does things that are impossible. But then in what sense is that a possible world? It seems to be unintelligible to talk like that. Theologically, though, too, as a Christian, I think that the Bible says, in the Gospel of John, "In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word was God" (John 1.1). And logos is the concept of reason, or the word, from which we get logic. And it is the very mind of God. It is the way that God thinks. So I think that God is the supremely logical individual and that our use of logic is just part of our being created in the image of God and a finite reflection of His supreme rationality. So I think it does no praise or glory to God to deny that God obeys the laws of logic or to say that somehow He's beyond logic.

Dr. Larson: Question for Dr. Craig.

15. Question: Dr. Craig, given that, in the past, in its quest for simplicity physics has often discovered previously unsuspected connections between seemingly unrelated constants like electro-magnetic constants and the speed of light and given that, in his 1997 lectures at Harvard University, physicist Ed Witten said that most of the recent string theories have no free parameters, that is, no variable constants in the model, all the constants just follow from the mathematical structure of the theory itself, O.K.? given that, don't you think it's even probable that future discoveries in physics will reduce, or even completely eliminate, these seemingly strange improbable coincidences that you appeal to, to give evidence for God's creation and tweaking of constants in the human universe?

16. Dr. Craig: No, I don't see any reason to think that that's probable at all, though I would like to hear more about Witten's claim with respect to string theory. I'm not aware that that's a feature of that model, that it eliminates all need for fine-tuning. I would very surprised to hear that were the case. I mean what you're really talking about is a so-called "Theory of Everything." But what that would ultimately show would be that the laws of physics are not really just physical laws at all but, somehow, they're logically necessary, which, I think, strikes me as extremely counter-intuitive, that this is the only possible universe that could exist. So from what I've read, I think that the idea of ultimately finding some sort of a "Theory of Everything" is really a fantasy. I think we're always going to be stuck with a certain amount of contingency that just is put in at the beginning.

Dr. Larson: Dr. Curley, would you like to comment on this?

17. Dr. Curley: Oh, I'll just be very brief about that. I'm not competent to evaluate the latest theories in physics. I am cautious about making bets against the possibility of science working things out in the long run. But that's all I have to say about that.

Dr. Larson: Question for Dr. Curley.

18. Question: Dr. Curley, I appreciate your talk tonight. I think it's significant that the first thing you spoke in your opening statement was "Tonight, I'm here to defend atheism," then you caught yourself and back-peddled...

Dr. Curley: No, I didn't say that. Did I?

Question: Well, you did at first, and then you caught yourself and back-peddled and said "I'm not here to defend atheism," and, indeed, you didn't. You basically...

Dr. Curley: O.K. If I said I'm here to defend atheism, it was a slip of the tongue.

Question: Right, and then you corrected yourself. You said you're not here to defend it and you didn't. You basically offered stories that appeal to emotion, some dating back to your childhood, some very entertaining...

Dr. Curley: I think there was some hard argument in there, too.

Question: I appreciate the humor. You also offered complaints about various sectarian doctrines that you don't happen to like. But you didn't offer one single word in defense of your own view. So my question is: how is it that you feel that you don't have to defend the positive assertions of atheism? Surely, you realize it's fallacious to think that by throwing rocks at another position you've supported your own. That's my question.

19. Dr. Curley: Look, this is a debate, and I came to defend the negative side of the debate. O.K. I have no responsibility for defending a positive position. If you want to come and talk to me at the philosophy club meeting on the 24th, I'll be happy to explain my [positive] views. But the time constraints on this debate tonight were terribly, I mean, really very limiting.

Question: I understand that but would that suggest that...

Dr. Curley: So, I mean, you know, Dr. Craig suggested to me in an email exchange that we had before the debate that I should both explain why I rejected Christianity and why I hold whatever other religious views I hold. He called them "pantheism," which is not a label that I accept for my views. I said: "Look, it would take me 20 minutes just to explain what my views are, much less defend them."

Question: So, just to clarify, would you say that atheism has no positive assertion or it's just that you're not interested in explaining...

Dr. Curley: I think atheism, per se, has no positive assertions. That's right. It's just a denial of theism, that's all. And it's completely openended until you specify what theos [god] is under consideration. So it's not really a very interesting position to defend in that sense.

Dr. Larson: Do you want to take this question?

20. Dr. Craig: Yeah, I do want to say something. I was agreeing with most of what was going on there until the very end. I think atheism definitely is a position. I mean atheism, as traditionally defined, is the belief that "God does not exist." Now that's a knowledge claim. That's a claim to know something, and, therefore, it does require justification just as much as the claim that God does exist. So the middle ground between theism and atheism would be agnosticism, we don't know whether God exists or not. And it's true that Dr. Curley hasn't wanted to defend any sort of positive position of his own tonight. But I think, you know, when we speak theoretically, atheism is a knowledge claim. It's the claim "There is no God," and that beggars some sort of justification if one is asserting it.

Dr. Larson: Question for Dr. Craig.

21. Question: Dr. Craig, you answered Dr. Curley's argument about an all-loving God letting people go to Hell by saying that God's will, as you described from the scripture, is that he wants to save all people. Then you answered Dr. Curley's argument about pre-determination by saying that God's will is to let people have the freedom of choice. However, I ask how can these two wills not contradict, when one is saying that he wills all to be saved and another is saying that he wills all to have the choice, when having the choice always leads to at least some people not choosing God and, therefore, being damned?

22. Dr. Craig: Well, it means that one of His desires is frustrated. I mean, with my children, it's my will and desire that my children should always obey me. But I also want them to have free will and so, unfortunately, by giving them or letting them have free will, I run the risk of them disobeying me. And I think that, well, God doesn't delight in the loss of any person; His desire is that all should be saved. But some people freely reject God and are lost. I had planned to read a passage of Scripture if I had time tonight. Let me just read this to you from Ezekiel. Listen to what God says about the lost. He says, in Ezekiel chapter 18:

Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die, says the Lord God, and not that he should turn from his ways and live? . . . As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die? (Ez. 18.23; 33.11)

Here God literally pleads with people to turn back from their self-destructive course of action and be saved. So I think that it is God's will and desire and His effort to save and draw every person to salvation. And the only reason that universal salvation is not true is because people have freedom to reject God's grace and to separate themselves from God forever. And that's a tragedy that God mourns.

23. Dr. Curley: O.K. I think I'll take this opportunity to say something about the interpretation of scripture, because it's an issue that hasn't really been properly addressed, in my view, yet. I mean, I made this facile remark about there being contradictions in scripture and, of course, certainly on the surface there are contradictions between passages which favor pre-destination and passages which favor free will. And the question is what you're going to make of these things. And the philosopher by whom I've been the most influenced, Spinoza, I think wrote a very sensible book called the Theological-Political Treatise, which I'm in the process of translating now (I mean, not that it's not been done before, but not well, I think). One of the fundamental principles of Spinoza's biblical interpretation is that you need to approach the texts without pre-conceptions about their truth. You wouldn't approach an ordinary text assuming that everything in it was true and you shouldn't approach the Bible that way, because if you do that, you're going to wind up imposing your own conceptions of truth on the text you're trying to read. And I think these reconciling interpretations of: "Yeah, well, it doesn't really mean individual pre-destination..." I mean, there are centuries of interpretation where people interpreted it that way, and it needs to be explained, if all those people were wrong, how God could have permitted them to be so wrong about fundamental aspects of his message. The message ought to have been clearer it seems to me.

Dr. Larson: Question for Dr. Curley.

24. Question: Yeah, I was gratified to learn that you both are going to uphold the idea that the concept of God itself must be non-contradictory, and my question is whether you think that the concept of God is non-contradictory. For example, omniscience, omnipotence, existing, creating all that exists, which has traditionally led to these paradoxes, like, well, can God learn? if he is all-powerful and all-knowing, then how can he learn and gain new knowledge which he didn't have and, you know, and so forth. So what is your position on these kinds of paradoxes, as an argument that the very concept of God is contradictory?

25.  Dr. Curley: Yeah...well, I think the very concept of God is contradictory, yeah... at least... now, let me qualify that in the following very important way before I get fried here... I think the Christian conception of God as it has developed over nearly 2,000 years has developed an awful lot of inconsistencies in it. And the primary problem I see as the cause of that is that people began incorporating Platonic theology, or Neo-Platonic theology more properly, into a biblical tradition which had not been inclined to incorporate such notions as timelessness. I mean it seems to me timelessness is really very difficult to reconcile with the notion of personality. He gave you a little argument about how the notion of God having knowledge doesn't involve God being temporal at all, but he didn't explain how the notion of God having desires could be atemporal and I don't understand that. There may be some contradictions even if you take out the Platonic theology that crept in along the way, and that's a question for further investigation; and I'm not sure what the answer to that is.

Dr. Larson: Dr. Craig.

26. Dr. Craig: I think that Dr. Curley is largely right in what he's just said, in that the biblical concept of God is, in a sense, philosophically under-determined. For example, when you read the Bible, you're not going to learn from the Bible whether God's eternity means timelessness or omni-temporality because that's a philosophical or metaphysical question that the biblical writers didn't confront. For them, they knew that God was eternal; that meant that He had no beginning and no end; but the status of His temporality or timelessness was not a metaphysical issue they raised. That's a philosophical issue. And I have made it my life's work as a philosopher to study the concept of God with a view toward crafting a coherent doctrine of God. I spent about seven years studying the divine attribute of omniscience and working on these problems of foreknowledge and freedom and things of that sort. The last ten years I have just spent studying the concept of divine eternity and God's relationship with time and just finished a massive two-volume work in September on how God relates to time in relativity theory, in philosophy of language, in philosophy of space and time, and so forth. And I'm convinced that the Christian concept of God is perfectly coherent and is like a hub from which philosophical exploration can go out and touch virtually every area of rational inquiry and shed light on it. So, I'm deeply committed to the idea that this is a consistent notion.

Question: So, what about the paradox?

Dr. Larson: Do you have a question for Dr. Craig?

27. Question: Yes, this question is slightly related to the last question. And I'll have to read it because I'm nervous! So: During your opening statement, Dr. Craig, you gave various reasons as to why God's existence makes "sense." However, you said little to nothing of how, although unquestionable to those who are already Christians, which it would be incorrect to assume your audience to be, how God came into existence. What is your view on the theory that religion and its subsequent gods is an "idea" formulated in the course of human evolution as a universally necessary means to create the order that would be obsolete in the absence of it, which would explain the necessity of religion in a variety of vastly different cultural places?

28. Dr. Craig: I did address a little bit about that with respect to the origin of God. Namely, I argued in my first argument, you recall, that as a cause of the universe, the cause of the universe must be uncaused, timeless, and spaceless. And, therefore, it's simply wrong to say that God came into being. That is metaphysically impossible, for God to come into being. A timeless, spaceless, uncaused being doesn't come into existence. Now what you're really talking about is the origin of religion as a sociological phenomenon, not the origin of God as a metaphysical reality or as a being. And it may well be the case that religion as a sociological reality is due to all sorts of factors such as you mentioned. But don't fall into the fallacy of thinking that, therefore, that means that God does not exist or that there is no objective truth to these matters. That would be called the genetic fallacy. And, in fact, what you've stated is almost a classic example of the genetic fallacy, namely, trying to show that something is false by showing how that belief originated. The way in which a belief originated has nothing to do with whether or not that belief is true or false. So, for example, I may have learned about my religious or ethical views at my grandmother's knee and have utterly no basis for believing them, other than what my grandma told me. But that does nothing to show that those views are false or true. To think that they do would be the genetic fallacy.

Dr. Larson: Do you want to take that one?

29. Dr. Curley: Yeah, well, I certainly agree about the genetic fallacy stuff. That is to say, to give a causal account of the origin of a belief doesn't imply that the belief is not true. I do think that it's a problem for Christians, it seems to me... at least exclusivist Christians... and I'm not sure he actually addressed the question of exclusivism. But, gee, he may have, and I maybe forgot it. But exclusivism implies that all of those who are not Christians are condemned to Hell. And you know, if you think that what your religious beliefs are going to be is very largely determined by which culture you happen to have been brought up in, as seems to be broadly true, then there does seem to be an element of unfairness in the exclusivism. Now I don't want to commit myself to any kind of social determinism, or anything like that, because I think that people often do grow up in a culture and then decide that they don't accept the views of that culture (well, me). But there is a tendency for people to believe what they've been told when they were kids.

Dr. Larson: Time has come for us to end the formal program. So we're going to take a break here. Those of you who would like to stick around and continue to ask questions, please feel free to do so to the extent that our guests here can stay and continue to answer your questions. But, please, take a few moments to jot down some things on the survey cards you were handed before you leave. Thank you!

Post-debate Comments - Dr. Curley

At this stage I will limit my comments to Craig's First Rebuttal.

13. The day after the debate a Christian friend of mine who had been in the audience complimented me on my "generosity" in "not using to skewer him Craig's really foolish gesture in excluding Calvinists of which not a few were in his audience, and thought themselves on his side from the ranks of bona fide Christians." (email correspondence, identity of the correspondent concealed to preserve confidentiality)

I wish I could claim credit for generosity, but to be honest, the real explanation for my not raising this issue in the way my friend suggested is that in my first rebuttal I was concentrating exclusively on what Craig had said in his opening statement, and by the time I got to my second rebuttal there was so much to object to, and my notes on, and recollection of, what Craig had actually said in his two rebuttals were so sketchy that I could not have done it.

More importantly, though, I'm not sure it would have been quite fair. Craig says he denies the equation of Calvinism with Christianity, and says he is a Christian, but not a Calvinist. The 'good news' of 14 is that "You don't have to be a Calvinist to be a Christian." (my emphasis) This leaves it open that you can be both a Calvinist and a Christian.

Craig could say that Calvinism is not the same thing as Christianity, and still admit, consistently, that Calvinism is a legitimate interpretation of the Christian scriptures by which I mean, not necessarily a correct interpretation, but one which a careful, unbiased and intelligent reader of those scriptures might well come to. And the real question, I think, is whether Craig would admit this. If he says "no," then he does say something at which Calvinists might properly take offense. If he says "yes," then he concedes that my first line of objection might well apply to Christianity, and not merely to an eccentric misunderstanding of Christianity.

Calvin certainly thought his doctrine of pre-destination was firmly based in Scripture. (For his arguments, see the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. III, Ch. xxi-xxiv.) And he was able to persuade a great many people that he was right: not only the members of the church in Geneva, but the Huguenots in France, the members of the Reformed Church in the Netherlands, the Presbyterians in Scotland, and, of course, those unfortunate Anglicans in England. Many Christians nowadays seem to think that the doctrine of pre-destination is a Calvinist aberration, not realizing how common it has been in the Christian tradition. Craig's reply encourages that misconception.

In my first rebuttal I referred the curious to Luther's On the Bondage of the Will (tr. & ed. by Philip Watson & B. Drewery, in Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation, Library of Christian Classics, Westminster Press, 1969). I also mentioned that St. Thomas Aquinas held the doctrine of pre-destination. See Summa theologiae, Part I, Qu. 23. Thomas clearly embraces double pre-destination, i.e., the pre-destination of both the elect and the reprobate, a position which would seem to have been condemned in advance by the Council of Orange in 529. See Henry Denzinger's The Sources of Catholic Dogma (tr. by Roy Deferrari, from the 30th ed., Herder, 1957, p. 81).

I should have mentioned St. Augustine. See, for example, his treatise On the Pre-destination of the Saints. Augustine's position is complex, and some have suggested that he thought that only the elect were pre-destined this in spite of several passages apparently endorsing double pre-destination (e.g., in ch. 100 of his Enchiridion, or in the City of God Bk. XV, ch. 1, Bk. XXI, ch. 24). For helpful discussion of these issues, see Christopher Kirwan's Augustine (Routledge, 1989, ch. 7) and John Rist's Augustine (Cambridge, 1994, ch. 7).

So there's quite a tradition in favor of (some form of) pre-destination among the major Christian theologians up to the Reformation. And this should not be surprising, given the support for predestination in the Christian scriptures. The primary text is Paul's epistle to the Romans. See ch. 8-9, esp. the following passage:

Something similar happened to Rebecca when she had conceived children by one husband, our ancestor, Isaac. Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God's purpose of election might continue, not by works but by his call), she was told, "The elder shall serve the younger." As it is written, "I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau." What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. (Romans 9:10-16)

I am skeptical that a corporate interpretation of these and similar passages can be made plausible. But even if it could, it would need to be explained how God could have permitted such widespread misunderstanding of his revelation on such a central point.

A more promising way of evading my first objection might be to reject the authority of the letters of St. Paul. It is notable that, for most of the theological doctrines which I object to, the strongest scriptural support tends to be found in those letters, and not in the gospels themselves. Christianity has changed in many ways over the course of its history. A few centuries ago most of the major Christian denominations thought they were committed by their scriptures to denying the Copernican doctrine that the Earth is in motion on its axis and in an orbit around the sun. In the last century, and even today, many Christians believe they are committed by their scriptures to denying the theory of evolution. Some day Christianity may evolve to the point where it is prepared to deny Paul canonical authority. There would be some loss in that, but on the whole I think it would be a development which many nonChristians might applaud. We are not there yet.

Craig says my position implies that many non-Calvinist churches are "on the slippery slope to heresy." Perhaps they are. Heresy is a tricky notion, now that there is no agreed central authority with the power to determine what constitutes orthodox belief. But back in the days when there was such a central authority, the aforementioned Council of Orange defined the following as orthodox belief:

Man... inherits a nature corrupt in body and soul, and is unable to do anything whatever towards salvation by his natural powers. He has lost all power to turn to God, because sin has so weakened his free will that 'no one is able to love God as he ought, or believe in God, or do anything for God which is good, except the grace of divine mercy come first to him.' (David Christie-Murray, A History of Heresy, Oxford UP, 1989, p. 94)

If the denominations to which Craig refers all agree with his doctrine of free will, then I would judge that by the standards of that church council they are guilty of Pelagianism.

My understanding of the agreement recently reached between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation is that neither of those denominations is currently, in that sense, heretical, as may be seen from the following excerpt from their joint declaration:

All persons depend completely on the saving grace of God for their salvation. The freedom they possess in relation to persons and the things of this world is no freedom in relation to salvation, for as sinners they stand under God's judgment and are incapable of turning themselves to God to seek deliverance, of meriting their justification before God, or of attaining salvation by their own abilities. Justification takes place solely by God's grace. (See the report in the New York Times for 26 June 1998, pp. 1 & 12.)

It may be, of course, that many modern members of those denominations are not in agreement with their leadership, and so would be heretical by the standards which have operated throughout most of the history of Christianity. I think this is very often the case on this and many other issues.

5. This oversimplifies my argument, since I contended that there were both scriptural and philosophical reasons for believing in pre-destination.

Also, I think that in general, in dealing with the theological objections, Craig represents my argument in a way which doesn't bring out its full force. As a debater, of course, he's under no obligation to present my arguments in the best possible light. But the moderator's opening remarks had claimed that we were all there in pursuit of truth, and that might impose somewhat different obligations.

The general form of the five theological objections is as follows: 1) The Christian scriptures teach some doctrine (pre-destination, hell, original sin, justification by faith, exclusivism). 2) The doctrine thus taught is an appalling doctrine (either because manifestly false or morally repugnant or both). 3) Therefore, the Christian scriptures are not worthy of credence as a revelation from God. 4) Therefore, the Christian God does not exist (i.e., if there is a god, he is not the God of the Christian scriptures).

The general form of Craig's reply is, not to defend the doctrines, but to deny that the Christian scriptures teach those doctrines, or that they teach them in the form in which I objected to them.

6. Note that the passages cited do not directly contradict pre-destination by affirming free will. What they directly support is the doctrine of universal salvation. (This is why, in my first rebuttal, I was unclear whether Craig had denied the existence of Hell.) These passages were, of course, perfectly familiar to the traditional theologians who defended pre-destination.

It appears from this that Craig understands the notion of human freedom in such a way that humans, in virtue of their freedom, have the power to frustrate the will of God. But an omnipotent being would seem to be one whose will cannot be frustrated, one for whom it is true necessarily, that "if he wills that p, then p." (NB: I make it explicit here, lest there be any confusion, that for the purposes of this argument I need only affirm the necessity of the whole conditional, and not of its consequent, p.) So if God creates humans with freedom, he ceases to be omnipotent. Omnipotence would then not be an essential characteristic of God, but one which he has at some times and not others.

7. 'Corporate pre-destination' doesn't look like pre-destination at all. At this point (4 August 1998) I have not yet had a chance to look at the book he recommended, Robert Shank's Elect in the Sun. But I am not optimistic that it will make Craig's interpretation of Paul plausible.

8. This is a caricature of my argument. I defined a sinner as someone who has, at least once in his life, done something seriously wrong. I pointed out that on that understanding of the term, there will still be very significant differences of degree of guilt between different sinners. Yet it appears that the doctrine of hell requires all these sinners to be treated alike. This would follow from those texts which condemn the greater part of mankind to hell, such as Matt. 7:13-14, 22:1-14.

Regarding the definition of a sinner: the Christian has two choices, neither of them very attractive. Either he can say that anyone who fails to be perfect is sufficiently sinful to merit eternal damnation, in which case it will be plausible to hold that everyone is in fact a sinner (since no one is perfect), but the doctrine will be much too rigorous from a moral point of view (since any imperfection will be held to merit eternal punishment) or he can say that it requires more than minor imperfections to be a sinner, in which case the doctrine does not seem too rigorous, though it now becomes extremely implausible to hold that every human is a sinner in the relevant sense. Call the first the perfectionist understanding of sin. I deliberately did not assume that a Christian must embrace a perfectionist understanding of sin, because that seemed to me uncharitable. From what Craig says in 9 it appears that he would embrace perfectionism.

The proposition that the great majority of mankind are condemned to hell is an implication, not only of the scriptural passages cited, but also so long as the majority of mankind do not have the necessary faith in Christ of the doctrine that faith in Christ is a necessary and sufficient condition for salvation.

9. Astonishing! It was no part of my argument to claim that "Minor sins do not deserve eternal punishment." Nevertheless, Craig goes out of his way to reject that proposition. If he thinks minor sins do deserve eternal punishment, I can understand why he would not want to defend that view in a public forum. Perhaps he misspoke himself here. But there is a strain of perfectionism in Christian thought, as illustrated by Jesus' injunction: "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5:48) Cf. Matt. 19:16-30 (a story told also in Mark 10:17-27 and Luke 18:18-30).

10. The argument Craig attributes to me looks like an obvious non sequitur. I think the argument I actually offered was a better argument: 1) The doctrine of original sin holds that, since the fall of Adam, all human beings come into the world tainted by his sin (where this 'taint' is understood to be serious enough that, in the absence of grace, the sinner would merit eternal damnation). 2) The Christian scriptures teach the doctrine of original sin. 3) The doctrine of original sin, so understood, is an appalling doctrine (the idea that one man's sin might be transmitted to all his descendants is morally repugnant the doctrine that all humans are sinners in the requisite sense seems manifestly false). 4) Therefore, the Christian scriptures are not worthy of credence as a revelation from God. 5) Therefore, the Christian God does not exist (i.e., if there is a god, he is not the God of the Christian scriptures).

11. Craig informs us that he does not believe in infant damnation. I am gratified to learn that. But I wish he had addressed the central issue I raised: whether someone who is committed to the Christian scriptures as an authoritative revelation from God is obliged to accept original sin?

I know of no passage in the Christian scriptures which explicitly teaches infant damnation. Nevertheless, the principal text which teaches original sin (Romans 35, esp. 5:12-21) is sufficiently explicit about the universality of sin that most Christians, historically, have taken it to imply that, in the absence of a special act of grace, infants will be damned, just like any other sinner: "Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned..." (Romans 5:12)

That is one major reason, historically, for the practice of infant baptism. See Alister McGrath, Christian Theology (Blackwell, 2nd ed., 1997, pp. 423-26, 514-18.) I can understand why a modern Christian would prefer to forget these unpleasant aspects of the history of his religion. But it is less than candid to pretend that a doctrine with such a long history had no scriptural foundation.

12. Again, my usual complaint about the formulation of the argument attributed to me. I would say that, if God arbitrarily chose some for the gift of justifying faith, and arbitrarily excluded others, that would be, not merely unfair, but grossly unfair. And the proper conclusion would be that the Christian scriptures are not credible as a divine revelation (on the presumption that any being who is worthy of the love and obedience the Christian scriptures demand must be just).

13. This seems absolutely incoherent to me. Craig denies that the faith is bestowed arbitrarily, and affirms that it is bestowed as a free gift, which the person who receives the gift has done nothing to merit. But if the person who receives the gift is not distinguished from the person who doesn't by some difference of merit, then favoring the one over the other seems to be exactly what I meant by an arbitrary action.

Suppose I, as a teacher, have two students whose work is equal in merit. To preserve the theological parallel, we'll suppose they both deserve to fail. I give one student an A, and fail the other. If that's not acting arbitrarily, I don't know what is. I can understand the student who gets the A being grateful for my mercy. But I would not like to defend my actions to the student whom I failed.

I suggested above (in my comments on 13 of Craig's first rebuttal) that most of the theological doctrines which I find most objectionable in traditional Christianity tend to find their primary textual support in the letters of St. Paul. The doctrine of justification by faith looks like an exception, since it has support not only in Paul (Romans 3:2-14:25, 10:9-13), but also in the gospels: notably in Mark (9:23, 16:15-16), Luke (8:9-15), and numerous passages in John (3:16-18, 6:29-40, 11:25-26, 12:44-50).

Since there are also passages in the gospels which suggest a doctrine of justification by works (e.g., the perfectionist passages noted above, in comment on Craig's 9, or Matt. 16:27), I conjecture that Pauline teaching may have influenced the way the gospel authors represented the teaching of Jesus. If we accept Raymond Brown's chronology (in his Introduction to the New Testament, Anchor Bible Reference Library, 1997), Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans at least 10 years before the earliest of the gospels.

Perhaps even the doctrine of predestination is an exception to that general statement. At any rate there does seem to be support for predestination in passages like John 6:35-40 and 60-65.

15. Craig seems to have confused me with J. L. Mackie here. He represents me as posing the problem of evil in what philosophers of religion call its 'logical' form, i.e., as holding that the existence of any evil at all is logically incompatible with the existence of a God having the attributes Christians normally attribute to God (specifically, being all powerful and all good). The classic article here is Mackie's "Evil and Omnipotence" (Mind 1955, pp. 200-12, and widely reprinted, e.g., in the collection The Problem of Evil, ed. by Marilyn and Robert Adams, Oxford, 1990). Many people believe that Alvin Plantinga effectively refuted Mackie in his book God, Freedom & Evil (Eerdmans, 1974).

But I did not present Mackie's version of the argument. I never asserted either of the premises Craig labels as crucial (2 & 3). Nor does it seem to me that I assumed them without stating them. In fact, I conceded the essential point in Plantinga's reply to Mackie, viz., that God's existence is not logically incompatible with the existence of evil, since it is logically possible that an omni-potent, omni-benevolent being might have a morally satisfactory reason for permitting evil, might need to permit evil in order to achieve some greater good. (See my discussion of the greater goods defense.)

My version of the argument emphasized that the good which Plantinga suggests might justify the occurrence of evil human freedom does not look as though it can justify much of the evil which occurs. In particular, it does not look as though it can justify the great suffering of animals before the emergence of humans or the frequently inequitable ways good and evil are distributed in the world after the emergence of humans. (This is all, of course, on the assumption that human freedom really is consistent with the existence of an omni-potent, omniscient being. At this stage I'm conceding that for the sake of the argument, but I think it still remains to be shown.)

Apparently Craig couldn't respond to the argument I actually made, and so decided to re-tread Plantinga's response to Mackie.

18. If you want to summarize my argument in a series of propositions that make it look like a syllogism, this would be a better summary: 1) The doctrine (often advocated by Christians) that God's existence is a necessary presupposition of morality apparently implies that the ultimate basis for morality is a divine command. 2) If the ultimate basis for morality is a divine command, then our fundamental moral obligation is to obey God, no matter what he commands. 3) If our fundamental obligation is to obey God, no matter what he commands, then anything whatever might turn out to be obligatory, depending on what he chooses to command. 4) If anything whatever might turn out to be obligatory, then the common view that there are some things (like killing innocent children) which are simply wrong is false. 5) But that common view is not false. 6) Therefore, God's existence is not a necessary pre-supposition of morality. (And, we might add, the Christian scriptures, to the extent that they teach that we have an unconditional duty to obey God, are not credible as divine revelation).

19. The argument I've presented in the preceding , as comment on Craig's 18, looks valid to me. Any valid argument can be made to look invalid by giving an inadequate account of its structure.

20. The argument here seems to be: 1) God is essentially morally perfect (loving, holy, compassionate, just, etc.). 2) A being who is essentially morally perfect cannot command anything which is inherently immoral (i.e., God necessarily commands acts which are at least consistent with morality). 3) Therefore, God is not liable to command anything whatever.

One difficulty with this argument is that if you assume that God's commands flow necessarily from his nature, then it looks as though you may be compromising God's freedom. We need to have it explained how God's actions can be both free and necessary.

Another difficulty: If certain actions are inherently immoral (that being the reason why we can be confident that a morally perfect being would not command them), then it does not look as though we need God's prohibition to make them immoral.

21. I am quite mystified by this . What does Craig mean when he says that the case of Abraham and Isaac is "the exception that proves the rule"? Presumably (given the preceding ) the rule Craig wants to prove is: God never commands anything immoral. He doesn't question the truth of the Biblical story which says that God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. But if he thinks God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, and thinks that God never commands anything wrong, then I would suppose he was committed to holding that it would not have been wrong for Abraham to obey God's command by sacrificing his son. That would be a consistent view, even if it leads to a somewhat uncomfortable conclusion.

But I don't think he really wants to say that. He seems to regard that command as an exception, by which I can only suppose he means: normally God does not command us to do anything wrong; it's only occasionally that he does that, as in the case of Abraham and Isaac; so most of the time we'll be all right if we obey God's commands. And I don't understand how this can be consistent with the contention of 20: that God necessarily commands things which are consistent with his essentially moral nature.

It's an interesting question, of course, how exceptional the case of Abraham and Isaac is. For the most part I have no objection to the Ten Commandments. But within two chapters of the pronouncement of those commandments in Deuteronomy 5 come some others which are not so easy to accept. I refer to those laying down the rules for what some commentators, with what seems to be unintentional irony, call 'holy war,' and what we might more naturally call 'genocide' i.e., Deuteronomy 7 and its prescriptions as to how the people of Israel are to treat the Canaanites when they succeed in conquering them: "you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy." (Deut. 7:12; see also the more detailed commandments in Deut. 20:1-20)

The subsequent history of the chosen people reveals how they interpreted these commands, and with what diligence they obeyed them (e.g., as requiring the slaughter of noncombatants, including women, the elderly and children see Joshua 6:15-21, 10:28, 11:10-11). Observe also what divine penalties they suffered when they rebelled against the commandments (1 Samuel 15). There is a stimulating discussion of these matters in Gerd Lüdemann's The Unholy in Holy Scripture (Westminster John Knox Press, 1997).

Post-debate Comments - Dr. Craig

I'm grateful to Prof. Curley and his teaching assistant for the above transcript of our interesting debate. As I read it, I was struck again by what a key role personal, biographical factors played in Prof. Curley's rejection of the Christian faith. What he really rejects is Calvinism, not Christianity. When he does present broader arguments against non-sectarian Christian doctrines (e.g., his formulation of the Problem of Evil and his development of the alleged incompatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom), his arguments are surprisingly weak, evincing little familiarity with the contemporary philosophical discussion of these topics.

13. I was surprised at the post-debate suggestion that I had implied that Calvinists are not Christians! I think my position was quite clear that Calvinism is but one of the many forms assumed by Christianity, so that one can be a Christian without being a Calvinist. It would be a logical howler to infer that therefore no Christian can be a Calvinist! Dr. Curley is quite correct in thinking that Calvinist Christians should be concerned about his objections; but my point is that these objections provide no reason at all for rejecting Christianity for one who is not a Calvinist. So I hope that Prof. Curley will reassess his rejection of Christianity, which is largely based on parochial objections that would not trouble the vast majority of Christians either historically or today.

In recent years, I have been impressed with the Molinist solution to problems pertaining to divine sovereignty and human freedom, named for the Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina. Based upon Molina's doctrine of divine "middle knowledge," Molinism provides a stunning treatment of divine prescience, providence, and predestination which preserves both God's sovereignty and man's freedom. Interested readers might look at my article "Middle Knowledge: A Calvinist-Arminian Rapprochement?" in The Grace of God, The Will of Man, ed. Clark Pinnock (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1989), pp. 141-164. I would qualify my treatment there only by saying that I did not appreciate the degree to which Arminianism just is Protestant Molinism!

I cannot but smile when Prof. Curley tells us that a more promising way of avoiding his objections is to deny Pauline authority. This like suggesting decapitation as a cure for headaches! Fortunately, in the present case there just is no headache at all, unless one is a Calvinist.

Wesleyans like myself cannot be justly accused of Pelagianism (the doctrine that God bestows grace in response to human initiatives to come to Him), since we emphasize the necessity of God's prevenient (if at some point resistible) grace in drawing sinful people to salvation. Catholics and Protestants agree that God takes the initiative in salvation; but most also hold that justification and salvation also require a human response which is not determined by God.

The bottom line is that if one really wants to place his faith in Christ, he needn't be deterred by the sorts of sectarian objections raised by Prof. Curley. There are plenty of non-Calvinist options for those who would be biblically faithful Christians.

6. Do proponents of libertarian freedom therefore deny God's omnipotence? Not at all, for as both of us agreed in the debate, divine omni-potence does not mean that God can do logical absurdities, such as make a square circle. And we both agreed that it is logically absurd to make someone freely do something. Thus, God's inability to make everyone freely believe in Him is no abridgement of omnipotence. Prof. Curley's simplistic analysis of omnipotence in terms of the necessity of the conditional "If x wills that p, then p," is untenable, for on that definition a person who is essentially capable only of willing to scratch his left ear turns out to be omnipotent! Readers who are philosophically sophisticated may wish to read the brilliant analysis of omnipotence by Thomas P. Flint and Alfred J. Freddoso, “Maximal Power,” in The Existence and Nature of God (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), pp. 81-113.

8-9. The doctrine of Hell in no way implies that all the damned will be punished alike. Indeed, there are indications to the contrary (Lk. 12. 47-48).

I am not a "perfectionist, " as Prof. Curley defines the term, since I think that only God is perfect. We must distinguish between innocence and perfection. A person may be morally innocent (e.g., man prior to the Fall) without being morally perfect. Human beings are sinners in the sense that we are no longer morally innocent, having broken God's moral law. Again, Scripture allows a good deal of latitude for developing a doctrine of how sin and punishment are to be related. I'm inclined to think that condemnation results, not so much from individual sins we commit, such as lying, losing one's temper, having a wicked thought, etc., as from being in a state of sin, refusing to accept God's forgiveness and spurning His grace. Such a sin of refusal of God's grace does seem to be a great leveler when it comes to our guilt before God. But, as I say, this is an open question, which Christian philosophers would do well to explore more deeply. Interested readers may care to read my debate with Dr. Ray Bradley "Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?" on this site.

10-11. As for original sin, this is again a doctrine on which Christians themselves have disagreements. Fortunately, the issue needn't be adjudicated here, for what Prof. Curley finds objectionable in the doctrine is infant damnation, which I (with most theologians) deny is implied by that doctrine. Nowhere in Scripture is such a doctrine taught or implied. Prof. Curley fails to distinguish between sinfulness and accountability. Even if all human beings are sinful regardless of age, only those who have the mental capacity to respond to God's grace may be held accountable. God's saving grace may be applied to children and the mentally retarded who lack the capacity to consciously appropriate His forgiveness. Certainly, difficult questions arise here, which Christian philosophers would do well to tackle, but the point remains that these are open questions, which need not deter someone from embracing Christ as his own.

Even the practice of infant baptism testifies to the fact that infants needn't consciously act in order to be recipients of God's grace. Moreover, Prof. Curley doesn't seem to appreciate that many Christian denominations which practice infant baptism (including his own former denomination) do not regard the act as conferring salvation and many others (with whom I agree) reject the practice altogether as unscriptural.

12-13. The doctrine of justification by grace through faith is not at all incoherent. God offers His salvation via various avenues of general and special revelation to all persons, and they are free to accept or reject it. (See my articles on Christian Particularism at this site.) A better analogy than Dr. Curley's would be a governor's offering to prisoners on death row a pardon. If a prisoner accepts the pardon, he goes free. But if he refuses the pardon (as apparently actually happened once), then he has to be executed. The pardon is made to all, and now our fate lies in our own hands. Will we accept or reject God's pardon?

15. Prof. Curley claims that he is not defending the logical version of the Problem of Evil. But his development of the argument belies his claim. In particular Plantinga argues that all natural evil could be due to moral evil perpetuated by demonic beings. So natural evil is not logically incompatible with God's goodness and omnipotence. So what does Prof. Curley mean when he says that "the good which Plantinga suggests might justify the occurrence of evilhuman freedomdoes not look as though it can justify much of the evil which occurs"? I don't see the relevance of this remark to Plantinga's Free Will Defense, which does not appeal to human freedom to justify natural evil. If Prof. Curley means that natural evil renders God's existence improbable, then he hasn't even begun to deal with all the responses that have been offered to that claim. (See, for example, the transcript of my debate with Corey Washington "Does God Exist?" on this site, especially the postdebate comments, as well as my taped debate with Eric Dayton on "Do Suffering and Evil Disprove God?")

18-19. With respect to Prof. Curley's reformulated argument against divine command morality, it should be noted that many Christian ethicists do not adopt any form of divine command theory, so that they would regard his premiss (1) as false. I trust that nonChristian readers are by now getting the picture that becoming a Christian does not put you into a doctrinaire, intellectual box. The Christian theological tradition is extremely rich and variegated. While united on the essentials, such as the doctrines expressed in the ecumenical creeds accepted by all the broad branches of Christendom, Christian theology not only has room for, but enthusiastically welcomes, various attempts to unfold God's truth. Ours is, as St. Anselm said, a faith that seeks understanding.

That being said, since I myself do find divine command morality the most plausible metaethical theory, I see the defect in Prof. Curley's argument to lie in his premiss (3). His claim that "anything whatever might turn out to be obligatory" is predicated on the assumption that God can command just anything. But while certain divine command theorists ("voluntarists") take this view, many or most do not. Rather they see the divine commands as expressions of and therefore constrained by the divine nature. In a fine treatment of this issue William Alston explains,

God plays the role that is usually assigned by objectivists to Platonic ideas. Lovingness is good, not because of the Platonic existence of a general principle, but because God, the supreme standard of goodness is loving. . . . If God is essentially good, then there will be nothing arbitrary about his commands; indeed, it will be metaphysically necessary that He issue these commands ("What Eurthypro Should Have Said," in Philosophy of Religion: a Reader and Guide, ed. Wm. L. Craig [Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming).

Perhaps Prof. Curley would say that on such a theory God's commands are not "the ultimate basis for morality," but His nature is. All right; then his premiss (1) is false: the ultimate basis for morality is not a divine command in that sense.

20. Such a theory does not compromise God's freedom, if we understand libertarian freedom, as Harry Frankfurt suggests, in terms of one's choices not being causally determined. The reason we still need God's commands in such a theory is that they furnish a source of moral obligation for us. One of the problems with Platonism is that even if it supplies a standard of goodness, it lacks any basis for moral duty, for actions' being right or wrong for us. One of the greatest strengths of divine command morality is that it furnishes a perspicuous basis for moral obligation. For more on this see the transcript of my debate with Prof. Richard Taylor "Can We Be Good without God: Is the Basis of Morality Natural or Supernatural?" on this site.

21. But then what about God's command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac? Did God have the right to command such a thing and was Abraham morally obligated to obey? I am inclined simply to bite the bullet and say, "Yes, God did have the right and Abraham was so obligated." The uncomfortableness of this answer can perhaps be mitigated by the realization that God has the right to do certain things that would be immoral for a human person to do on his own initiative. For example, I do not have the right to kill another innocent person. But God, as the author and giver of life, has that prerogative. If He should choose to strike me dead right now, that is His right. (Notice how opponents of capital punishment, for example, will often say to its proponents, "Who do you think you are to play God?") Thus, Abraham would not have the right on his own initiative to take Isaac's life, for that would be murder. But if God should command Abraham to take Isaac's life, then the situation is different because Abraham is now no longer acting on his own but rather as the agent of God. God does not have the ability to command Abraham to commit murder; but God does have the ability to command Abraham to do something (viz., kill Isaac) which would have been murder had God not commanded it, i.e., if Abraham had undertaken the act on his own initiative in the absence of a divine command. This seems to me to be a coherent solution to the problem.

The case of Abraham and Isaac is, as I say, the exception that proves the rule. God doesn't normally issue such extraordinary commands, and so we should be highly sceptical of someone who says, "God has commanded me to kill soandso!" I do not mean in Prof. Curley's words that "normally God does not command us to do anything wrong; it's only occasionally that he does that, as in the case of Abraham and Isaac." Rather I mean that normally God doesn't command us to do anything which is such that, in the absence of a divine command, it would be morally wrong for us to do; the case of Abraham and Isaac is presented in Scripture as a highly unusual case.

I do think that these same considerations are relevant for the case of the destruction of the Canaanites at God's command. The Israeli armies were acting as God's agents to carry out God's judgement upon desperately corrupt nations which God had spared for 400 years until their wickedness made them ripe for judgement. Later God would also judge Israel by means of destruction by the pagan armies of Assyria and Babylon. In commanding the Israeli army to utterly exterminate the Canaanites, God was commanding them to do something, which in the absence of a divine command, they would have had no right to do. God had, however, morally sufficient reasons for issuing such an extraordinary command, namely to preserve Israel from apostasy through infection with Canaanite religion. Israel did not in fact obey God's command, and as a result Israel did succumb repeatedly to apostasy, which finally brought the judgement of God upon Israel itself. All of this is admittedly very disconcerting, but it is a reminder that a holy God may not pass comfortably into our modern Western concept of God as the big Sugar Daddy in the sky.

These are difficult questions; but consider the alternative: moral nihilism. Prof. Curley never succeds in explaining how or why objective moral values would exist in the absence of God.

Nor has he, for that matter, come even close to rebutting the several arguments offered in the debate in defense of Christian theism. On balance, then, I think that the case for Christian theism is more plausible than the case against it.

  • [1]

    For a popular presentation of these arguments and responses to typical objections, see my booklet "God, Are you There?" (Atlanta: RZIM, 1999).

  • [2]

    David Hilbert, “On the Infinite,” in Philosophy of Mathematics, ed. with an Introduction by Paul Benacerraf and Hillary Putnam (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: PrenticeHall, 1964), pp. 139, 141.

  • [3]

    Fred Hoyle, Astronomy and Cosmology (San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1975), p. 658.

  • [4]

    Anthony Kenny, The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas’ Proofs of God's Existence (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), p. 66.

  • [5]

    Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), p. 123.

  • [6]

    P. C. W. Davies, Other Worlds (London: Dent, 1980), pp. 160161, 168169.

  • [7]

    P. C. W. Davies, “The Anthropic Principle,” in Particle and Nuclear Physics 10 (1983): 28.

  • [8]

    Paul Davies, The Mind of God (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p. 169.

  • [9]

    Fred Hoyle, "The Universe: Past and Present Reflections," Engineering and Science (November, 1981), p. 12.

  • [10]

    Robert Jastrow, "The Astronomer and God," in The Intellectuals Speak Out About God, ed. Roy Abraham Varghese (Chicago: Regenery Gateway, 1984), p. 22.

  • [11]

    J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), pp. 115116.

  • [12]

    Ibid., pp. 117118.

  • [13]

    Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262269.

  • [14]

    Jacob Kremer, Die OsterevangelienGeschichten um Geschichte (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977), pp. 4950.

  • [15]

    Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 8.

  • [16]

    Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996), p. 136.

  • [17]

    N. T. Wright, “The New Unimproved Jesus,” Christianity Today (September 13, 1993), p. 26.

  • [18]

    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. 1314.

  • [19]

    Robert Shank, Elect in the Son (Springfield, Mo.: Westcott, 1970).

  • [20]

    John Yates, The Timelessness of God (Lanham, Md.: Unicversity Press of America, 1990), p. 173.

  • [21]

    Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time, The Isaac Newton Institute Series of Lectures (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 20.

  • [22]

    Quentin Smith, “The Uncaused Beginning of the Universe,” in Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology, by William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 120.

  • [23]

    Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974); see also my The Only Wise God (rep. ed.: Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock, 2000).