A Classic Debate on the Existence of God

November 1994
University of Colorado at Boulder

Dr. William Lane Craig & Dr. Michael Tooley

Dr. Tooley's Second Rebuttal


The problem with the appeal to religious experience is that there are different religions, and believers in these very different religions all have experiences of the deities of their own religious. The question, then, is whether or not one can set out any justification for saying, yes, the experiences of Dr. Craig are veridical, but the conflicting experiences of someone in another religion are not veridical. It seems to me the latter claim simply represents a biased point of view, and that there's no justification for it. Moreover, I believe that the diversity of religious experience provides a reason for concluding that any argument from religious experience to the existence of a certain sort of deity, if it appeals to an experience that can be different from one religion to another, must be an unsound argument.

Let me now indicate why I believe that Dr. Craig has not satisfactorily responded to any of the four arguments that I gave.

In the case of the first argument, I didn't sketch it fully, because of time limitations. Let me sketch it very briefly now. The thrust of the argument, in effect', is that if you consider something like the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being, there are other types of omnipotent, omniscient beings. There could be an omniscient, omnipotent being who is, for example, morally evil and supremely so. There could also be omnipotent, omniscient beings who have intermediate moral characteristics. You therefore get a range of omnipotent and omniscient beings with as great a variety of possible moral attributes as you care to imagine, and there's no reason, a, priori, why the existence of one of these should be more probable than the other. But now the crucial point is that at most one omnipotent and omniscient being can exist at any given time. For then, in view of the fact that any number of different types of omnipotent and omniscient beings are logically possible, the probability that any particular one of them would exist---such as an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect one-must surely be (much) less than one half. But if the probability of a proposition is less than one half, the probability of its being false is greater than one half. And so one would have a reason not to accept that proposition. Therefore, atheism is the default position for that reason.

Secondly, as regards the argument that appeals to a fact about all the minds that we are acquainted with, here, as in a number of places, Dr. Craig distorted my argument. I did not claim, as he said, that there could not be a non-embodied mind, for I believe that non-embodied minds are possible. My argument did not, as he suggested, involve the assumption that dualism is false. For I myself am an interactionist dualist, and I was certainly not making assumptions that are contrary to ones I myself believe!

My argument here was a probabilistic argument. The claim was that all the minds we are acquainted with have a certain property---namely, that they are all at least dependent upon physical entities---brains. But if this is so, then it's reasonable to project that property onto any other minds that may happen to exist. And if you do project that property, you arrive at a certain conclusion-not that the existence of God is impossible, but, rather, that the existence of God is unlikely. Dr. Craig just did riot address that argument at all.

What about his response to the hiddenness of God argument? His response was that one that I had expected from him, although it was also one that I was disappointed to hear---namely, that involved in Pascalís view that "there is enough light for those who wish to see and enough darkness for those who wish to remain in darkness." For what Craig is saying is that if people of good will really make an effort to arrive at a knowledge of God, then they will do so. I suggest that that claim is simply, empirically false. I suggest that there are people who would like to be convinced that God exists, at least if "God' is defined in the way I defined it---rather than in the way that Craig might define it, where the deity is the creator of heaven and hell, and where hell is a place where many---indeed the majority, of people---are going to end up spending eternity. But if one focuses upon the concept of God as I defined it, then it seems to me that anyone, who is thinking clearly would hope that there is such a God. And it also seems to me that I know many people who would like to have that belief, but, having looked at the evidence---including the arguments that I have put forward---are convinced that that belief, unfortunately, is one that is not likely to he true. So I think that Craig's response to my third argument was very unsatisfactory one.

Finally, there were a number of distortions in Craig's discussion of my final argument-the argument from evil. Here, too, it would take some time to go through all of them. The basic point, however, is that, as I emphasized earlier, I was riot making any sort of necessity claim, I was claiming that there was a sound probabilistic argument. And that probabilistic argument rested upon claims about the reasonableness of believing that the world could be improved in certain sorts of ways. I claimed, for example, that the world would be improved by the elimination of cancer, or by the elimination of mental illness; that the world would be a better place if Hitler had been killed before he got the holocaust going, and so on.

Dr. Craig did not address any of those specific claims. He needs to come out and say right off, then, if he thinks the world would not he a better place by the elimination of cancer. What we did, instead, was to accuse me of some sort of utilitarian approach. But I'm not a utilitarian. My approach to ethics is deontological. It's a rights-based approach, rather than utilitarian one. So Dr. Craig's response was a distortion of my view.

The point here---concerning the irrelevance of utilitarianism---can be put this way, Suppose you think there are things other than happiness that matter---as I do. Do you then conclude that the world would not be a better place by the elimination of cancer? That seems to me to be an extraordinary claim. But it seems to be the claim that Dr. Craig is putting forward.

Dr. Craig also referred to my article on the problem of evil,{30} and ascribed to me the view that, if one had a proof of the existence of God, then one would have no problem with the argument from evil. Again, this is a distortion. In that article, I considered different sorts of arguments that one might put forward for the existence of God, and the point I made is that there are a very limited number of arguments which would, even if they were sound, provide one with a reason for thinking that there was a morally perfect deity. One argument that would do so is the ontological argument. If the ontological argument were sound, then it would follow that there is an omniscient, omnipotent, morally perfect being. Moreover, since that would be a necessary truth, one would have a conclusive answer to the argument from evil.

But I would claim to be able to offer a decisive refutation of the ontological argument, for I believe that, by paralleling precisely the reasoning that is involved in the ontological argument, you can derive a contradiction. (This is something I've shown in one of my published articles.)

Finally, Dr. Craig rebuked me for pressing the question, What about God plus the universe? What is the cause of that? The reason that he thought that I had made a mistake in raising that issue is that, first, he puts forward a causal principle that says that whatever begins to exist has a cause, and secondly, God, of course, if he exists, always exists.

My view, however, is that it can be shown that Craig's formulation of a principle of causation is an artificially restricted causal principle. I've argued elsewhere that causation is a relation, not between changes, but between states of affairs. So if, for example, you take this table here, Dr. Craig would say that this table could not pop into existence without being caused to pop into existence. Fine, let's assume thatís so. But what about the existence right now of a table that hasn't just now popped into existence? I maintain that it must have a cause just as much in that case of the table that pops into existence. What is the cause? The cause is simply the earlier existence of the table. It's a matter of the conservation laws of matter and energy. So, in short, there's a more general causal principle which one must accept, if one accepts the principle Craig accepts. It's that every, state of affairs requires a cause. And once that causal principle is accepted, then it is clear that there is no advantage in adding God to the physical universe, and saving that God is timeless and changeless. The existence of God is still a state of affairs, and it requires a cause just as much as the existence of the physical universe, Thank you very much.

References

{30}Tooley, "Evil."

 

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