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Q&A on Meaning, Certainty, and the Problem of Pain

May 03, 2021


Dr. Craig receives questions on objective meaning, his certainty of God's existence, and some thoughts on the Problem of Pain.

KEVIN HARRIS: It’s the Reasonable Faith podcast – Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris. A big variety of questions today – you are going to enjoy this. By the way, we sure appreciate your giving to help support this ministry all over the world. Anything that you can give, thank you. Go to You can give anytime online. It is much appreciated. Let’s go to the studio with Dr. Craig for some Q&A.

Dr. Craig, from Jeff in Texas. He says,

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about a philosophical argument for the existence of God similar to the moral argument based on existence of meaning that seems apparent in human life.

1.     If God does not exist then there is no objective meaning for life.

2.     Objective meaning is experienced in human life.

3.     Therefore, God exists.

The second premise is the one that would need the most support as it would be most prone to attack. I think there are good arguments that can support premise 2. For example, humans treat their children as if they are valuable, which they are. Humans approaching death think about the existence of an afterlife. They may not always conclude correctly but they do consider it. Our communication with one another has meaning. And similar arguments as those. I don't hear the sort of argument used when apologists provide reasons for the existence of God. Often you hear only the ontological and cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments for God's existence. Thanks for your work. It has bolstered my faith and given me a greater burden for sharing the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. Jeff.

DR. CRAIG: Thanks, Jeff, very much for those remarks. There are Christian philosophers who offer these sorts of existential arguments for God's existence. I think of Steve Evans, for example, at Baylor, or Cliff Williams who have written on these sorts of things. And I think your argument is sound. It does seem to me that if God does not exist then there is no objective meaning in life, and many, many atheists will admit this from Nietzsche to Russell to Sartre to Alex Rosenberg. Secondly, though, I think you're right that objective meaning is experienced in human life, and your example of humans treating their children as if they are valuable reminds me of a video that Kevin and I did a podcast on by a young woman named Jennifer who was raised as a scientific rationalist and atheist but when she gave birth to her own child she said, “I could not believe that this was just a mass of cells and that my love for this baby was just a chemical reaction in my brain.” She said, “I saw so clearly that those things are not true.” So I think your second premise is correct, and therefore it does follow that God exists. So, yes, I think this is a good argument.

KEVIN HARRIS: Here's another question, Dr. Craig.

Greetings. In your debate with Christopher de Carlo, he asked if you could estimate your level of confidence in your belief in God; that if your belief was as likely as a universe with no God or if it was higher. You said your belief was higher than 50/50 but that you had no way of measuring whether it was highly probable or not. Wouldn't this seem to be of utmost importance to the question and what you have spent your life debating? How on earth are we to accept that you find the existence of a God more probable when you have no way of knowing what “more probable” means?

DR. CRAIG: Well, wait a minute. I never said I don't have any idea of what “more probable” means. For something to be more probable than not means you have a greater than 50% chance of being true. That's what it means to be more probable. But what I've refused to do was to quantify it and to say, “Yes, I'm 75% certain” or “It's 83% certain that God exists” or “99% certain.” I think anybody who does try to put those kind of numbers on it is being disingenuous and you ought to be very suspicious. The fact is we can talk, I think, in only rough terms about this and saying, “I think it's very probable that God exists,” “It's more probable than not,” things of that sort. I think that's quite acceptable.


It appears your entire position is lost in relativism and greater evidence for what you argue against – that if atheism is true then everything is relative and nothing matters.

DR. CRAIG: How could he possibly draw that inference? I've argued that theism is more probable than atheism. How could that possibly be construed as relativism and saying that nothing matters? Quite the contrary! I argued in that debate that if God does not exist then life is ultimately absurd and therefore this question is vitally important to human beings. In fact, I argued that it's so important that if the scales of probability were just evenly balanced 50/50 that the rational thing to do is to believe in God. It would seem to be perfectly irrational to prefer death, futility, and meaninglessness to happiness, joy, and significance. So I'm persuaded that even if the scales of the evidence were evenly balanced that the rational thing to do would be to believe in God. I agree with Pascal in that sense.


Why, if this is the most crucial part of your position, that some being exists and can save us from this nihilism, why can't you show your arguments map to reality and can be weighed as de Carlo points out?

DR. CRAIG: Well, I do think they map to reality. The whole point of the arguments was that these arguments make it more probable than not that God does exist – that there's a Creator of the universe, there's a Designer of the universe, there's an Absolute Good who is the foundation of moral values, and so forth. What I just think would be disingenuous to do is to try to put specific figures to these, and anybody who thinks you can do that, I think, is just being dishonest.

KEVIN HARRIS: Has anybody ever tried that you know of?

DR. CRAIG: I don't know. Richard Swinburne is the big Bayes’ Theorem man. I don't remember if Swinburne actually puts figures to how probable he thinks God is, but he would agree that God's existence is more probable than not. One of the interesting things that Tim McGrew, a philosopher at the University of Western Michigan, has pointed out is that these even weak arguments can be part of a cumulative case where the combination of several arguments each of which does not make God's existence more probable than not can in combination with each other make God's existence considerably more probable than not.

KEVIN HARRIS: The value of a cumulative case.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, as in a court of law. Any single piece of evidence the prosecution might adduce might not be enough to convict, but it will be the cumulative force of all the evidence together that will lead the jury to convict. And to know with confidence that the accused is guilty, does the jury need to be able to say it was 72% probable that the accused is guilty? No, no, it was 89% probable. Well, of course not. The jury is simply asked to say: Is he guilty in a criminal case beyond reasonable doubt?

KEVIN HARRIS: This one says,

Dear Dr. Craig, Thank you for your ministry which has been a blessing to me in strengthening my Christian conviction. I'm wondering if the problem of pain is coherent based on definitional grounds. Granted that there is pain in the universe, suppose it was eliminated. Atheists would no longer be able to argue that a loving God would not allow his creatures to experience pain – pain would simply no longer be a part of the universe. But there would still be discomfort. And an atheist could argue that a loving God would not allow his creatures to suffer discomfort. And if discomfort were eliminated from the universe, inconvenience would remain, and the atheist could still make the same argument about that. It would appear that pain is therefore just one species of unhappiness along with discomfort, inconvenience, boredom, and so on. It seems to me that the atheist has to say what is so different about pain relative to the other species of unhappiness, that is, the atheist has the obligation to define pain in a clear and distinct way. Further, the atheist would have to relate that distinction to what would be expected from a loving God. Perhaps I have not read widely enough, but I am not sure if atheists have done this. If the atheist cannot make the distinction then he or she seems committed to the argument that a loving God would never allow his creatures to experience unhappiness. That argument would seem to be more easily challenged. Example: it could be converted to the proposition that a loving God would always ensure his creatures are happy. In such a situation, the Christian would be defending the proposition that a loving God would permit his creatures to suffer unhappiness. This seems to be easier as, for example, it would have less involvement of the emotional aspects of pain. Can you please tell me if this is a valid argument? From Malcolm.

DR. CRAIG: This is a point that has occurred to me, and I think Malcolm has expressed it very well. Not only is it the fact that even if pain were eliminated you could still have things to complain about, but pain could be a lot worse than it is. As Richard Swinburne has pointed out, there is a kind of upper threshold to the pain that the human organism can experience and then we just black out. It's not as though there's an infinite scale of pain that we might go through, as awful as it is. So pain could be a lot, lot worse than it is. But then, as Malcolm says, if you eliminate pain there would still be grounds for complaint: discomfort. You eliminate discomfort then there's inconvenience. So that, in one sense, no matter where on the scale you are, the atheist can always have something to complain about and indict God for. I think that he is quite right in saying that it would be very difficult for the atheist to prove that if a loving God exists that he would always ensure that his creatures are happy. That would be to treat the creatures not as serious moral agents but as spoiled immature brats. So I like the argument. I think it does help to put the problem of pain in perspective and gives the atheist something to think about.[1]


[1] Total Running Time: 11:51 (Copyright © 2021 William Lane Craig)