On October 17th 2011 two philosophical heavy weights squared off against one another in a debate till the bitter end over the question “Does God exist?” In one corner stands William Lane Craig the lead debater in all Christendom. In the other corner, the amiable Stephen Law, a first rate philosopher in his own right. And moderating the debate we have Justin Brierley, the sure-footed and ever enquiring host of the UK’s excellent radio show “Unbelievable”.
Over the next few posts I will offer my own reflections on the 2 hour MP3 of the debate. If you haven’t heard it yet you can find it here: http://apologetics315.blogspot.com/2011/10/william-lane-craig-vs-stephen-law-does.html
In this first post I’m going to focus on the two opening statements.
Bill Craig kicked things off. Sometimes listening to Craig in new debates is like playing the same recording again. And why should he reinvent the wheel when he has a successful formula? Nonetheless, there were a few noticeable differences in this debate (at least from previous debates that I recall).
To begin with, Craig focused on three arguments — the kalaam cosmological argument, the moral argument, and an argument for the historicity of the resurrection. Craig has often included two additional arguments, one from cosmic fine-tuning and the other consisting of his testimony. He wisely dropped these in this debate to focus on the three other arguments.
The reapportioning of Craig’s time was most notable with his kalaam cosmological argument where Craig had more time to unpack difficult concepts, in particular the impossibility of an actual infinite. At this point Craig used an interesting illustration I hadn’t heard him use before to make the point that the infinite leads to contradictions. He proposed that we begin by imagining Jupiter orbiting the sun at twice the speed of Saturn. When Jupiter has orbited the sun 10 times Saturn has only orbited it 5 times. When Jupiter has orbited the sun a million times Saturn has only orbited it 500,000 times. With every rotation Jupiter pulls ahead of Saturn. So after an infinite duration the number of times Jupiter would have orbited the sun would have been infinitely larger than the number of times Saturn had orbited the sun. And yet, since Jupiter and Saturn would have both orbited the sun an infinite number you’d have the same number of rotations. Since this is contradictory an actual infinite cannot exist.
Somehow I found that illustration more illuminating, if not quite as fanciful as Hilbert’s hotel.
Craig also summarized his kalam argument differently. In the past he has argued like this:
(1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
(2) The universe began to exist.
(3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.
But in this round he summarized his argument like this:
(1′) The universe began to exist.
(2′) If the universe began to exist then the universe has a transcendent cause
(3′) Therefore the universe has a transcendent cause.
That was an interesting shift. Perhaps Craig wanted to avoid having to defend (1) from distracting and speculative quantum fluctuation models of the universe’s origin. To be sure the revised argument is more streamlined for Craig’s purposes. After all, why should he bother defending (1 ) if he can get away with (2′)?
Next, Craig focused on the moral argument. In this argument he claims that God is the best explanation of objective morality. Thus, while Craig noted that Law agrees morality is objective, he presumably wants Law (and the audience) to concede that Law really ought to accept God’s existence as the best explanation of the objective moral values and duties that Law recognizes exist.
Finally, Craig presented his standard argument for the resurrection of Jesus over-against Law’s suggestion (as noted by Craig) that Jesus may never have existed.
Law placed all his eggs in one basket: an evidential problem from evil. He begaun with animal suffering, an issue which Christian theodicists have only begun to address seriously in recent years. Next, he moved to the suffering of children. Law argued that there cannot be any gratuitious evil if God exists. Yet there clearly is gratuitious evil. So…
Next, Law introduced his own evil God hypothesis to the debate.
(An aside: In his talk Law referred to Craig’s “Cosmological and fine-tuning arguments” before he caught himself and recognized that Craig hadn’t actually presented any fine-tuning argument in this debate. This slip up was a good illustration of the fact that Law had clearly studied Craig’s previous debating style and strategy and the arguments Craig typically pulls out of his drawer.)
Law argued that in the same way all the evil in the world can be reconciled with a maximally good god, so all the good in the world can be reconciled with a maximally evil god. The proponent of a maximally evil god can explain the good in the world with respect to a free will theodicy, a laws of nature theodicy, a soul-destroying theodicy, the promise of afterlife compensation in terms of suffering, and a form of skeptical theism. In other words, virtually every theodicy that can be used to defend a maximally good god can also be used to defend a maximally evil one.
So where’s this all going, you wonder? Law then argues that we don’t conclude that an evil god exists because there simply is too much good to allow for an evil god. In other words, all those theodicies simply are not convincing. But that’s his point: the same goes for good god theodicies. There simply is too much evil in the world to make good-god theodicies plausible.
In his closing Law made a striking admission. His argument from the evidential problem of evil is not actually aiming to show that God does not exist. In other words, his argument is consistent with many forms of theism. Law’s argument is not that God does not exist but rather that a maximally good God who cares about his creatures does not exist. Based on this Law observes that Craig’s first argument for the kalaam cosmological argument is actually irrelevant to his argument. In other words, Law is willing to concede (at least for the debate) that a divine being may have created the universe so long as we don’t recognize that divine being as maximally good (or, I would clarify, as that maximal goodness being expressed in omnibenevolence).
Law is free to argue this if he wants, I suppose. But it does strike me as something of a bait and switch. The debate was promoted as being focused on the topic “Does God exist?” not “Does a maximally good God who expresses his maximal goodness toward finite creatures exist?”
We’ll see how the rebuttals go tomorrow…