Review of Craig-Law Debate on God’s Existence

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF “DOES GOD EXIST?” (2011)
WITH WILLIAM LANE CRAIG AND STEPHEN LAW

17 October 2011
Westminster Central Hall

Storeys Gate, London SW1H 9NH

by Jeffery Jay Lowder


CONTENTS

About This Summary and Assessment
Debate Summary
Debate Assessment
Other Reviews of the Debate


As always, while I’ve tried to be accurate, I don’t claim this is perfect. If you find errors, omissions, or anything else you think requires editing, please send me feedback so I can make the appropriate changes.

Note: the audio of this debate is available online. After the title of each speech, the numbers in parentheses indicate the relative position within that recording for that speech in question.


CRAIG’S OPENING STATEMENT (@ 6:36)

C1. There are good reasons to think that God exists.

C1.1. Origin of the Universe.
 
C1.1.1. The universe began to exist.
C.1.1.1.1. Scientific evidence shows that the universe must have an absolute beginning (Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem).
C.1.1.2. If the universe began to exist, then the universe has a transcendent cause.
C1.1.3. Therefore, the universe has a transcendent cause.
C.1.1.3.1. This transcendent cause must be uncaused because there cannot be an infinite regress of causes.
C.1.1.3.2. This transcendent cause must be changeless and timeless because it created time.
C.1.1.3.3. This transcendent cause must be immaterial and timeless because it created space.
C.1.1.3.4. This transcendent cause must be an unembodied mind because the only other kind of immaterial object is an abstract object and abstract objects cannot cause anything.

C1.2. Moral Argument

C1.2.1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
C.1.2.1.1. Uses standard Michael Ruse quotation.
C.1.2.1.2. Given atheism, the rapist who chooses to rape is simply acting unfashionably.
C1.2.2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
C1.2.2.1. Quotes Louis Antony, Stephen Law, and Michael Ruse.
C1.2.3. Therefore, God exists.
C.1.2.4. Real evil serves to prove the existence of God, since without God real good and evil would not exist.

C1.3. Resurrection

C1.3.1. There are certain minimal facts that are admitted by the majority of historians, across the ideological spectrum.
C.1.3.1.1. The Empty Tomb
C.1.3.1.2. The Post-Resurrection Appearances.
C.1.3.1.3. The Origin of the Christian Way.
C1.3.2. Naturalistic attempts to explain these minimal facts (e.g., theft and swoon theories) fail.
C1.3.3. The best explanation of these facts is that Jesus rose from the dead.

Craig has presented a cumulative case for thinking the God of Jesus of Nazareth.

C2. There are no good reasons to think that God does not exist.

LAW’S OPENING STATEMENT (@ 25:00)

L1. Evidential Argument from Evil
L1.1. Bad stuff in the world.
L1.1.1. Moral evils.
L.1.1.2. Natural evils: diseases and disasters.
L.1.1.2.1. Animal suffering. Carnivores forced to eat other animals alive in order to survive.
L.1.1.2.2. Human suffering. Between 1/3 – 1/2 of all human parents have had to watch at least one child under the age of five die, usually from disease. This was not the result of any choices made by the children or their parents.
L1.2. God would be able to remove evil, would know about the evil, and would want to remove gratuitous evil.
L.1.3. This bad stuff is evidence against God’s existence.

L2. Evidential Argument from Goodness (against the Evil God Hypothesis)
L2.1. Imagine there is a God who created the universe, this God is as cruel and evil as possible.
L2.2. Craig’s cosmological argument supports the existence of an evil good just as well as it supports the existence of a good God.
L2.3. The world contains a great deal of good, far too much to be the result of an evil God.

L3. The Symmetry Thesis: No good reason to favor the existence of a good God over an evil God.
L3.1. If the problem of good is fatal to the evil god hypothesis, why isn’t the problem of evil fatal for the good God hypothesis?
L3.2. Traditional theodicies can be flipped and don’t favor a good God over an evil God.
L3.2.1. Free Will Theodicy. Maybe an evil God gave us free will so that we would have the chance to commit moral evil.
L3.2.2. Laws of Nature Theodicy. Maybe an evil God wants laws of nature so that it is possible to commit evil based on predictable consequences.
L3.2.3. Moral and Spiritual Development. Yes, evil god wants us to suffer, do evil and despair. To that end, he introduces various goods into the world.
L3.2.4. Unknown Purpose Defense. Evil god is omnipotent and omniscient, so of course his evil plans are likely to be largely beyond our understanding
L3.2.5. Afterlife Compensation. An evil God might like an evil afterlife to make us suffer more.

CRAIG’S FIRST REBUTTAL (@ 41:00)

C1. There are good reasons to think that God exists.

No response.

C2. There are no good reasons to think that God does not exist.

L1. Evidential Argument from Evil
C1-L1. Dr. Law hasn’t proven that God doesn’t have a morally sufficient reason for allowing suffering.
C2-L1. Suffering Brings Acceptance Defense: Maybe evil and suffering make it possible for the maximal number of people to freely know God and eternal life. On the Christian view, the purpose of life is not happiness in this world. Dr. Law has to show that there is another world, feasible for God, in which there is greater knowledge of God, but less suffering.
C1-L.1.1.2.1 (Animal suffering) Animals are part of a broader ecosystem in which the human drama is played out. The ecosystem must be balanced to be viable. In the absence of predators, prey animals like Caribou die of starvation due to overgrazing. If there were no predators at all, insects would take over the world. Insects would eat all of the vegetation.
C2-L.1.1.2.1. References Michael Murray’s Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: (1) reaction to stimuli (amoeba); (2) experience of pain (horses, dogs, cats); (3) awareness of 2nd-order pain, which requires the prefrontal cortex of the brain, a part of the brain missing from animals except for higher primates. Hyperactive Agency Detection Device. God, in his mercy, has spared the animal world the experience of suffering the way human beings experience it.

L2. Evidential Argument from Goodness (against the Evil God Hypothesis)
C-L.2. Inaccurate to call this evil being an “evil God,” since God is by definition good. Quotes Peter Milliken: the supreme being’s moral excellence is what makes him worthy of worship. Instead, what you would have is an evil creator of the universe.

L3. Symmetry Thesis.
C1-L3. Craig grants the symmetry thesis. Bad things don’t disprove God and good things don’t disprove the anti-God (evil Creator).
C2-L3. Law assumes that theists base their belief in a good God on an inductive survey of world events. Theists have never argued for the existence of God based on the existence of goodness. Rather, they argue for God’s goodness using a moral argument.
C3-L3. Moral evil proves the existence of God.
C3.1-L3. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
C3.2-L3. Evil exists.
C3.3-L3. Therefore, objective moral values exist.
C3.4-L3. Therefore, God exists.

LAW’S FIRST REBUTTAL (@ 51:00)

L3. Symmetry Thesis.

L1-C2-L3. Law does NOT assume that theists base their belief in a good God on an inductive survey of world events. Straw man argument.
L1-C3-L3. The idea, “moral evil proves the existence of God,” is not taken seriously in philosophical circles.
L2-C3-L3. Red herring. The atheist can make the evidential argument from evil by replacing “evil” with “suffering.”
L1-C3.1-L3. Begs the question.
L1-C2-L1. Forced to take an extremely skeptical position. Much the same reply could be made by someone who believes in an evil god.
L1-C1-L.1.1.2.1 and L1-C1-L.1.1.2.1. This is just a variant of the the appeal to the laws of nature, which I’ve already addressed (L3.2.2).

CRAIG’S SECOND REBUTTAL (@ 1:02:00)

C1. There are good reasons to think that God exists.

C1.1. Origin of the Universe.

No response. It is a strange form of atheism that admits there is a beginningless, uncaused, spaceless, timeless, immaterial, enormously powerful, personal creator of the universe. That doesn’t deserve to be called atheism.

C1.2. Moral Argument

Law retreated from his published acceptance of objective moral values. Quotes atheist philosopher Peter Cave. Cites philosopher John Cottingham (sp?) regarding a consensus among philosophers that moral objectivism is correct.

C1.3. Resurrection

No response.

C2. There are no good reasons to think that God does not exist.

C1-L1-C2-L1. Agreed.
C2-L3. Quotes Stephen Wykstra: it is antecedently very probable that we are unable to understand the purposes of any being powerful enough to create the universe.
Re: C3-L3. Moral evil proves the existence of God. He says L2-C3-L3, the atheist can replace “evil” with “suffering.” Agreed. But that means you have to retreat from the affirmation of objective moral values in the world. If you do affirm objective moral values, then you have to deal with the objectivity of evil and its explanation. Quotes Dr. Law’s book, Humanism: there is a puzzle about the objectivity of morality, how it is possible for things to be right or wrong. And Dr. Law offers us with no solution.
C1-L.1.1.2.1 Animal predation is part of a broader ecosystem in which the human drama is played out. And animals don’t have awareness of 2nd-order pain. Granted, the problem of evil is emotionally powerful, but philosophically it is hard to make the argument work.
C5-C2. Any event that happens may have a ripple effect through history, so that God’s morally sufficient reasons for permitting it might not apply until centuries from now, even in another country. Quotes James Clark Maxwell.

LAW’S SECOND REBUTTAL (@ 1:10:00)

C1.2. Moral Argument
L1-C1.2. Vast majority of philosophers reject this argument. Richard Swinburne says he cannot see any force in argument from the existence of morality to the existence of God.
L1-C1.2.1. The fact that evolution does not provide an account of objective moral values does not mean that, on atheism, no such account can be given. And the onus of proof is on Craig to show that all atheist accounts of objective morality are wrong, including the ones we haven’t thought of yet. The accounts don’t even need to be naturalistic.
L2-C.1.2.2. No response to the evidential argument from evil.
L1-C1.2.2. Law agrees that it seems like there are objective moral values. We shouldn’t abandon that belief easily, but we should be open to evidence.

C1.3. Resurrection
L1-C1.3.3.You should always be suspicious of arguments to the best explanation in such contexts. Example: 1967 sighting of large lighted object in the night sky. Multiple attestation by trained eyewitnesses. Hard independent confirmation (blip on radar scope). They figured out it was the planet Venus and the radar blip was just a coincidence.
L2-C1.3.3. We have good reason to expect some baffling reports to turn up anyway, regardless of whether there are gods, extra terrestrials, etc.

CRAIG’S CLOSING STATEMENT (@ 1:18:00)

C1. There are good reasons to think that God exists.

C1.1. Origin of the Universe

Unrefuted. We can all agree there is a beginningless, uncaused, spaceless, timeless, immaterial, enormously powerful, personal creator of the universe, who may or may not be good.

C1.2. Moral Argument

C1-L1-C1.2. Appeal to authority. Yes, Swinburne doesn’t agree with the argument, but atheists like Nietzsche, Russell, Sartre, and Mackie do agree with the first premise. Quotes Joel Marks’ essay, “Confessions of an Ex-Moralist.” Marks came to realize that, as an atheist, he had to give up objective moral values and duties. Quotes Shelley Kagan on the need for explanation in moral theory, how there can even be a moral realm. Theism offers a better foundation than atheism for objective moral values. The foundation is God’s nature and His commands.

C1.3. Resurrection
C1-L1-C1.3.3. Any claim must be weighed by objective criteria: explanatory scope, explanatory power, plausibility, degree of ad hocness. No naturalistic explanation passes those criteria as well as the resurrection hypothesis.
C2-L1-C1.3.3. The religio-historical context shows the core historical facts are not just a bald anomaly. Paranormal phenomena do not have this kind of context.

C2. There are no good reasons to think that God does not exist.

C1-L1-C2-L1. Agreed. We’re not in a position to judge God’s reasons for allowing things to occur.

LAW’S CLOSING STATEMENT (@ 1:24:00)

L1. Evidential Argument from Evil

L1.1. Bad stuff in the world.
L1.2. God would be able to remove evil, would know about the evil, and would want to remove gratuitous evil.

L3. The Symmetry Thesis: No good reason to favor the existence of a good God over an evil God.
L3.1. Dr. Craig has failed spectacularly to meet the challenge of the evil god hypothesis.

C1.2. Moral Argument

L1-C1-L1-C1.2. Law’s reference to Swinburne wasn’t an appeal to authority; that’s just background information.
L1-L1-C1.2.1. Craig has provided no justification for the first premise of the moral argument.
L2-L1-C1.2.1. But even if the first premise were true, it wouldn’t show that belief in a good God is more reasonable than belief in an evil God.
L3-L1-C1.2.1. His moral argument presupposes he has already dealt with the evidential argument from evil.

C1.3. Resurrection

C1-L1-C1.3.3. This is a terribly weak argument. As an aside, even Alvin Plantinga thinks this argument is weak.

Conclusion: The balance of probability lies on the side of an evil God and against a good God.


The topic of the debate was, “Does God exist?” Each debater presented an answer to that question which may be considered an explanatory hypothesis. Craig answer to that question was (and is), “Yes.” For Craig, God is, by definition good, so implied in his answer is the follow-up statement: “And, by definition, God is good.” Once we add his resurrection argument to the mix, it’s clear that Craig was defending the explanatory hypothesis of Christian theism (hereafter, “CT”).

Now consider Stephen Law. Although Law is an atheist, he did not defend atheism per se in the debate. Law’s answer to the question posed by the topic of the debate may be interpreted in one of two ways: “Yes, but God is evil,” or, “No, but an evil Creator of the universe exists.” Regardless of the interpretation, the differences between Craig and Law should be obvious. Law was defending the explanatory hypothesis of an evil god (hereafter, “EG”).

C1. Craig’s Arguments for CT.

C1.1. Origin of the Universe: None

Because both CT and EG grant the universe has a creator, this argument is irrelevant to assessing CT vs. EG.

C1.2. Moral Argument: Law

Craig dropped Law’s response to his moral argument in his second rebuttal (L1-C1.2.1). The fact that evolution does not provide an account of objective moral values does not mean that, on atheism, no such account can be given. And the onus of proof is on Craig to show that all atheist accounts of objective morality are wrong, including the ones we haven’t thought of yet. The accounts don’t even need to be naturalistic.

C1.3. Resurrection: Law

Law presented a valid and interesting objection (L2-C1.3.3), which I’ve always thought but never heard clearly articulated in a debate: we have good reason to expect some baffling reports to turn up anyway, regardless of whether there are gods, extra terrestrials, etc. Craig presented an equally valid and interesting reply (C2-L1-C1.3.3), regarding the religio-historical context. Craig never explained in the debate, however, how the religio-historical context negates the force of L2-C1.3.3. I think I have an idea what Craig would say if asked and given the time, but if I consider only what he said during the debate, then reply objection fails to overcome L2-C1.3.3.

For, based solely on what Craig said in the debate, one could simply replace the words “religio-historical context” with “all of the things that make the alleged resurrection of Jesus different from other alleged miracles.” The problem is that one could make parallel arguments for other alleged miracles. There may not be (and probably isn’t) a “religio-historical context” for these other miracles, in the sense that Craig has in mind, but they are unique in other aspects. And, again, considering only what was said in the debate, Craig failed to explain why “all of the things that make the alleged resurrection of Jesus different from other alleged miracles” is a good reason for believing the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation, while “all of the things that make any alleged miracle different from other alleged miracles, including the resurrection of Jesus” is a bad reason for believing that alleged miracle occurred.

Law’s Argument for EG

L3. The Symmetry Thesis: Law

In Craig’s closing statement, the only objection I noted was C1-L1-C2-L1, which just reaffirmed agreement with Law that inscrutable evil doesn’t disprove a good God and inscrutable good doesn’t disprove an evil god. But he never gave an argument for why we should believe in a good God rather than an evil one. I agree with Law at L3.1: “Dr. Craig has failed spectacularly to meet the challenge of the evil god hypothesis.”

Overall Decision: Law

Craig failed to present or defend any evidence favoring CT over EG, whereas Law reiterated this point in every one of his speeches. Therefore, I “flow” this debate to Stephen Law.


Other Reviews of the Debate

The Logic of the Resurrection - Part 3
The Logic of the Resurrection - Part 4
The Logic of the Resurrection - Part 2
What is Faith? - Part 8
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.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X