05 / 06
birds birds birds

A Highly Anticipated Debate

February 09, 2014     Time: 16:41
A Highly Anticipated Debate


Dr. Craig discusses an upcoming debate with well-known cosmologist Sean Carroll on God and Cosmology.

Transcript A Highly Anticipated Debate


Kevin Harris: It's another highly anticipated debate. Let's get the details. Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. Dr. Craig, you have a debate scheduled with the well-known cosmologist Dr. Sean Carroll of Caltech. We've done some podcasts on Sean Carroll.

Dr. Craig: We have, Kevin, in the past. And I have written a little bit about him. Sean Carroll is a professional cosmologist of note. He's a prominent scientist. He has developed a model of the universe called the Carroll-Chen model with his graduate student Jennifer Chen. And unfortunately Carroll is also determinately anti-theistic. He is very aggressive in his secularism and naturalism. So he has emerged as an important spokesman for naturalism in contemporary society, and his status as a prominent scientist gives him credibility. One of the things that I appreciate about Carroll is his appreciation of the importance and relevance of philosophy for these debates. Unlike some other professional scientists, Carroll is philosophically informed. He understands the philosophical debates over these subjects, the philosophical distinctions that have been drawn, and their relevance to these questions. I have been told that he actually has an undergraduate degree in philosophy, which would explain why he understands its importance and relevance. Therefore, that makes him, I think, a very credible spokesman for his side of the debate.

Kevin Harris: That is very glaring in that certain cosmologists that we know actually decry philosophy and downplay philosophy. It is their philosophy that philosophy is no good. So this is rather refreshing.

Dr. Craig: It is.

Kevin Harris: This will occur on Friday the 21st of February. It will be streamed online as I understand.

Dr. Craig: Yes, I have heard from Robert Stewart who is the man organizing the Greer-Heard forum that it will be live-streamed and listeners who want to access it will be able to find the relevant instructions at

Kevin Harris: There are responders as well to this exchange?

Dr. Craig: Yes, this is not merely a debate. It is called the Greer-Heard Forum because, although the forum features two headliners in debate one-on-one, it is followed then on Saturday by four respondents – two are chosen by one of the debate participants, and two are chosen by the other debater. So I have chosen to represent the theistic side with James Sinclair, who is a working physicist who has specialized in contemporary cosmology, and then Robin Collins, who is a philosopher of science and I think the foremost authority on the subject of the fine-tuning of the universe. So Jim and Robin will be delivering papers on Saturday morning giving their perspectives on the question “God and Cosmology.” Then Professor Carroll has chosen as his respondents Tim Maudlin, who is a preeminent philosopher of science at Rutgers University. His work on quantum non-locality and relativity theory was just inspirational to me. It was so helpful. I have learned a great deal from Tim Maudlin. Unfortunately, I come to learn now he is on the naturalistic side. I wish he weren't, but there he is. So Carroll will have a very capable philosopher in his corner in the person of Tim Maudlin. In addition to Tim Maudlin, Carroll has chosen another philosopher (which again shows Carroll's appreciation of the importance of philosophy for these debates) and that is our friend Alex Rosenberg, whom you will remember I debated at Purdue University last February. So we will be hearing from Rosenberg again. He is the Chairman of the Philosophy Department at Duke University and a very determined naturalist. So those are the participants in the forum. There will be opportunity for audience interaction and questions. It promises to be a real stimulating and thought provoking weekend.

Kevin Harris: This format allows you, and Professor Carroll as well, to respond to the responders.[1]

Dr. Craig: That's right. It wants to promote a dialogue among the participants. So that will take place on Saturday. We will be responding to these various commentators.

Kevin Harris: Let's go to Sean Carroll's blog. He has written about this, titled “William Lane Craig Debate.” It was posted on January 28, 2014.[2] He says,

Last week I participated in a dialogue with Princeton philosopher Hans Halvorson, sponsored by the Veritas Forum here at Caltech. We were talking about “physics and philosophy,” but the primary issue was theism and naturalism — Hans’s research specialty is philosophy of physics, especially quantum field theory, but he’s also a theist and often writes about science and religion. It was a fruitful discussion (I like to think), as we ended up agreeing about many points, even though we started from very different premises. He agreed with me, for example, that purported fine-tuning of cosmological parameters isn’t a very good argument in favor of the existence of an intelligent designer.

Stop right there. Hans Halvorson.

Dr. Craig: I met Hans Halvorson for the first time at the Physics Conference in St. Andrews last year that I spoke at. He is a very brilliant mathematician and philosopher, a graduate of Calvin college I came to discover, and a Christian. So it is wonderful to have someone at Princeton who is so outspoken a Christian and is working in the area of philosophy of physics.

Kevin Harris: Anything to say at this juncture, Bill, about both of them agreeing that fine-tuning of cosmological parameters isn't a very good argument?

Dr. Craig: What was interesting about this dialogue, if you listen to it, Kevin, is that Hans Halvorson really offered no positive arguments for theism at all in the dialogue. He did not defend any of the traditional arguments of natural theology in favor of the existence of God. Instead, as he shared with me later, he decided to take a presuppositionalist approach. So his approach was very similar to Reformed Epistemology. As he said at one point in the debate, I have believed in Christian theism all my life, I have doubted it on many occasions, wondered whether it is really true, but I have never found any good reason to abandon this belief. So it was very much the sort of proper basicality of belief in Christian theism that he was defending and in a sense challenging Carroll – give me a defeater! Why shouldn't I believe this? I have these beliefs. What is the matter with that? And he invited Carroll to present some sort of a defeater. Although Carroll offered few comments in favor of naturalism, he also did not present really any very compelling case for naturalism. His main argument was that if God existed then I would expect the world to look very different than it does. If the Bible were a revelation from God then I would expect it to have scientific information in it from God that would show that this is really something from God. So it was really kind of a strange argument for naturalism based upon what, in a sense, he would have done if he had been God, and God hasn't done that so God is probably not there. Halvorson wasn't overly impressed with that argument and therefore didn't see that as a good defeater of his Christian beliefs.

Kevin Harris: At any rate, we'll get to hear from Robin Collins at this event on the 21st. He'll be talking about God and the fine-tuning of the universe for discovery.

Dr. Craig: That is certainly true because this is one of Robin's area of expertise.

Kevin Harris: Let's continue with Sean Carroll's blog. He says,

Next month I’ll be doing something related, although under quite different circumstances. On February 21 I’ll be debating William Lane Craig at the Greer-Heard Forum, an event sponsored by the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. . . .

William Lane Craig (or WLC as we call him in the business) . . .

Dr. Craig: I didn't know that! That was news to me that I'm called WLC.

Kevin Harris: I see it everywhere. We need some T-shirts or something.[3]

William Lane Craig . . . is of course a very well-known figure, largely for his many public debates, on theism/atheism as well as on various other specific theological issues. As far as debating goes: he’s very good at it! If his debates were being judged by a panel of experts as in an intercollegiate debate tournament, he would have a very good record indeed. This has led many people to conclude that atheists just shouldn’t debate him at all, or at least not until they have devoted 10,000 hours to learning how to be a good debater.

Daniel Dennett warned me that, as soon as word got out that I would be debating WLC, I would be deluged with opinions and unsolicited advice. Which is great! Always happy to hear other perspectives, although I don’t promise to actually follow any of the advice. I won’t reproduce the various emails I’ve received, but here are a few very different perspectives online: Jerry Coyne, Luke Barnes (and another), and Wintery Knight [who is a Christian by the way]. (WK is relatively restrained, but others predict “pummelings,” presumably for me.)

Dr. Craig: I don't think there's going to be any pummelings in this forum.

Kevin Harris: He gives some links to some tweets. You always see that: “Boy, this person is going to kill him.” Might as well be a UFC fight.

Dr. Craig: It is just hype.

Kevin Harris: Now, this as well confirmed what we long suspected and discovered and that is there are just all kinds of people who follow these debates and will go to your opponent with ways to debate you.

Dr. Craig: Yes. Coaching of the opponent. I think it was clear that Alex Rosenberg, for example, last year at Purdue had been receiving such coaching advice. I think one of the pieces of advice is “bring up the slaughter of the Canaanites.” No matter what the topic, no matter how irrelevant, bring up the slaughter of the Canaanites.

Kevin Harris: So he continues,

Just so we’re clear: my goal here is not to win the debate. It is to say things that are true and understandable, and establish a reasonable case for naturalism, especially focusing on issues related to cosmology. I will prepare, of course, but I’m not going to watch hours of previous debates, nor buy a small library of books so that I may anticipate all of WLC’s possible responses to my arguments. I have a day job, and frankly I’d rather spend my time thinking about quantum cosmology than about the cosmological argument for God’s existence. If this event were the Final Contest to Establish the One True Worldview, I might drop everything to focus on it. But it’s not; it’s an opportunity to make my point of view a little clearer to a group of people who don’t already agree with me.

Let's stop there for a moment. I've been hearing that a lot. “I don't want to win this debate. I want to make my view known.” Bill, sometimes that translates into an opponent not answering arguments and that irks a lot of people, even people on the naturalistic side. Don't just get your pet peeves, your repertoire, and your points out there. You are in a debate, in a dialogue, so address the arguments.

Dr. Craig: Sure. I think this is a way to lower expectations so that if one manages to just break even it looks like a victory since you haven't really tried to win. But I do notice that he says he wants to establish a reasonable case for naturalism. Now, that's a very bold move. That is to shoulder a considerable burden of proof – not simply to refute arguments for theism, but he wants to present a positive, reasonable case on behalf of naturalism. So that will be very interesting to hear and to listen for to see if he does that.

Kevin Harris: He continues,

The guy is a very polished public speaker, and he is certainly an expert in this format. But I have the overwhelming advantage of being right. If I thought WLC were right, I would just change my views. Since I don’t, my goal is to explain why not, as clearly as possible.

Dr. Craig: Right. We both think that we are right and we'll both attempt to explain as clearly as possible why we think that our view is correct. And then let the audience make up its mind.

Kevin Harris: He ends with saying this, “The general consensus in some corners seems to be that I will be crushed.” He gives several links again to people who are tweeting victory in advance.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, I think that is silly. This is just hype. Again, I think it will be a good exchange of ideas. He is certainly capable of defending his own point of view on these things very well.

Kevin Harris: Bill, I just wonder if there is a way from time to time to maybe get out of the public eye and talk to some of these people and some of these experts who just may not be aware of how good the case is for God, for theism.Dr. Craig: I think where this goes on, Kevin, will often be at professional conferences.[4] When you can bring people together, like at this APA meeting that I am going to be speaking at a week after this forum, you have an opportunity to have an exchange of ideas that is not for the public but it's among the scholars themselves. There, I think, these kinds of exchanges can go on and they can continue then over dinner or privately. But the sad thing is, of course, the average person then never hears that kind of exchange. That is why I am committed to the value of things like the Greer-Heard Forum where this material is brought down out of the ivory tower and it is put into a public forum that the average person can attend and profit from. So having these private, professional times of interaction are not at all mutually exclusive from having these more public and popular events. I think that we need to engage in both.[5]