Stephen Law vs. William Lane Craig: Round 2! (Law’s first rebuttal)
Before Stephen Law delivered his first rebuttal Justin Brierley had to remind the audience (or a few in the audience) not to call out or applaud during the debate. There’s always at least one or two boneheads who seem unable to suppress the need to cheer or clap when “their guy” makes a point.
Back to business. Law began by disputing Craig’s analysis of his position. Law did not argue that Christians believe that a good god exists because of the good they see in the world and thus Craig’s critique of that position is a strawman. They must have other reasons for believing this because the world clearly doesn’t support belief in a good god’s existence.
(While Law said this “obviously” wasn’t his claim, in fairness to Craig it should be said that his initial presentation was less than obvious.)
Next, Law observed that while Craig’s appeal to evil as proving God is a “popular move”, it is “not taken terribly seriously in philosophical circles”. I suspect this comment prompted the following thought in many in the audience: Don’t tell me it isn’t taken seriously. Show me why.
Anyway, Law stated that he didn’t need to appeal to any ontologically loaded concept of good and evil to make his argument. All he needed was a notion of suffering. This point seemed to go over well because some in the audience applauded (this despite Brierley’s request. Come on folks! This isn’t a political rally. It’s a formal debate. Sit on your hands if that’s what it takes, but find some way to control yourselves! Perhaps you could put an elastic band on your wrist and snap it every time you sense the urge to applaud.)
Back to business yet again. Law made it clear that in his view Craig’s moral argument wasn’t relevant (but again, even if it was most philosophers didn’t think it was much good).
From here Law turned to his other main argument: the evil god. (Bwa ha ha ha haaaa!)
“We can see that there is an immense amount of good stuff in the world and it’s just implausible that, you know, it can be squared in some way with the existence of an all powerful and supremely malignant deity.”
And with that he lowered the boom:
We “confidently dismiss the evil God hypothesis purely on the basis of what we can see of the universe around us. And if we can do that then why can’t we do it for the good god hypothesis? Professor Craig has not answered that question.”
“In order to avoid the challenge he’s basically having to get incredibly skeptical. He’s really having to play the mystery card and say ‘we just can’t know whether there’s an evil god on the basis of looking at the world around us.”
I’m sorry to reiterate my point that this argument just doesn’t work, but it doesn’t. Craig hasn’t become “incredibly skeptical” by refusing to agree that the amount, intensity and distribution of goodness in the world is inconsistent the non-existence of an uber-powerful wicked being. The simple fact is that Craig has a different plausibility structure than does Law. One man’s providence is another man’s karma is another man’s nihilism. The fact that the order of events in the universe can be interpreted consistently with all these different views (and an evil god view besides) simply means that, strictly speaking, the data underdetermines the truth of the matter. Since providence, karma, nihilism and evil god providence all are consistent with the data, adopting one framework rather than another will be based on something more than a strict interpretation of the data itself. And this means that a Christian theist can have many reasons for rejecting the evil god hypothesis even while agreeing that the data of the world is consistent with that hypothesis. And with that Law’s argument is effectively neutralized.
So belief in good god providence in light of the evil in the world isn’t “downright ridiculous” any more than it is downright ridiculous to become a nihilist, agnostic, or anything else.
My last word will be directed to Law’s treatment of Craig on animal suffering. This is surely the most disappointing part of this rebuttal. He basically glossed over what Craig said in two minutes while noting that Craig had appealed simply to the laws of nature.
That was indeed part of Craig’s argument. (He argued that nature may require predation to maintain a healthy ecosystem.) But why didn’t Law challenge that? Is Craig serious? Does he mean to suggest that God couldn’t have created a world of happy herbivores that never got sick? What kind of God is this that crafts the teeth of the sabertoothed tiger to rip into the tough hides of terrified prey? Law really should have camped on this point for awhile while focusing on a vivid case of natural evil, perhaps like Rowe’s famous roasted Bambi illustration. He flirted with a valid emotional appeal in his opener (the tortured family cat) but abandoned such appeals here. Why, I don’t know.
Even worse, Law never engaged the other part of Craig’s theodicy of natural evil, namely that animals don’t know that they are suffering. (They suffer, but they don’t have first-person awareness that they are suffering.) Craig loaded a lot on that point and sounded really relieved about it. As I already said, that point strikes me as a terrible one. Just today friends called us over because their beloved dog of ten years was dying. When we arrived at their home he could barely lift his head, but he managed to thump his tail several times. His breathing was labored. He could not get comfortable. He had not eaten in days. Nor had he been able to drink or sleep for two days. He was, to put it bluntly, in absolute agony. He later died in the back of my friend’s car as we were driving to the vet to have him euthanized. He was suffering unimaginably. Is it any consolation to know that he didn’t know he was suffering? Are you kidding? This must surely be a philosopher’s cruel joke. This kind of suffering demands to be addressed and a point about the absence of self-reflective awareness of suffering must be the stinkiest red herring in this debate. And the fact that Law didn’t camp on this point is a great disappointment. If he had his case would have been much stronger both logically and emotionally.