William Lane Craig Admits His Debate Quotations of Anthony Kenny Are Misleading

In his popular debates on God’s existence, William Lane Craig is fond of quoting philosopher of Anthony Kenny regarding the combination of atheism and Big Bang cosmology.

Now this tends to be very awkward for the atheist. For as Anthony Kenny of Oxford University urges, “A proponent of the Big Bang theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that … the universe came from nothing and by nothing.” (See, for example, here)

In my 1999 debate with Phil Fernandes, I responded roughly as follows:

I conducted a non-scientific poll of atheist philosophers in the United States, Canada, England, and Australia. I’m here to tell you that unanimously all of the philosophers I asked said that an atheist does not have to believe that the universe popped into existence out of nothing to accept the Big Bang theory. In other words, all of the atheist philosophers I contacted, including kalam experts Quentin Smith and Graham Oppy, unanimously rejected Anthony Kenny’s claim.

My rebuttal to the Kalam cosmological argument was apparently so devastating that people began to write into Craig’s ministry website, ReasonableFaith.org, to ask him for a response. Almost ten years after my debate with Fernandes, Craig responded to me in his October 8, 2009 podcast. Here is the beginning of Craig’s response.

Certainly the naturalist is able to say the universe with a beginning simply is without coming into being out of nothing, if he is willing to adopt a certain theory of time that permits that.

In other words, Craig admits Kenny is wrong. Contrary to what Craig claims in his popular presentations on the kalam cosmological argument, the atheist proponent of the Big Bang theory does not have to believe that ‘the universe came from nothing and by nothing.’ Rather, if someone is an atheist, a proponent of the Big Bang theory, and a proponent of the ‘A-theory’ of time, then (and only then) would they have to believe ‘the universe came from nothing and by nothing.’ But notice what this means. Craig can no longer use the Kenny quotation as an appeal to authority. Furthermore, if Craig uses the revised statement I provided two sentences ago, then it no longer packs the rhetorical punch of the Kenny quotation.

Craig continues:

I’ve said this explicitly in my work. Behind the kalam cosmological argument lies a view of time which is variously called the ‘tensed’ theory of time or a ‘dynamic’ theory of time or, to borrow the convenient terminology of J.M.E. McTaggart, the ‘A theory of time.’ 

Craig may indeed have said this explicitly in his scholarly work on the kalam cosmological argument, but he doesn’t say anything about this in the opening statements of his popular debates on God’s existence.

The point is not that I think my original objection was some ‘great insight,’ as Craig dismissively puts it. Rather, the point is that the Kenny quotation misrepresents the logical implications of atheism and Big Bang cosmology.

Craig goes on to explain that he has argued at length for the A-theory of time and against the B-theory of time. That’s correct. He has. He then tries to saddle me with the Herculean task of refuting his prolific writings which defend A-theory and criticize B-theory, as if that were necessary for my 1999 objection to stand. But it really doesn’t matter one way or the other how well he has defended the A-theory or criticized the B-theory. Even if his defense of A-theory is successful, his quotation of Anthony Kenny is fallacious, viz., a logically incorrect or inductively weak appeal to authority. As Wesley Salmon explained in a textbook on logic Craig is familiar with, appeals to authority are weak if equally qualified authorities disagree. As we’ve seen, all of the atheist philosophers I’ve contacted–including experts Quentin Smith and Graham Oppy–as well as Craig himself disagree with Kenny.

Since the Kenny quotation paints a misleading picture to a lay audience, Craig should stop using it.

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