The Craig-Washington Debate
Does God Exist?

Dr. Craig's First Rebuttal

In my first speech I said that I would defend two contentions: First, that there's no good reason to think that atheism is true; second, that there are good reasons to believe that theism is true. Let's look now at the arguments presented by Dr. Washington in favor of atheism to see if there any good reasons to persuade us to become atheists.

I. No good reasons to think
that atheism is true

The Argument from Harm

First, there is the argument from harm. Basically he's saying that the propositions that God exists and that Harm exists are logically inconsistent that somehow it is logically impossible for both be true at the same time. Now they're not explicitly contradictory. Therefore, if they are to be logically incompatible with each other, you have to bring out the hidden assumptions or premises that would show these to be logically impossible. And Dr. Washington says that there are two such premises: First, if God is all-good, then He would want to create a world with no suffering; secondly, if God is all-powerful, He could prevent all suffering in the world, and therefore there should be no harm.{1} Notice that in order to prove that God and harm are logically incompatible with each other, Dr. Washington has to show that both of these propositions are necessarily true. I don't think that he can do that.

First of all, if God is all-good, is it necessarily true that He would want to create a world with no suffering? I don't think this is necessarily true. It could be that if God were to create a world of free creatures in which He intervened every time to rescue us from harm, this would be a world in which rational behavior was completely impossible. It would lead to total irresponsibility, total irrationality in our actions. It would mean that you could drive as fast as you wanted on the highway, you could drink or eat any substance you wanted to, you could do anything to another person, you could act anyway you want, and nothing harmful would ever ensue as a consequence. I think that when you think about this, clearly it would make rational behavior completely impossible. So if God creates a world that operates according to certain natural laws, then the fire that warms us will also be the fire that burns us, and it may well be the case that an all-good God would want to create a world governed by natural law, which includes the possibility of harm.

Of course it's also possible, as the Christian believes, that there's an afterlife, in which God will compensate us for the harms that we have borne if we have borne these in courage, faith, and trust in Him. Every immoral act will be punished. So, if you put that into the equation, I think it makes it clear that it is not necessarily true that an all-good God would have to create a world in which there is no harm.

Secondly, if God is all-powerful, can He in fact create a world of free creatures in which no harm occurs? I think this is clearly not necessarily true. Given human freedom, God cannot guarantee how people are going to use that freedom. And if He intervenes every time to prevent people from choosing evil, then we turn into puppets or marionettes. So if God is going to create a world of significantly free moral agents, He has to allow them to make choices for evil, and therefore it may not be within God's power to create a world of free creatures in which evil does not exist. Therefore, I don't think Dr. Washington has been able to prove either of these premises to be necessarily true. And therefore he hasn't been able to prove that harm and God are logically incompatible.

And in fact this is very widely recognized by philosophers today. Peter Van Inwagen of the University of Syracuse reports in the Philosophical Perspectives of 1991, "It used to be widely held that evil was incompatible with the existence of God: that no possible world contained both God and evil. So far as I am able tell, this thesis is no longer defended."{2} Similarly, William Alston, a prominent philosopher, says, "It is now acknowledged on (almost) all sides that the logical argument [from evil] is bankrupt."{3} So I don't think anyone has been able to show a logical incompatibility between God and harm.

In fact, we can actually prove that these are logically consistent by adding a third premise, namely, that God has a morally sufficient reason to permit harm. As long as that proposition is even possible, it shows that harm and God are logically compatible with each other. So Dr. Washington would have to show that it is logically impossible for God to have morally sufficient reasons for permitting harm, and I'm very skeptical that he can do that.{4}

Timelessness of God

Well, what about his second argument, that if God is timeless He is an abstract object and cannot be causally involved with the world? This argument, I think, is just logically fallacious. The reasoning seems to be something like this:

  1. God is timeless.
  2. Abstract objects are timeless.
  3. Therefore, God is an abstract object.

And that's just as logically fallacious as saying:

  1. Dogs are mammals.
  2. Cats are mammals.
  3. Therefore, dogs are cats.

It's just logically fallacious to reason that way. God can be timeless because He does not change. If, as I argued in my first speech, the cause of the universe is changeless, then He would be timeless. But that doesn't mean He's an abstract object. It would simply mean He's changeless, and so there would be no before or after in God's experience beyond the Big Bang, beyond the creation of the world.

II. Good Reasons to think
that theism is true

So I don't think that either of these arguments are persuasive arguments to compel us to become atheists. Now what about the six arguments that I gave on behalf of theism?

The Argument from Abstract Objects

The first one was an argument from abstract objects; namely, we know about things like numbers, propositions, and sets. And yet these can't just be a product of the human intellect. These are too many of them. They therefore must exist in a divine mind. Dr. Washington hasn't said anything about that argument yet.

The Cosmological Argument

What about the argument concerning the origin of the universe? He grants my two premises, that whatever begins to exist has a cause, and that the universe began to exist. He grants the conclusion, that there was a cause of the universe. But he says, "Why think that it has the properties of God?" Well, I tried to answer that a bit in my first speech. Since this cause has to transcend space and time, it cannot be any physical object. It cannot be any material object. It cannot be any spatial or temporal object. It has to be a being which is timeless, immaterial, spaceless, and therefore changeless, and enormously powerful in order to bring the universe into existence.

He says, "But is it omniscient and omnibenevolent?" The omniscience of God is given in my first argument based on abstract objects. An omniscient mind would have to exist to contain all of these abstract objects and propositions. Also my third argument based on the complex order of the univeres gives you a personal being. Remember I'm giving a cumulative argument here.

The omnibenevolence of God is given in my fourth argument, that God is the source of all objective moral values. He is the locus and embodiment of absolute goodness. So when you consider my cumulative case, yes, you do get the attributes of God.

In fact, I would argue simply from the nature of the case that this being would have to be a personal Creator. Think of it this way.{5} How can you get a temporal effect that begins to exist from an eternal cause? If the cause is eternal, why isn't the effect also eternal?

Let me give you an analogy. Suppose the cause of water's freezing is the temperature's being below zero degrees centigrade. If the temperature were below zero degrees eternally, then any water that was around would be frozen from eternity. It would be impossible for the temperature to be below zero from eternity, and yet the water just began to freeze only fifteen billion years ago. How can you have an eternal cause but a temporal effect?

The only answer to this dilemma, I think, is if the cause is a personal agent endowed with free will, who can eternally and freely will to create an effect in time. So it seems to me that from the very nature of the case this cause of the origin of the universe must be a personal being--- indeed, an omniscient being, in view of the first argument based on abstract objects.

The Teleological Argument

My third argument was that this being must be an intelligent designer of the universe, based on the complex order in the world. Dr. Washington says, "Look, it's improbable that anybody would win a lottery, but somebody has to win." The analogy is that any universe is improbable, but there has to be some universe. I don't think this is analogous at all to what I'm saying. In the case of the universe, as opposed to the lottery, the outcome is specified, and that's what makes the difference.{6} I'm saying that life-permitting universes are vastly improbable compared to the whole array of possible universes, and this does cry out for an explanation.

To give you an analogy: Suppose the lottery was always won by somebody with Mafia connections. [moderator laughs] You wouldn't just say in that case, [audience laughter], "Well, look, somebody had to win, and anybody is equally improbable." No, you see you've specified the probability, and it is extremely improbable that people with Mafia connections always win. You would, if you were smart, suspect some hanky-panky going on.

Similarly, when you look at the array of possible universes, practically none of them are life-permitting. And only this tiny, tiny, infinitesimal segment is a life-permitting universe such as ours. Indeed, I think, in this case it isn't silly to think that there is something going on behind the scenes, that this did not arise by chance alone, but that there is a divine intelligence, a cosmic intelligence, which ordered the universe.

The Moral Argument

The argument from objective moral values, which I think is one of the most powerful arguments for God, hasn't been yet addressed.

The Resurrection of Jesus and the Experience of God

What about the historical facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? Dr. Washington says, "Craig believes it is rational to believe in the resurrection, even if there is no evidence for it." Of course! I think this is perfectly rational. On the basis of my experience of Christ as a living reality today, I know he's risen from the dead. And that would be true, even if I lived, say, in Kyrgyzstan, where I never had the opportunity to look at the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, and I never had a New Testament, and I only heard a missionary broadcast on a short-wave radio. I would still be rational on the basis of my experience to believe in the resurrection, even if I didn't have the chance to look at the evidence for it.

Let me give you an analogy.{7} Suppose you are accused of a crime that you know you didn't commit, and all the evidence stands against you. Are you obliged to believe that you're guilty because the evidence stands against you? Not at all; you know better. You know you're innocent, even if others think that you may be guilty. Similarly, for the person who has an immediate experience of God, such as I described in my sixth argument, who knows God as a personal, living reality in his life, such a person can know that God exists, even if he's not a philosopher and doesn't understand all of these arguments, and so forth. God can be immediately known and experienced, Christ can be immediately known and experienced in your life today, and that is true even if you've never had the chance to examine the evidence.

But, of course, I do think there's good evidence for the resurrection--- for the empty tomb, the appearances, the origin of the Christian way--- and that hasn't been yet addressed by Dr. Washington in tonight's debate.

So, on balance, when you weigh the evidence, I think the evidence is clearly on the side of theism and therefore think that theism is the more rational world view.



{1} Actually, Dr. Washington mentions three premisses:

1. If God is infinitely good, He desires to minimize suffering in this world.
2. If God is omniscient, He can figure out how to design a world that has no harm.
3. If God is omnipotent, God can implement a design of a world that has no harm.

His formulation of these premisses is faulty, however, for (1) is too weak to support the conclusion that if God exists, harm would not exist. For it might well be the case that while God desires to minimize suffering in this world, that desire is over-ridden by His desire, say, to create free persons who make rational, moral choices, or by His desire to minimize suffering in the after-life (i.e., to win the salvation of as many free persons as possible, which may only occur in a world involving suffering in this life). Thus, what Dr. Washington needs is a premiss like

1'. If God is infinitely good, He would implement a design of a world that has no harm.

Now in order to prove that God and harm cannot both exist, Dr. Washington must prove that (1'), (2), and (3) are all necessarily true. This is an enormously ambitious task; far from being necessarily true, I doubt that any of these premisses is even contingently true. And yet Dr. Washington gives no argument at all on behalf of (1'), (2), or (3); he just asserts them.

The fact is that philosophers have pretty much abandoned as futile the attempt to prove that God and evil are logically incompatible. As Plantinga observes,

Now, as opposed to twenty or twenty-five years ago, most atheologians have conceded that in fact there isn't any inconsistency between the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good God and the existence of the evil the world contains . . . . It is heartening to see that the atheologians are giving up the incompatibility thesis and are now prepared to concede that there is no contradiction here: that's progress (Alvin Plantinga, "Tooley and Evil: A Reply," Australasian Journal of Philosophy 60 [1981]: 74).

In his rebuttal Dr. Washington himself comes to concede that there is no such inconsistency, as he had alleged.

{2} Peter Van Inwagen, "The Problem of Evil, the Problem of Air, and the Problem of Silence," Philosophical Perspectives, vol. 5: Philosophy of Religion, ed. James E. Tomberlin (Atascadero, Calif.: Ridgeview Publishing, 1991), p. 135.

{3} William Alston, "The Inductive Argument from Evil and the Human Cognitive Condition," in Philosophical Perspectives, vol. 5: Philosophy of Religion, ed. James E. Tomberlin (Atascadero, Calif.: Ridgeview Publishing, 1991), p. 29. Both Alston and Van Inwagen recognize that the inductive argument from evil (which Dr. Washington's second version may be taken to represent) is still very much alive, though, in their view, no more successful than the logical argument from evil (Dr. Washington's first version).

{4} For further reading on the problem of harm (or evil), see Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1974); Alvin Plantinga, "Self- Profile," in Alvin Plantinga, ed. James E. Tomberlin and Peter Van Inwagen, Profiles 5 (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1985), pp. 36-55; Marilyn McCord Adams, "Problem of Evil: More Advice to Christian Philosophers," Faith and Philosophy 5 (1988): 121-143; see also the article by Alston in note 3. An excellent recent anthology is The Evidential Argument from Evil, ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder (Bloomington, Ind.: University of Indiana Press, 1996). For a popular level treatment see chapters four and five in my No Easy Answers (Chicago: Moody, 1990).

{5} For an extended development of this reasoning, see my "Design and the Cosmological Argument," in Mere Creation, ed. William Dembski (Downer's Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, forthcoming).

{6} On the role of specified, small probabilities in everyday inferences to design, see William A. Dembski, "Redesigning Science," in Mere Creation. Compare John Leslie's notion of a "tidy explanation" in his Universes (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 9-10.

{7} Borrowed from Alvin Plantinga, "The Foundations of Theism: a Reply," Faith and Philosophy 3 (1986): 310-311.

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