Reasonable Faith Podcast: Revisiting a Famous Debate – Part Two

Reasonable Faith Podcast: Revisiting a Famous Debate – Part Two March 23, 2017

Dr. Craig discusses an interview with Dr. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong revisiting the issues of their debate as well as some new topics.

KEVIN HARRIS: Come on in! It is Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. We are going to go to part two in our series on Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s interview with Robert Kuhn. Let’s pick up right where we left off last time…

DR. WALTER SINNOTT-ARMSTRONG: One example of this would be Aquinas’ cosmological argument. He argues . . . I don’t think the argument is any good but the argument is for the conclusion that something must have created the universe. There must have been a first cause. He says therefore God exists. Well, it doesn’t follow that anything like the traditional Christian God exists. Something could have created the universe and died the next day. You don’t even know if it still exists. You don’t know whether it is good. You don’t know whether it is eternal. You don’t know whether it is a person.

DR. WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: What Aquinas says at the end of each of his five ways is,And this is what everybody means by God. That is to say, having proved the first cause of motion, for example, Aquinas would make the sociological comment, This is what everybody means by God. Right. But when you read the following questions in the Summa Theologica he then proves the attributes that this first cause must possess that then merit the title “God.” So in one sense Aquinas’ arguments for God aren’t really complete until you see the subsequent questions fully carried out.

DR. SINNOTT-ARMSTRONG: We don’t know whether it is sentient or whether it cares a whit about you. It could have created the universe and gone on its own business and let you fend for yourself. That wouldn’t have served Aquinas’ purposes so he reaches that conclusion and bloats it up into the claim that God exists.

Analyzing a famous debate regarding the origins of the cosmos
Image: Room4Debate

Another example is religious experience. People can have a religious experience that leads them to believe in God, but how do they know that the thing they experience is all-powerful or all-good or all-knowing or good at all for that matter? So they bloat the conclusion up usually in line with the religious tradition that they are familiar with.

DR. CRAIG: It seems to me that an argument from religious experience could be part of a cumulative case for the existence of God. I don’t think that someone who uses the argument from religious experience is going to draw the conclusion that this being is omnipotent or omniscient or anything like that. But it could be part of a cumulative case. I myself think of religious experience not as an argument for God but rather as the grounding for a properly basic belief in God just as my experience of the external world grounds my belief that there is a world of physical objects around me. If you were to regard that as an argument, well, the skeptic could say,You haven’t proven that you are not a brain in a vat of chemicals stimulated with electrodes to think there is an external world, or you haven’t proven that you are not lying in the Matrix wired up with tubes and so forth to inhabit a virtual reality. That is right. All of those would be shortfalls if you regard this as an argument. But I don’t think that is the way you think of experience as grounding belief in the reality of the external world.

KEVIN HARRIS: It just occurred to me that maybe there are two forms of arguments from religious experience. One would be my religious experience is evidence of God, and the other would be look at all of the world’s population and this experience of God.

DR. CRAIG: Oh, yes, that is very true. People do run different kinds of arguments of that sort.

ROBERT KUHN: What is interesting here is that you are saying that the core at this conclusion may be legitimate like there may be a first cause or there may be this religious experience, but then when you have this little something and you want to believe then you take that little something which may be justified and blow it up and make it seem as if what you want to occur is that same thing.

DR. SINNOTT-ARMSTRONG: Exactly. There is a reason why you bloat it up in the way that you bloat it up. That is because you want to reach this bigger conclusion.

ROBERT KUHN: OK, another fallacy?

DR. SINNOTT-ARMSTRONG: Excessive footnotes. I love the fallacy of excessive footnotes.

DR. CRAIG: OK. Let’s stop. See, this is just cutesy. The fallacy of excessive footnotes. There is no such fallacy. These are just little sort of cutesy things that Sinnott-Armstrong makes up. Otherwise all German New Testament scholarship could be cited for this fallacy.

DR. SINNOTT-ARMSTRONG: That is simply that some people when they give these arguments they cite authority after authority after authority. They want to say,You need to believe in the Big Bang and once you believe in the Big Bang that something had to cause the Big Bang and that must have been God. So they cite authority after authority about the Big Bang and they show that they understand the physics and cite the laws and everybody is going to say, “Oh, that’s great.” Stephen J. Hawking is wonderful . . . people always cite Stephen J. Hawking because people like Stephen J. Hawking. So if you cite somebody that other people like and you cite them repeatedly and lots of other authorities then people are going to be dragged along by your argument because they are impressed by the authority.

ROBERT KUHN: And often times you are using people who, if they knew that their argument was being used for your conclusion, would be rather mortified by it.

DR. SINNOTT-ARMSTRONG: You can even quote them but you usually are taking those sentences out of context.

DR. CRAIG: There is absolutely nothing fallacious about citing recognized authorities in a field for one’s conclusions or premises. What would be wrong would be, as he said, taking it out of context, mis-citing an authority, citing someone who is not an authority. Those would be fallacious appeals to authority.

KEVIN HARRIS: Or if you said, “Dr. X says it. He’s got a PhD. Therefore it is true.” That would be an inappropriate appeal to authority.

DR. CRAIG: Unless you are appealing to his expertise in this area. Then his testimony or discoveries or findings are evidence.

KEVIN HARRIS: He is an expert in the field. This is what he says. And so that adds weight to the evidence.

DR. CRAIG: If Sinnott-Armstrong were right . . . I wonder if he’s ever read scientific papers. Unlike philosophers, scientific papers are just festooned with footnotes. They are just choking with footnotes. The reason is because the scientific team writing the article wants to display that they have a thorough knowledge of previous work in the area and that they are not overlooking anyone else’s research that has been in this area. So it is very important for them to have very copious footnotes about what has been proven so far. No scientist is able to prove all of these things himself so he has to rely upon the work of others, and especially when you have multiple independent teams that come to the same conclusion. This is important evidence. Again, this is just being cute by saying the fallacy of excessive footnotes.

KEVIN HARRIS: It is also kind of perturbing me a little bit because who is he trying to put down here? A person who makes a presentation and lists a bunch of authorities to back their case? Wouldn’t he want to do that?

DR. CRAIG: Probably not! That’s the problem. It is much easier to just make your assertions without any citation of evidence.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK, If you stand up and cite a bunch of authorities and you’ve done your research and you show your research, well, that is just death by footnotes.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah,That’s fallacious. Instead, believe me instead. Believe what I say.

DR. SINNOTT-ARMSTRONG: When these types of arguments are used, you really have to go back and carefully look at the paragraphs and chapters out of which these things were taken.

DR. CRAIG: Right! And that’s why you gave him a footnote![laughter] Right? That’s why you put in the footnote! So they can go back and read the paper rather than just making this assertion out of the blue. What does he think footnotes are for?

KEVIN HARRIS: If I can do an informal fallacy, there is a little bit of poisoning the well here. If you are a really smart guy talking about God and he’s giving a lot of footnotes, well you might want to be cautious of that.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, that’s right. Look out for that theist with all of his footnotes![laughter]

DR. SINNOTT-ARMSTRONG: Another favorite is to cite as an authority the atheists themselves. Right? So people will say,Some things are wrong but nothing would be wrong if God didn’t exist. Even Nietzsche said that. Right? And a theist will cite an atheist as an authority for what the theist wants to say – Ah, got ya! But I don’t have to agree with everything all atheists say. There are lots of atheists who have said stupid things – and that is one of them.

DR. CRAIG: OK, let’s pause here. The point of citing hostile witnesses is to remove the claim of bias. If you only cite persons who are of your own persuasion you might be accused of bias. But if you show that your point of view is one that many people on the other side also find plausible and compelling, that suggests that there is something more to it objectively.You can’t be accused of bias or of cherry-picking just what you said. Now, of course, he is right. You don’t have to believe what every atheist says.

ROBERT KUHN: Other arguments?

DR. SINNOTT-ARMSTRONG: Another argument is false dichotomy. People will saddle the atheist with,You must believe either this or this. But that can’t be right so we must be right.

DR. CRAIG: Let’s pause here. That is right. What he is talking about here is a false dilemma where you say the choices are either A or not-A. There you’ve got no other alternative. Right? A or not-A. But suppose you give the choice – it is either A or B. In that case you could escape the dilemma by saying wait a minute, maybe it is C. A great example of this is the so-called Euthyphro Dilemma where you are presented with a false dichotomy: either God wills what is good independently of him or else the Good is just arbitrarily made up by God, and you have to pick one of those two alternatives. That is a false dilemma. There is at least a third alternative that I’ve defended, namely that God wills what he does because he is the Good and his will is a reflection of his own character.

KEVIN HARRIS: What are the horns of a dilemma?

DR. CRAIG: The two alternatives.

KEVIN HARRIS: It would be A or not-A.

DR. CRAIG: You can have a dilemma that has three like we talked about liar, lunatic, legend.


DR. CRAIG: Yeah, the trilemma. It is the same sort of reasoning that you have a disjunction A or B or C, not-B, not-C, therefore A. That is logical reasoning. But the way you can escape a dilemma (one way) would be to say there is another alternative – it is not just A, or B, or C. There is D.

DR. SINNOTT-ARMSTRONG: For example, they will saythe universe must have begun either by chance or through law or through a designer.

DR. CRAIG: OK, let’s stop here. Here he is talking about the fine-tuning argument. I am hearing echoes of my own work in this interview over and over again. In the literature on fine-tuning today the live alternatives – the live options – are physical necessity, chance, or design. Those are the live explanatory options that are discussed in the literature today. Now, if you’ve got a fourth alternative you are welcome to add it to the list and this can be discussed. But I think there is no question that when you look at the literature today of the live options those would be the three.

DR. SINNOTT-ARMSTRONG: Notice in this case the problem with the false dichotomy is that chance and law . . . First off it is not clear what they mean. As an atheist I don’t know which one to pick because I am not sure what they mean by it. But also it is not at all clear that they are incompatible with each other. Maybe I want both. When I roll dice and it comes up 7 and I win my bet, there is a sense in which that was chance. I didn’t know it was going to be 7. But there is a sense in which it happened according to laws. If you roll your hand that way with dice that weighed that much and that speed on that type of felt it is going to come up with that number every time because there is a law that governs it. So law and chance aren’t really opposites to each other. That makes it hard to respond to the argument. They are not well-enough defined to know which prong to choose.

DR. CRAIG: He is making a good point that chance is not a causal factor that explains things. When you say that an event occurs by chance what you mean is that it involves the intersection of two causal chains that are previously unrelated to each other. These causal chains intersect at that point. That is what is meant by saying that the event occurs by chance. You don’t mean that it is uncaused or that it breaks the laws of nature or anything like that. That is a good point.

In the context of the fine-tuning argument though there is a clear difference between saying that the values of the constants and quantities of nature are due to law or physical necessity or they are due to chance. If you say they are due to physical necessity or law, what you mean is that the laws of nature could not possibly have had different values of these constants and quantities. This universe is the only universe that is consistent with the laws of nature. That would be necessity or law. The chance hypothesis would say the values of these constants and quantities are independent of the laws of nature. Therefore there could be universes governed by these same laws but with widely varying values of these constants and quantities. These are clearly distinct alternatives. So an atheist author like Richard Dawkins, for example, rejects the explanation of physical necessity. He agrees with the Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees that it is highly unlikely that the constants and fundamental quantities of nature are physically necessary. Therefore he opts for chance instead. In the context of the fine-tuning argument it is quite clear, I think, that these do represent distinct explanatory alternatives.

KEVIN HARRIS: Therefore the rolling dice illustration he is giving doesn’t apply?

DR. CRAIG: No, it wouldn’t apply in the case of these fundamental constants and quantities. He is probably thinking more in terms – or he is confusing it with – later evolutionary explanations of biological complexity where to say that a mutation is by chance doesn’t mean that it is somehow uncaused or that the things that led to it don’t operate according to the laws of nature (that it is like a miracle). Again, to say that something happens by chance means that the causal chains that result in this event are independent of each other and then they intersect at that event to produce it. That is what you mean when you say the event occurred by chance.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK, let’s stop right there. We will conclude this series and get Dr. Craig’s final comments next week on Reasonable Faith. We will see you then.

(This podcast is by Reasonable Faith / William Lane Craig. Discovered by e2 media network and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not emedia network, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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