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Debate with Krauss

May 10, 2011     Time: 00:23:10
Debate with Krauss


"Is There Evidence for God?" debate with William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss.

Transcript Debate With Krauss


Kevin Harris: This is the Reasonable Faith Podcast with Dr. William Lane Craig. Welcome, I'm Kevin Harris. Two big debates occurred recently, Dr. Craig. As promised, today we're going to talk about the Lawrence Krauss debate. Lawrence Krauss is respected in academia, and he's also somewhat of a popularizer. How is he influential? What are some of his main things that he's known for?

Dr. Craig: Well, in the academic world he's a very prominent particle physicist—a specialist in the subatomic realm of physics. And he has recently moved out to Arizona State University where he's now the head of a sort of think tank or foundation that explores origins questions of various sorts. Unfortunately over the years Lawrence Krauss has become increasingly bitter and vitriolic in his public critiques of religion. He has become a regular contributor to popular magazines and newspapers in which he inveighs against religious belief and seems to champion a sort of scientism that thinks that science has all the answers to the really important questions, and that if a question doesn't have a scientific answer then it's really not a question worth asking. And so he's become a very popular figure on the internet and YouTube and through his popular books on science, and I think an outspoken critic of religious belief in general.

Kevin Harris: What is his view on the Big Bang? There's a popular YouTube video of getting something from nothing, and things like that.

Dr. Craig: Exactly, that's what he claims. He says that the universe came into being or was created out of nothing. And he has a book that is coming out this next year. I saw the proofs of the book on the table at the debate – he had it with him – called Creation out of Nothing. And he claims that science can explain how the universe came into being from nothing without any recourse to a creator. His line here is very much like the line taken from Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinov in their new book The Grand Design. And therefore he says this answers, “that crazy question that religious people are always asking: why is there something rather than nothing?” He thinks that that age old question has now been answered by science.

Kevin Harris: In preparation for this debate how did you prepare? What areas did you bone up on?

Dr. Craig: Well, I knew that his areas of specialization would be physics. And that therefore I needed to be very much up to speed on the physics of contemporary cosmology and the origin of the universe, and then also on the fine-tuning of the universe. And so I conferred with people like James Sinclair, who is a physicist and my colleague who wrote The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology article with me on the current work on the origins of the universe. I then consulted with Robin Collins, who is a philosopher of science, who's probably, I think, the world's leading expert in the fine-tuning argument. In addition to that I consulted with Tim McGrew of Western Michigan University with regard to certain issues in probability theory that seemed to me to be very crucial to the debate topic, because the topic of the debate, Kevin, was not “Does God exist?” There seemed to be some misunderstanding about that—that wasn't the debate topic. The debate topic was “Is there evidence for God?” And that's a quite different question than “Does God exist?” Imagine in a court of law if you were to ask “Is there evidence that the accused is guilty?” Well, of course there's some evidence, otherwise it wouldn't be in court. But that doesn't mean that he is guilty. The defense might offer a case that is so compelling and so overwhelming that it would give grounds for thinking that the prosecution has not carried the burden of proof. But that wouldn't show that there's no evidence for the accused's guilt. Well, similarly here, to say that there's evidence for God is making a very weak claim. All it is saying is that the existence of God is more probable given certain facts that it would've been in the absence of those facts. That's all that is to say. It's not to say that God's existence is more probable than not, or that God exists. It's just to say that God's existence is more probable given these facts than it would have been if we didn't have those facts. [1] And so I listed, I think, five facts that I thought increase the probability of God's existence, and therefore constitute evidence for God.

Kevin Harris: This clears up something that you hear constantly, that is the New Atheist, interest atheists, constantly say: there's no evidence for God. I mean, isn't that a rather broad statement? Of course there's evidence for God—or we wouldn't be talking about it. Atheists and theists for eons have discussed the evidence for God.

Dr. Craig: Right.

Kevin Harris: And so if there's rhetoric anywhere, that's very rhetorical. Perhaps they mean there's no good evidence for God.

Dr. Craig: Or no compelling evidence for God, or something. And that would be a legitimate question to raise. And in fact it's almost irresistible, Kevin, to interpret the topic that Krauss and I were debating in those terms. And I noticed that when the judge who was the moderator for the debate introduced the debate he kept doing this, much to my distress. He kept framing the topic as “Is there sufficient evidence for God.” “Dr. Craig,” he said, “will be arguing tonight that there is sufficient evidence for God. Dr. Krauss will be arguing that the evidence is insufficient.” And I was sitting there in my seat thinking, no, no, no, that's not what I'm going to be arguing—that's not the topic for tonight. But of course you can't speak out and correct the moderator when he's introducing the debate. But it's an almost irresistible temptation to interpret the question that way, but that wasn't the question under debate. And Krauss realized this as well. He said himself clearly in his opening speech, “We are not here to debate the existence of God.” And that's why he did not present any arguments against God's existence—he had no burden to do that in the debate. All we were there to discuss was is there evidence for God? Not is there compelling evidence or is there sufficient evidence to ground belief in God, or whatever. So the topic was actually one that I thought was very easy to support from my point of view.

Kevin Harris: Sure. Krauss agreed, however, to the topic of the debate.

Dr. Craig: Well, it was his topic actually, Kevin. The topic that I thought we were going to debate was “Has science eliminated the need for God?” That is what people like Hawking and Mlodinov have claimed and what Krauss seemed to have claimed. So I thought that would be our topic: has science eliminated the need for God? But he did not want to debate that, and came back with the suggestion “Is there evidence for God?” And I suspect that the reason he wanted that topic was that he thought that put all the burden of proof on me. I would then have to get up and give evidence for God in answer to that question in the affirmative. And I think he was right that that does put the burden of proof on me. But it is a burden that is very, very light, as I've just attempted to explain, and therefore very easy to support.

Kevin Harris: Was Krauss willing to accept the terms of the debate, and declare that there is no evidence for God?

Dr. Craig: Well, that's logically what he would have to maintain, which is itself a rather radical proposition. How would you support the view that there is no evidence for God? And he didn't really attempt to do that.

Kevin Harris: In fact, he seems to be affirmative on some things for God. I mean, he doesn’t seem to totally rule God out.

Dr. Craig: Oh, well, you know, that kind of emerged by the end of the debate—didn't it?

Kevin Harris: Yeah, yes it did.

Dr. Craig: That did surprise me a bit. He seemed to be a little bit open to a kind of deism.

Kevin Harris: And you'd never pick it up anywhere else.

Dr. Craig: No, you wouldn't.

Kevin Harris: But it did come out in this debate.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, it did. He did seem to have some openness to deism, which is very significant because it wasn't about the Christian God – that wasn't the debate topic – it was about whether there's evidence for God. And he seemed to be willing to concede: well, I don't know if there's evidence for God but at least that such a being might exist.

Kevin Harris: They've made a big deal about his T-shirt, that 2+2=5. I think people had a hard time following it.

Dr. Craig: Yes, it wasn't clearly relevant, and he has since clarified this on his Facebook page, but in a way, I think, that is really damaging to his cause. Let me give you a little background. In his video lectures on YouTube he wears this T-shirt as a kind of gag: it says “2+2=5 for very large values of 2.” Well, that's just a nonsensical statement—it's meant to be funny. Certain functions when you plug in very high values for their variables can have unexpected properties, but 2 isn't a variable. 2 is a value of a variable. So it doesn't make even any sense to say “For very large values of 2” because 2 is itself a value. [2] And so it's a nonsensical statement—it's meant to be funny, that 2+2=5 for very large values of 2. But the reason he brought it up in our debate was he was springboarding off of a quotation that I gave in my opening speech from Michael Ruse with respect to the moral argument. And I don't know if you remember this, but I was explaining that if God does not exist then objective moral values and duties do not exist, but that even someone like Michael Ruse admits in the end that there are objective moral values and duties. And then here comes this quotation that I give from Michael Ruse where he says, “The man who says that it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says two plus two equals five.” So what Ruse is saying there is that these moral truths have the same sort of logical necessity that fundamental truths of arithmetic have. And to say that it's morally acceptable to rape little children is as absurd as saying 2+2=5. Well Krauss, when he heard that, this clicked in his mind because he was wearing his 2+2=5 shirt. And so he says the reason he did this was to show that common sense is often overruled by rigorous science; that what seems common sensical and true turns out not to be true when you investigate it scientifically, and even 2+2 might equal 5 for very high values of 2. Well, Kevin, if you take that point seriously what he's suggesting there is that it might well in fact be true that it is morally acceptable to rape little children—that's what he's affirming.

Kevin Harris: He's making a lighthearted joke over an excruciating sentence.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, exactly. I don't think he appreciated what he was saying. He was wearing the T-shirt under his coat and tie, he heard me say this example of 2+2=5, and he just sort of thoughtlessly takes that as a springboard for pulling his standard gag in attacking common sense, not realizing that what he's saying there is that Michael Ruse could in fact really be mistaken about this—it really might well be acceptable morally for us to rape little girls and rape little boys. That, for example, abuse by Catholic priests is really a morally acceptable thing after all, which I think is just unconscionable. It's just horrific. So that was the point he was trying to make with his shirt. I think it really backfires on him.

Kevin Harris: Now, his opening statements, and when you make an opening statement usually it's not a rebuttal, it is something you've prepared in advance.

Dr. Craig: Right. Well, to his credit he did respond to every one of my arguments in some way. And in that sense this was a good debate—there was clash. I was really surprised at his opening attack upon what he called Aristotelian logic and my use of probability theory. This was really shocking to me because if I as a Christian had to defend my worldview by attacking classical logic and probability theory I would be derided as hopelessly irrational. And yet this seemed to be the line that he was taking. And what I was saying was logically impeccable. I mean, my arguments were logically valid, and moreover my use of probability theory was flawless. All I was saying is that to say there's evidence for God is to say that the probability of God's existence is greater given certain facts and background information than it is just on the background information alone. Well, that's how you define the phrase 'is evidence for' in probability theory. And yet he got up and attacked my use of probability, which I thought was amazing. And I think that in his later comments he kind of backed away from this. I think he was just saying you can't use common sense, or something of that sort, to argue for these things, you've got to use science. But that's not an effective refutation of my arguments because I did appeal to science and to the best established facts of human experience and a wide range of disciplines so my arguments aren’t at all just sort of appeals to common sensical notions, though I think they fit with common sense. But I was quite happy to appeal to the best evidence of science and history and philosophy. [3]

Kevin Harris: One thing that showed me that Dr. Krauss was not as prepared as he should've been (and he knew going in that this was going to be a formidable debate), he used things that you've straightened out time and time and time again, and all he's got to do is listen to a few podcasts and we're going to mention “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Dr. Craig: Oh, yes.

Kevin Harris: He brought that up for the billionth time. I mean, how many times have you addressed that? How many times has it been thrown at you?

Dr. Craig: He actually mentioned Hume by name, that Hume had shown the identification of miracles is impossible. It showed again this is a man, though highly trained in his narrow discipline, has no idea that Hume's argument has been exposed as demonstrably fallacious. Most recently, for example, by the philosopher of science John Earman of the University of Pittsburgh in his book Hume's Abject Failure,which is Earman's description of Hume's argument against the identification of miracles. And yet that was Dr. Krauss' main response to the argument from the resurrection of Jesus: it was to appeal to Hume.

Kevin Harris: And god of the gaps. Talk about trotting out – you're accused of trotting out your five points, but these responses I saw as trotting out. Trotting out “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” “god of the gaps.”

Dr. Craig: Right, and with respect to the two arguments where I appeal to scientific evidence – namely the cosmological argument for the beginning of the universe, and then the teleological argument from the fine-tuning – in both cases, Kevin, my appeal to scientific evidence was not used as evidence for God. Rather it was evidence for the religiously neutral claims, one, that the universe began to exist, and two, that the best explanation of the fine-tuning is not physical necessity or chance. Now, those are religiously neutral statements of science, and to suggest that scientific evidence cannot establish the truth of those statements is to have some kind of a priori restriction upon the scope of science, which would be extraordinary.

So take that religiously neutral statement “the universe began to exist.” That's a scientific claim that can be found in any textbook on astronomy and astrophysics, and is certainly open to being established by the evidence. And my claim was that that premise is more probable than not in light of the evidence. And then that premise can serve as one point, or premise, in an argument to a conclusion which has theological significance. So the scientific evidence was not being used as god of the gaps at all.

Similarly with regard to the fine-tuning argument, Roger Penrose argues against the explanation of the fine-tuning being chance alone. And he does so on scientific grounds. Richard Dawkins argues against the fine-tuning being explained by physical necessity, and he does so on scientific grounds. So to argue that the fine-tuning is not best explained by chance or physical necessity is, again, to present a purely scientific argument for a purely scientific conclusion.

So the allegation that this was god of the gaps reasoning just failed to stick. It was an old canard, as you say, that just gets tossed out for rhetorical effect.

Kevin Harris: The three points of the kalam cosmological argument lead to further examination and analysis on what would constitute this cause of the universe. You don't derive from that therefore the God of Christianity exists.

Dr. Craig: No, not at all.

Kevin Harris: There's some other work to be done to reach that conclusion.

Dr. Craig: Right, you have to do a conceptual analysis of what it is to be a cause of the universe—that's right. Like the beginning of the universe, to me it is obvious that the existence of God is more probable given the beginning of the universe than it would have been in the absence of any evidence for the beginning of the universe.

Kevin Harris: Someone arguing against God has two recourses it seems: one, the universe is eternal, and so there was no cause; or two, there are multiple universe out there, and therefore this universe was bound to happen, just in all probability, and so on.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, I think that that is actually . . . as I thought about this in advance of the debate, Dr. Krauss could, if he were thoughtful, have two strategies. I think you just enunciated them.

One would be to deny the fact that I'm claiming constitutes evidence. In other words you would deny that there's a beginning of the universe, you would deny that Jesus rose from the dead, you would deny the fine-tuning of the universe. [4] That would be one way: you would just say these are not facts and therefore they don't render God's existence more probable.

The other way would be to grant that the fact is a fact, but claim that God's existence is no more probable given that fact than it would have been on the background information alone.

And you could take any one of those tacts in arguing against me. So take the contingency argument. There you cannot deny the fact that there are contingent beings because you yourself are a contingent being. So in that case it's no good to say “There are no contingent beings.” You're stuck with that. So what Krauss would have to say is the existence of God is no more probable given the existence of contingent beings than it would have been in the absence of contingent beings. That's the way he would need to argue. But he didn't argue that way. He didn't even understand the argument from contingency, and that was evident in that his response was to say, “Well, contingent things happen all the time. Look at the Japanese earthquake and the tsunami. That was contingent.” And I thought, “What in the world is he thinking of?” Obviously the earthquake had causes; there are explanations for why the earthquake and the tsunami occurred. So why in the world he thought that was a refutation of the argument from contingency, I just have no idea.

Kevin Harris: So what tact did he take, then? Because he didn't really go to those two options that you've mentioned.

Dr. Craig: Well, I think he did go on some of those options, though without clearly enunciating it. With respect to the contingency argument I think he simply failed to understand it. He didn't understand what I was arguing because he just said, “Contingent things happen all the time.” With respect to the beginning of the universe, there I think he wanted to argue that the universe just came into being out of nothing. But the difficulty there, Kevin, is that when Dr. Krauss uses the word 'nothing' he's using it in a non-philosophical sense to mean something like the quantum vacuum, that is to say empty space filled with vacuum energy. And that's not nothing—that's clearly something. So he's using words in an equivocal way. And the fact that science can explain how the quantum vacuum converted into a material state does nothing to explain why the universe came to exist, or how you got something from nothing. It just is talking about how the universe transformed from a quantum state into the observable material universe that we observe today,

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, we are out of time. So we want to continue this in the next podcast, and talk a little bit about the after debate comments that have come out from Dr. Krauss, and from people all over the internet. That will be next time on Reasonable Faith. Thank you for joining us. [5]