05 / 06
bird bird

Apologetics Seminar

William Lane Craig speaks at Apologetics Seminar

Time : 00:35:03

William Lane Craig speaks about the goal of apologetics covering 3 topic: Natural Theology, Problem of Evil and Historical Jesus.



Well, good morning. My name’s Bill Craig, and I’m going to be leading this apologetics seminar for the next hour and a half or so, and I want to welcome you to it. Be sure to pick up a handout – actually two handouts – as you come in, one an outline and one a bibliography. I hope you enjoyed Walter Bradley this morning. I found that to be simply an extraordinary talk. When I listen to Walter and think of all that he does with Ann I think, how is it possible for one person to do all these things? It’s so humbling and yet so inspiring at the same time. And Ann and Walter are truly God’s gift to the church, I think. It’s just remarkable to think of all that they do, and I find it very inspiring in terms of what one can do oneself in emulating their example. So I hope you enjoyed that too.

In giving an apologetics seminar one fear that I have in doing this is that we’ll focus simply upon winning arguments. And I want to emphasize at the beginning that the goal of apologetics isn’t just to win arguments with students in your classes or graduate students that you supervise. If we think of ourselves as simply out to win arguments then we really will have failed, I think, in the Lord’s sight. The operative question, I think, we need to ask ourselves in using this material is, do I really love and care about the person that I’m talking to, or do I view my students as an annoyance and a nuisance with which I’ve got to deal, but I don’t really care about them as people? And it’s very important that we think of these students as people who have real needs, real hurts, real questions, people whom Christ loves and died for. And when we look at them in that light then I think we’ll see apologetics as simply one of the means by which we can reach out to them in love with the Gospel to answer the difficult questions that are barriers to their coming to Christ. But our goal is certainly not just to go out and win arguments with students that are under our supervision.

Now our approach in this seminar, given that we have only about half an hour together, is going to be as follows. We can’t possibly hope to survey this discipline in a half an hour, so what I am going to do is use the outline to lay out the general framework of apologetics – as I understand this field – and then use the bibliography to guide you into literature corresponding to the sections on the outline, so that when you go away from the seminar you will have some material whereby you can follow up on areas of your interest. And what I’ll do in each of the seminars is to focus on one area of the outline. So in this first section I’d like to talk about natural theology, in the next section I’m going to focus on the problem of evil, and then in the third section I’m going to focus upon the historical Jesus. So if any of you are apologetics aficionados who want to stay for the whole thing, you’ll be getting something different with each of the seminars. But if you want to go then to a different seminar this morning we’ll have a break during which you can slip away and take the outline and bibliography with you.

Well, what is apologetics? I think we all know that apologetics is not the art of explaining to someone why you’re sorry that you’re a Christian [laughter]. Rather apologetics is the art of making the other guy sorry you’re a Christian. No, that’s not right either [laughter]. No, apologetics is that branch of Christian theology which seeks to provide a rational justification for Christianity’s truth claims. It’s that field of theology which explores what warrant we have for Christian truth claims. And apologetics can be broadly divided into two types: what I call offensive apologetics and defensive apologetics. Offensive or positive apologetics seeks to provide some positive case for Christian truth claims. Defensive or negative apologetics seeks to rebut objections to Christian truth claims.

Offensive apologetics comprises two broad areas: first natural theology, which seeks to provide evidence for the existence of God apart from the resources of divine revelation.[1] And then the second part of positive or offensive apologetics is Christian evidences which seek to show that this God demonstrated by natural theology to exist has specially revealed himself in Jesus Christ.

Negative or defensive apologetics similarly corresponds to two broad areas. First, dealing with objections to God’s existence and then secondly dealing with objections to Christianity in particular.

(And those of you who are standing in the back feel free to just filter in, find a seat. Be sure to get a handout as you come in).

Now as you look at the outline you’ll see that under natural theology I’ve listed several arguments for the existence of God that I want to spend a little bit more time on. I conceive these to be some of the principal and most important arguments for God’s existence that are helpful for you to master. And then under Christian evidences I’ve listed such things as fulfilled prophecy, Jesus’ radical personal claims, and his miracles and resurrection as providing evidences for God’s special self-revelation in Jesus. Under negative apologetics with respect to objections to God’s existence, I think by far and away the most significant objection to God’s existence is the problem of evil or the problem of innocent suffering and pain in the world. And then under objections to Christianity in particular I talk about the challenge of biblical criticism, which is posed for example by people like those fellows from the Jesus Seminar (radical New Testament scholars who deny the historical credibility of the New Testament documents), and then also the challenge of religious diversity. How we can claim that Christianity alone is true, that Christ alone is the way of salvation, given the evident religious diversity in the world? Those are, I think, the principle issues facing us as Christians in Western society that are of significant apologetic importance, and I hope that you’ll try to develop answers to each one of those.

Now what I’d like to do this morning is focus a little bit on natural theology with respect to these arguments for God’s existence.

And let me say, by the way, that these arguments are human concoctions; these are the result of human philosophical reflection. These don’t fall from heaven, they’re not divine revelation. So if you find one of these arguments to be fallacious or unconvincing, that’s alright, that’s fine. I myself find all of these arguments that I am sharing here to be convincing, sound, cogent arguments for the existence of God. I think they’re all good. But if you disagree with me on some of these or maybe even all of them, that’s fine, then you’ll need to develop some arguments on your own as to why it’s warranted to believe in God’s existence. But let me share with you some arguments that I find convincing.

First is the cosmological argument. This is an argument, or rather it’s a family of arguments, for the existence of a first cause or sufficient reason for the existence of the universe, and it takes two versions. One is the contingency version, and the other is the temporal version. The contingency version tries to show that there is a first cause or first reason for the existence of the universe in the sense of rank – this is the first in the sense of rank – but not in a chronological sense. In the temporal version it argues for a cause of the universe which is chronologically or temporally the first cause of the temporal origin of the universe. So the contingency version doesn’t presuppose that he universe had a beginning. The contingency version is quite happy to admit that the universe is eternal in the past and has always existed, but it will argue, nevertheless, there must be a kind of first cause in the sense of rank or hierarchy that sustains it in existence.

Yesterday, Alexander Pruss gave a wonderful survey of current work on the cosmological argument in one of the plenary lectures to the academic track in philosophy. So if that was successfully recorded and you’re interested in this argument Alexander Pruss’ seminar was very good.

Here’s one simple formation of the argument:

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 is a thing that exists.

From that it follows,

4. Therefore the universe has an explanation of its existence

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

Now this is a valid argument, the conclusions follow from the rules of logic from the three premises.[2] So the only question is, are the premises true? Well I think obviously premise (3) is true, the universe exists, it is something that is real. So the only question really then is the truth of premises (1) and (2).

Now I think premise (1) is a very plausible truth, a very plausible premise. It says that everything that exists has an explanation for why it exists. And here we’re talking about things, concrete realities that actually exist. This is compatible with there being, say, facts that don’t have an explanation or truths that don’t have an explanation, but it’s saying that there isn’t any thing that exists that doesn’t have an explanation.

Now the explanation can be one of two kinds. It can either be that the thing exists by a necessity of its own nature, or if it doesn’t exist by a necessity of its own nature then it’s explained by some external cause. Something that exists by a necessity of its own nature would be for example something like numbers or mathematical objects. People who think that there are such things typically think that numbers exist necessarily; that they’re not contingent upon any kind of cause, they just exist by a necessity of their own nature. But if something doesn’t exist in that necessary way, if it exists contingently, then it’s plausible that there must be some sort of external cause that explains why that thing exists. You could use illustrations to show this.

If you were walking in the woods and found a translucent ball lying on the floor of the forest, no one would say it’s just there and there’s no explanation of where it comes from or why it’s there; you would think that there’s an explanation for the existence of that thing. Now if that thing were, say, the size of a house and you found it in the forest you would still think that it had an explanation. If it were the size of a continent, merely increasing its size wouldn’t do anything to make its existence more explanatory. If it were the size of the entire universe, there’s nothing about simply making it bigger that would make its existence self-explained. So that would be a kind of intuitive way of eliciting this idea that if something exists but doesn’t exist by a necessity of its own nature there needs to be some sort of causal account of why that thing exists.

Well now if the universe, premise (2), has an explanation of its existence that explanation is plausibly God. The nice thing about this premise is that it is logically equivalent to what atheists usually say in response to the cosmological argument. Typically atheists will respond to the argument by saying the universe is just an unexplained brute fact; that is to say, if there is no God then the universe has no explanation of its existence. Well by contraposition, that’s logically equivalent to saying that if the universe has an explanation of its existence that explanation is God. So the atheist actually agrees with premise (2). The typical response to the cosmological argument is to assert the logical equivalent of premise (2).

Moreover the premise is plausible, I think, in its own lights because think of what the universe is: it’s all of space-time reality– everything that is spatio-temporally related. So if there is a cause of the universe it would have to be something that transcends the universe, that transcends space and time, is therefore nonphysical and immaterial in its being. Now we know of only two types of things that could fit that description: either a mind or an abstract object, like a number or a set or a universal. But abstract objects don’t stand in causal relations to things – indeed that’s definitive of what an abstract object is, it’s a causally effete entity. And therefore it would follow that the explanation of the universe is a transcendent immaterial mind, which explains why the universe exists. And therefore it seems plausible that if the universe has an explanation of its existence that explanation is God. Given that the universe does exist therefore it follows that God exists.

So I think this is a great argument, myself, that I find very persuasive.[3]

Now there is a temporal version of the cosmological argument that goes like this:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist

3. Therefore the universe has a cause.

Now the first premise, I think, it eminently plausible – it’s even more plausible than premise (1) of the contingency version – because in this case we’re saying not merely that something doesn’t exist eternally without a cause, if it’s contingent, but that something cannot come into being out of nothing; that if something comes into being then there must be a cause that explains why that thing comes into being.

And again it’s easy to use illustrations to elicit this intuition. Nobody is worried that while we’re sitting here in the seminar room a horse might have popped into being out of nothing back in your living room at home and is there defiling the carpet as we speak. Things don’t just pop into existence uncaused out of nothing. So I think this is rooted in a deep metaphysical intuition, that being does not come from nonbeing, and it’s constantly empirically confirmed by science. So certainly premise (1) is more plausible than its contradictory.

The key premise therefore is premise (2), the universe began to exist. (I’ll take questions at the end). And with respect to this premise you can provide both philosophical and empirical evidence in favor of premise (2).

Philosophically you can try to show the absurdities that would be involved in the existence of an infinite temporal regress of events. I won’t go into those right now. Maybe if you have a question about it we could talk about that in the Q and A time. But in the material that’s suggested in the bibliography, such as my debate with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong or in the Stan Wallace book, I go into the sort of paradoxes that result from the idea of an infinite past.

Moreover this premise has tremendous scientific credibility today in light of both the scientific evidence for the expansion of the universe, which points to the origin of the universe out of nothing at some point in the finite past (probably around thirteen and a half billion years ago). According to the standard Big Bang model, not only all matter and energy, but physical space and time came into existence at the moment of the Big Bang. So that the person who holds to the truth of premise (2) stands well within the scientific mainstream, and it will be those who deny premise (2) who find themselves actually quite on the defensive. And of course there have been lots of models crafted to try to avoid the absolute beginning predicted by the Big Bang. We had the steady-state theory, oscillating models of the universe, vacuum fluctuation models of the universe, chaotic inflationary models of the universe, more recently, string theory models like Steinhardt’s ekpyrotic cyclic model of the universe, and all of these, one after the other, have either failed to avoid the beginning of the universe or have been falsified by conceptual and experimental problems.

The second scientific confirmation of the origin of the universe comes from the field of thermodynamics. And the application of the second law of thermodynamics necessitates that, given enough time, the universe will increase in its entropy so that eventually the universe will become cold, dilute, dark, and dead. Now if that will happen in a finite amount of time in the future, which is the subject of physical eschatology, then the obvious question arises: why, if the universe has existed for infinite time, is not now in a cold, dilute, dead and lifeless state? And the best explanation or answer to that question is, the universe has not existed for infinite time; rather, it is finite in the past, came into being with an initial low-entropy condition that is simply put in at creation, and has been moving toward higher entropy states ever since.

So I think we have very good grounds for affirming premise (2). From that it will follow, therefore the universe has a cause, and then you can try to deduce some of the attributes of this cause based upon what it would mean to be a transcendent cause of space and time, as we did in the first version.

With regard to the teleological argument, this is an argument that I have crafted based upon the fine-tuning of the universe. The advantage of doing that is that is circumvents entirely the emotionally loaded debate over Darwinian evolution.[4] This is quite willing to grant the theory of evolution, but it argues that the fine-tuning of the universe, that is to say the initial conditions in the Big Bang itself, are to be explained either by law, chance, or design. And premise (2) says that they cannot be explained by law or by chance.

Just to give one illustration of the fine-tuning of the universe: the initial low-entropy condition of the universe of which I spoke. Roger Penrose of Oxford University has calculated that the odds of the initial low-entropy condition obtaining by chance alone are something on the order of one chance out of ten, to the power of ten, to the power of one-hundred and twenty-three; a number which is so inconceivable that to call it astronomical would be a wild understatement. Penrose says, “I know of no other figure in physics that even approaches a precision like ten to the ten to the hundred and twenty-three.”[5] That’s just one example of the fine-tuning that I am talking about.

Now this fine-tuning cannot be plausibly explained on the basis of law. Why? Well because these constants and quantities are independent of the laws of nature. The constants could take a wide range of values and the same laws would still obtain. There’s nothing about the laws the dictate what values these constants have. Secondly, the initial conditions on which the law operates are simply conditions that are contingent, they’re just given like this low-entropy condition. There’s nothing about laws or initial conditions that would explain why the universe has these boundary conditions that it does. So law won’t explain it.

What about chance? Well the problem with chance is that the odds of this occurring are so almost infinitesimally improbable that they cannot be reasonably faced. No one would embrace chance as an explanation for some phenomenon that had these kinds of odds in any other field of inquiry. If you woke up in the morning and found there was a Ferrari in your driveway, nobody would say, oh well it came to be there by the wind and the rain and the elements assembling it overnight. And yet the odds of the fine-tuning of the universe occurring by chance are even worse than that.

Now the principle means by which certain astrophysicists have tried to avoid the inference to design is therefore on the basis of the metaphysical speculation of many worlds; that there is a kind of world ensemble of parallel universes randomly ordered with respect to their constants and quantities, and which are infinite in number so that by chance alone somewhere in the ensemble a universe like ours would appear. And then you use the Anthropic Principle to say we shouldn’t be surprised at finding ourselves in such a world because if it weren’t fine-tuned we wouldn’t be here.

Now I think there are various problems with this many-worlds explanation which, again, you can find in the literature. But note that in appealing to this kind of ad hoc bloated ontology the atheist has already launched his bark upon the sea of metaphysics. And we need to ask, why should that metaphysical hypothesis be preferable to a theistic metaphysical hypothesis? As a scientific hypothesis, the many worlds theory is no better than the hypothesis of theism; indeed theism may appear simpler in contrast to the ad hoc and bloated ontology posited by the many worlds theory.

The third argument is the moral argument. This is the one I find connects most with students. If God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist. By objective moral values I mean moral values which are valid and binding independently of whether any human being believes in them or not. And most students initially find this premise very plausible because they have been taught relativism, that all values are socio-culturally relative, and therefore there are no objective moral values. So this first premise really resonates with students.

But the second premise asserts that objective moral values do exist, and here you begin to simply appeal to their intuitions in moral situations. And what you will find very quickly is that although people give lip service to relativism, 98% or more of people are not relativists at all, they’re absolutists. Students highly prize values like tolerance, fair-mindedness, love, and sacrifice for another person. And they will readily agree that things like the Christian crusades were morally wrong, and that it would be morally wrong if the religious right were to round up all the homosexuals in the United States and incarcerate them in concentration camps.[6] They immediately recognize that there are objective moral values. And then they find themselves caught on the horns of this dilemma because, given the two premises, it follows logically and inescapably that God exists.

And I find this to be one of the most effective arguments in dealing with students. Again, there are objections, of course, to both of these premises but you can follow that up in the reading that I have suggested.

I think now, rather than survey the ontological argument, which I think is a sound argument for God’s existence but may not have the sort of grab that some of these other arguments do, I’ll simply leave that out of account this morning and take any questions you might have in our remaining time.


QUESTION: The temporal version, doesn’t that exclude miracles such as the loaves and fishes?

DR. CRAIG: No, because the kind of cause that we’re talking about here is an efficient cause, not a material cause. It’s saying that if these loaves and fishes are to appear out of nowhere there needs to be a cause that created them. And we believe that, Jesus or God caused the loaves and fishes to multiply, but they don’t just do that on their own. So we distinguish here between a material cause, which is the stuff out of which things are made, and an efficient cause, which is that which produces the effect in being. So I’m talking about everything that begins to exist has to have an efficient cause.

QUESTION: [off-mic – asks whether one could argue that moral values and duties come from biological evolution and societal influences.]

DR. CRAIG: Exactly, and I use that, then, in defense of premise (1). I say, you know, these guys are absolutely right. If there is no God then moral values are just the spin-offs of socio-biological evolution. And I quote from guys like Michael Ruse and Dawkins and others in support of premise (1). But then the question is, is that true? Do you think, Mr. interlocutor that I’m talking to, do you really think that torturing a child for fun is a morally neutral action; that that is morally equivalent to taking that little child up in your arms and loving and caring for him. Is that really what you believe? And as I say, most people by far and away will say, no those aren't morally equivalent, there really are objective values. So we can appeal to sociobiology to say that if there is no God then they’re right, we’re just advanced primates and the moral behavior that human beings exhibit is similar to the altruistic behavior exhibited by a pack of baboons or an anthill. But, given our moral intuitions, we do seem to perceive an objective realm of moral values and there is no reason to deny that.

QUESTION: Can you explain again why, in the teleological argument, the law cannot explain that? Because people try to say that; well, they just posit the law as a natural given in the universe like the first principles . . .

DR. CRAIG: This is a misunderstanding that a lot of people have about the fine-tuning. The fine-tuning argument is not that our laws are fine-tuned for our existence, and that there could be universes governed by different laws of nature. That is perhaps true. But the idea is that when you put the laws of nature in mathematical expressions you find appearing in them certain constants, like the gravitational constant, and the value of that constant is independent of the law. The law can hold in a wide range of universes in which that value, the value of that constant, varies. So the question is not whether the laws of nature could have been different, the question is why do the constants in the laws have the values they do? And there isn’t any law that constrains, so far as we know, the values that those constants take. And then of course the initial conditions are independent of the laws; the laws just operate on whatever initial conditions are given, like the low-entropy condition.

QUESTION: Some students have classes with some of my philosophy colleagues who then tell them that Kant has done away with cosmological, teleological, and ontological arguments. Can you take us any deeper into . . .?

DR. CRAIG: Well it’s hard to do that in the brief time that we have.[7] But that’s why I have the bibliography. There has been a renaissance of natural theology in the last forty-odd years. And I think it’s widely recognized that the objections of Hume and Kant are now superseded and obsolete. If you’re interested, let me give you another book I think that’s not on there that deals specifically with Kant and Hume. It would be Stuart Hackett’s book The Resurrection of Theism. It’s been reprinted by Baker, but I think it’s probably out of print now so you’ll need to get in on inter-library loan or in a library. But he addresses specifically Kant and Hume. Also, at LeaderU there is online there the contents of a journal called Truth. The journal is now defunct, but in an early issue of the Truth journal I edited an issue of the journal devoted to arguments for the existence of God, and Hugo Meynell has an article in that journal on the specific objections of Hume and Kant. So you could look at those. M-E-Y-N-E-L-L; Hugo Meynell. He deals specially with Hume and Kant.

QUESTION: Are you also saying, then, that when God created the universe he’s constrained. He has to create the universe this way.

DR. CRAIG: No, I’m not saying that. What I am suggesting is that God had the free will to select, I think, both the laws of nature as well as the values that these constants and quantities would take.

FOLLOWUP: But he can select other sets of values; that would be possible.

DR. CRAIG: It wouldn’t be naturally possible. In that case life would have to be a miracle.

FOLLOWUP: No, life cannot exist if the sets of constants are different.

DR. CRAIG: Well, it can’t naturally exist. But given that God is a supernatural entity who transcends the laws of nature, he could sustain, for example, a human being in the center of the sun if he wanted to, just as he sustained the children of Israel that were thrown into the fiery furnace. He would just make it such that the photons don’t burn their bodies. But that would be miraculous; we’re talking here about what is naturally possible.

FOLLOWUP: Life is miraculous. So why does he have to choose these sets of values, when he could choose any set of values and make life possible?

DR. CRAIG: Well, the question is, is life miraculous, and notice I am not taking a position on that. As I say, it’s entirely consistent with this fine-tuning argument that evolutionary theory can explain the origin and existence of life. This completely does an end run around the question of evolution and whether or not life is a miracle; it doesn’t appeal to that.

QUESTION: One of the objections that was raised yesterday by a physical scientist, if I could repeat it fairly, I think it went something like this: These laws and the constants are actually abstractions. They are not physical quantities in themselves, and that somehow that detracts from the validity of the fine-tuning argument, that these are a different sort of quantity, a different category of things that exist. Do you see any relevance?

DR. CRAIG: I don’t see any relevance at all. I think that’s quite right, that things like laws of nature are not themselves physical reality. If they’re anything they would be propositions of a certain form. They would be propositions or truths stating how the universe is. But if those propositions are true then it is a fact that there is a certain amount of entropy that exists in the early universe, that the gravitational constant has a certain value, and so forth. So I don’t think that the abstractness of that does anything. On the contrary, what that would do would be actually to help us because some detractors of the argument, like I’ve heard Paul Davies say this, he says, it’s the laws of nature that explain why things are, that they explain the way things are. Well that won’t work at all because if the laws of nature are merely abstract entities, like propositions, they’re causally effete. Abstract objects don’t cause anything, they’re just propositions that describe the way the world is. So I think that this insight that these are merely abstract objects is actually a help because we need concrete objects if we’re to have causal explanations of things.

Well, we’re out of time, so we’re going to terminate now. I have a five minute break and then come back and talk about the next section of apologetics. But those who want to go are free to leave.[8]


Be sure to pick up a handout from the back as you’ve come in because that will guide us through this seminar. Welcome to the apologetics seminar, my name is Bill Craig. I am delighted to have you here with us today.

One of my fears in giving an apologetics seminar is that we may think that the purpose of apologetics is simply to go and win arguments, and I think that that would be a huge mistake. You need to remember that the students who have questions or who come into your office are genuine people with genuine needs and hurts and questions that they are asking for help with. And if you view these students as merely a nuisance and an annoyance who are just another demand on your time then even if you win the argument with them you will have failed in God’s sight in discharging your duty toward that person as a Christian. And so it’s very important that when we think about these arguments we don’t fall into the trap of thinking we’re just out to win arguments with students. Rather we want to use apologetics as a tool to really help kids who have difficult questions and struggles and to help bring them to Christ in the way that Walter Bradley described so effectively this morning.

Now it’s impossible to cover the whole gamut of apologetics in half an hour. So what I am going to do in this seminar is to give you a broad outline of the field of apologetics coupled with a bibliography that corresponds to that outline that will give you further resources for studying on your own.

Apologetics is, I think as we know, not the art of explaining to someone why you’re sorry that you’re a Christian [laughter]. Rather apologetics is the art of making the other guy sorry that you’re a Christian [laughter] – well no that’s not right either. Apologetics is actually a branch of Christian theology, and it is that branch of theology which tries to provide a rational justification for Christianity's truth claims. It asks: what rational warrant is there for believing Christian claims to be true? And as such there are two broad divisions of Christian apologetics: what I call offensive or positive apologetics, and defensive or negative apologetics.

The goal of offensive apologetics is to give a positive case for Christianity’s truth claims. You’re on the offensive there trying to show that the Christian world and life view is true. Defensive apologetics seeks to answer objections raised against Christian truth claims; it tries to fend off attacks or defeaters of Christian truth claims.

In the area of offensive apologetics we have two broad sub-disciplines: first is natural theology which features various arguments for the existence of God apart from the resources of special revelation. And you’ll see several arguments listed there and the bibliography will guide you further on those. Secondly is Christian evidences which aspire to show that the God demonstrated by natural theology has specially revealed himself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And this will comprise things like fulfilled prophecy, Jesus’ radical personal claims, his miracles, and his resurrection.

Now defensive apologetics similarly comprises two broad sub-disciplines. First will be objections to God’s existence. This is typically the problem of evil – I think this is probably the most important argument – as well as a second argument (there on page three), the so-called hiddenness of God which has flowed out of discussions of the problem of evil. And then objections to Christianity, and I mentioned here, I think, two principles objections. First would be the objections raised by biblical criticism. This would be the claim by radical New Testament scholars like the fellows of the Jesus Seminar, or Bart Ehrman, or others, that the New Testament documents are historically unreliable and that the portrait of Jesus that we find in the Gospels is quite different from the man who actually lived and wrought. And then the second objection that I think is very important to deal with is the problem of religious diversity. This is the problem for the claim that Christianity alone is true, that Christ alone is the way of salvation, and that other religions are not valid means of salvation or finding or accessing God.[9]

What I’d like to do in this second seminar is to focus in on the area of the problem of evil which I think is the most important objection raised against the existence of God. You’ll notice that the problem of suffering and evil can be construed as either an intellectual problem or as an emotional problem. The intellectual problem is that it is irrational to think that God would permit suffering and evil; that there is somehow an irrationally in believing both that God exists and that innocent suffering and evil exists. The emotional problem, by contrast, is simply the reaction, I don’t like a God who would permit suffering and evil. And I find that in dealing with the intellectual problem that at the end of the day for most students they don’t really have an intellectual problem with evil and suffering. It’s really an emotional problem. People just don’t like a God who would allow them to suffer or others to suffer terribly and so they simply reject him, they want nothing to do with him. But they think it’s an intellectual problem, and so by answering the intellectual problem you can help to focus on what is the real issue, namely, the issues of the heart. So the intellectual problem, though I think it’s not really the issue, it’s nevertheless something that’s essential to deal with.

Now the intellectual problem of evil comes in two versions, at least: one is the logical version and the other is the probabilistic version. The logical version says, it’s impossible that God and evil co-exist. God and evil are like the irresistible force and the immovable object. If one exists it is logically impossible that the other exist. And since it’s obvious that evil exists, therefore God does not exist. The probabilistic version, by contrast, says, well, it’s possible that God and evil could co-exist, but nevertheless it’s highly improbable; and therefore given the evil in the world it’s highly improbable that God exists. Now let’s look at each of these briefly.

First, the logical version of the problem of evil. The question here is, is there in fact a logical contradiction between the two statements A and B?

A. God is all-powerful and all-loving.

B. Evil exists.

Notice there’s no explicit contradiction between the two; one is not the negation of the other. So they’re not explicitly contradictory. Now what that means is that if these are in some way logically incompatible with each other, the contradiction must be an implicit contradiction. And therefore the atheist owes it to us to tell us what are the hidden assumptions that he is making that would bring out this implicit contradiction and make it explicit.

Notice that it is the atheist, then, who has the burden of proof with respect to the problem of evil. It is not your responsibility to prove that evil and God are logically compatible. It’s the atheist who claims that there is an implicit contradiction here. So don’t get trapped into shouldering a burden of proof that is not your own. You need to make sure it is your atheist interlocutor who bears his fair share of the burden of proof.

What are the assumptions, then, made by the atheist in thinking that A and B are logically incompatible? Well, there seem to be two.

1. If God is all-powerful then he can create any world that he wants.

2. If God is all-loving then he prefers a world in which evil does not exist.

Now given that God is therefore all-powerful and all-loving, as A states, it would follow that he both can and would create a world in which evil does not exist, and that’s logically incompatible with B, that evil exists. So these do indeed seem to be the hidden assumptions being made by the atheist. And the question therefore is, are these assumptions necessarily true? Both of them have to be necessarily true in order for A and B to be logically incompatible; but are they?[10]

Well, consider premise (1) – if God is all-powerful then he can create any world that he wants to. Is that necessarily true? Well, this gentlemen is shaking his head no, I think not either. I don’t think that is necessarily true. It is logically impossible to make someone freely do something. That is as logically impossible as making a square circle or a married bachelor. Therefore if God gives creatures freedom of the will he cannot guarantee how they will exercise that will, and therefore it is not within God’s power, logically, to guarantee that in a world of free creatures they will always choose to do the right thing. It may well be the case that in any world that is feasible for God that contains free creatures, that some would go wrong and commit evil. Now of course God could create a world without free creatures in which there is no free will, but given his desire to create free creatures there is no guarantee that those creatures will always do what he wants them to. That’s logically impossible, and omnipotence does not mean the ability to do the logically impossible. So God’s inability to create a world of free creatures in which they always do the right thing doesn’t impugn his omnipotence.

Now as an aside, if your interlocutor insists that omnipotence does mean the ability to do the logically impossible, well then there’s no problem, right? Because then he can make A and B both true, [laughter] even though they’re logically incompatible. So if you think God can do the logically impossible there just is no problem of evil; God can do the logically impossible. But if you think he cannot do the logically impossible, as is traditional in Christian theology, then God cannot guarantee that in a world of free creatures they will always do the right thing.

So premise (1), or assumption (1), is just not necessarily true, and therefore the argument for the incompatibility of A and B is simply invalid.

But let’s assume that God could create any world that he wants; let’s assume that (1) is necessarily true. What about assumption (2)? If God is all-loving he prefers a world in which evil does not exist. Is that necessarily true? Well, again, a little reflection I think reveals that’s not necessarily true. Because you see these worlds might have other overriding disadvantages which make them less preferable. Worlds in which everyone freely comes to God and is saved might have other overriding disadvantages which would make them less preferable. Therefore it’s simply not true that God would prefer a world in which there is no sin and evil and there is universal salvation.

For example, suppose that worlds in which evil does not exist are worlds, say, that have only a handful of people in them, two or three; and that if God were to create any more people then at least one of them would sin and go wrong. Does God’s goodness compel him to prefer one of these sparsely underpopulated worlds over a world in which there is a multitude of persons even though some of them sin and go wrong? Well, I think not.

So it’s simply not true that if God is all-loving he prefers a world in which there is no pain and suffering. And so the argument is simply doubly invalid, there is no necessity in these two hidden assumptions. And therefore no incompatibility has been proven between A and B.

Not only that, but I think we can even go further to offer an argument that A and B are logically consistent. Not merely that the atheist has failed to prove that they’re logically inconsistent, but we can give a positive argument for showing that they are logically consistent. All we have to do is to find a third proposition which is compatible with A and entails B, and that will prove that A and B are consistent. Well, here’s a possibility:

C. God could not have created a world which had as much good as the actual world but with less evil, and God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil that exists.

As long as that is even possibly true then is follows that if God exists there would be a world with evil in it. And certainly C seems to be possibly true. The atheist would have to show that it’s impossible that C is true, and I think that would be extraordinarily difficult.[11]

So what I’m suggesting is that the atheist who holds to the logical version of the problem of evil has shouldered an enormous burden of proof which he simply cannot discharge. And therefore I am very pleased to report to you that the logical version of the problem of evil is widely regarded by philosophers today as solved, and I mean that both among theists and nontheists. You will find almost no nontheists today who will press the logical version of the problem of evil because it has a burden of proof which the atheist simply cannot shoulder. And it does seem possible that something like C is true, and that therefore A and B are compatible.

Rather the discussion has moved on to the probabilistic version of the problem of evil which says, “Well, alright, alright, so God and evil are logically possible; but nevertheless, given the evil in the world, it’s highly improbable that God exists.” How might we respond to that? Here I want to make three points.

First of all, probabilities are relative to background information. For example, suppose we’re told that Joe is a university student, and that 90% of university students like to ski. Relative to that background information it would make it highly probable that Joe likes to ski. But suppose we then find out as additional information that Joe is an amputee, and that 90% of amputees do not like to ski. Relative to this new background information it becomes highly unlikely that Joe enjoys skiing. So you see, probabilities are always relative to background information.

So when the atheist says, “It’s improbable that God exists,” you need to immediately ask yourself: improbable with respect to what? With respect to the evil in the world? Well if that’s all you consider for your background information then I think it’s hardly surprising that God’s existence would appear improbable relative to that alone. Indeed I would think it a major philosophical accomplishment if you could show that God’s existence is not improbable relative to the evil in the world alone. But you see that’s not the really interesting question, is it? The really interesting question is: is God’s existence probable relative to the full scope of the background information? Here that will include all of the arguments listed on page one of natural theology for the existence of God.[12] And I think the theist can maintain that even in the absence of any answer to the problem of evil the scales of the evidence tip in favor of God’s existence because, relative to the full scope of the background information, God’s existence is quite probable even given any improbability which evil might seem to throw upon God’s existence.

Secondly though, even considering the probability of God’s existence relative to the evil in the world, we’re not in a position to assess that probability with any sort of confidence. We are not in a position to make these kinds of probability judgments. We are limited in time and space, in intelligence and insight. But the transcendent God sees the end of history from its beginning, and he orders history providentially so that his ultimate purposes are achieved through the free decisions of creatures. And therefore when some evil or suffering enters our lives – like a child dying of leukemia, or running over a child in the street with your car and killing him, or being a victim of rape, or something of that sort – when some evil enters our lives we simply have no idea of what greater goods might be permitted by God in light of that particular evil. God’s morally sufficient reason for allowing that to occur might not emerge until hundreds of years later in history, or maybe even in another country.

Just to give an illustration: there was a movie several years ago called Sliding Doors in which Gwyneth Paltrow starred. This is a wonderful movie in which a young woman is rushing down the subway stairs to catch a subway train. And her path to the train is momentarily blocked by a little girl playing with her dolly on the railing of the subway stairs. And at that point the movie splits in two. In one of the stories of the film she manages to make it through the sliding doors of the train. In the other track of the film the doors close before she arrives.[13] And what you discover as the movie unfolds is that her life then takes two increasingly divergent trajectories, all on the basis of this seemingly utterly trivial event of whether she made the subway train. And what’s interesting is the one life is filled with failure, suffering, remorse, tragedy, whereas the other life is filled with prosperity and happiness and everything goes right, all based upon this seemingly trivial event. And of course whether that little girl was playing with her dolly on the train is dependent upon innumerable contingencies prior to it: like how long it took her father to ties his shoelaces that morning before leaving the house, whether the little girl had too much cereal in her bowl to finish the cheerios in time, whether her father and mother had an argument the evening before. There is simply no way that we’re in a position, seeing some event in our lives, to be able to calculate the probability that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting that. Now what is especially interesting about this film is the end of the movie. What you discover at the end of the movie is that in the life in which she is tremendously happy, successful, and so forth, she’s suddenly hit by a car and killed, and her life ends tragically. In the other half, the life filled with suffering, tragedy, mistakes, her life turns around, and that ultimately turns out to be the happy and prosperous life. So given our finitude, our spatial and temporal limits, we’re simply not in a good position to make these kinds of probability judgments.

And in other fields philosophers recognize this. One of the main objections to utilitarian ethics, which says that we should do that action which will lead to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, is that we’re incapable of making such a calculation. We cannot possibly know what action I would perform now, given the innumerable contingencies of history, that would lead to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. And that’s exactly the same point that I’m making: we’re not in a position to make these kind of probability judgments with any sort of confidence.

Finally number three, evil actually serves to prove God’s existence. And this would be related to the moral argument on page one; namely, if God does not exist objective moral values do not exist. By objective moral values I mean moral values which are valid and binding independently of whether any human person believes in them or not. If God doesn’t exist then we’re just relatively advanced primates, we’re just animals, and animals are not moral agents. So if God doesn’t exist there are no objective values in the world. But the second premise would be, evil exists; that’s the premise furnished by the atheist. Therefore it follows that objective values do exist; namely some things are evil. And therefore it follows logically and inescapably that God exists.

So paradoxically, although at a superficial level evil seems to call into question God’s existence, at a deeper more fundamental level evil actually proves God’s existence because apart from God there really isn’t any good or evil. There would still be pain and suffering, but they wouldn’t have any moral quality attached to them. And therefore if the atheist thinks that there really is evil in the world it follows, I think, that God exists.

So those are some of the reflections that I would offer on the problem of evil, which is one of the main objections to God’s existence that you will hear, and how we might go about answering that. Again there are further resources listed on the bibliography for following this up. Particularly J. P. Moreland and my book Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview and Alvin Plantinga’s God, Freedom, and Evil deal with this problem in some depth.


QUESTION: You gave sort of a version of the free will argument, but the question I guess is, how do you apply that to physical evil? You talked about moral evil but how do you deal with . . .?

DR. CRAIG: I think the same points would apply. Remember with regard to the logical version the atheist is trying to say that there is an incompatibility between God’s being all-powerful and all-loving, and evil’s existing. Well, he would have to show that those two are logically impossible, and I think, again, the premises show that it’s simply not true that God can create any world that he wants, or that, if he is all-loving, he would prefer a world in which there is no suffering.[14] There might be other overriding disadvantages. So he would have to prove that if there is a God who is all-powerful and all-loving he can do both of those things, and I don’t think he can do that. With respect to the probabilistic version, again, exactly the same points apply. Probabilities are relative to background information, so even given the natural evil in the world we’ve got good grounds for thinking that there is a God. We’re not in a position to assess these probabilities with any confidence. How do I know when my child dies of leukemia that God doesn’t have a morally sufficient reason for permitting that? I’m not in a position to make that judgment. And then the last point, evil serves to prove God’s existence - right, natural evil wouldn’t apply to that argument, but if you do think that there is moral evil in the world, and most people do, then it would still go to prove God exists. And therefore he must have a reason for the natural evil in the world if he exists and has permitted it. So I think all the same arguments would still work.

Let me just say one more thing. I forget to say anything about the emotional problem of evil. And what I want to say here is, the question is: how do you dissolve people’s dislike of a God who would permit innocent people to suffer so? Here I think the cross is the key. You share with them about the tremendous love of God for them that would lead him to enter this world and, what did he do? He suffered. He bore innocent suffering of which we can form no conception. Because on the cross Jesus not only took the physical pain but he took the sin of the whole world on his shoulders and experienced separation from God because he loves you so much. And so this leads naturally into sharing the Gospel and the love of Christ. And I think once we reflect upon his love and his sacrifice for us that puts the problem of evil in a totally different perspective; because now we see that the true problem of evil is really the problem of our evil. The question is not how God can justify himself to us. The question is how I, filled with sin and guilt, can be justified before him. And when I understand his love and the depth of his sacrifice for me that can help to dissolve that emotional obstacle to belief in God that many people have.

QUESTION: [off-mic] From what I understand there is no evil in heaven and so, if I understand that right, God does create a place with no evil but he does it by having this other place, [indiscernible] where we are. So then when we get to heaven where there is not evil, we can go, and when we get bored, like in the last chapter of Isaiah, I believe, we can go over and look into hell and see what’s going on... [indiscernible] [laughter]

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, I do think that the prospect of eternal rewards and compensation is an important facet of this problem, although I didn’t mention it this morning but I do in the Philosophical Foundations book. God may permit some people to suffer terribly simply so that he can reward them in the afterlife with an overwhelming compensation for their faithfulness in filling up the sufferings of Christ and enduring this suffering in this life. And those persons experiencing the joy and the blessedness of knowing God, the source of infinite goodness and value, would look back on their lives and say, I would go through it a million, million, million times over to know this joy and this blessedness. So I do think the eschatological dimension is important here though I didn’t mention it this morning.

QUESTION: [off-mic]

DR. CRAIG: Right. I think there are two ways to respond to the problem of whether people can fall in heaven. One would be to say that God, in his omniscience, knew who would freely persevere without sinning in heaven and therefore would not fall, and he has therefore elected to create only such persons. That would be one possibility. The other possibly, which is the one I like, I think, very much, is that there isn’t any free will in heaven to sin.[15] I think that once we have what Catholic tradition has called the beatific vision of Christ, that is to say, no longer through the glass darkly, but the unveiled vision of God in all his loveliness and all his beauty, that we would be so attracted to him that the possibility of sin would simply be removed. It would be like iron filings in the presence of a huge electric magnet that would just be, you know, sucked to it, and cling to it, and there would be no possibility of falling away. So I like what he said about the boot camp or the vale of decision making. God has created us – and this is part of the hiddenness of God, this other problem – God has created us at an epistemic distance from himself, a kind of arm’s length where his glory and beauty is veiled to us to permit us the freedom to choose for or against him. But for the saved in heaven I think that distance is largely removed, and with it the freedom to sin.

QUESTION: One thing I find difficult and frustrating in talking with students and people who will admit and acknowledge universal objective morals but will just be simply content to decide they just exist, and I have no reason to attribute it to an omniscient God prior to it from which they come. And it’s like, I know it’s a matter of will as opposed to a matter of logic for them. And I just don’t know how, sometimes, to break through that other than to pray for them and say, Holy Spirit reveal this to them. It seems to be a struggle of will as opposed to mind.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, well, I don’t think it’s just that because this is a good objection. I call this view atheistic moral realism – that there are moral values that are objective and real but they are not anchored in a person. In my book here with Stan Wallace, Does God Exist?, as well as in a little booklet called God, Are You There? which is published by RZIM (Ravi Zacharias Ministries) I give three objections against this atheistic moral realism.

One is that I think it’s unintelligible. It seems to me that values are rooted in persons; they are properties of persons. I understand what it means to say, for example, that a person is just, or that a person is loving. But I don’t even understand what it means to just say that justice exists, or that love exists, as some sort of abstract object. That seems to me to be just unintelligible. Moral values are properties of persons; they are the bearers of values. So I think you need an anchor or ground for the existence of the objective values you affirm. They can’t just be sort of floating in this unintelligible way.

Secondly, I think that atheistic moral realism provides no basis for moral duty or obligation. The question here is: if there are these abstract values, like justice, forgiveness, love, self-sacrifice, there are presumably also vices that exist as abstract objects, like greed, rapacity, selfishness, and hatred. And what obliges me to align my life with one set of abstract objects rather than another. What is the source of moral duty or obligation on that view? There isn’t any, as far as I can see, which would mean we have no moral duties or obligations. And that would mean that the pedophile or child rapist doesn’t do anything wrong when he chooses to align his life with certain abstract objects that are different from mine. By contrast theism gives us a source of moral obligation in the divine commands. God’s nature issues to us in the form of divine commandments which constitute our moral duties. So even if atheistic moral realism gives you values it doesn’t give you moral obligation and duty, and therefore fails.

The third thing is that I think the theory is enormously improbable. It is enormously improbable that there would be this abstract realm of moral values that exist which would accidentally correspond to just that sort of creature that would evolve from the blind evolutionary process, and who would exist and find himself with these moral values and so forth. It is far more plausible to think that both the natural realm and the moral realm are under the hegemony, or under the sovereignty, of a designer and moral law giver who has designed the natural order so that there are creatures whose natures correspond to the objective realm of moral values and have the moral duties that this creator has declared.

So for those three reasons I think theism is a superior moral theory to atheistic moral realism.

And with that we’re out of time and need to close.[16]


Welcome to this third apologetics seminar. My name is Bill Craig, and I’m glad to have you here.

I want to say before we begin that there’s a certain danger in apologetics that I want us to be aware of, and that is that we may so focu