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Questions on Graham Oppy, The Atonement, and Debate Technique

February 21, 2021


Listeners ask about atheist philosopher Graham Oppy, the Atonement, and why debates are important.

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, as always, great questions are coming in to We always encourage people to look through our archives because more than likely you are going to find your question addressed in Defenders or the podcast that we do or on the Question of the Week archive. You usually pick one question per week, but we get some more and occasionally we like to look at some of the additional questions that we haven’t had a chance to address specifically. This one says,

Dear Dr. Craig, I've come across your article, “Does God Exist?” In regards to the existence of God, from what I came to understand your main idea was that God is the explanation or reason for the existence of everything. Does your conclusion regard the fact that we as human beings who seek an answer either by faith or logic and reason are using God as a scapegoat in order to answer the question of how we came to be? Are we selfish to just accept the existence of our universe and of ourselves by believing in something that has no physical proof of existence? Wouldn't we just have insufficient evidence in regards to the existence of God? Thank you for taking the time to read my letter.

DR. CRAIG: Well, I don't think that in offering arguments for God's existence, like the Leibnizian cosmological argument to which I think he's referring, we're doing anything selfish or lazy or acting on insufficient evidence. The question seems to assume that any evidence for the existence of God has to be physical proof of his existence, and I would simply deny that emphatically. You can have philosophical arguments for God's existence that I think are quite persuasive even if they're not physical proofs of existence. The question will be simply: Are the premises of the argument more plausibly true than false, and is the argument logically valid? If they are then it seems to me that you have a good reason to accept God as the best explanation for why anything at all exists. Basically I'm saying you can't refute an argument by saying that accepting the conclusion is selfish. The motives or character of the inquirer is just irrelevant to the truth of the premises and the validity of the argument. That's all that matters. So until he's able to identify a logical fallacy or a false premise these sorts of personal criticisms about selfishness or laziness, I think, are just beside the point.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. Next question, Dr. Craig. It’s question number three. Dylan from South Africa writes,

Dear Dr. Craig, I hope that you and your wife are keeping well in this strange time. I watched a discussion on Capturing Christianity [you've been on that show, as well] between Dr. Graham Oppy and Dr. Andrew Loke on Loke's new book about the kalam cosmological argument. I was surprised to see how much they agreed on. Their disagreement was mostly to do with the causal principle. In the discussion Oppy said that he doesn't agree with this principle but instead believes that whatever exists has an explanation. His other point was that his view, which posits a metaphysically necessary entity at t=0 which is not supernatural, was to be preferred to Loke’s because it is simpler. I have two questions about this. Firstly, am I doing Dr. Oppy's view justice in laying it out like this simplified form?

DR. CRAIG: Let me answer that question first. Yes, I think he is doing justice to the view. It's a remarkable view. Oppy says that he believes that whatever exists has an explanation which is a key premise in the Leibnizian cosmological argument. That's a key agreement between the theist and the non-theist. Also, his alternative to theism, I think, is extremely radical and very strange (a thesis for which I think there's no evidence whatsoever) and that is that whatever existed at t=0 (the initial conditions of the universe) is metaphysically necessary. He agrees with Leibniz that there has to be a metaphysically necessary being, but he just thinks that it's the initial conditions of the universe  – that those are metaphysically necessary.

KEVIN HARRIS: Are you familiar with Andrew Loke and his book?

DR. CRAIG: Yes. Andrew is a good friend of mine. Andrew Loke has been called the William Lane Craig of Asia. He lives in Singapore. He speaks throughout China. He's a remarkable Christian philosopher and apologist, and has published significant books with Cambridge University Press on the cosmological argument and on the doctrine of the incarnation (the two natures of Christ). He is a real force.


My second concern is that I'm having trouble seeing where Dr. Oppy goes wrong, and I was hoping to hear your thoughts on his view or else be pointed towards some material which might help me understand and engage with his view better.

Is there any further thing you can say about Oppy’s view?

DR. CRAIG: Yeah. Again, I think that his view is bizarre. He thinks that the initial conditions of the universe existed with metaphysical necessity. There's no reason to think that whatsoever. And, on the contrary, the prevailing view among contemporary cosmologists who are engaged in astrophysics is that the initial conditions of the universe are contingent – that this universe didn't have to exist, these laws of nature don't have to exist (they're not metaphysically necessary), the initial conditions of the universe in terms of the material and energy didn't have to be the way they are (they're highly contingent). So this is a radical proposal that says this universe is metaphysically necessary at least in its initial stage – a hypothesis for which I think there's just no evidence at all and which goes against the prevailing view of the laws of nature and the initial conditions of the cosmos, which are highly contingent.

KEVIN HARRIS: Going to the next question, question four. This is from the United States. Brandon says,

I have a question about the atonement. I understand Christ was a divine person, but I also understand Christ fulfilled the law in his human nature. My question is: If Christ's righteousness comes from his human nature in which he suffered, couldn't an unfallen Adam have paid for our sins by virtue of his perfect righteousness? Why did Christ need to be divine?

DR. CRAIG: This is a good question, but I think there's some confusion going on here. It is true that those theologians who believe that Christ's righteousness is imputed to us in virtue of our union with Christ think that this is the righteousness that Jesus earned or achieved during his earthly life by his perfect obedience to the Old Testament law, and that that righteousness of perfectly fulfilling the law is imputed to us. That's what is typically believed by those who believe in the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Now, biblically speaking, I can't think of any way to justify that assumption rather than saying it's his divine righteousness that's imputed to us. But this could simply be a theological posit that they make rather than a biblical inference. So let's allow them to make that theological assumption – that the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to us in virtue of our union with him is the righteousness that he earned during his lifetime by perfectly fulfilling the law. That does not mean, however, that it was that righteousness that atoned for our sins, which, as he says, could have been a human righteousness. Rather, the doctrine of the atonement is that Christ was punished for our sins, that he bore the penalty for our sins by suffering the fate that we deserved. So it is not through his imputed righteousness that we are saved; rather, it is by his satisfying fully the demands of God's justice that we are saved. To satisfy the demands of God's perfect justice, I think it's quite right to say that Christ had to be divine. Only a divine being could die to satisfy the demands of divine justice for the sins of humanity. That's why it couldn't just be a human person. You needed a divine person if he was to satisfy the demands of divine justice for all of humanity. So don't confuse the imputation of Christ's human righteousness to us with his atonement which consists in his bearing the punishment for the sins of humanity demanded by divine justice.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. Next question – question number five from Alex in the US.

Dr. Craig I've followed you for about a decade. I'm still drawn to your sweet demeanor and humbleness. I think you do a good job of understanding other viewpoints. When I first found you, I thought you gave really good answers. Now, though, I wonder if you started with the assumption that God and Christ are real and you try to mold the science to fit that narrative. This seemed to be clear when you were talking with Penrose. Is there a way using the scientific method and being open to being wrong to arrive at God?

DR. CRAIG: I was really surprised at this question because it seemed to me that I am very open-minded and objective when considering the evidence, say, for and against the beginning of the universe. So I'm puzzled by what he is thinking about in the dialogue with Roger Penrose.

KEVIN HARRIS: I can't think of anything either. I can't think of anything in it, but go ahead.

DR. CRAIG: The bulk of that dialogue concerned Penrose's metaphysical or philosophical questions about how to unite the three realms of reality – the physical, the mental, and the mathematical – into one coherent worldview. And what I wanted to suggest to him was that theism gives you the best means of answering those three metaphysical questions into a coherent worldview. Well, that's not operating on the assumption that God is real and trying to mold science to fit it. It's rather saying that here's a man, an esteemed scientist, who has certain metaphysical or philosophical questions that he doesn't know how to answer, and I'm saying that theism gives an answer to those questions. So why not adopt theism in order to answer these profound questions that he was asking?

KEVIN HARRIS: Another Kevin from the US asked this question. He says,

I have not seen a Christian apologist answer this question. Dialogue with opposing views to beliefs like Christianity seems to occur within specific configurations that do not involve long periods (months, years) of safe, respectful dialogue with diverse transdisciplinary expertise with the goal of understanding opposing perspectives. The dialogue is often not compelled by curious exploratory Socratic or Bohmian discourse, but is usually debate-oriented focused on maintaining one's own underlying biases and assumptions, avoiding the diverse expanses of knowledge, and the difficult work of its consilience and coherence from those who know it from deep interaction, testing, and are expert purviews.

Oh, Bill, I think we're going to have to parse some of that just a little bit! What is he trying to say in so many words?

DR. CRAIG: He doesn't like debates. That’s what he’s trying to say.

KEVIN HARRIS: Yeah, OK. That's the bottom line.

Christians often characterize opposing views with great misunderstanding and misrepresentation that coherent perspectives opposing them would offer. Would you be willing to have this kind of interaction and be capable of accurately articulating the integrated perspective of those specialists who oppose you when you conclude? I can provide more specifics if this interests you.

DR. CRAIG: I think Kevin has put his finger on a real difference between different sorts of formats. For me, the debates that I engage in on university campuses are evangelistic outreaches. They are a means of trying to present a defense and proclamation of the Gospel to non-Christian university students. I was trained in eight years of high school and intercollegiate debate competition. I represented our schools on the debate circuit. And debate is an adversarial form of engagement. You try to win. You try to construct the best case you can for your view, and you try to demolish the case of your opponent. But I resist emphatically his characterization that you characterize opposing views with great misunderstanding and misrepresentation. On the contrary, a weak and ineffective debater is the one who attacks straw men rather than an accurate and fair presentation of his opponent's view. I don't think, as I reflect, that I can remember any of my opponents in these debates ever responding that I have unfairly represented their view or misunderstood them. Maybe the closest would be Erik Wielenberg where on one point he corrected me about my understanding of his view. But I try to go out of my way to really represent accurately the view that I then criticize as vigorously as I can. I am personally a very intensely competitive person. I draw great inspiration from sports figures like Michael Jordan and Tom Brady who hate to lose, and I hate to lose, too. So my goal in these debates is to do as well as I can in defending the Christian worldview and showing its superiority intellectually to whatever view my opponent provides. If you want to have a more Socratic dialogical interaction, such as Kevin wants to have, where this is to be found is not at these debates; this is to be found in professional conferences and in professional publications. At professional conferences, like the American Philosophical Association or the Evangelical Philosophical Society, you will have precisely these kinds of dialogical exploration of issues that are not aimed at winning a contest. These kinds of things go on all the time, and I engage in them as well, but they're just a different format with a different purpose than these debates that he's referring to. I am interested in participating in these sorts of dialogues and do so. One good example of these would be the Creation Project that has been going on over the last three years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on the historical Adam. There, there was a wide diversity of views concerning the historical Adam that were presented. The discussion was mutually respectful; it was irenic and exploratory. It was a very, very profitable conference in that sense. So these kinds of activities do go on. It's just that Kevin isn't familiar with them because these tend to be going on in professional and academic venues rather than popular venues.

KEVIN HARRIS: I was laughing – I'm not laughing at Kevin, Kevin is very intelligent – he was just getting so wordy that as a person reading his question out loud it was really getting to me trying to get to the point. You've always emphasized being charitable, too.

DR. CRAIG: Oh, that's true.

KEVIN HARRIS: In representing your opponent in a debate or someone that you're dialoguing with in a publication – to represent as accurately as you can what their view is.

DR. CRAIG: That's right. A good debater doesn't misrepresent his opponent's view and attack straw men, but also a good debater doesn't engage in ad hominem attacks on the person of the opponent. Rather, he concentrates on the opponent's view, and he attacks that view and goes after it hammer and tongs to try to show why that view is either insubstantially evidenced or downright false. I find great, great value in these debates, frankly, because they give a level playing field on which both sides can be presented by proponents of those views who are passionate about those views, deeply committed to them, and will offer the very best case for each view on a common stage. I think that is of great value.

KEVIN HARRIS: More questions next time on the next podcast. Thank you, Dr. Craig.[1]


[1]Total Running Time: 21:54 (Copyright © 2021 William Lane Craig)