Stephen Law vs. William Lane Craig: Round 2! (Craig’s first rebuttal)
In this post I’m going to focus on William Lane Craig’s first rebuttal to Stephen Law.
Craig begins like this:
“You remember in my opening speech I said that I would defend two basic contentions tonight. First, that there are good reasons to think that theism is true. We have yet to hear Stephen’s response to those arguments. My second contention was that there are not comparably good reasons to think that atheism is true.”
It seems to me that this is why Craig likes to go first in debates. By being the first to present a positive case he gives the impression of putting the opponent on the defensive. And then he hammers the point home at the opening of his rebuttal by noting that his opponent has not yet responded to his arguments: “We have yet to hear Stephen’s response to those arguments.” But why does he say that? Of course Stephen Law doesn’t directly respond to Craig’s arguments in his opening speech. He’s not supposed to. Rather, he’s supposed to present his own case and then critique Craig in his rebuttal. Thus Craig’s quip is rather like the food critic who observes “I haven’t yet been served dessert” immediately following the appetizer. Debating points like this, which are greared more to win over the audience than to be fair to one’s opponent, tend to leave me rather ambivalent about formal debates.
Anyway, enough griping. Craig’s rebuttal consisted of three main points and an addendum. (You could just as well say four points but Craig doesn’t place the same weight on the fourth point.)
He begins by laying his cards on the table with the assertion that the evidential argument from evil is not a good argument. Craig admits that it is laden with emotional force. But he stresses that in philosophy we should focus not on how we feel but on what we ought to think. And it is extraordinarily difficult, Craig avers, to provide an evidential case for the non-existence of God based on the amount of evil in the world.
Generally I agree with Craig that we should be careful about concluding too much too quickly based on our intuitive, emotional reaction. But at the same time it needs to be recognized that a visceral emotional response can be very powerful as a guide for assessing the the truth of various claims. Consider, for example, the claim I just considered in the blog that possibly God punishes infants for the sins of the nation in which they live. I considered that morally abhorrent. That couldn’t possibly be the case. And I think there is wide (if not universal) agreement among Christian theists on this point. Now what is the basis of that belief? To be sure, abstract ethical reasoning can buttress it, but I suspect that the deepest and most powerful reason people reject the claim is because it simply strikes them as abhorrent and deeply wrong to think of infants being punished.
In his opening Law made a similar point when he talked about the suffering of animals. While he conceded that many people might not be overly concerned with animal suffering, he observed that they would be much more concerned if it were the family cat sufffering. The point is clear: one’s emotional attachment to the cat is not an obstacle to assessing the moral dimension of animal suffering but rather an aid to it. And that seems right. So while emotion can obscure reasoning, good reasoning is regularly informed by emotional commitment.
Okay, now on to Craig’s first point. Craig argues that there are morally sufficient reasons for allowing suffering. Thus he claims that Law would have to establish that “it is impossible or highly improbable that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world.” And Law simply cannot do this. For example, it may be that the degree of natural evil in the world is precisely the degree it needs to be to ensure that the maximum number of people freely come to know God. Moreover, Law doesn’t factor in the joys that could be experienced in the next life. The bottom line is that: “Dr. Law would have to show that there is another world which is feasible for God in which there is a greater knowledge of God and his salvation but with less suffering and that’s pure speculation.”
Hmmm. I’m reminded of the argument of Pangloss, the infamous “professor of metaphysico-theologico-cosmolonigology” in Voltaire’s Candide who argued:
“It is proven … that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end.”
Pangloss’s argument could be used to explain why God allows anything and everything. Thus when the Anabaptist is drowned in the Bay of Lisbon, Pangloss demonstrates a priori that the Bay of Lisbon had been created just for the Anabaptist to drown in. And so it goes through the book with Pangloss and Candide offering one after another rationale for the horrors they endure and witness from rape and torture to mutilation and murder. Candide ends with Pangloss and Candide retiring in Turkey with Pangloss reminding Candide yet again (albeit half-heartedly) that this world really was the best:
“There is a concatenation of events in this best of all possible worlds: for after all, if you had not been kicked out of a magnificant castle for love of Miss Cunegonde, if you had not been tried before the Inquisition, if you had not crossed America by foot, if you had not given the Baron a good running-through with your sword, if you had not lost all your sheep from the fine country of El Dorado, you would not be here eating candied citron and pistachio nuts.”
Yes, of course. That candied citron and pistachio nuts must be good.
Was Voltaire fair to Leibniz and his theodicy? That, most certainly, is doubtful. But did he make a strong point against it nonetheless? Most certainly.
It is hard not to catch an echo of Pangloss in Craig’s suggestion that the worst horrors of suffering in the natural world may be just what was needed to maximize the number of people freely choosing salvation. Think about the tuna eaten by a shark off the Cape of Good Hope sixty million years ago. (I’ve talked about that poor tuna elsewhere.) What possible good could the death of that tuna have for wooing human beings who only appeared on the scene in the last couple hundred thousand years to enter freely into relationship with the creator? That must have been some tuna.
I digress. On to Craig’s second point. Here he takes on Law’s evil God argument by arguing that the concept of an evil God is contradictory since God is essentially morally good. Thus, you cannot have an evil God, though you could have an evil non-divine creator of the universe.
Anyway, the main point for Craig is that Law’s argument misses the point. Craig avers that you cannot prove the creator is bad because of bad things or good because of good things in life. That’s simply not how theists reason. The problem, according to Craig, is that Law seems to suppose the theist arrives at the existence of God through an inductive study of the world. After weighing the amount of evil and good he concludes that God exists. But that is incorrect. Christians don’t infer a good god from the degree of goodness manifest in the world, though they may infer a good god from the existence of objective moral value and obligation.
I agree with the substance of that criticism. Law’s argument illustrates that there are many metaphysical hypotheses which are consistent with the data. But of course a philosopher of science could already have told us that with regard to physical hypotheses. Beyond that I only see Law’s argument as being of interest to however many devotees of a maximally wicked god (or demiurge) may be running about.
Craig then turned to his third point where he hammered home the moral argument which he stated like this:
(1) If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
(2) Evil exists.
(3) Therefore, objective moral values exist.
(4) Therefore, God exists.
While I like this argument I find an argument from objective aesthetics much more compelling:
(1) If God does not exist, Justin Beiber’s music is not an objective offense to the aesthetic order of nature.
(2) Justin Beiber’s music is an objective offense to the aesthetic order of nature.
(3) Therefore, God exists.
Not only does my argument only have three steps, but it also has a powerful emotional appeal for all those who find that Justin Beiber makes Shaun Cassidy sound as profound as Bob Dylan.
Now on to the addendum. At this point Craig turns to address the problem of animal predation and suffering. Craig makes one worthwhile point here: we have to be careful about anthropopathism (that is, reading human emotion, and specifically human suffering, into the lives of animals). He’s certainly right about that. In his book River out of Eden Richard Dawkins makes much of the digger wasp’s macabre habit of laying eggs in a caterpillar or bee and stinging the prey thereby inducing paralysis so that “the meat keeps fresh.” He then writes “the prey might be aware of being eaten alive but unable to move a muscle to do anything about it.” (95) Seriously? Dawkins knows of grasshoppers which have brains sufficiently developed that they could be aware of being eaten alive? Are grasshoppers even sentient? I don’t know. But I am quite sure that they certainly cannot be aware of being eaten alive. Dawkins’ argument is trading on a crude anthropopathism about bugs.
At the same time, Craig neglects to mention the danger of anthropocentrism. And in the history of western thought this is surely the greater danger. (For example, the very notion that animal suffering is ethically significant has only been seriously countenanced in the last two centuries.) There is a growing body of research exploring the complex emotional lives of animals from elephants to dolphins to chimpanzees. It now appears that animals suffer much more than we ever realized. And the fact that most non-human animals lack a pre-frontal cortext (as Craig observes) is not much comfort to me when I see sharks having their fins cut off as they thrash on the deck of a Japanese fishing boat (for shark fin soup of course) only to be tossed callously back into the sea. In other words, Craig’s soothing line “Even though animals are in pain they aren’t aware of it” is rather cold comfort. In fact, how does he know that animals don’t suffer more than human beings in key respects precisely because they lack awareness of the purpose of suffering or the hope of deliverance from it? While Craig’s argument here is aimed at naive anthrpopathism he seems too ready to reintroduce a cold callous attitude toward animal suffering, an attitude which has already bedevilled the human race for far too long, and simply for the end of scoring a few debate points.