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How to Debate a Christian Apologist Part 2

July 06, 2014     Time: 18:07
How to Debate a Christian Apologist Part 2


Dr. Craig continues to examine common debate topics like 'getting something from nothing', 'Pascal's Wager', and the problem of non-belief

Transcript How to Debate a Christian Apologist Part 2


Kevin Harris: It’s part two of “How to Debate a Christian Apologist.” Not that you’d want to do such a thing, but we are looking at this article[1] from the man who has debated Dr. Craig a couple of times – Dr. Victor Stenger. He lists some things that one can expect when one debates a Christian apologist or a philosophical theist. Dr. Craig, it is good to review these things, even though we’ve done podcasts on all of these topics. One can check our archives.

Dr. Craig: Yes, let’s look at the one on “How can something come from nothing?” because I think this is an interesting one.

Kevin Harris: You just couldn’t resist, could you?

Dr. Craig: I want to share with folks what he has to say about that.

Kevin Harris: He says, “‘Nothing’ is notoriously difficult to define. To define it you have to give it some property. But then if it has a property it is not ‘nothing.’”

Dr. Craig: The word “nothing” is a word, right? To give a definition to a word you don’t have to assign some property to it. I mean, the word “nothing” has properties like “having seven letters,” “being English,” “being two syllables.” Those are the properties that the word “nothing” has. But to give a definition of the word “nothing” you don’t need to ascribe any property to “nothing.” What “nothing” is means, in English, “not anything.” It is that simple. It is a term of universal negation. To say “nothing” you mean “not anything.” That is not to ascribe a property. It is simply to give a linguistic definition of what this word means.

Kevin Harris: He says, “So this is an incoherent question unless you define nothing as an empty vacuum. In any case, the multiverse didn't have to come from anything. It always was.”

Dr. Craig: Again, that is so confused. He is saying it is an incoherent question to define the English word “nothing.” Now, if that were true, Kevin, then every time we use that word in a sentence we would be speaking meaningless babble. We would be talking incoherently. But clearly we are not. If I said I had nothing for breakfast this morning because I was too hurried, I mean I did not have anything for breakfast. Or if I said I saw nobody in the hall, that means I did not see anybody in the hall. These are perfectly normal, grammatically correct English sentences. There is nothing objectionable or incoherent about this at all. You certainly don’t need to define the word “nothing” to mean an empty vacuum, which is not nothing! An empty vacuum is a physical thing that is endowed with certain properties – certain energy density and full of fluctuations and so forth. Here Dr. Stenger is just clearly confused.

Kevin Harris: He does go to multiverse. The multiverse could show an eternal state of affairs.

Dr. Craig: Yes, and that is a different question than the question of something coming from nothing. I would argue on the basis of the philosophical arguments that I give that a multiverse cannot be infinite in the past. I would say as well that multiverse theories have been floated in contemporary cosmological discussions and they have also shown not to avoid the absolute beginning of the universe particularly in these inflationary models which is the sort of standard multiverse scenario where you have this inflating mother universe with little bubbles of true vacuum inside this expanding false vacuum. That mother universe itself has to have a beginning and cannot be extrapolated to past infinity. So I think this just kicks the debate one notch up and doesn’t really do anything to restore the past infinity of the universe. But in any case, the question of “How could the universe come into existence from nothing?” is a philosophically sound, grammatically correct question that is certainly meaningful and needs to be addressed.

Kevin Harris: Let’s skip down here to some of the more specifically Christian elements that Dr. Stenger says you will be confronted with. He says,

“There is convincing evidence that Jesus was a historical figure who performed miracles and rose from the dead.”

There is absolutely no evidence that the Jesus of the gospels even existed.

Dr. Craig: It is just stunning, isn’t it? How can people who are university professors in this day and age propound this kind of ignorance? We have more evidence for the person of Jesus of Nazareth than we do for most major figures of antiquity. Very rarely would we have a case where you would have four biographies of the same person as well as many references to him in these early letters from Paul, references in Roman extra-biblical Christian literature, Jewish references to Jesus.[2] The idea that Jesus of Nazareth never existed is an idea that no serious historian entertains. It is by these left-wing fringe elements of Jesus mythicism that really no scholar takes seriously. It is just shocking to me that an intelligent professor at a university would try to propagate this sort of silliness.

Kevin Harris: His next sentence is “He is only mentioned in the New Testament” which smacks of we don’t have any historical documents of Jesus except for the historical documents of the New Testament that come out of the first century.

Dr. Craig: [laughter] Yeah, these primary sources for the life of Jesus – the letters of Paul, other letters in the New Testament, the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles – these are the only historical documents. In the first place, that is not true, right? It is not true that he is only mentioned in the New Testament. But I would like an explanation of how does the fact that these early documents – these primary sources – were assembled hundreds of years later by the church into an anthology called “The New Testament” do anything to impugn their value as historical sources? I would like to see some argument to that effect because it is certainly not evident to me.

Kevin Harris: He says,

“There is just as much evidence for the existence of Jesus as for Socrates.”

Not true. No one who wrote about Jesus ever knew him as a real, living human being. Three people who wrote about Socrates at the time knew him: Plato, Aristophanes, and Xenophon.

Dr. Craig: In the case of Socrates, we have, again, no primary source documents written by Socrates. It is rather interesting. It is sort of like Jesus of Nazareth. We do not have any writings by Jesus of Nazareth. We don’t have any writings by Socrates. But Socrates is referred to by these other authors that he mentions (Plato, Aristophanes, and Xenophon). Plato was his disciple. Most historians will say that these give us some good records of who the historical Socrates was. The evidence for the historical Jesus, I think, is far better than for the historical Socrates because in the case of Jesus we have multiple, independent accounts in the Gospels, and in the letters of Paul and so forth, for some of the key factors in the life of Jesus. Many of these go back extremely early. The sources that lie behind the New Testament, like the tradition Paul hands on in 1 Corinthians 15 of the central events of Jesus’ passion or the passion story that Mark uses in writing his Gospel, go back right to the first few years after Jesus. So the comparison between Jesus and Socrates is one that I think turns out to be very, very favorable to Jesus of Nazareth. That is the case whether or not you think that the people who wrote the Gospels actually knew and lived with Jesus. Take Luke, for example: the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke was clearly not an eyewitness. He did not know Jesus. He was apparently a traveling companion of Paul. But he went to Jerusalem. We know this. He accompanied Paul to Jerusalem. There he had the opportunity to interview people who were eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus. So we are in contact here with the eyewitness testimony to the life of Jesus that Luke hands on. Luke’s credibility as a historian is manifest in the Acts of the Apostles because that book overlaps a great deal with the secular history of the ancient world, and its veracity can be checked and re-checked. Again, and again, and again, the accuracy of Luke in the book of Acts is shown to be correct.

Kevin Harris: This jumps out at me when Dr. Stenger says, “But what makes Jesus one of the most unpleasant characters in all of fiction . . . is that he dooms everyone on Earth who does not worship him to an eternity in hell.” Now, it is kind of difficult, I think, for anyone with a straight face to call Jesus one of the most unpleasant characters. Then he says “in all of fiction” - he is going to say fiction. But the person of Jesus stood out to you as a young person so much that you were compelled by him.

Dr. Craig: Oh yeah. When you read the Gospels, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is universally recognized as a man of compassion and character, a teacher of an extremely high standard of morality, who expounded the Golden Rule, and told us to love our enemies.[3] But what is offensive here to the non-believer is the idea that Christ alone is the way of salvation; that it is through Christ and his atoning death alone that forgiveness and salvation is to be found. Here I think some argument needs to be given by the unbeliever. Why is that impossible? I think that the unbeliever thinks of religion not as a matter of fact but as a matter of taste. It is just fashion and whatever suits your fashion you can choose to believe in. If that is what religion is, of course you would be morally offended at a religion that would leave many people condemned who don’t adopt your fashion. That would be like saying people who don’t like vanilla and agree with me that vanilla tastes better than chocolate are all going to hell. But what if religion is not a matter of mere fashion or taste? What if we are talking here about something that is as objective as a disease, and that what Jesus is saying is that you are all infected with a fatal disease that will kill you unless you take the antidote. And here is the antidote. I am offering it to you; indeed, I am pleading with you – please, take the antidote. I am not going to force it down your throat. I am not going to cram it into you. But I am offering it to you, and I am pleading with you – take this life-giving antidote and live. Now that puts, I think, a very different perspective on the situation. Then it is not at all obvious that such a person is not a person of compassion and character for wanting everyone to be saved from this terrible, life-killing disease that we all have, namely, the disease of sin.

Kevin Harris: He jumps on from here to Pascal’s Wager. This is very common. You will hear this in response to atheism. We all know a version of that. There are various versions. He says: if you believe in God and you are right, you’ve gained everything. If you believe in God and you are wrong, you’ve lost nothing. Before I get to what he says, is that a good way to present that, Bill? Pascal's Wager?

Dr. Craig: I think the idea here is that if you are confronted with these two choices and the evidence is absolutely equal – you don’t have any reasons or arguments for thinking one is truer than the other; it is absolute equilibrium – then what Pascal says is that you are rational to make a choice based upon its expected utility. Which would be better for you? You do nothing irrational in doing so. We can imagine situations in which, say, you are on a mountainside and there is an impending Alpine storm coming and you need to get off the mountain or you will die. You come to a fork. Rather than just stay at the fork and say, “I have no reason, no arguments, to know which fork leads to safety. I am going to just stay here and die.” I think Pascal would rightly say you choose whichever fork you think might be beneficial to you. You just make a choice, and that is a rational thing to do. Here, I think, Pascal is saying that if you choose to believe in the Christian God and you are right, you have infinity to gain – eternal life, forgiveness of sins. If you are wrong, well, what have you lost? The pleasures of sin for a season. But that is just a finite thing. On the other hand, if you choose to disbelieve in God and you are right that God doesn’t exist, well, what have you gained? Well, maybe some pleasurable sins during your lifetime, but that is it. But what have you lost if you are wrong? You’ve lost eternity. You’ve had infinite loss because you’ve lost salvation and eternal life. So he would say you have infinity to gain and virtually nothing to lose by believing in God. Therefore, one ought to believe in God.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Stenger’s response is, “You can make the wager if you want, but that does not make God exist.”

Dr. Craig: Of course it doesn’t make God exist! Nobody claims that wagering makes God exist. Indeed, that is an incoherent concept since God is an uncaused being. Nor does it imply that God exists. That is not what the wager says. The wager says that it is rational in a situation in which the evidence is equal for two options to choose that option which you think is going to be of the greater benefit or greater good. That is not to say that that makes God exist.[4]

Kevin Harris: He says,

But more than that, if God is a just God, wouldn't he be more likely to want to share eternity with someone who honestly disbelieved for lack of evidence than a liar who pretended to believe just to get [himself] into heaven?

Dr. Craig: I don’t think it is a matter of someone who is a liar who pretended to believe. Obviously, that is not what Pascal is talking about. Pascal is talking about someone who places genuine trust and faith in God. Someone who is a liar and a hypocrite would be judged by God for his phoniness. But here is a very significant question that is raised. He talks about someone who honestly disbelieved. I question whether at the end of the day anyone honestly disbelieves in God because, on the basis of the New Testament, I would say that the reason at the end of the day that people do not believe in God is not because of lack of evidence. It is due to spiritual and moral factors in their lives, and that no one will stand before God on the Judgment Day and be exonerated because he lacked evidence. The Scripture says that the evidence of God’s existence is all around us in nature, it is written on our hearts as well, so that all persons are without excuse. Moreover there is, we must not forget, the witness of the Holy Spirit who, when the Gospel is proclaimed, convicts the heart of the unbeliever and draws that unbeliever to God. It is only by irrevocably resisting and suppressing the witness of the Holy Spirit that anyone can remain an unbeliever until the end of his life. So I simply don’t accept the assumption of this question that at the end of the day there really are such things as honest unbelievers who disbelief for lack of evidence.

Kevin Harris: What a huge burden of proof that would be – to demonstrate that there aren’t any. That Joe honestly and with all his heart sought God to the day he died and God never answered him until the day he died. Really? How are you going to prove that? He is a rewarder to those who diligently seek him.Dr. Craig: Yeah. When someone says to me, “I’ve honestly sought God and I haven’t found him,” my typical response would be to say, “That’s great. And your life isn’t over yet. God is still working in your life. Keep seeking. Keep reading. Keep thinking. If you do so, you will find him. Don’t give up too soon.”[5]