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The Existence of God (Overview)

May 27, 2007     Time: 00:11:14
The Existence of God (Overview)


Conversation with William Lane Craig

Transcript The Existence of God (Overview)


Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, when we are presenting reasons for why we believe what we believe, what often comes up is, “Does God exist?” That would be the most basic question, wouldn't it?

Dr. Craig: Right, that is fundamental. One of the pillars of the Christian world and life view is that it holds to theism and that is the belief that God exists.

Kevin Harris: What I would want to do in our time together here is kind of do an overview of the evidence. In future programs we will get more specific on these lines of evidence for God's existence. First thing I would want to ask you as we are looking at an overview of the evidence: a lot of people take offering evidence for God's existence to mean that we attempt to prove God's existence 100%. Is that what we are trying to do?

Dr. Craig: No, I think there are few things that we can prove with 100% certainty. Rather, what we try to do is to construct an argument for a conclusion that is based upon premises or steps each of which is more plausible than its negation and which together logically imply the conclusion. If you can do that then you have a good argument.

Kevin Harris: So it is not like we are trying to prove it 100% but we are trying to offer proofs for God's existence.

Dr. Craig: Proofs in the sense in which the philosopher uses that term. A proof in a philosophical sense is a series of statements which serve as premises from which a conclusion can be drawn based on the rules of logic. Those premises don't need to be known with 100% certainty. Maybe they'll just appear slightly more plausible than not or perhaps they'll have a great deal of plausibility. But nevertheless, if we have more reason to believe the premises than their negations and together these premises imply by the rules of logic a conclusion then we can say that that conclusion is proved by this argument. But it doesn't require anything like 100% certainty.

Kevin Harris: Let's illustrate for our audience what we mean by premises. If I were to illustrate three points:

1. Things which begin to exist have a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, the universe had a cause.

Now, those first two – number (1) and (2) – would be premises and the third one would be the conclusion given those two premises are true.

Dr. Craig: That's right. And the conclusion in this case does follow logically from the two premises according to the rules of logic and so if those two premises are in fact true it follows that you have proved the conclusion to be true. That doesn't mean that you have 100% certainty that the conclusion is true. You don't have to have 100% certainty the premises are true. Nevertheless, if those premises are true and the argument is constructed as you said then they proved the conclusion in the sense that the conclusion follows by the rules of logic.

Kevin Harris: I think we would all do well to brush up on this area. It is fun, it is fascinating, it helps our thinking skills, it helps us articulate what we believe.

Dr. Craig: Yes, absolutely.

Kevin Harris: Now, let's look at an overview then of the evidence for the existence of God. What would you give us as a general overview of the evidence for God's existence?

Dr. Craig: I think there are lots of good reasons to believe that God exists. The Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga laid out a few years ago in a paper he presented at the Wheaton Philosophy Conference two dozen or so arguments for God's existence. [1] And it was a tour de force listening to the creative sorts of arguments that Plantinga offered for the conclusion that God exists. In my own work, principally in the debates that I do on the existence of God on university campuses, I've chosen to focus on about six arguments for the existence of God that I think are sound. The first one would be the argument from contingency. This would be an argument for an explanation of why the universe exists. The second would be an argument from the beginning of the universe – a cosmological argument – which would argue that the beginning of the universe had to have a transcendent cause. The third argument would be the argument from design or for design based on the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life. [2] The fourth argument would be a moral argument that God is the best explanation for why objective moral values and duties exist. The fifth argument would be an argument in effect from miracles; that is to say, God is the best explanation for the historical facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And then the final argument isn't really an argument. It is the claim that you can know God exists wholly apart from arguments through an immediate experience of God.

Kevin Harris: Fascinating. Now, each one of these we can talk about all day. But let's look briefly at a few of these. Let's look at the first one: the argument from contingency. If something is contingent, what do we mean by that?

Dr. Craig: We mean that it doesn't have to exist, that it could not exist. It is possible for it not to be. So something that is contingent would be something that happens to exist but it doesn't have to exist, like people and planets and tables and chairs and stars and so forth.

Kevin Harris: I am a contingent being.

Dr. Craig: Right, you are dependent upon your parents for your existence.

Kevin Harris: And they are dependent on theirs and they are dependent on theirs. So it is a dependence. Now, if something were non-contingent, then it would be independent?

Dr. Craig: Yes, it would be an independently existing reality, and in particular it would be a necessary being. It would be something whose non-existence is impossible. Something which must exist. A being which cannot not exist.

Kevin Harris: That is fascinating, it really is. So, the universe is contingent?

Dr. Craig: Well, the way I would put the argument is this:

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence either in the necessity of its own nature or in some external cause.

2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence that explanation is God.

3. The universe exists.

Well now, from the first and the third premise (“anything that exists has an explanation of its existence” and “the universe exists”) it follows that:

4. The universe has an explanation of its existence.

And from that premise and the second premise (“if the universe has an explanation of its existence that explanation is God”) it follows that:

5. The explanation of the existence of the universe is God.

Kevin Harris: You used another word earlier – transcendent. That the universe has a transcendent cause. What do we mean by the word transcendent?

Dr. Craig: What I mean here is that the cause of the universe is not part of the universe. The opposite of being transcendent is being immanent. If something is immanent, that means it is within something – that is immanent spelled “immanent” not “imminent” as in “an imminent event” which means a pending event or something about to happen. This is immanent and that means it is within something. But transcendent would be something that doesn't exist as a part of the universe or within the universe. It is beyond the universe.

Kevin Harris: The second one that you mentioned is the beginning of the universe. Big Bang Cosmology, that is the Big Bang Theory, has really pointed in this direction hasn't it?

Dr. Craig: This argument, which is a very ancient argument that goes back to within a couple hundred years after Christ, has received enormous empirical support because of Big Bang Cosmology during the 20th century. This argument basically says:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

And that is supported by the best astrophysical evidence today. According to the Big Bang Theory, the universe is not eternal in the past but came into being at some time in the finite past. Therefore, the universe began to exist. From which it follows:

3. The universe has a cause.

This will of course have to be a transcendent cause that is beyond the universe.

Kevin Harris: A lot of people try to get around this by saying that we have examples perhaps of something coming into existence uncaused, popping into existence without a cause.

Dr. Craig: I've been surprised by this, Kevin, frankly. When I first worked on this argument at the University of Birmingham doing my doctoral dissertation there, I expected that the premise that the atheist would go after would be the second premise that the universe began to exist. That seemed to be the more controversial. But the first premise – that whatever begins to exist has a cause – seems to me to be just obviously true. It is basically saying something can't come out of nothing. Surely, if there is anything that is obvious, it would be that out of nothing, nothing comes; that something can't come from nothing. But you are right in saying that atheists, when confronted with the evidence for the beginning of the universe, are forced to attack and deny that first premise instead which seems so obviously true. So they have to say, well, the universe just popped into being uncaused out of absolutely nothing. My colleague, Quentin Smith, who is an atheist philosopher says that the best explanation of the origin of the universe is that the universe came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing. Sort of a good Gettysburg Address of atheism conclusion I think. But to me that is worse than magic. I mean, in magic when the magician pulls a rabbit out of the hat, at least you've got the hat and you've got the magician but in this case the universe is just supposed to have popped into being out of absolutely nothing which is surely metaphysically absurd. [3]