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Some arguments in the Debate "Is Faith in God Reasonable?"

February 11, 2013     Time: 19:02
Some arguments in the Debate “Is Faith in God Reasonable?”


Dr. Craig debates "Is Faith in God Reasonable?" with Dr. Alex Rosenberg. This time, Dr. Craig added some arguments!

Transcript Some Arguments in the Debate 'Is Faith in God Reasonable?


Dr. Rosenberg: I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. Is Dr. Craig infallible or does he just not listen? Probably the latter.

Dr. Craig: I think it's extremely important that these kinds of debates be conducted with civility and charity and honesty. I think you try to represent your opponent's point of view fairly, pointing out the areas of disagreement, but you do so in a way that is gentlemanly and civil without personal attacks upon character.

Dr. Rosenberg: As I said at the beginning I don't think that debate format is the right venue under which to pursue philosophical and theological inquiry [Why did you come here? I would have never come here if I had known what I was walking into].

Dr. Craig: I think that these kinds of forums are very valuable. These debates are important as a way of getting this kind of information disseminated to a wider public in a way that is passionate and firm but it's civil and it's an academic exchange. So I'm firmly committed to the value of these kinds of forum on university campuses, and I'm glad Dr. Rosenberg, despite his scruples, agreed to participate tonight.

Kevin Harris: The topic of the debate was “Is Faith in God Reasonable?” Well, we think so; that's why we call this Reasonable Faith. Hey, it's Kevin Harris in studio with Dr. William Lane Craig. Let's talk about this debate with Dr. Alex Rosenberg of Duke University.[1] He's been rated number thirteen in rank of the most influential atheists, and he's the author of The Atheist's Guide to Reality. And I think you guys blew up the internet, Dr. Craig, during the debate – all the twitters and comments.

Dr. Craig: Yes, I understand that it was the number one twitter item for several hours during the course of the debate, so it garnered a great deal of attention. There were live streaming downloads or views of the debate in every state of the union and in sixty countries of the world. It's just astonishing, Kevin. When I had my debate a few years ago with Christopher Hitchens there were four countries in the world who were getting the live stream of the debate, and in this case there were sixty – just amazing! During the course of the debate a question came in from somebody from Seoul, Korea, and it's so amazing to think of the worldwide impact a debate like this has. And I'm delighted to be able to be in studio with you today because I just returned from Purdue last night, and I don't think we've ever had a chance to talk about a debate on Reasonable Faith when it's so fresh in our minds and so recent.

Kevin Harris: One thing that Dr. Rosenberg did was he said throughout the debate that, well, debates aren’t that effective. But you did point out to him, well, Dr. Rosenberg, I'm glad you're here for the debate anyway, despite your scruples. [laughter]

Dr. Craig: Yes, I wondered what he was doing there if he thought this was such an inappropriate and wrong format.

Kevin Harris: I happen to know that he got a lot of coaching from people who follow Reasonable Faith and follow your work, and do this, and say this, and don't say this. And in the first couple of minutes in Dr. Rosenberg's opening speech I could kind of detect that trying to disarm maybe a couple of people.

Dr. Craig: Yes, I did, too, Kevin. I think you're quite right about that. I noticed it in his claim that Craig is presenting these same old tired arguments that we've heard over and over again, when in fact I had in my opening speech three arguments that I don't normally use. I had eight instead of five, and two of them I have never used before in any talk, in any debate, in any publication. They were entirely fresh so that it was very clear that this was a remark that he had been coached to give that was really, well, it didn't land on it’s mark because it was so clearly untrue.

Kevin Harris: Let's go over it again. You've said this before: debates are very fruitful in many ways, showing that the Christian faith can hold up in academic debate, in the marketplace of ideas, and under intense scrutiny by a detractor or someone who is in opposition to it.

Dr. Craig: That's exactly right. It's very easy for a speaker to come on to a university campus, give a talk and take questions, but never be challenged by someone on the other side. And that's true both for Christian speakers but also for non-Christian speakers. People like Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, and others can give a lecture on a campus and never be seriously challenged by someone with an opposing point of view. And I think these debates are so valuable because it shows that we as Christians have nothing to fear. Bring it on, bring your best opponent, your best representative, and we'll talk about these ideas and then you as the student audience can make up your own mind as to where you think the evidence points.[2] So I think these debates are a very valuable forum. As I said in the Q & A time, most of these students will never read a philosophical journal, they'll never attend a professional philosophical or scientific conference, but these debates give them a chance to be exposed to this academic material and to the arguments pro and con.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, and launch them into further study.

Dr. Craig: Yes, hopefully.

Kevin Harris: Anytime I've seen a debate – any two-hour debate I've seen – produces hours of study and looking into it. Bill, you did eight points this time rather than four or five. Were there just some new emphases that you wanted to bring out?

Dr. Craig: Well I think part of this was a result, Kevin, of having read Rosenberg's book and read his responses to some of the theistic arguments. For example, with respect to the question of why anything at all exists – the argument from contingency – his only response in the book was just to say the universe just exists with no explanation, and that's the end of the story. And it seemed to me that that was a very weak response, and that therefore to press the Leibnizian cosmological argument based upon the contingency of the world would be a good argument, particularity because he says in his book that he thinks the universe is contingent. That was another fact that struck me. He says there could have been nothing. So he's not willing to go the route of saying the universe is a necessarily existent being, or the multiverse is necessarily existent, or spacetime or matter and energy are necessarily existent. He acknowledges that these are all contingent realities that could have failed to exist. And so that raises the question: well, then why does something exist rather than nothing, if nothing is possible? Why is it that anything at all exists? So I felt I wanted to press the contingency argument because of the weakness of his response to it.

And then with respect, similarly, to intentionality – the argument from intentionality – which says that if God does not exist there are no intentional states of consciousness, with respect to that argument, that again arose because of his naturalism in the book. Now I should explain to our listeners who didn't hear the debate that intentionality is the property of being about something or of something. It signifies the object-directedness of our thoughts. For example, I can think about my summer vacation, or I can think of my wife. And Rosenberg in the book emphasizes very strongly that no physical object is about or of something else. And this is an emphasis that resonates with an article that Alvin Plantinga wrote a few years ago called Against Materialism where Plantinga makes exactly the same point in arguing against a physicalist or materialist view of reality. Plantinga says we have thoughts about things, we think of things, and yet he makes the same argument that Rosenberg does, that no physical object can be about something else or of something else. This leads Plantinga to the conclusion that therefore there must be minds or mental substances that have thoughts about things. Rosenberg is lead to, I think, the absurd conclusion that we never therefore really think about anything, that there really are no intentional states of consciousness, that these are illusory. And so it occurred to me, we've got here a really nice argument for the existence of God, the major premise of which Rosenberg himself argues for, namely, if God does not exist intentional states of consciousness do not exist. Both Plantinga and Rosenberg agree with that premise. Premise two is: but intentional states of consciousness do exist. I am thinking about Dr. Rosenberg’s argument, for example. I am thinking about naturalism – what could be more obvious? Therefore it follows that God exists. So I think this is a very powerful argument for God's existence, especially for the naturalist who is a physicalist and thinks everything is just physical or material reality. So that was why I introduced that argument.

Kevin Harris: What was that argument, what do you call that argument?

Dr. Craig: Well, I call it the argument from intentionality.

Kevin Harris: Okay.

Dr. Craig: And, remember the way it was framed was in the following way:[3] that God is the best explanation of intentional states of consciousness in the world. And the idea there is that in a theistic world you already have minds because God is an infinite unembodied mind, and therefore it's no surprise that there should be finite minds that also think about things. So minds or mental states of consciousness fit into a theistic world very comfortably, but they don't fit into this naturalistic atheistic world. They don't make sense, and that's why Rosenberg is led to this absurd position that there are no intentional states of consciousness, that it's just an illusion. And what's striking about that, Kevin, is, when you think about it, that is self-refuting. That is incoherent to say intentionality is an illusion because think about it: an illusion is an intentional state. You have an illusion of something, so to have an illusion of intentionality implies intentionality, so that it's self-refuting. You can't say that it's just an illusion because that itself is to admit that there is intentionality. So that argument never came out in the debate. I was waiting for him to respond to this argument by saying, well, intentionality is just illusory, but he never said that even though it's in his book. So I wasn't able to make that further counter-argument, that to say it's illusory is in fact incoherent and self-refuting, but that is a point here that I want to make on the podcast.

Kevin Harris: Another argument that you brought up was an argument from mathematics, that you don't usually do. Let's talk a little bit about that.

Dr. Craig: This comes out of my current research on God and abstract objects. I have been studying philosophy of mathematics now for several years, trying to understand God's relationship with mathematical objects. And one of the things that philosophers of mathematics debate about is whether there are mathematical objects. If there are things like numbers and sets and functions and so forth these would seem to be objects that exist beyond space and time, that are abstract and therefore have no causal effect upon anything. And in that case, as Penelope Maddy says whom I quoted in my speech, it becomes an inexplicable coincidence that physical reality is structured on the pattern of these causally irrelevant abstract objects. And Rosenberg, again, says in his book that the naturalist cannot tolerate these sorts of cosmic coincidences, and it was that, again, that clicked in my mind when I read that. He cannot tolerate cosmic coincides. That applies not only to the fine-tuning argument – he can't tolerate that kind of coincidence – but it would apply to the applicability of mathematics alone. He can't dismiss this as mere coincidence or chance; there needs to be an explanation why math is applicable to the physical world. If you take a fictionalist take on mathematics where mathematical objects don't really exist, they're just mathematical fictions or useful fictions, then, again, there's still no explanation why nature is written in the language of these fictions. So whether you're a Platonist or a nominalist if you're a naturalist it struck me forcefully that you've got no explanation for what Eugene Wigner called “the uncanny effectiveness of mathematics” or the applicability of mathematics to the natural world. By contrast, the theist has a ready explanation. Whether you're a Platonist or a fictionalist the theist can simply say God created the physical universe on the structure of the mathematical pattern that he had in mind when he made the universe. So of course mathematics is applicable to the natural world, God has created it with that mathematical structure in mind. So that argument came out of my work on mathematical objects, and I was encouraged to use it by reading Alvin Plantinga's book recently called Where the Conflict Really Lies where in his chapter on mathematics he emphasizes the deep concord between theism and science with respect to this question,[4] the applicability of mathematics. And so I thought this is a great argument to use against a naturalist like Rosenberg, who is a physicalist, who cannot tolerate cosmic coincidences, and yet has no explanation for the applicability of mathematics to the physical world.

Kevin Harris: So let's go over the eight.

Dr. Craig: Yes. The first one was why anything at all exist, basically the contingency argument. The second was the kalam cosmological argument, that God is the best explanation. The third argument was the one we've just been talking about: the applicability of mathematics to the physical world. And then fourth came the usual fine-tuning argument, that God is the best explanation of that. Fifth was the argument that God is the best explanation of intentional states of consciousness. Then sixth came the argument that God is the best explanation of objective moral values and duties in the world. And then seventh, the resurrection of Jesus. And then eighth, God can be personally known and experienced.

Kevin Harris: Bill, even some of your usual arguments were expounded on a little bit, cast in a different light.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that's right. For example, the kalam cosmological argument. I presented it differently this time. My argument this time was: premise one: the universe began to exist; and I appealed there to simply scientific evidence because Rosenberg is a proponent of scientism, that science is the only source of knowledge, so I focused on the scientific evidence for the first premise “the universe began to exist.” Then the second premise was: if the universe began to exist then the universe has a transcendent cause. And by formulating it this way I completely circumvented this whole irrelevant debate about whether or not quantum mechanics involves uncaused events. Because whether or not there are uncaused events in the decay of a uranium isotope or in the production of virtual particles, the fact is that if the universe began to exist – where the universe is defined as all of spacetime reality – then this quantum indeterminacy is simply irrelevant because we're talking not about the universe coming out of the quantum vacuum but we're talking about an absolute beginning of space and time, matter and energy, from nothing. And so by formulating the argument in this way it completely circumvents that whole debate, and it was interesting here, again, I think, Rosenberg was coached with regard to the usual kalam argument and so presented these objections that really turned out to be quite irrelevant to the reformulation.

Kevin Harris: He did bring out quantum mechanics.

Dr. Craig: Exactly, saying that in radioactive decay the production of a certain kind of particle is indeterminate, and he actually misstated even the premise of the typical argument that I give: he said that the argument says that everything has a cause, which I think is false. And then he said, every event has a cause, which I don't claim is true. So he was attacking straw men anyway in presenting quantum indeterminacy but the more relevant point was it was simply irrelevant to the second premise as I gave it in this reformulation, that if the universe began to exist, then the universe has a transcendent cause.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, we're out of time, but I want to continue this in our next podcast about what you did in your second speech, which was also a little different. We'll talk about that and more next time.[5]