Summary and Assessment of the Craig-Drange Debate (1997)

(This is yet another old debate summary and assessment from my archives. I think I wrote this around 1998. I am posting it here unchanged.)

On February 26, 1997 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, William Lane Craig debated Theodore Drange of West Virginia University. The topic was, “Does God exist?”


Note: video of the debate is available online here.

SPECIAL NOTE REGARDING THIS DEBATE SUMMARY

Drange did not address each of Craig’s theistic arguments in turn. Instead, he made three general observations about Craig’s overall case. Thus, the numbering scheme I have used to summary the debaters arguments does not always match up. Each of the debaters tried to impose their own organizational structure on the arguments in the debate, and I did not consider it appropriate for me to choose one organizational structure over another in my summary.

Unfortunately, this necessarily makes the debate summary harder to follow than it would have been if both debaters had adopted the same organizational format, and I have more to say about that in my summary at the end. With respect to Drange’s atheological arguments, the outline structure DOES match up. However, with respect to Craig’s theistic arguments, the outline structure DOES NOT match up. This means that, for example, “II,A,1,” in Craig’s speeches DOES NOT match up with “II,A,1,” in Drange’s speeches.

CRAIG’S OPENING STATEMENT

I. No good reason to think atheism is true

II. Good reason to think theism is true
A. Kalam cosmological argument
(1) Anything which begins to exist must have a cause
(2) The universe began to exist
(3) Therefore, the universe must have a cause

B. Fine-tuning argument
- Life-permitting universes are vastly more improbable than life-permitting universes. The odds of a life-permitting universe like ours coming into existence by chance are so remote that our universe must be the result of intelligent design.

C. Moral argument
(1) If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
(2) But objective moral values exist.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

D. Resurrection of Jesus
- The Resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for 3 historical facts:
1. The empty tomb
2. The post-resurrection appearances
3. The very origin of the Christian faith
- this entails a divine miracle and the existence of God

E. Religious Experience
- This isn’t an argument for God’s existence; rather, it’s the claim that you can know God exists wholly apart from arguments

DRANGE’S OPENING STATEMENT

I. Arguments for Atheism
A. Argument from Evil
(1) God, by definition, is (among other things) an all-loving deity who strongly desires love and worship from humans and who wants everyone to be aware of his existence.
(2) Hence, probably, if God were to exist, then he would not have permitted there to be as much suffering and premature death among humans as there actually is.
(3) But there is that much suffering and premature death, and so probably God does not exist.

B. Argument from Nonbelief
(1) (same as above)
(4) Hence, probably, if God were to exist, then he would not have permitted there to be as much nonbelief (in God and the afterlife) among humans as there actually is.
(5) But there is that much nonbelief, and so probably God does not exist.

II. Craig’s Arguments for Theism
A. Many of Craig’s arguments attempt to explain alleged “facts” which are NOT facts.
1. “The origin of the universe” is not a fact to be explained. Craig should cite the existence of the universe.
2. “The complex order in the universe” is not a fact to be explained. Craig should cite as the fact to be explained the life-permitting  combination of physical constants.
3. Craig he takes objective moral values as a fact to be explained, but there are no objective moral values.
4. Craig takes the resurrection of Jesus as a fact to be explained, but it is obviously NOT that. It is illegitimate to regard the Bible as reporting historical fact.
5. Craig himself admits that the “argument” from religious experience is not an argument. Moreover, why shouldn’t we accept atheism on the basis of atheist experiences?

B. All of Craig’s arguments put forward the God Hypothesis as the best explanation there is for something, but the God Hypothesis cannot be that, for the simple reason that it is unclear, obscure, and hard to understand. Craig takes God to be a timeless, changeless, immaterial person, and that is a totally incomprehensible notion. Such a notion is useless for purposes of explanation, since the purpose of explanation is to clarify, enlighten, and create greater understanding than before. For that reason, it is impossible for the God Hypothesis to be the best explanation for anything whatever, and so each of Craig’s arguments is a failure on that basis alone. God is no more of an explanation than the hypothesis that “Santa Claus is operating through the fifth dimension.”

C. After we have gotten straight about what the actual fact is to be explained, for each of Craig’s arguments there are alternate  explanations at least as good as the God Hypothesis:
1. Kalam cosmological argument
a. Universe might be beginningless
b. Time began with the universe. The universe did not come out of nothingness.
c. Maybe there is a hyperuniverse
2. Fine-tuning argument
a. Other combinations of physical constants might be equally unique and special in some way.

CRAIG’S FIRST REBUTTAL

I. No good reason to think atheism is true
A. Argument from Evil
1. Premise (2) does not following from premise (1)
2. It is not obvious that God wants to remove suffering. God’s purpose may be to have people come to know God (e.g., El Salvador)

B. Argument from Nonbelief
1. Premise (4) does not follow from premise (1). It may not be within God’s power to make people freely believe. Also, the  issue here is NOT awareness of God, but belief IN God.
2. God has an overriding desire to have people believe in God (which again is not the same thing as having people believe that God exists). Even demons are theists.
3. God does not want to reveal the gospel message to people He knows will reject it. (my paraphrase)

II. There is good reason to think theism is true.
- Drange has the burden of proof to show an incoherence in the idea of a timeless God. Quoted The Timelessness of God by John Yates  to support the coherence of God.

A. Kalam cosmological argument
1. Contradicted by a priori and empirical arguments to the contrary.
2. Quotes Barrow and Tipler, the universe came into existence out of nothing.
3. Vacuum fluctuation models abandoned in the 1970s. Quotes Christopher Isham: vacuum fluctuation models have been  abandoned on empirical grounds. If vacuum fluctuation models were true, then universes would collide with one another and coalesce.
4. The atheist position, “that the universe just popped into existence uncaused out of nothing”, takes more faith to believe than theism.

B. Fine-tuning argument
1. It’s irrational to believe the complexity in the universe came about by chance.

C. Moral argument
1. Quotes Michael Ruse. Objective moral values do exist. Does Drange believe that rape is morally permissible?

D. Resurrection of Jesus
1. No assumption of Biblical inerrancy; the New Testament
accounts of the Resurrection should be believed on the basis that a consensus of New Testament scholars accept them as  historical.

E. Religious Experience
1. Theists have no reason to deny the veridicality of their experiences in the absence of defeaters to Craig’s arguments.
2. Craig’s theistic arguments constitute defeaters of atheistic experiences; therefore, atheists have reasons to disbelieve such experiences.

DRANGE’S FIRST REBUTTAL

I. Arguments for Atheism
A. Argument from Evil
1. The argument from evil is based on an inductive inference
2. Why does God permit so many children to suffer and die?

B. Argument from Nonbelief
1.1. Don’t understand “freely believe”. We believe according to the evidence.
1.2. Can’t believe IN God without believing THAT God exists. Once people know the truth of theism, they can make a free  will decision to follow God. However, if they are not even  aware that God exists, how can they choose to follow or not  follow God?
2. Eternal damnation should motivate God to increase awareness of the gospel message.

II. Craig’s Theistic Arguments
A. Many of Craig’s arguments attempt to explain alleged “facts” which  are NOT facts.
3. Objective moral values do not exist.

B. It is impossible for the God Hypothesis to be the best explanation for anything whatever.
1. Craig’s God is very obscure.
2. Certain passages in the Bible (e.g., Gen 6:6, Ex 3:2, etc.) contradict Craig’s conception of a timeless God.

C. There are alternate explanations at least as good as the God Hypothesis.
1. The existence of the universe:
b. What does it mean to cause time? Causes must temporally precede their effects.
c. Vacuum fluctuation models ARE supported by empirical evidence. Cosmology is a rapidly changing and growing field.

2. The life-permitting combination of physical constants:
a. A theory of everything would explain why the physical constants have to be the way they are.
b. Then again, the constants may be a brute fact. Other values of the physical constants might have supported other highly-interesting arrangements, including the possibility of minds, and so there is no reason to claim that our particular combination of constants is anything special.
c. Many Worlds Theory.

3. Our moral intuitions about rape:
a. Moral feelings and intuitions may be genetically based.
b. Morality is the product of social conditioning.
c. Even if there are objective moral values, God is not necessary to explain them.

CRAIG’S SECOND REBUUTAL

I. No good reason to think atheism is true
A. Argument from Evil
1. My hypothesis is not improbable. In the context of suffering, people come to know and believe in God.

B. Argument from Nonbelief
4. God is evident in nature, conscience, etc.
5. This argument is a joke. People could make God not exist by
not believing in Him. This argument is the ultimate in
buck-passing.

II. There are good reasons to think theism is true.
- the timelessness of God
1. Biblical passages may contain anthropomorphisms
2. God can cause effects in time.

A. Kalam cosmological argument
2. Causes do NOT have to precede their effects in time; they can be simultaneous. God’s causing the universe was simultaneous with the Big Bang.
3.1. Vacuum fluctuation models don’t work
3.2. atheism has no explanation of the existence of the universe

B. Fine-tuning argument
1.1. Structure in sand analogy: nobody would believe that came about by chance.
1.2. No theory of everything will ever be discovered.
1.3. Certain boundary conditions would have to be put in by hand
2. No physical, carbon-based life would be possible in a universe with different physical constants.
3.1. Speculative. Moreover, theism is simpler.
3.2. No known mechanism for generating many worlds. Any such mechanism would itself require fine-tuning.
3.3. No evidence to believe this is true, apart from the existence of intelligent life.

C. Moral argument
1. Do you believe that rape is objectively wrong?

D. Resurrection of Jesus
1. Drange did not address

E. Religious Experience
1. Drange did not address

DRANGE’S SECOND REBUTTAL

I. Arguments for Atheism
A. Argument from Evil
1. Reducing suffering would increase theistic belief. Will all the non-Christians in the world be tortured forever in Hell?

B. Argument from Nonbelief
2. God should provide more evidence for His existence, and He should not be reluctant to do so.
3.1. Why are there so many nonbelievers in Asia?
4. How is God evident in nature? Craig’s abstract appeals to alleged evidences for the existence of God are NOT evident in nature. Conscience can be explained in other ways.
5. People are not responsible for their nonbelief.

II. Craig’s Theistic Arguments
A. Many of Craig’s arguments attempt to explain alleged “facts” which are NOT facts.
3. Craig takes objective moral values as a fact to be explained, but there are no objective moral values.
a. No objective procedure for settling moral disputes.
b. Objective moral values are not observable.
c. There are ambiguous moral issues.

B. It is impossible for the God Hypothesis to be the best explanation for anything whatever.
1. Craig has not yet presented a cumulative case. How does Craig know that each of the gods allegedly established in each theistic argument is in fact the same god?

C. There are alternative explanations at least as good as the God Hypothesis.
1. The existence of the universe:
b. Bowling ball on pillow not simultaneous causation. The cause comes before the effect.

2. The life-permitting combination of physical constants:
b. Structure in sand analogy is a bad analogy. Don’t have relevant background knowledge about the universe.

3. Our moral intuitions about rape:
c. The existence of objective moral values is compatible with the non-existence of God.

CRAIG’S THIRD REBUTTAL

I. No good reason to think atheism is true
A. Argument from evil
1. False and question-begging. Drange has to prove that reducing suffering would increase theistic belief. Indeed, in areas of intense suffering, people come to know God.

B. Argument from nonbelief
2. The actual world contains an optimum balance of belief and suffering.
3.1. Asia has more evangelical believers than North America
3.2. God IS achieving his purpose in evangelizing the world. In AD 100, there were 360 unbelievers per 1 evangelical Christian believer. Today, there are only 9 unbelievers per 1 evangelical believer.

II. Good reason to think theism is true
A. Kalam cosmological argument
2.1. Cushion and ball could have been in contact from eternity. Moreover, is not a physical object and is therefore not bound by finite signal velocities.
3.2. Takes more faith to believe the universe popped into existence uncaused out of nothing, than it does to believe in God.

B. Fine-tuning argument
1.1. In cases where we do NOT have relevant background knowledge (e.g., unknown archaeological artifacts, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, etc.), that does not prevent  us from inferring design. Why should the universe be any different?
1.2. Alternative hypotheses are not plausible.

C. Moral argument
1.3. Unclear cases don’t undermine the clear cases. God is the foundation for the clear cases.

D. Resurrection of Jesus
1. Not addressed by Drange

E. Religious Experience
1. God can change your life just as he has changed mine.

DRANGE’S THIRD REBUTTAL

I. Arguments for Atheism
A. Argument from Evil
God could kill 2 birds with one stone by appearing (or in some other way making everyone aware of his existence). It would eliminate much moral evil and it would solve the problem of nonbelief as well.

B. Argument from Nonbelief
Why did he send missionaries? Why did he command people to love him? Why did he empower his disciples to perform miracles? Why did he allow the rise of Islam?
2. 2/3 of the world is not Christian. How is that an optimum balance?

II. Craig’s Theistic Arguments
A. Kalam cosmological argument
2.1. Craig’s response contradicts his arguments against an actual infinite.

C. Moral argument
Agreed that there are certain cases which are clearly morally wrong.
1.3. Yet the clear cases were apprehended by genetics, social conditioning, etc.

D. Resurrection of Jesus
1. Not a historical fact
2. Contradictions in the Resurrection accounts
3. Gospels could have been embellished given how late they were written after the events they allegedly describe. The authors were not objective and neutral; they were proselytizers.

LOWDER’S ASSESSMENT OF SPECIFIC ARGUMENTS IN THE DEBATE

I. Craig’s Theistic Arguments
A. Kalam Cosmological Argument (Draw)
In Drange’s opening statement, he objected to Craig’s argument on the grounds that time began with the universe. Therefore, Drange argued, the universe did not come out of nothingness.

B. Fine-Tuning Argument (Craig)
Although Drange presented in his second rebuttal what I consider strong objections to the fine-tuning argument, Craig presented prima facie defeaters to those objections in his third rebuttal and Drange totally dropped the argument in his last speech.

C. Moral Argument (Craig)
Again, Drange did not present any objections to Craig’s argument until Drange’s second rebuttal. In Craig’s third (and final) rebuttal, Craig only addressed 1.3, totally dropping Drange’s objections 1.1, 1.2, and 3. In Drange’s third (and final) rebuttal, he also dropped 1.1, 1.2, and 3, causing the entire debate around the moral argument to center upon 1.3. Drange argued that our moral intuitions about, say, rape and child abuse are apprehended by genetics and social conditioning. Yet I’m not sure I find that line of argument convincing — I know many of the audience members did not. Drange instead should have focused the debate on 3, which is really the heart of the controversy, anyway. The simple fact of the matter is that, contra Mackie, Craig has not given us any reason at all to believe that the existence of objective moral values makes the existence of God more likely than it would have been otherwise. Whether moral values are objective is an incidental issue for the atheist debater trying to refute the moral argument for theism. Not only is it false that objective moral values make theism probable, but it is good debate strategy for debaters to avoid contradicting the audience’s intuitions.

4. Resurrection (Craig)
Unfortunately, Drange’s sole objection to this species of the argument from miracles was weak. Drange disputed Craig’s claim in only general terms and he presented no arguments (philosophical or historical) for the opposite conclusion, that Jesus was not Resurrected from the dead. Moreover, the objections Drange
presented in his final speech were too little, too late.

5. Religious Experience (Craig)
Drange’s objections in his opening statement were solid, prima facie defeaters of Craig’s “argument”. Yet Drange did not defend those defeaters in subsequent speeches, whereas Craig attacked Drange’s defeaters and carried the argument through the entire debate.

II. Drange’s Arguments for Atheism
A. Argument from Evil (Drange)
In response to Drange’s argument from evil, Craig presented his Suffering Brings about Acceptance Defense, which claims that God has an overriding desire to have people trust in Him. God’s purpose does not always mean making us happy. Yet as Drange pointed out, reducing suffering would cause more people to believe in God.

B. Argument from Nonbelief (Drange)
The bulk of the debate on this argument centered on Craig’s objections 2-4. Under objection 2, Craig claimed that God is not primarily interested in producing theists per se, but rather having people coming to trust in God and letting Him change their lives and so forth. In his first rebuttal, Drange responded by arguing that the possibility of eternal damnation should cause God to want to save people, therefore God should want everyone to become theists. In my opinion, this did not directly refute Craig’s objection, but Craig dropped the point in his second rebuttal.

Craig revived the issue in his third rebuttal, claiming that the world contains an optimum balance of belief and suffering. Yet Drange, in his third rebuttal, noted that 2/3 of the world’s population is non-Christian and it is difficult to believe that that is the best that God could do. In my opinion, this was decisive and I flowed this objection to Drange.

As far Craig’s objection 3, Craig asserted that, in a nutshell, God does not want to reveal the gospel message to people He knows will reject it. Drange’s reply was that it fails to explain the geographical distribution of nonbelievers. As Drange put it, why there are so many nonbelievers in Asia (and presumably elsewhere)? Moreover, I can think of two responses to Craig which Drange neglected to mention. First, Craig himself refuted his own objection. According to Craig the increase in believers in Asia and other parts of the world is a direct result of Christian missionaries. In other words, the increase in Christians can be explained naturalistically as the result of Christian proselytizing. Second, in Craig’s third rebuttal, Craig pointed out how the percentage of Christians in the world population has increased over the years. But why has God taken so long — nearly 2000 years — to get the word out? On Craig’s hypothesis, it seems incredibly unfair to the now deceased non-Christians who lived in times and places where there were no Christian missionaries to present them the Gospel message.

This leaves only objection 4. Craig claimed that God is evident in nature, conscience, etc. Drange responded by pointing out that the existence of God is NOT obvious to many people, and Craig never addressed that point.

LOWDER’S OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF THE DEBATE

So how, then, do we pick a “winner” of the debate when the theist wins 4 of his 5 arguments, while the atheist wins both of his arguments?

One approach might be to say that, “whoever wins the most arguments (from either side) wins the overall debate.” Yet this is hardly a satisfactory approach, for it assumes that all arguments in a debate should have equal weight, and that is far from obvious. Moreover, since neither of the debaters gave us explicit instructions on how they think the arguments should be weighed, this sort of approach does not seem very fruitful for assessing the debate.

Another approach might be to adopt the principle that, “in the absence of decisive evidence for the existence of God, we should assume that God does not exist.” Thus, on this approach, even though Craig won 4 of the 7 arguments in the debate, we should assume that God does not exist, for Craig did not win all of the arguments in the debate.

But is the principle true? It assumes that if God were to exist, that there would be decisive evidence for his existence, such that no honest, rational person could deny it. This assumption forms the basis for an atheological argument which Ted Drange calls, “The Lack-of-Evidence Argument” (LEA). This line of argument is well beyond the scope of this paper, however, so I shall not pursue it here.

Instead, I shall argue for the more modest approach that, if there appears to be good evidence for the existence of God and good evidence against the existence of God, and if the evidence is evenly balanced, then the rational course would be to “sit on the fence” until something comes along that would tip the balance one way or the other. A person who believes the evidence is so constituted and who sits on the fence might be called a “data-vs.-data agnostic.”

I am highly skeptical that if God really did exist, that he would allow the evidence for his existence to be so ambiguous. But when we only consider the arguments in the debate, the “data-vs.-data agnostic” position seems to encapsulate the outcome of the debate. I therefore consider the debate a draw.

However, much remains to be said. In writing this article, I have had the benefit of 1) a videotape of the debate which they can replay several times, and 2) an e-mail dialog with Drange about the debate. For people without either of these advantages, I have no doubt that Craig appeared to be the victor. Craig has several (8?) years of high school and college debating experience, as well as numerous Campus Crusade-type debates under his belt. In contrast, Drange lacks debating experience and it showed:

* Drange did not present a point-by-point refutation of Craig’s theistic arguments. Instead, he adopted a highly confusing format that made it extremely difficult to match up Drange’s objections with Craig’s arguments. This allowed Craig’s rebuttals to (superficially) sound much more stonger than they really were.

* In his opening statement, Drange easily wasted over a minute of his precious speaking time making a correction to the debate program, which contained Drange’s arguments in syllogism form. He then proceeded to talk about one of the premises of his argument in an abstract way. However, an opening statement (speech) is supposed to be a forceful presentation of a debater’s point of view which clearly paints a picture in the minds of the audience. In an opening statement, a debater should never say “look at my premise (2)”. That would be appropriate for a philosophy class, but not for a lay public debate. Instead, the debater should just say whatever premise (2) is, and without using the word premise. In other words:

Don’t Do this: “My premise (2) argues that if God were to exist, … he would not allow as much nonbelief as there actually is.”

Do This Instead: “According to the 1997 World Almanac, there are over X billion non-Christians in the world. But how could that be, if Christianity is true? If Christianity is true, then there is an all-loving God who could tell the nonbelievers His gospel message. Yet there are many people who do are not even aware of the Gospel message. Therefore, God does not exist.”

I do not deny that having a summary of the arguments in the debate program can be extremely useful. However, my point is that a debater’s opening statement should not rely upon the debate program at all.

* This leads to my next criticism of Drange’s delivery. Drange would often present significant philosophical arguments in the debate, but he did not present any “impacts” to his arguments. An “impact” to an argument puts the argument into perspective. It answers the “So what?” question that an audience member might ask with respect to a given argument. The upshot is that Drange often appeared to win his battles without winning the war. To cite but one example, in  Drange’s third rebuttal, the debate over the kalam cosmological argument boiled down to simultaneous causation. Although the significance of that objection is obvious to anyone who has studied the kalam cosmological argument, from the point of view of a lay audience member, the objection may very well have been utterly pointless because Drange failed to explain its significance. In other words:

Don’t Do This: “Craig said that the bowling ball and the cushion could have been in contact from eternity. But this contradicts his own arguments against an actual infinite.”

Do This Instead: “In my first speech, I argued that the universe did not come out of nothingness because, on the Big Bang theory, causes precede their effects in time, and Craig hasn’t refuted that claim. He tried to argue that causes and effects can be simultaneous, but he has given us no reason to believe this ever actually happens: the bowling ball and the cushion are not simultaneous, and if they were in contact from eternity, that would contradict his own arguments against an actual infinite. Therefore, the beginning of the universe provides no reason to believe that God exists.”

* Drange was unable to get all of his arguments out in the time allowed. Drange was not even able to finish his opening statement before his speaking time was up.

* Drange also sometimes used terminology inappropriate for a lay audience (e.g., “strong inductive inference”, “hyperuniverse”, etc.).

Although Drange is to be commended for doing as well as he did given his lack of debating experience, his speaking skills were no match for those of Craig. This was only Drange’s second oral debate; his first oral debate was against Michael Horner, another Campus Crusade for Christ speaker. Debating is a skill that takes years to master. As a general rule, people who do not have years of debating experience should decline opportunities to participate in oral debates against polished speakers like Craig.

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17801369779625472334 Pete Hoge

    …and just because someone is a polished debater it doesn't make
    them correct.

    Xian apologists got to me and
    gave me justification to be a
    believer because I could not
    think for myself…when I really
    saw all the arguments, pro and
    con, in regards to Xianity, I
    could make an informed choice
    for agnosticism.


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