05 / 06
bird bird

The Arguments for God's Existence and Critique of the New Atheists

William Lane Craig speaks at Gracepoint Church

Time : 01:02:34

William Lane Craig speaks at Gracepoint Berkeley Church on The Arguments for God's Existence.


I am really exited about the program that we have got here this morning. As June, Lee and I talked about what topics we would handle in this seminar, the ones that we hit on I think are really, really interesting, and really good. So I think that if you pay attention this morning, and take notes, you will find this to be a really valuable equipping time. And the first section of our time together is going to be devoted to the arguments for God’s existence and the critique of the New Atheism. Now, let me ask how many people were at the talk last night at U.C. Davis? OK, a good number, that is good. Because then I won’t need to review these arguments as much and can save some time by looking more at the criticisms and just briefly summarizing the arguments.

A year or so ago I published a cover story in Christianity Today called “God is Not Dead Yet.” [1] And I described the revival among current philosophers of arguments for the existence of God. And it was interesting to read the reactions to this article in the blogosphere. Along with expressions of appreciation there were also comments like the following:

Dawkins’ The God Delusion soundly deals with these arguments; did you do any research?

Or, this one,

Have you even read Dawkins’ [misspelled] book? He answers every one of those argument quite well.

Or, this one,

I was dismayed that someone as well known as Dr. Craig has used these arguments to defend the existence of God, as someone mentioned before, has he even read Dawkins’ book?

Well now, on one hand, it is not surprising that people would turn to Richard Dawkins for refutation of the arguments for God’s existence because when you read the books of the New Atheists, like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, they have almost nothing to say in response to the arguments for God’s existence, and Dawkins is one of the few of the New Atheists who actually does address these arguments. Nonetheless what is remarkable about these comments is the degree of confidence that is reposed in Dawkins’ refutations. Are they right? Has Richard Dawkins really dealt the death blow to these arguments for God’s existence? Well, what I want to do this morning is to look at each of these arguments and see what Dawkins has to say in response to each one.

Now before we look at any specific argument, however, I want to be clear about what makes for a good argument because sometime this is a source of confusion. An argument does not need to prove its conclusion with 100% certainty in order to be a good argument. Rather, a good argument must meet three conditions:

1. It obeys the rules of logic, that is to say the conclusion follows logically from the premises.

2. Its premises are true. It must not only be logically valid but the premises of the argument must be true.

3. The premises are more plausible than their opposites; the premises are more plausible than their negations or their contradictories. The premises don’t need to be certainly true, they simply need to be more plausibly true than their negations.

So defined, are there good arguments for God’s existence?

In my article in Christianity Today the first argument that I discussed was a form of the cosmological argument known as the kalam cosmological argument. Now, what does Dawkins have to say about this? Well, first let me formulate the argument for you:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

And once we reach the conclusion that the universe has a cause then we can analyze what properties a cause of the universe would have to have. Now premise (1), I think, seems obviously true; it is at least more plausibly true than its negation. First and foremost, the premise is rooted in the metaphysical intuition that something cannot come into being out of nothing. To suggest that things could just pop into being uncaused out of nothing is literally worse than magic. It is to quit doing serious philosophy and appeal to magic. Secondly, if things could come into being uncaused from nothing, then it becomes inexplicable why just anything and everything doesn’t come into being uncaused from nothing. [2] Why doesn’t root beer and Beethoven and bicycles just pop into being uncaused and out of nothing? And finally, thirdly, the first premise is constantly confirmed in our experience. We have the strongest of motivations therefore to accept the first premise.

What about premise (2)? Well, this can be supported by both philosophical arguments and scientific evidence. The philosophical arguments aim to show that the idea of an infinite regress of events in time is impossible or, in other words, the number of past events must be finite and therefore the universe had a beginning. Now the philosophical arguments for the finitude of the past are fascinating and mind expanding but we do not need to go into them this morning because Dawkins does not dispute any of these arguments. He doesn’t refer to them at all.

The scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe is based on the expansion of the universe. According to the Big Bang model, physical space and time, as well as all matter and energy in the universe, came into being about 13.7 billion years ago in a cataclysmic event known the Big Bang. And if we could have a slide of that, this will illustrate geometrically how spacetime had a beginning:

Now what makes the Big Bang so remarkable, so stunning, is that it represents the origin of the universe from literally nothing. As the physicist P. C. W. Davies explains,

The coming into being of the universe, as discussed in modern science . . . is not just a matter of imposing some sort of organization . . . upon a previous incoherent state, but literally the coming-into-being of all physical things from nothing. [3]

Now, of course, alternative theories have been crafted over the years to try to avoid the absolute beginning predicted by the Big Bang model, but none of these alternatives has commended itself to the scientific community as more plausible than the Big Bang theory. In fact in 2003, Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin were able to demonstrate that any universe which is on average in a state of cosmic expansion over its history cannot be eternal in the past but had to have an absolute beginning. [4] Vilenkin pulls not punches, this is what he says,

It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place [and by that he means the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem], cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning. [5]

Now it follows from the two premises of the cosmological argument that therefore the universe has a cause. What properties must such a cause of the universe possess? Well, by the very nature of the case, as the cause of space and time this entity must transcend space and time and therefore must exist timelessly and non-spatially, at least without the universe. This transcendent cause must therefore also be immaterial and changeless, since anything that is timeless has to be changeless, and anything that is changeless has to be immaterial since material things are constantly changing, at least on the molecular and atomic level. Such a cause must be beginningless and uncaused since there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. This entity must be unimaginably powerful since it created the universe without any material cause; it created the matter and energy itself.

Finally, and most remarkably, such a transcendent first cause is plausibly personal. Let me give two reasons why I think this is a personal creator. First, the personhood of the first cause is implied by its timelessness and immateriality. You see the only entities that we know of that can possess those properties are either abstract objects, like numbers, or else an unembodied mind or consciousness. But, abstract objects do not stand in causal relations. [6] The number 7, for example, does not have any effects on anything. And therefore it follows that the transcendent cause of the universe must be an unembodied mind or consciousness. Secondly, this same conclusion is implied by the origin of an effect with a beginning from a timeless cause. We have concluded that the beginning of the universe must be the effect of a first cause. Now by the very nature of the case, that cause cannot have any further cause because there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. It is simply a beginningless, timeless, changeless, first uncaused cause. Now when you think about it, that is extremely odd. If the cause is permanently present from eternity, and is sufficient for its effect, then why doesn’t the effect also exist from eternity? How could the cause exist eternally but the effect only come into being just a finite time ago? If the necessary and sufficient conditions for the effect are eternal then why isn’t the effect eternal as well? How could the cause exist without it’s effect? Well it seems to me there is only one way out of this dilemma, and that is to say that the cause of the universe’s coming into being is a personal agent who is endowed with freedom of the will and who could therefore bring about a spontaneous new effect without any sort of prior determining conditions. Philosophers call this sort of causation agent causation, and because the agent is free, he can initiate new effects which were not previously present; he can bring about new conditions. So a finite time ago a creator, endowed with freedom of the will, could freely bring the universe into being at that moment. And in that way the creator could exist changelessly and eternally but create the world with a beginning in time. By exercising his causal power he brings it about that a world with a beginning comes to exist. So the cause is eternal but the effect is not. So in this way, and I think in this way alone, it is possible to have an effect with a beginning arise from an eternal cause, namely through the free will of a personal creator.

So this argument, if successful, leads to the existence of a personal creator of the universe who is uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and unimaginably powerful.

Now, Dawkins does address this version of the cosmological argument. Remarkably, however, he doesn’t dispute either premise of the argument. Instead all he questions is the theological significance of the argument’s conclusion. He writes,

Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such human attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins and reading innermost thoughts. [7]

Now this is an amazingly concessionary statement. Dawkins doesn’t dispute that the argument successfully proves the existence of an uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, unimaginably powerful, personal creator of the universe. He merely complains that this personal creator hasn’t also been shown to be omnipotent, omniscient, good, creative of design, listening to prayers, forgiving sins, and reading innermost thoughts. To which I say, so what? The argument wasn’t designed to prove those sorts of things. [8] In fact, it would be a bizarre form of atheism, in fact an atheism not deserving the name, that believes that there is an uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, unimaginably powerful, personal creator of the universe, who may, for all we know, also have all the properties listed by Dawkins. Now we don’t have to call this personal creator of the universe “God” if Dawkins thinks this is unhelpful. But nevertheless the point remains that a being such as I have described does exist as a result of this argument, and Dawkins never disputes the point.

The second argument that I discussed was the moral argument for God’s existence. It goes like this:

1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.

2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.

What makes this little argument so powerful is, not only that it is logically iron clad, but also that people generally believe both of its premises. In fact, Dawkins himself appears to be committed to both of its premises. With respect to premise (1), Dawkins informs us, “there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference. . . . We are machines for propagating DNA. . . . It is every living object’s sole reason for being.” [9]  But although Dawkins says that there is no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference, the fact is that Dawkins is also a stubborn moralist. For example, he declares himself “mortified” that the Enron executive Jeff Skilling regards Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene as his favorite book because of its perceived Social Darwinism. [10]  Dawkins calls compassion and generosity “noble emotions.” [11] He denounces the doctrine of original sin as “morally obnoxious.” [12] He vigorously condemns such actions as the harassment and abuse of homosexuals, the religious indoctrination of children, the Incan practice of human sacrifice, and prizing cultural diversity over the interests of Amish children. He even goes so far as to offer his own revised version of the Ten Commandments as a guide for moral behavior, all the while marvelously oblivious to the contradiction within his own stated ethical subjectivism! [13] So it is remarkable that Dawkins seems to be committed to both premises of the argument.

In his survey of arguments for God’s existence, Dawkins touches on a sort of moral argument which he calls the argument from degree, but it bears little resemblance to the argument presented here. We are not arguing from degrees of goodness to some highest good, rather we are arguing from the objectivity of moral values and duties to their foundation in reality. And Dawkins himself does seem to believe in the existence of objective moral values and duties. It is hard to believe that all of Dawkins’ heated moral denunciations and affirmations are really intended to be no more than his subjective opinion, as if to whisper on the side, “I don’t really think that homosexual discrimination and child abuse are wrong, it is just my opinion. Do whatever you want, it doesn’t matter, there is no moral objectivity.” The problem is, however, that the affirmation of objective moral values and duties is incompatible with his atheism. For on naturalism, we are just animals, and animals are not moral agents. So Dawkins affirms both of the premises of the moral argument and therefore, on pain of irrationally, he is committed to the argument’s conclusion, namely that God exists.

The teleological argument. Dawkins is 0-2 so far on arguments for God’s existence. [14] Surely, he is not going to strike out on the teleological argument, which is the famous argument from design. Well, sorry to disappoint, but Dawkins’ response to the most discussed form of the argument from design, namely the argument from the fine-tuning of the universe, turns out to be very long winded, but also very weak. Now, although advocates of the so-called intelligent design movement still appeal to examples of biological complexity as evidence of design, the real cutting edge of the contemporary discussion today concerns the remarkable fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life. Dawkins’ responds to this argument in chapter 4 of his book under the heading, “The Anthropic Principle: Cosmological Version.” This is a simple formulation of the teleological argument based on fine-tuning:

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

2. The fine-tuning of the universe is not due to physical necessity or chance.

3. Therefore, the fine-tuning is due to design.

Now, with respect to premise (1), let me simply explain what is meant by fine-tuning. The expression does not mean designed, otherwise the argument would be obviously circular. Rather, during the last forty years or so scientists have discovered that the existence of intelligent life anywhere in the cosmos depends upon a complex and delicate balance of initial conditions which are simply given in the Big Bang itself. And this is called the fine-tuning of the universe. Now premise (1) simply lists the three possibilities for explaining the presence of this remarkable fine-tuning: physical necessity, chance, or design. And Dawkins doesn’t deny that the universe is fine tuned for life in this way. He quotes the work of the Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees, acknowledging that the universe does exhibit this remarkable fine-tuning and he says that he agrees with Rees on this. So the fact of fine-tuning is not in dispute. The question simply is, what is the best explanation? That is addressed in premise (2).

The first alternative – physical necessity – is extraordinarily implausible because the constants and quantities of nature which are fine tuned for intelligent life are independent of the laws of nature. The laws of nature permit a wide range of values of these constants and quantities and Dawkins notes that Sir Martin Rees therefore rejects this first alternative, physical necessity, and Dawkins adds, “I think I agree.” [15] So Dawkins also acknowledges the inadequacy of physical necessity.

What about the second alternative, that the fine-tuning of the universe is due to chance? The problem with this alternative is that the odds against the universe’s being life-permitting are so incomprehensibly great that they cannot be reasonably faced. So in order to rescue the alternative of chance its proponents have been forced to adopt the remarkable hypothesis that there exists an infinite number of randomly ordered parallel universes forming a kind or world ensemble of which our universe is but a member, and somewhere in this infinite world ensemble finely tuned universes will appear by chance alone and we happen to be in one such world. And this is the explanation that Dawkins fastens on in order to respond to the teleological argument. Now, Dawkins is acutely sensitive to the objection that postulating such an infinite world ensemble of randomly ordered universes seems to be what he calls, “an unparsimonious extravagance.” But he retorts, “The multiverse may seem extravagant in sheer number of universes. But if each one of those universes is simple in its fundamental laws, we are still not postulating anything highly improbable.” [16]

Now, this response to the objection is just multiply confused. Let me point out four confusions in this response.

First, each universe in the ensemble is not simple; they are not simple. Each on is characterized by a multiplicity of constants and quantities. If each universe were simple, then why did Dawkins feel the need to recur to a world ensemble in the first place? You could just say that our world is simple, and so does not need a designer. Second confusion: Dawkins assumes that the simplicity of the whole is a function of the simplicity of its parts. He assumes that if the parts are simple then the whole is simple. And this is just an obvious mistake. Think of a beautiful Roman mosaic. A complex mosaic is made up of a great number of individually simple parts, little bits of blue and red and yellow, and yet taken together the whole mosaic can be an incredibly complex portrait, say of a Roman face. Now, in exactly the same way, an ensemble of universes will still be complex if those universes are all randomly ordered in their fundamental constants and qualities rather than all sharing the same values. So it is just not true that the simplicity of the whole is a function of the simplicity of its parts. Third confusion: Ockham’s razor. Ockham’s razor is a principle which says do not multiply causes beyond necessity. You are only justified in postulating such causes as are necessary to explain the effect. And in this case the number of universes being postulated simply to explain the fine-tuning is extravagant. It is a violation of Ockham’s razor. Appealing to the world ensemble to explain fine-tuning is sort of like using a sledge hammer to crack a peanut. You simply do not need to appeal to this extravagant hypothesis, a simple single designer would do the case. And, finally, number four, Dawkins tries to minimize the extravagance of a postulate of a world ensemble by saying that, despite it extravagant number of worlds, still the postulate is not highly improbable. It may have an extravagant number of universes, but the postulate is not highly improbable. Now, it is not clear why this is relevant or even what this means. The objection under consideration is not that the postulate of a world ensemble is improbable; the objection is that it is an unparsimonious extravagance. And to say that it is not also highly improbable is just to bring up an irrelevancy, it is not addressing the point that the postulate is unparsimonious and extravagant. Indeed, it is hard to know what probability Dawkins is talking about here. When he says it is not improbable, what does he mean? Improbable with respect to what? He seems to mean that the intrinsic probability of the postulate of a world ensemble considered apart from the evidence for fine-tuning is not great, the intrinsic probability is not great. But how do you determine the intrinsic probability of this postulate? By its simplicity? Well in that case then he hasn’t shown that it is not improbable because it is not a simple hypothesis, as we saw. So it seems to me that Dawkins’ retort is just multiply confused.

What Dawkins needs to say, I think, or what he means to say, perhaps, is that the postulate of a world ensemble of universes might still be simple if there is a single, simple mechanism that generates the multiplicity of worlds through a repetitive process. In that way the huge number of worlds would not be a deficit of the theory, because they all issue from the same, simple, repetitive mechanism. So the real question is, what mechanism are there for generating a world ensemble of randomly ordered universes?

Well, Dawkins suggests two mechanisms. First, he suggests an oscillating model of the universe according to which the universe has gone through an infinite series of expansions and contractions and each time the constants and quantities take on new values. [17] Unfortunately, Dawkins is apparently unaware of the many difficulties of oscillatory models of the universe which have made contemporary cosmologists skeptical of them. Back in the 1960s and 1970s some theorists proposed oscillating models of the universe in an attempt to avoid the absolute beginning of the universe that was postulated in the standard model. The prospects for oscillating models were severely dimmed however in 1970 by Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking’s discovery of the singularity theorems that bear their names. The Hawking-Penrose singularity theorems demonstrated that under very generalized conditions an initial cosmological singularity is inevitable and therefore it is impossible for the universe to be oscillating from eternity because it is impossible to extend spacetime through a singularity to a prior state. Reflecting on the impact of this discovery, Stephen Hawking notes that the Hawking-Penrose singularity theorems “led to the abandonment of attempts (mainly by the Russians) to argue that there was a previous contracting phase and a non-singular bounce into expansion. Instead almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang.” [18] Dawkins apparently labors under the delusion that a singularity does not form a boundary to space and time.

In any case, even if the universe could somehow oscillate from eternity past, such a universe would still require an infinitely precise fine-tuning of its initial conditions in order to persist through an infinite number of successive bounces, so that the mechanism that Dawkins proposes for generating the many worlds is not simple; in fact quite the opposition, it is infinitely complex. In fact, such a universe would involve fine-tuning of a very bizarre sort, because the initial conditions would have to be set at minus infinity in the past since there is no beginning to the universe. But how can that be done? How can you set initial conditions if there was no beginning? It seems to be logically incoherent.

Dawkins second suggested mechanism for generating a world ensemble is Lee Smolin’s evolutionary cosmology. According to Smolin’s hypothesis, black holes in our universe are actually portals to baby universes which are birthed by our universe. Universes which produce lots of black holes would therefore have an evolutionary advantage by producing more offspring. The more black holes a universe has, the more baby universes it produces, and so these kinds of universes will become more and more numerous as time goes on. Now, since black holes are the result of star formation – they are final state of stars – and since stars promote planets where life could evolve, the unintended effect of evolutionary cosmology is to make life-permitting universes more probable. Smolin says the fact that the universe is life-permitting is just the unintended consequence of his evolutionary cosmology.

Dawkins acknowledges that “not all physicist are enthusiastic about Smolin’s scenario.” Talk about an understatement! For Smolin’s scenario, wholly apart from its ad hoc and even disconfirmed conjectures, encountered insuperable difficulties. First of all, a fatal flaw in Smolin’s scenario was his assumption that universes which produce lots of black holes would also produce lots of stars, and in fact the exact opposite turns out to be true. The most proficient producers of black holes would be universes which generate primordial black holes prior to star formation, and therefore these kinds of universes would have an evolutionary advantage so that life-permitting universes would actually be weeded out by evolutionary cosmology. [19] Thus, it turns out that Smolin’s scenario would actually make life-permitting universes even more improbable than otherwise.

Secondly, speculations about the universe’s begetting baby universes via black holes has been shown now to contradict quantum physics. The conjecture that black holes may be portals to worm holes that allow vacuum energy to tunnel through the black hole to spawn a new expanding baby universe was the subject of a bet between Stephen Hawking and John Preskill, a UC cosmologist, which Hawking finally admitted in 2004 that he had lost in an event made much of in the press. [20] The conjecture that black holes are portals to wormholes through which energy can tunnel to form baby universes would require that the information going into a black hole could be forever lost from this universe into a baby universe. And one of the last holdouts, Hawking finally came to admit in 2004 that information is preserved in black hole formation and evaporation. The implications, I quote from Hawking,

There is no baby universe branching off, as I once thought. The information remains firmly in our universe. I’m sorry to disappoint science fiction fans, but if information is preserved, there is no possibility of using black holes to travel to other universes. [21]

So what that means is that Smolin’s scenario is literally physically impossible, it contradicts the laws of quantum physics.

Now those are the only mechanisms that Dawkins suggests for generating his world ensemble. Neither of them is even tenable, much less simple, and therefore Dawkins has failed to turn back the objection that his postulation of a randomly ordered world ensemble is an unparsimonous extravagance.

But there are even more formidable objections to the world ensemble hypothesis of which Dawkins is apparently unaware. First of all, there is no independent evidence that such a world ensemble exists. Moreover recall that Borde-Guth-Vilenkin proved that any universe which is on average in a state of expansion cannot be infinite in the past but must have an absolute beginning. Now here is what is interesting, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem also applies to the multiverse, to the whole world ensemble. It, too, therefore must have an absolute beginning in the finite past. And therefore, since the multiverse’s past is only finite, that means that only a finite number of universes may have been generated by now in the world ensemble, and therefore there is no guarantee whatsoever that a finely tuned universe would have been produced by now in the ensemble.

Secondly, and more devastatingly, if our universe is just a random member of a world ensemble, then it is overwhelmingly more probable that we should be observing a much different universe than the one we in fact observe. Roger Penrose of Oxford University has made this point quite forcefully. [22] Penrose calculates that it is inconceivably more probable that our solar system should just fall together instantly by the random collisions of particles then that a finely tuned universe should exist. In fact, Penrose calls it “utter chicken” feed by comparison. So if our universe were just a random member of a world ensemble, it is inconceivably more probable that we should just be observing an island of order no bigger than our solar system. Observable universes like that are just vastly, vastly more plentiful in the world ensemble then finely tuned universes like ours, and therefore that is the kind of world we ought to be observing if we are just a member of a randomly ordered world ensemble. Now since we do not have such observations, that strongly disconfirms the world ensemble hypothesis. [23] In fact, Penrose is very blunt about this. He says that these world ensemble hypotheses are worse than useless in explaining the anthropic fine-tuning of the universe. On atheism at least then, it is highly probable that there is no world ensemble.

So the fine-tuning of the universe is therefore plausibly due neither to physical necessity nor to chance, and it therefore follows that the fine-tuning must be due to design unless the design hypothesis can be shown to be even more implausible than chance or physical necessity. And, indeed, Dawkins does contend that the alternative of design is inferior to the many worlds hypothesis. Summarizing what he calls “the central argument of my book,” Dawkins says that even in the admitted absence of a strongly satisfying explanation for the fine-tuning in physics, still, what he calls, the “relatively weak” explanations we have at present (namely the world ensemble hypothesis) are “self-evidently better than the self-defeating . . . hypothesis of an intelligent designer.” [24] Really? What is this powerful objection to the design hypothesis that renders it self-evidently inferior to the world ensemble hypothesis, which is admittedly weak? Well, here is it, here is his objection: We are not justified in inferring design as the best explanation of the complex order of the universe because then a new problem arises, namely, who designed the designer? Because Dawkins thinks that the world ensemble is simple, it never occurs to him to ask, who designed the world ensemble? But he does ask, who designer the designer. And this question is supposed to be apparently so crushing that it outweighs all the problems that I have discussed with the world ensemble hypothesis. It seems to me, however, that Dawkins’ objection has no weight for at least two reasons.

Number one, in order to recognize that an explanation is the best, you don’t have to have an explanation of the explanation. This is an elementary point in the philosophy of science. If archeologists digging in the earth were to come across objects shaped like arrowheads and pottery shards and tomahawk heads, they would be justified in inferring that these artifacts were not the product of sedimentation and metamorphosis but were the products of intelligent design, even if they had no idea whatsoever who this people group was who made these artifacts and left them there. Similarly, if astronauts were to discover a pile of machinery on the backside of the moon, they would be justified in inferring that this was the result of intelligent design even if they had no idea whatsoever who the designers of these things were or how they came to be there. In order to recognize an explanation as the best you don’t need to have an explanation of the explanation. In fact, think about it, requiring that would immediately lead to an infinite regress of explanations so that nothing could be explained. Because before you could recognize an explanation as the best, you would have to have an explanation of the explanation, but before you could accept that you would need to have an explanation of the explanation of the explanation, but before you could accept that you would need to have an explanation of the explanation of the explanation of the explanation, and so on to infinity. Nothing could ever be explained and therefore science would be destroyed. So Dawkins’ principle is actually destructive of the whole scientific enterprise. But, in any case, in order to recognize that intelligent design is the best explanation, you do not need to be able to explain the designer. Whether the designer has an explanation or not can simply be left an open question for future inquiry.

Second problem with Dawkins’ objection: Dawkins thinks that, in the case of a divine designer of the universe, the designer is just as complex as the thing to be explained so that no advance in simplicity is made. [25] The explanation is just as complex as the effect to be explained. Now this objection raises all kinds of questions about the role played by simplicity in assessing competing hypotheses. For example, there are many other factors beside simplicity which scientists weigh in assessing competing hypotheses – things like explanatory power, explanatory scope, plausibility and so forth. An explanation which has greater explanatory power and greater explanatory scope will be preferred over another explanation which is weaker in explanatory power and scope, even if the bad explanation is simpler. So you may be quite willing to give up simplicity in order to gain explanatory power or scope. Simplicity is not the only, or even the most important, of the criteria in assessing the best explanation.

But leave those interesting questions aside. Dawkins’ more fundamental mistake lies in his assumption that a divine designer is just as complex as the universe, and that is plainly false. As a pure mind or consciousness, without a body, God is a remarkably simple entity. A mind (or a soul) is not a physical object which is composed of parts. In contrast to the contingent and variegated universe with all its inexplicable constants and quantities, a divine mind is startlingly simple. Dawkins has obviously confused a mind’s ideas, which may indeed be very complex, with the mind itself, which is a simple substance having no parts. [26] So Dawkins is just confused in thinking that because a mind’s ideas might be complex that a mind itself is complex, which is simply a fallacy. Therefore, postulating a divine mind behind the universe most definitely does represent an advance in simplicity by postulating a simpler explanation, for whatever that might be worth.

So the central argument of Dawkins’ book thus fails to show that the alternative of design is in any way inferior to the many world hypothesis. In fact, I have to say that his smug and self-congratulatory attitude at this pitiful objection, which he sustains even in the face of repeated correction by prominent philosophers like Keith Ward and Richard Swinburne, is really marvelous to behold.

So, of the three alternatives before us – physical necessity, chance, or design – the most plausible of the three is, I think, design.

Finally, the last argument to be discussed is the ontological argument, and the version I have presented comes from Alvin Plantinga. Let’s simply summarize the argument.

1. It is possible that a maximally great being (or God) exists. (A maximally great being is a being which is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect in every logically possible world).

2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.

3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world (that is true by definition because part of maximal greatness is to exist in every logically possible world).

4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.

5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.

6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

Now steps (2)-(6) of this argument are relatively uncontroversial. Most philosophers will agree that if God’s existence is even possible then it follows that God must exist. So the real primary issue to be settled is, what grounds exist for thinking that premise (1) – that it is possible that a maximally great being exists – is true? Dawkins devotes six full pages, brimming with ridicule and invective, to the ontological argument. [27] But he does so without raising any serious objection to Plantinga’s ontological argument. He reiterates a parody of the argument which is designed to show that God does not exist because, he says, a God “who created everything while not existing” is greater than a God who created everything while existing. [28] Therefore, this proves that God does not exist because a God who could create everything while not existing is greater and therefore would be maximally great. Ironically, this parody, far from undermining the argument, actually reinforces it. For think about it, a being which creates everything while not existing is logically incoherent and therefore impossible. There is no possible world in which a nonexistent being exists, right? That is logically incoherent, so there is no possible world in which a nonexistent being exists and creates everything else. So his parody is based upon a logical incoherence. Such a being isn’t possible and therefore doesn’t exist in any possible world. So what the atheist has to maintain is that the concept of a maximally great being is similarly logically incoherent; it has to be like the concept of a married bachelor or a round square. But the problem is that it is not like that; there is nothing incoherent about the idea of a being who is omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect, and exists in every logically possible world. That seems to be a perfectly coherent conception and, therefore, that actually supports the truth of premise (1) that it is possible that a maximally great being exists.

Dawkins also chortles, “I’ve forgotten the details, but I one piqued a gathering of theologians and philosophers by adapting the ontological argument to prove that pigs can fly. They felt the need to resort to Modal Logic to prove that I was wrong. [29] Now, folks, this is just embarrassing. The ontological argument just is an exercise in modal logic – modal logic is the logic of the possible and the necessary. This just is a demonstration in modal logic. So I can just imagine Dawkins making a fool of himself at this professional conference with this spurious parody in the same way that he embarrassed himself with his flyweight objection to the teleological argument in the face of correction by eminent philosophers and theologians.

Well, I am over time at this point. I am sure that you can think of substantive objections or questions to the arguments that I have presented. But at least I hope to have shown this morning that the objections raised by Richard Dawkins, and therefore by the New Atheists in general, to these traditional arguments for God’s existence are not even injurious, much less deadly.



QUESTION: Of those arguments that you just explained, which do you prefer to use in debate and why?

DR. CRAIG: Well, actually, I use all of these in debate. I typically give five arguments for God’s existence. I haven't, until recently, used the ontological argument because it is so abstract that I thought it is not going to persuade anybody. But I recently have begun to use it. I used it last night at UC Davis and, if you remember, when I finished presenting it, the audience broke into applause. I have been really surprised by how people resonate with this ontological argument. So I am going to start using it more, but I use all the arguments. [30] My favorite is the cosmological argument because I have always, ever since I was a boy, wondered deeply at the question, “Where did the universe come from? Is the universe infinite in the past?” And I have always felt there had to be a beginning and a transcendent cause and this argument simply reinforces that boyhood intuition of mine.

QUESTION: About the moral argument, I was talking with a few friends previously about the idea that we can’t both say that there are no morals and yet still support a certain moral code. And their argument to this was that they were not supporting a moral code, they were supporting their own opinions. And so they just simply replaced the term “morals” with the term “opinions.” And so they said therefore it is possible for an atheist to support a certain opinion, say, to denounce Hitler. And so I couldn’t really come up with something that would convince them, so what would you say to people who say something like that?

DR. CRAIG: OK, can we bring up the moral argument on the screen? What is the atheist or the nonbeliever in this case questioning? He is admitting premise (1), that if there is no God then objective moral values and duties do not exist. What he is challenging is premise (2). He says there are just moral opinions but there are no moral values. And what I guess I would do is, if you are dealing with a sincere person rather than someone who is just throwing up an intellectual smoke screen, just give him some examples. Just say, you really don’t think, then, that to rape and torture a little girl to death is morally wrong, or is it just morally indifferent?

FOLLOWUP: Yeah, I actually gave a similar example to that, and what they said is that they have very strong opinions against that, and they would do everything within their power to fight that, but that is just their predetermined opinion.

DR. CRAIG: That is just their opinion, that is right. In other words, they don’t really think that the pedophile and rapist does anything wrong; that it would be just fine to do that, rather than to love the child. Or that racial discrimination is just fine, morally. He has an opinion against it, but that has no more validity than the opinion of the racist or the person who would discriminate against other people of that sort. I think that if you are dealing with a sincere person, they will begin to see after a while that this is not really what they think; they really do affirm that certain things are objectively right or wrong.

FOLLOWUP: They actually say that though; they actually say that, yes, I do believe that this is right, however, this is just my belief. And so it is kind of their own dichotomy that they are saying this.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, and I appreciate that. I guess what you might do, then, is to ask them, “Why do you deny our moral experience?” In our moral experience, we apprehend the intrinsic worth of other human beings and that it would be wrong to torture and abuse another person for fun. Say, “Why do you deny that?” And then let him give a reason for skepticism about that. And then I think what you will find is that there just are not any good reasons for moral skepticism of that sort. Any argument that you can run for being skeptical about moral values you can run a parallel argument for being skeptical about the reality of physical objects in the world. In the same way that we trust our sensory intuitions with respect to the reality of physical objects about us, we can trust our moral intuitions – that there are certain moral values that objectively exist and duties that we objectively have. So that if he is going to be skeptical about these moral entities or realities, he ought also to be skeptical about the reality of the physical world around him, which is just to push somebody into an untenable skepticism. [31]

FOLLOWUP: So would his argument that society brought us up to believe in these morals be untenable because everybody does have these intuitions.

DR. CRAIG: Well, no, it is not an appeal to universal opinion, it is more of this sort: when you ask non-believing ethicists why they think that premise (2) is true . . . and, by the way, the vast majority of philosophers who I debate about this who are not theists do not deny premise (2). They all affirm it. Why? Why is it that these unbelievers affirm the reality of objective moral values and duties? Well, Louis Antony, a philosopher at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst put it very nicely. She put it this way – she said any argument for moral skepticism will be based upon premises that are less obviously true than the reality of moral values and duties themselves. And I think that is absolutely right. Any argument that the skeptic might give you to show that moral values and duties don’t exist will be based on premises which are less obviously true than the reality of moral values and duties themselves, and therefore you shouldn’t believe those premises. You should instead believe what your moral experience tells you – that it is wrong to racially discriminate or to torture a little child to death – because any argument for thinking that is all right is going to be based on premises that are less obviously true than those moral truths themselves. And so that would really be the bottom line. Of course, if someone is just hard-hearted and refuses to be convinced, then there is nothing more you can to say that. I think you just have to say that person is a bad person. Their moral sense of reality is just terribly, terribly warped. They are like a blind person who can’t see physical objects and so thinks they are not there. That person is just a bad person. [32

  • [1]

    William Lane Craig, “God is Not Dead Yet”, Christianity Today, July 3, 2008, (accessed August 15, 2013; the full article is accessible via subscription only).

  • [2]


  • [3]

    “In the Beginning: In Conversation with Paul Davies and Philip Adams” (January 17, 2002). (accessed August 3, 2013).

  • [4]

  • [5]

    Alex Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), p. 175.

  • [6]


  • [7]

    Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2006), p. 77.

  • [8]


  • [9]

    Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow (London: Allen Lane, 1998), cited in Lewis Wolpert, Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast (London: Faber and Faber, 2006), p. 215. Unfortunately, Wolpert’s reference is mistaken. The quotation seems to be a pastiche from Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden: a Darwinian View of Life (New York: Basic Books, 1996), p. 133 and Richard Dawkins, "The Ultraviolet Garden," Lecture 4 of 7 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (1992).

  • [10]

    Dawkins, God Delusion, p. 215.

  • [11]

    Ibid., p. 221.

  • [12]

    Ibid., p. 251.

  • [13]

     Ibid., pp. 23, 264, 313–17, 326, 328, 330.

  • [14]


  • [15]

    Ibid., p. 144.

  • [16]

    Ibid., p. 147.

  • [17]


  • [18]

    Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time (The Isaac Newton Institute Series of Lectures; Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 20.

  • [19]


  • [20]

    For a first-hand account see John Preskill’s website: (accessed August 16, 2013).

  • [21]

    S.W. Hawking, “Information Loss in Black Holes,” (September 15, 2005): p. 4.

  • [22]

    See Roger Penrose, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (New York: Knopf, 2005), pp. 762–65.

  • [23]


  • [24]

    Dawkins, God Delusion, p. 158.

  • [25]


  • [26]

    Dawkins protests, “A God capable of continuously monitoring and controlling the individual status of every particle in the universe cannot be simple” (Ibid., p. 149).

  • [27]


  • [28]

    Ibid., p. 83.

  • [29]

    Ibid., p. 84

  • [30]


  • [31]


  • [32]

    Total Running Time: 1:02:34 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)