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Matt Fradd Interviews Dr. Craig, Pt 2

February 03, 2020     Time: 27:53
Matt Fradd Interviews Dr. Craig, Pt 2


Dr. Craig appears on the Pints With Aquinas podcast to discuss Reasonable Faith, his debates, and vision.

KEVIN HARRIS: Welcome back to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. Here it is! Part two of his interview with Matt Fradd on the Pints with Aquinas podcast.[1] Say that three times fast!

MATT FRADD: This show is called Pints with Aquinas. I know you differ with Aquinas, as many of us do on different things. But I’m sure you have some respect for the man.

DR. CRAIG: Oh, of course!

MATT FRADD: Especially when it comes to argumentation.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. Whenever I deal with a substantive theological issue, one of the first things I’ll do is see what Thomas Aquinas has to say about it. So even if I disagree with him, in the end certainly his viewpoints need to be sought. In my most recent work on the atonement that I did, I looked not only at Anselm, whose book Cur Deus Homo (“Why the God Man?”) is epical in medieval theology, nevertheless I wanted to see what Aquinas had to say on the atonement as well.

MATT FRADD: One of the things I think people appreciate about him, and I do, too, is that he would seem to “steel man” (as opposed to “straw man”) his opponent.

DR. CRAIG: Oh! [laughter] I’ve never heard it put that way.

MATT FRADD: Have you heard that phrase?

DR. CRAIG: No, I haven’t, but you're right.

MATT FRADD: I think you do a great job at that. You articulate your opponent's position fairly, which I think then allows that person to kind of respect you more before you critique it.

DR. CRAIG: Thank you. That is important. You don't want to attack straw men because then your critique has little value, but if you can state the opposing view persuasively (for example, the problem of evil and suffering) and present that forcefully then your answer will have all the more weight if you're able to turn back the force of that argument.

MATT FRADD: I think it's illustrative that Aquinas in some of his works (he has a big work call De Malo (On Evil) and sometimes there he'll present himself over two dozen objections to the position he wants to make. And even in the Summa Theologia he comes up with as many as twelve. But when it comes to God's existence he can only think of two that are worth responding to. It seems to me that those are the two that are usually the most formidable or serious today. And those are namely the problem of evil and the idea that we can explain everything without God anyway. Do you agree with that assessment or do you think that there are other good arguments against God's existence?

DR. CRAIG: Well, I do think that there are coherence of theism arguments, for example that simplicity and the Trinity are incompatible with each other or that divine timelessness is incompatible with God's action in the world particularly the incarnation of Christ or that Platonism provides a very substantial challenge to the doctrine of divine aseity or self-existence because these Platonic entities (like numbers, sets, and other mathematical objects, propositions, properties, possible worlds) seem to exist a se – they seem to be self-existent, uncreated, eternal beings. This is a tremendous challenge, I think, to theism. It was one that troubled me for years but was simply on the back-burner until some years ago I took it down from the shelf and began to work on it. I spent 13 years on that problem until I came to real intellectual peace and satisfaction with it. So I do think that issues related to the coherence of theism can also be formidable objections.

MATT FRADD: And those objections are a lot more serious than “Can God create a rock so heavy that he can't lift it?”

DR. CRAIG: Oh, of course.

MATT FRADD: This is what we hear on YouTube, but there are people doing real work like that. Well, what was your solution to the problem when it came to Platonism being a threat to God?

DR. CRAIG: Well, now this is interesting. It's essentially Thomistic. I became an anti-realist about these abstract objects. I don't think there really are such things.

MATT FRADD: When you say “abstract objects,” you mean things like . . . ?

DR. CRAIG: The number two. For example, we have two pints here on this table.

MATT FRADD: Of water, to be clear!

DR. CRAIG: Yes. But in addition to the two pints, is there a third thing – the number two? Well, I don’t think so. I don't think that the number two exists in the same way that these do.

MATT FRADD: Independent objects. Is that what you mean? It doesn't exist independent of the two?

DR. CRAIG: I don't even think it exists at all. I think that a great deal of our ordinary language refers to and quantifies over things that don't really exist. I’ve become an anti-realist with respect to these mathematical entities and abstract objects. And that's what Aquinas says about them, too. He says they're entia rationis. They are just things of reason, but they're not things that actually exist in the world.

MATT FRADD: Am I right in thinking that Augustine said that these things exist in the mind of God?

DR. CRAIG: Yes. That’s right. That was Augustine’s solution. That's a different solution. That's conceptualism, and that is the historic Christian position – that these Platonic entities don't exist as abstract objects; rather Augustine took the realm of the Platonic Forms and he moved them into the mind of God as the divine ideas. So these things exist, but not as abstract objects. They exist as ideas in the mind of God. Well, Aquinas took it a step further, and I think in the right direction, in saying God's thoughts are not complex. There are not really a plurality of divine ideas. That's just our way of conceiving it. But in fact God's cognition is simple and therefore it's true that God grasps all of these truths like two plus two equals four. It's not as though there are really a plurality of divine ideas. I find that view to be a step forward in advance on the Augustinian view which simply moves the Platonic realm into the mind of God.

MATT FRADD: Interesting. Speaking of Thomas Aquinas, I wanted to get to some arguments against God's existence, and I think the most formidable one (at least emotionally and maybe even logically) is the problem of evil. I know there are different ways to articulate that argument, but I wanted to share with you sort of Aquinas’ and just have you respond to that. Again, I think Aquinas does a great job at arguing against himself. You sometimes think how's he going to get out of this one! He says,

It seems that God does not exist because if one of two contraries be infinite the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word “God” means that he is infinite goodness. If therefore God existed, there would be no evil discoverable. But there is evil in the world, therefore God does not exist.

DR. CRAIG: That's a very metaphysical argument. That has nothing to do with why would God permit evil and suffering, which is the normal way we think of it. How could an all-good and all-powerful God . . .

MATT FRADD: That’s right. We're offended or we're . . .

DR. CRAIG: Yes . . . allow these things. Why doesn't he intervene to prevent or stop it? But this is a very metaphysical argument. He’s saying God's infinite goodness in a sense just expels evil so that it cannot exist.

MATT FRADD: Like if there were infinite light, there would be no darkness.

DR. CRAIG: Right. Exactly. And here I think that Augustine took the right tack, namely that evil does not have any sort of positive ontological status. Evil is a privation.

MATT FRADD: Parasitical.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, exactly. It is an absence of something; namely it's a privation or a lack of proper order in the creaturely will. Rather than being ordered to God as the supreme good, it's ordered toward lesser goods and therefore there is evil. There is an absence of right order in the creaturely will, and that's what evil is. And that privation is real but it's not something that has positive ontological status.

MATT FRADD: I want to share with you his response. You know these responses are very quick. This is one or two sentences. But I wanted to see what you think about his response to his objection. He actually does quote Augustine. He says,

As Augustine says, since God is the highest good he would not allow any evil to exist in his works unless his omnipotence and goodness was such as to bring good even out of evil. This is part of the infinite goodness of God that he should allow evil to exist and out of it produce good.

What do you think of that as a response, and what might be a better response at least in the sense of convincing others?

DR. CRAIG: There he does seem to be addressing the question “Why does God allow these things?” whereas I took his question to be more metaphysical and require that Augustinian answer that I gave. But beyond that point, to ask why does God allow it, well, I do think that is an expression of the goodness of God that he gives freedom of the will to creatures so that they are significant moral agents and that entails the risk that they may make bad choices. I think that it is an expression of the goodness of God that he accords to creatures the freedom to disobey and thereby to bring about this privation in the world which is evil.

MATT FRADD: Certainly when you think of evils in the world that we can't seem to see how any good could come from them, it's quite troubling. Even the suffering of animals. In Australia right now there are forest fires and these poor things are burning to death. It doesn't seem like there's any good that could come from that. Or we can think of horrific things like sex slavery, these sorts of things. It doesn't seem like a good God would allow it, does it?

DR. CRAIG: That's right. It doesn't. And I think that emotionally this is very difficult. But logically at least there's no logical contradiction in saying that God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing these things to occur. The atheist would have to show that there's some kind of a logical impossibility in God's having a morally sufficient reason for allowing this to occur. This is now generally acknowledged to be a burden of proof that no atheist can sustain. It simply lays a burden on his shoulders too heavy to be supported. Rather the atheist’s better line is to say it's possible that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting these things but it's highly unlikely because these things look pointless. They look as though they have no justifying ends. Here I think that the proper response (among many) is to point out that we are simply not in a position to make those kind of probability judgments with any confidence. We're limited in time and space and intelligence and insight. It might be that God’s morally sufficient reason for allowing these forest fires in Australia might not emerge until five hundred years from now into the future. In fact, when you think of such a major devastating event, this is probably going to change Australian culture and the course of the future in Australia. It could have ramifications far-reaching into the future through the sort of ripple effect that any event sends through history such that God would have in the end morally sufficient reasons for allowing this to occur. It's really actually the trivial events like hitting my thumb with a hammer that are harder to see why God would permit that. But for big events like the Holocaust or the tsunami several years ago or these Australian fires, there it's not at all difficult to imagine that these could send a ripple effect through history that might be just earth-shattering and changing so that God could well have morally sufficient reasons for allowing these.

MATT FRADD: Now, what you'll be accused of saying, and what you're not saying, is that therefore the Holocaust was good.

DR. CRAIG: Right. That would be a consequentialist view. Some people and ethicists think that if something has good consequences then the action itself is good. In other words, they think the end justifies the means. I think we quite properly reject that kind of ethical theory – consequentialism. It is not true that the end justifies the means. It can be the case that there are certain events that are genuinely evil but that are justly permitted and do in fact ultimately have good consequences. But those good consequences don't make the acts themselves good.

MATT FRADD: Right. No Christian would say because of the crucifixion therefore the rebellion of Adam and Eve was good because it ended well.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. That’s correct. Or even that because Christ's crucifixion resulted in the salvation of so many people that it was a good thing that the Romans did in torturing and crucifying him. No, that was evil. That was wrong what they did. It was inhuman. But in the sovereignty of God, God has brought good out of that.

MATT FRADD: This is back to Aquinas, isn’t it? This is just what Aquinas said. It belongs to the sovereignty of God that he can bring good out of evil.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, exactly.

MATT FRADD: Speaking of the ends not justifying the means, I want to get your take on lying. Thomas Aquinas and the Catechism of the Catholic Church is quite clear on this. Aquinas is very clear that it's never permissible to lie using sort of natural law theory. The idea that speech is for truth, and to pervert the end of speech would be to pervert the act and therefore under no circumstance can one lie. Of course, as soon as you say that, someone brings up the Nazi-at-the-door situation.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, of course.

MATT FRADD: I wanted to get your take on lying in general.

DR. CRAIG: Now, I'm not an ethicist, I have to say. So this is outside my area, but we're all faced with these moral dilemmas and so they're rather inescapable. My inclination is to say that lying can be morally justified in certain circumstances because of our duty to a higher moral law. There's a sort of hierarchical structure of moral laws, and it would be more important to fulfill the command to love your neighbor as yourself than to not bear false witness. So it would be better to lie to the Gestapo police at the door than to surrender the Jewish family in your cellar over to them by telling them, Yes, we've got some hiding in the basement.

DR. CRAIG: In Thomistic philosophy we talk about things being intrinsically evil (never permissible) and then other actions can be permissible depending on the circumstances. Do you think that there are things that are, using this language, intrinsically evil? Lying apparently wouldn’t be.

DR. CRAIG:  I do. I think something can be intrinsically evil, but it could be justified that you do it in light of an overriding good. There are some things I think that could never be done, however, which is probably what you are referring to. For example, I would say blasphemy or not loving the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength but bowing down before some idol and denying him. It's hard for me to see how such an act could ever be morally justified.

MATT FRADD: In my mind, as I think through this, and I don't have a hard and fast conclusion on this either, but I suppose I would say I'd go with Aquinas and the church in thinking that lying is never permissible. But I suppose I would say in extraordinary circumstances (such as the Nazi at the door) that you wouldn't be necessarily culpable. That's just where I'm at right now. Does that make sense – for the guilt of that?

DR. CRAIG: I don’t know if it does makes sense.

MATT FRADD: It makes sense in this way. Either lying is intrinsically wrong or it isn't. If it isn't then there can be circumstances where you can lie and not be culpable in any sense. I think that's your view. But if Aquinas is right then it's never permissible to lie.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, you would always be culpable.

MATT FRADD: You would always be in some way culpable. But if you've got a gun at your head and you say something, you're not necessarily responsible for that in the way you may be if it was a premeditated lie.

DR. CRAIG: Well, that is, I think, a plausible point of view.

MATT FRADD: OK. Well, here's what I've done. I did a survey online, and I shared with people about 15 arguments against God from the Friendly Atheist, as he is known by – Hemant Mehta. He did a YouTube show where he gave 20 so-called arguments against God's existence. This has over 260,000 views, and honestly they're not very good. But I thought what I would do is read several of them and have you just respond.

DR. CRAIG: I haven't heard these yet, so this is off-the-cuff.

MATT FRADD: Oh, yes, you have. Don't worry. You've encountered these again and again and again. But what was interesting is, I threw these up and I said to my followers, I want you to tell me what argument you find most difficult to respond to. And we had literally thousands of people write in. Again, this is . . . don't worry. You're not on the hot seat here. In fact, I shared this with somebody and said, These arguments aren't worthy to show Dr. Craig. I thought maybe they're not but people are often moved by bad arguments.

DR. CRAIG: Oh, they are.

MATT FRADD: So it's important that we address them. OK. God is just Santa Claus for adults.

DR. CRAIG: Well, I think that we have good arguments to show that God exists, and we have very powerful evidence that Santa Claus does not exist. There have been mappings of the North Pole and so forth. It's physically impossible for him to do what he's supposed to do on Christmas Eve. But we don't have comparably good arguments against God. So I think that the situation is not analogous.

MATT FRADD: Next objection: who created God, and how does your answer to that make any sense?

DR. CRAIG: My view is that God is a self-existent, uncreated, eternal being, and therefore cannot have a cause. And this is not something that's special pleading for God. The atheist has typically said this about the universe – that the universe is uncreated, eternal, and self-existent. But I think that's highly unlikely in light of modern cosmology. But it shows it's not special pleading for God.

MATT FRADD: What about when people say – they just say it – there's no evidence. Again these are statements and questions; they are not really arguments.

DR. CRAIG: What I say to that is – Is that what you think? I can think of at least five good arguments for God's existence. And at that point he's got to say, Yeah, like what? And then I'm off and running, and I share with him a number of arguments for God's existence. It just completely pulls the rug from under the person who says there's no evidence for God's existence.

MATT FRADD: Something I've learned from apologist Trent Horne is to say to somebody, What do you think is the least bad argument for God's existence? Obviously you think they're all bad, but what's the least bad?  Very often this kind of exposes (not always because there are very thoughtful atheists of course) but sometimes this will expose the atheist because they can't really give you the argument they think is the least bad.

DR. CRAIG: Ah, yes, that is embarrassing, isn’t it?

MATT FRADD: OK, next one. Science explains so much of what we used to attribute to God.

DR. CRAIG: I would agree that we shouldn't postulate some sort of God of the gaps where we use God to plug up the holes in our scientific knowledge. But I think that we have very powerful scientific evidence for premises in philosophical arguments for the existence of God. For example, the second premise of the Kalam cosmological argument.

MATT FRADD: Why don’t you lay the whole thing out for those who aren’t aware.

DR. CRAIG: All right. That argument has three steps:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

The second premise (the universe began to exist) is one to which scientific evidence is relevant. And contemporary cosmology provides, honestly, very, very powerful evidence in support of the truth of that second premise. In this case you've got a philosophical argument for God's existence that contains a premise which is powerfully supported by contemporary science. Another example would be the design argument based on the fine-tuning of the universe. It also has three steps:

1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.

2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.

3. Therefore, it is due to design.

And, again, the second premise (that the fine-tuning is not due to physical necessity or chance) is powerfully supported by contemporary science. Richard Dawkins argues against physical necessity on scientific grounds.

MATT FRADD: So he has two options left.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. And then Roger Penrose, a more formidable intellect than Dawkins, of Oxford University argues against chance purely on the basis of scientific evidence. So there's very good scientific evidence for that second premise. Given that premise then you have a philosophical argument for a cosmic designer of the universe. So that would be illustrative of the way in which contemporary science can be useful to the natural theologian who wants to argue for the existence of a creator and designer of the cosmos.

MATT FRADD: Right. And so these arguments aren't plugging up holes in our knowledge.

DR. CRAIG: Not at all, as you can see. On the contrary, I will often ask the atheist or agnostic: Why do you refuse to follow the evidence where it leads? Why are you so resistant to the beginning of the universe when that's where the evidence points? That's a religiously neutral statement that can be found in any textbook on astronomy or astrophysics, and yet some people will just dig in their heels at that because I think they see where it's leading. It’s not a matter of appealing to gaps in our knowledge. It's saying, please, why won't you follow the evidence where it points?

MATT FRADD: Which are you more convinced of? The argument from philosophy or astrophysics when it comes to the finitude of the world?

DR. CRAIG: Wow. I suppose I like the philosophical arguments. I am a philosopher. Those really persuade me, where science is, of course, always provisional and capable of revision. So what one has to say is that the scientific evidence that we have now provides very powerful support of the second premise. But these metaphysical arguments against the infinitude of the past just strike me as cogent, persuasive, and they've been around for a thousand years or more.

MATT FRADD: This is something I really hope Thomas Aquinas is wrong about. Because he has blistering words to say about the Kalam argument. His contemporary St. Bonaventure proposed it, and I hope he's wrong. Whenever I hear people articulate it, it seems cogent to me.

DR. CRAIG: In defense of Aquinas . . .

MATT FRADD: Way to go! This is a way to appeal to our fan base!

DR. CRAIG: In defense of Aquinas, he does think that the Kalam cosmological argument offered by these Islamic theologians is a good probability argument. It does establish that there probably is a first cause of the origin of the universe. But because Aquinas’ standard for success in natural theology is so high that it has to be a demonstration he says we shouldn't use these probability arguments.

MATT FRADD: They make us look bad.

DR. CRAIG: They are an embarrassment, he says, before unbelievers. We should restrict ourselves to strict demonstrations. Well, almost no natural theologian today holds to so high and unrealistic a standard in natural theology. And that would mean these probability arguments have a proper role to play in our natural theology.

MATT FRADD: I want to get you to give us the sort of philosophical argument for the finitude of the past, but I think it does say, again, a great deal about Thomas Aquinas who people will often accuse him of being under the thumb of the church. But he rejected the most prominent argument in Christian history up to that point – Anselm’s ontological argument. He rejects it. And then he rejects the cosmological argument. That is just to say that if he were simply under the thumb of the church at the very least he wouldn't put them forward but he thinks he refutes them.

DR. CRAIG: It might be more accurate to say that the church is under the thumb of Thomas Aquinas given the influence that he's had and his recognized place in the history of the church.

MATT FRADD: Have you been shocked at that as you've interacted with Catholics? Do you think: Why are you all so hung up on Thomas Aquinas?

DR. CRAIG: Yes. Yeah. I do think that because, I mean, I've read Aquinas. I’ve studied him from the Masters level on and read him. It does seem to me odd that there is this sort of slavish devotion to this particular medieval thinker. But his being recognized by the church in the way that he has, it gives him this very hallowed position.

MATT FRADD: Is there someone like that would you say in the evangelical world or history. I know there are lots of different kinds of Protestants, but is there . . .?

DR. CRAIG: Probably Augustine.

MATT FRADD: More in the kind of Calvinist-leaning community?

DR. CRAIG: Yes, yes. More so there. But really almost for all Protestants they look back to Augustine with tremendous reverence and authority, I think.

MATT FRADD: But most certainly neither Augustine or Aquinas was infallible.

DR. CRAIG: Oh, absolutely. And they would have insisted on that themselves.

MATT FRADD: Of course. Absolutely.[2]


[2]           Total Running Time: 27:53 (Copyright © 2020 William Lane Craig)