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Graham Oppy Reviews Dr. Craig's Book

October 22, 2017     Time: 24:24
Graham Oppy Reviews Dr. Craig’s Book


Renowned philosopher Graham Oppy reviews God Over All.


KEVIN HARRIS: Hey! We're about to launch a new website. Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I'm Kevin Harris. October 27, 2017. That's when we're going to launch the new website with new features, a new look. So bookmark it and visit. Maybe you haven't been to in awhile. Be sure that you check out all the features that are there. And as always you can support this ministry all over the world by donating through So if you're listening prior to October 27, 2017 be sure that you mark that date and check out the new website –

Today we're going to check out a book review by Graham Oppy, a great philosopher who reviewed Dr. Craig's book. We are getting to it at Reasonable Faith. Thanks for being here.

Dr. Craig, The Notre Dame Philosophical Review has an article[1] from Graham Oppy on your book God Over All: Divine Aseity and the Challenge of Platonism. Graham Oppy. Say a few words about Dr. Oppy.

DR. CRAIG: He is an Australian philosopher at Monash University and a brilliant thinker. His work is erudite, in-depth, always challenging. He is one of the sharpest atheist philosophers that I have ever met. In fact, someone characterized him as “scary smart,” and I would agree with that. I had occasion to interact with him especially in print. We have exchanged articles and replies in professional journals as he's offered a criticism of, say, the kalam cosmological argument, and then I published my reply. He also moderated one of my debates with Lawrence Krauss when I was in Australia, and many people said that he should have been the debater rather than the moderator in that event. So I was very interested to see The Notre Dame Philosophical Review tap Graham Oppy who is not at all sympathetic to theism to review this book defending divine aseity.

KEVIN HARRIS: I thought that was interesting, too. He pays you a high compliment. He says, “Much of this book is very good. In particular, I think that chapters 4, 5, 8, 9, and 10 are very well done.”

DR. CRAIG: That was gratifying. I was grateful for this review. I wrote to Graham personally afterwards thanking him for his kind review.

KEVIN HARRIS: As he is reviewing this he spells out some of the premises of the book. I highlighted one here – “If classical theism is true, then God is the only object that exists necessarily, eternally, and a se.” That's pretty much the project of the book, isn't it?

DR. CRAIG: It is. That is the heart of the book – that God is the only necessary, eternal, and self-existent being. This doctrine, which I think is a biblical doctrine, faces a very important challenge from a philosophy called Platonism. Platonism holds that there are necessarily existing, eternal, self-existent objects which God has not created. Things like numbers, sets and other mathematical objects, properties, possible worlds, propositions, and so on and so forth. So the book is an attempt to defend the biblical doctrine of divine aseity against the challenge of contemporary Platonism.

KEVIN HARRIS: On the second page he begins to spell out each chapter. He talks about how you kind of formulate some key terms in chapter 1.

DR. CRAIG: It's very important to get a handle on the terminology because words like Platonism, nominalism, realism, and anti-realism are used with a variety of meanings in different contexts and different debates. So this introductory chapter is very important in giving clear definitions of the terms as I use them.

KEVIN HARRIS: Chapter 2 he says, “Dr. Craig insists that there are 'very strong reasons both biblically and theologically for standing with the historic Christian tradition in affirming that God is the sole ultimate reality, exists a se, and is the source of all things apart from himself.'”

DR. CRAIG: That phrase “the sole ultimate reality” I borrow from Brian Leftow, a Christian philosopher at Oxford University.[2] S.O.L.E – the only ultimate reality, the only self-existent being who is the creator of everything else that exists. Brian Leftow coined that phrase in his book God and Necessity. I thought it was very apt, very pithy way of capturing the doctrine of divine aseity which, as I argue here, is taught biblically. The Bible affirms again and again that God is the source and the creator of everything that exists. For example John chapter 1 verse 3, “all things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being.” Paul says in the book of Romans chapter 11 that, “for him and through him and to him all things exist.” God is the source, the means, and the end of all things that exist. Moreover there are good theological reasons for affirming divine aseity, namely if there are these uncreated abstract objects distinct from God that he has not made these would include things like the properties on which he would depend for his deity – things like omnipresence, omnipotence, eternity, goodness, and so forth. And God would be God only in virtue of the fact that he stands in relationship to these independent abstract entities. In other words it would deny that God does exist a se. He would actually become a dependent being if Platonism is true. So I think we have very powerful biblical and theological reasons for affirming divine aseity, and as Graham notes this is the historic Christian position from the church fathers, the ante-Nicene church fathers, and then right on up through the Middle Ages.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. He looks at chapter 4 and chapter 5 where he recounts that you give “the best prospects for theistic rejection of Aseity of Putatively Paradigmatic Abstract Objects.” He quotes you as saying theists “would be well-advised to look elsewhere” and would “need to look at anti-realist alternatives to Platonism” in order to hold to the view.

DR. CRAIG: I think here he has mischaracterized what chapters 4 and 5 are about. Chapters 4 and 5 are about realist solutions to the challenge posed by Platonism to divine aseity. What some theists have said is that God has created these abstract objects like numbers and properties and possible worlds, and therefore they too are dependent upon him for their existence. Other theists have said, no, God didn't create these things but in fact what they are are not abstract objects; they are thoughts in the mind of God. So the number 2 is really God's thought of 2. It is not an object existing exterior to God, so to speak, and therefore everything that does exist apart from God is dependent upon God for its being and these abstract objects are really thoughts of God. So in chapters 4 and 5 I explore the prospects for success of these two alternatives. The first is called absolute creation; the second one is called divine conceptualism. As he notes, I raise a number of serious difficulties for these two realist alternatives to Platonism, and therefore advise theists to look to anti-realist alternatives to Platonism. That is to say, views that do not affirm the reality of mathematical objects, possible worlds, propositions, and so forth so. So chapters 4 and 5 are about realist answers to Platonism. But then the remainder of the book will be dealing with a plethora of anti-realist solutions to the challenge posed by Platonism.

KEVIN HARRIS: That these things exist because they are thoughts in the mind of God – it sounds very nice poetically to me – be a good song – but how in the world would that translate into their ontological status?

DR. CRAIG: I think it is very difficult, divine conceptualism.[3] Think of God's thoughts, say, of the number 2. God's thought of the number 2 is not itself the number 2 because he's thinking of the number 2. The number 2 is the intentional object of God's thought. His thought isn't about itself. It's not a thought about the thought. It's a thought about the number 2. So the very nature of intentionality would say that these numbers are not themselves God's thoughts. They are the things that God's thoughts are about.

KEVIN HARRIS: In chapter 6 he says that your “considered view is that Ontological Commitment for Quantifiers and Ontological Commitment for Terms are 'not only false, but . . . obviously false and wholly implausible.'”

DR. CRAIG: It has to be said that that conclusion comes only after two long chapters discussing about how we commit ourselves ontologically to the reality of various things. And I do think that the view that is very popular and widespread today that if you use a singular term like a proper name or a definite description (like “Black Beauty” or “John Smith” or “the USS Constitution” or “the man in the gray suit standing in the corner”) – if you use a singular term as these are called then there has to be an object in the world that is correlated with that term in order for the sentence in which that word is used to be true. I just find that to be obviously false because our language is just suffused with so-called singular terms for which no correlates exist in the real world. Similarly the idea that we cannot quantify over things that do not exist seems to me to be obviously false. When you say “There have been forty-five American presidents,” that statement is true but that doesn't imply that all forty-five of those presidents exist. That would commit you to a view of time according to which temporal becoming is illusory and George Washington and Andrew Jackson and others are just as real as Donald Trump which is an enormous metaphysical consequence that shouldn't be simply the result of the truth “There have been forty-five US presidents.” So the burden of these chapters 6 and 7 is to show that the fundamental assumption undergirding the argument for Platonism is false or at least not obligatory for us to adopt. We can use singular terms. We can quantify over things without being committed to the mind-independent reality of those things.

KEVIN HARRIS: Chapter 8 where you talk about “Useful Fictions” and then chapter 9 (“Figuratively Speaking”), chapter 10 (“Make-Believe”) – he just synopsizes what you say on these things. I love it when you talk about fictionalism and things like that. That makes a lot of sense to me and to so many of our listeners, I think. Dr. Oppy doesn't say much about that. He just kind of synopsizes what you say, but I did want you to talk a little bit about what pretense theory is.

DR. CRAIG: Let me mention what the three alternatives are here that I discuss. One of the very popular views of abstract objects is fictionalism. What fictionalism says is that these statements which refer to or quantify over abstract objects are in fact not true. These statements are false. So this implies the rather radical view that it is false that 2 + 2 equals 4. Before you say that is absurd, you've got to understand that the fictionalist is presupposing that same criterion of ontological commitment that we just talked about and that I've rejected. The fictionalist assumes that if you use a term like 4 or 2 + 2 then there has to be an object in the world that is correlated with that term in order for this statement to be true. And since they don't believe that there are things in the world – 2 + 2 or 4 – they would say that these mathematical statements which we've all since childhood believe to be true are in fact false because they would commit us to these enormous metaphysical commitments about the reality of numbers.[4] What fictionalists will say is that even though these statements are false, they are useful and that mathematics doesn't need to be true in order to be useful, particularly in doing science. That is fictionalism. What I argue is that fictionalism given the criterion of ontological commitment that it presupposes is a coherent view and it's even a plausible view. I just don't buy into that criterion for ontological commitment that the fictionalist believes in.

Figuralism is a different alternative. Figuralism says that abstract object talk shouldn't be taken literally. It is figurative language. It's like saying, “There's a bee in her bonnet.” That's a way of saying “She's angry” or “She's irritable.”

KEVIN HARRIS: “He hit the ceiling.”

DR. CRAIG: “He hit the ceiling.” That's another one. Our language is just suffused with figurative language. Even an expression like “the shoulder of the road” is a metaphor. That's a figure of speech. The figuralist will say this abstract object talk like mathematical language or talk of possible worlds or propositions and so forth – all of this is to be taken figuratively, not literally. As such it is figuratively true. It's figuratively true that she has a bee in her bonnet. It is figuratively true that the boss hit the ceiling, or that I pulled over onto the shoulder of the road. These statements do not need to be literally true in order to be figuratively true. I argue that figuralism is a viable alternative to Platonism. I think it is a tenable view.

KEVIN HARRIS: Do you like it better than fictionalism?

DR. CRAIG: I do like it better than fictionalism. I find the parallels between metaphorical speech and abstract object talk to be really impressive and pretty compelling. I think there's a good case to be made that abstract object talk is really figurative. It's interesting to note that this was the position of C. S. Lewis. He was very much ahead of his time. Lewis regarded mathematical and other abstract talk as being metaphors and not literal.

The final view that I discuss here is pretense theory. This is the view that abstract object talk is a matter of make-believe. We make-believe that certain entities exist and then we explore the make-believe realm that we have postulated. I find this to be a very plausible view of set theory, for example. Many set theorists would embrace what is called postulationalism. That is to say, the fundamental axioms of set theory are postulates which the set theorist adopts, and then he explores the logical implications of those axioms and derives his theorems from them. So I think it's very plausible and attractive to think of abstract object talk as really make believe. It is an extension of children's games of make-believe where we make believe that entities exist even if they don’t.

KEVIN HARRIS: Can you give an example?

DR. CRAIG: I think, for example, money is a good example of make-believe. What literally exists are little pieces of paper and discs of metal. But we make-believe (or adopt a social convention) that these are money, and that therefore they have some kind of intrinsic value. That this is, I think, just make-believe is evident from an example, say, of South Sea islanders who make-believe that cowry shells are their money and their currency. If there were to be an epidemic that would wipe out the population of the island, the cowry shells would still exist but there wouldn't be any money anymore because in the absence of any people there's no one to make-believe that these shells are currency that are valuable for commercial purposes. Other examples would be things like Wednesdays. I don't think Wednesdays objectively exist, but we make-believe that the year is divided up into months and weeks and days and then can adopt certain conventions about today's being Wednesday or next week “Thursday I will do something” or that there are five Fridays in October this year.[5]

So, again, I think that our language is suffused with these sort of make-believe entities, and it would be very plausible to think that sets and numbers and things of that sort are examples of this.

KEVIN HARRIS: He says that as you are offering a concluding synopsis in chapter 11 that you favor “a combinatorial approach to abstract objects.”

DR. CRAIG: Yes. For example, I would reject the criterion of ontological commitment that undergirds Platonism so that in one sense there would be no need to appeal to fictions, figurative speech, or make-believe because once you reject the assumption that singular terms and quantifying phrases imply the reality of mind-independent objects, Platonism is undercut. It's done for. But although I do reject those criteria for ontological commitment, nevertheless I do find it very plausible to think, for example, that set theory is a matter of make-believe – that we just make-believe the axioms are true and then derive the logical implications from that. I think figuralism is very plausible as well. So I think that you don't need to take a one-size-fits-all view in order to respond to Platonism. You can have this sort of combinatorial approach for dealing with abstract objects of one sort or another.

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, as we conclude today, what is his one beef? Is his beef because you mostly appeal to the Bible here?

DR. CRAIG: Chapter 2 is the chapter on the biblical and theological basis for divine aseity, and Oppy adopts the line that I find many Christian philosophers take – that, in fact, the Bible doesn't really teach that God is the only self-existent being, the sole ultimate reality. Frankly I think that this simply reflects a philosophical predisposition to Platonism that refuses to do a serious exegesis of the biblical texts. I think that when you look at various biblical texts that I cite and examine in detail that it's pretty convincing that the biblical authors believed that God is the only uncreated being and that everything that exists derives from God. Therefore I'm baffled by people who don't follow the exegesis where it leads. I'm not asking them to believe in divine aseity on that basis. I'm just asking them to follow the exegesis where it leads and to agree that, in fact, the New Testament does teach that God and God alone is the only uncreated being. Therefore I find it very puzzling that so many Christian philosophers can be indifferent to this question. It seems to me that if we take seriously the biblical teaching we will agree that God alone is the uncreated being.[6]


[2]          5:04

[3]          10:00

[4]          15:07

[5]          20:24

[6]          Total Running Time: 24:25 (Copyright © 2017 William Lane Craig)