Stephen Law vs. William Lane Craig: Round One!

Posted on 10/19/11 35 Comments

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.

Craig

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

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…

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  • toryninja

    I was literally just about to ask you if you could comment on this debate. It is so amazingly freaky how you constantly blog about the questions or topics I am currently thinking about/wrestling with or you review books I am currently reading.

    As an aside: Will you be speaking anywhere in Edmonton any time soon? I’m currently in Edmonton for a while and wouldn’t mind catching some live Rauser insight and teaching.

    • randal

      That’s spooky.

      In response to your aside: I’m scheduled to speak at the Society of Edmonton Atheists on November 1. Details should be forthcoming. But this week I’m speaking in Calgary and next week I have a gig at Princeton Theological Seminary.

      • http://markmaneyia.tumblr.com/ Mark

        Excellent! If I am in Edmonton on the 1st I’ll be sure to come check it out. (Yes, I have changed my name and profile. I figured I would start a blog and stop being anonymous. Also, my alias is many years old and probably doesn’t really suit me anymore anyway)

        • randal

          *squint*

          toryninja, is that really you?!

          • Mark

            Yeppers!

      • pete

        Randal:

        I’d sincerely love to hear you talk at the Atheist conference.

        Is there a secret password or handshake I must know to sneak in past their guards?

        (whose kidding who…. they’ll see me coming from a mile away…. but I do own the “God Delusion”… maybe I can overlay my Bible with Dawkins’ cover…)

        • randal

          They are a good bunch of people and welcome to their group people who don’t share their views.

  • Robert

    Well let’s be honest. Everyone knows that Craig is not really arguing for any old creator. He is talking about a very specific God.

    It’s not a bait and switch when quite possibly every single person in the audience knows this.

    • randal

      The fact that “possibly every single person in the audience” knows that Craig accepts the attribute of omnibenevolence doesn’t mean his interlocutor can suddenly redraw the lines of debate on that specific attribute. I thought Law was arguing the case for atheism, but his argument is perfectly consistent with theism which is something of a head scratcher.

      Put the shoe on the other foot. Imagine that Craig came to the debate and presented a case that was consistent with atheism. Wouldn’t you find that strange?!

      • Robert

        You can say he changed the terms of the debate if you think his Evil God hypothesis is serious, but I think Evil God was just a thought experiment. He didn’t bring up Evil God to debate the goodness of God, but to show that the reasons Craig gives for believing look less plausible unless there is a hidden premise that God is not evil.

        Debate rules are a side issue. I would like to know if non-belief in Good God is just as reasonable as non-belief in Evil God.

  • Robert

    Here is the transcript of Stephen Law’s opening speech.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net Ray Ingles

    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.

    “The same number” is a bit misleading. It’s a property of infinite sets that they can be mapped onto subsets of themselves. So the number of orbits of Jupiter would be a countable infinity and thus mappable – by some relations – onto the number of orbits of Saturn.

    Then there are ‘bigger infinities’ that can’t be mapped onto ‘smaller infinities’. For example, the number of integers is infinite, and the number of real numbers is infinite. But the real numbers can’t be mapped onto the integers, by Cantor’s diagonal argument.

    Since this is contradictory an actual infinite cannot exist.

    ‘Counterintuitive’ does not equal ‘contradictory’. Infinite numbers don’t behave like finite numbers in all respects, but their behaviors are well-defined and not contradictory.

    • randal

      Ray, first of all I don’t personally have any objection to actual infinites not least because I think God has an actual infinite set of true beliefs.

      But in terms of producing contradictions, let’s go back to the library example. HIlbert’s library has an infinite number of books, each one numbered on the spine from 1 to infinity.

      Scenario 1: Ray withdraws every book after number 3. He has thereby withdrawn an infinite number of books and only 3 remain.

      Scenario 2: Ray withdraws every odd numbered book. He has thereby withdrawn an infinite number of books and an infinite number remain.

      Thus, infinity – infinity = 3 and infinity – infinity = infinity.

      That isn’t just counterintuitive!

      • http://ingles.homeunix.net Ray Ingles

        Thus, infinity – infinity = 3 and infinity – infinity = infinity. That isn’t just counterintuitive!

        Wait – you defined two different mappings there. Why is it contradictory that they have different results?

        • randal

          Because subtracting the same number should lead to the same remainder.

          • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

            Because subtracting the same number should lead to the same remainder.

            Hmmm. I’ll repeat myself: “The same number” is a bit misleading. It’s a property of infinite sets that they can be mapped onto subsets of themselves.

            Infinite quantities don’t work like finite quantities. Hey, an analogy – what if I told you that ‘A * B’ did not equal ‘B * A’? Would you call it a contradiction?

            It’s perfectly reasonable when dealing with matrices, however…

            • randal

              Craig’s point is not against the use of the infinite in mathematics but against its application to the real world. Simply repeating that it is a property of infinite sets that they can be mapped onto subsets of themselves is just a way of articulating the contradictiory conclusion of the infinite library in which withdrawing an infinite number of books results in one case in an infinite number left behind and in another case in only 3 being left behind. So Craig provides a reasonable case that the actual infinite, while a useful concept in mathematics, is not applicable to the real world. You’re somebody who likes to test things. Thought experiments like Hilbert’s hotel are a reasonable test of the notion that the actual infinite is applicable to reality.

              • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

                You’re somebody who likes to test things. Thought experiments like Hilbert’s hotel are a reasonable test of the notion that the actual infinite is applicable to reality.

                Not until we have an actual infinity to test with.

                Einstein famously exclaimed, “God does not play dice with the universe!” He felt that the fact that QM required “spooky action at a distance” proved that it was false – literally, the EPR Paradox was set out to prove QM false, by pointing out obviously incorrect predictions.

                The problem is, his intuitions were wrong. “Not only does God play dice, but he sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen,” as Stephen Hawking put it. Or as Steven Weinberg put it, “Quantum mechanics is a totally preposterous theory which unfortunately appears to be correct.”

                • G. Rodrigues

                  Physics history is littered with thought experiments; the EPR paradox being precisely one of the examples of a thought experiment made by Einstein (but by no means the only one). So if physicists can perform thought experiments, why exactly do we need “an actual infinity to test with”?

                  About actual infinities, it is probably more illuminating to do the reverse procedure in the Hilbert Hotel: vacate the guests in the odd-numbered rooms and order the guests in the even numbered room n to move to room n / 2. We end with a *completely filled* Hilbert hotel *and* a countably infinite number of guests waiting in the outside. This looks eerily similar to creation from nothing…

                  Now, people usually retort that there is no *logical* contradiction involved. Everyone agrees, but that is also besides the point, since we are interested in metaphysical possibility. Given the counter-intuitiveness (and let me add that there *are* several other arguments against actual infinities in reality), do you have any argument for the plausibility of actual infinities in reality? Something other than the sheer power of chutzpah?

                  Lastly, the comments about QM should be taken as tongue-in-cheek. It is certainly counter-intuitive, but not illogical in any reasonable sense of the word. And one should remember that there are several different interpretations of QM. This point is important, so as to immunize oneself against the illegitimate move from the highly abstract mathematical formalisms of QM, whose job is to correctly predict the outcomes of experiments, to metaphysical statements about the nature of reality. I could name some of the egregious rot that is peddled out there, supposedly as a consequence of QM, but since I am not in the mood for this particular debate, I will content myself in registering my protest.

                  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

                    So if physicists can perform thought experiments, why exactly do we need “an actual infinity to test with”?

                    I’m afraid you may not have read carefully. The “EPR Paradox” took QM, and used it to predict ‘quantum entanglement’ – what Einstein called ‘spooky action at a distance’. They said, “If QM is true, then quantum entanglement must happen. Entanglement is obviously silly, so therefore QM is false.” That’s the thought experiment.

                    The problem is, eventually real experiments were done, and… goldarnit, entanglement actually happens! The ‘thought experiment’ led to the wrong conclusion. (Another example here.)

                    Thought experiments are useful, and I wasn’t proposing abandoning them. I was pointing out that thought experiments are not conclusive and must be checked against reality.

                  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

                    Now, people usually retort that there is no *logical* contradiction involved.
                    Everyone agrees, but that is also besides the point, since we are interested in metaphysical possibility.

                    It turns out that people get ‘metaphysical possibility’ wrong. As you yourself concede:

                    Lastly, the comments about QM should be taken as tongue-in-cheek. It is certainly counter-intuitive, but not illogical in any reasonable sense of the word.

                    Exactly!!!!!!! And yet, people as smart and imaginative as Einstein were convinced that it was ‘metaphysically impossible’. And they were wrong.

                    Given the counter-intuitiveness… do you have any argument for the plausibility of actual infinities in reality? Something other than the sheer power of chutzpah?

                    Ask Randal. He believes “God has an actual infinite set of true beliefs.” Is he displaying as much ‘chutzpah’ as me? Why or why not?

                    (and let me add that there *are* several other arguments against actual infinities in reality)

                    Let’s hear ‘em.

                    • G. Rodrigues

                      @Ray Ingles:

                      1. Einstein did not thought that QM was wrong but that it was an *incomplete* theory, so your reading is incorrect on several counts. I would even argue that Einstein was really aiming at the Copenhagen interpretation of QM rather than at the physical theory itself — but not being a specialist in Einstein’s thought I am happy to be proven wrong. As far as I understand you, your later comments rest on these misunderstandings, so until you clarify them, I for myself close this part of the debate.

                      2 You say and I quote:

                      “Thought experiments are useful, and I wasn’t proposing abandoning them. I was pointing out that thought experiments are not conclusive and must be checked against reality.”

                      This is of necessity true for the empirical sciences, almost by definition of empirical, but it fails for every other field of knowledge, so as far as your original point goes, it is irrelevant. And since you yourself concede that you are not proposing to abandon thought experiments altogether even in the empirical sciences, I am content to also give this thread of the discussion a rest.

                      3. As far as the problem of actual infinities goes, deflection does not count as an answer. I repeat, do you have any argument besides broad, logical possibility?

                      4. As far as Randal Rauser’s belief that God’s mind contains an actual infinity of ideas: are you not even aware that there is a difference between an “idea” (in your mind, in my mind or in God’s mind) and “thing” or “object” as it appears in the sentence “there exists an actual infinity of things in reality”? That “God’s mind” and “reality” as in that last sentence are two completely different things? Presumably, while you harbor all sorts of doubts about the former you do not doubt the latter.

                      5. At this point, giving any other arguments against actual infinities would be a waste of both our times.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net Ray Ingles

    After all, why should he bother defending (1 ) if he can get away with (2?)?

    And how does he define ‘transcendent’? (It’s not like we haven’t had a few go-rounds on this topic before…)

    • randal

      I suspect his definition is a standard one:

      Transcendent: to go beyond ordinary limits.

      Thus for God to transcend the universe simply means for God to go beyond the universe. That can be fleshed out in different ways depending on one’s understanding of God’s relationship to time. But for the purposes of his cosmological argument that is sufficient.

      • http://ingles.homeunix.net Ray Ingles

        Transcendent: to go beyond ordinary limits.

        Well, being outside the universe’s event horizon would be ‘outside ordinary limits’, but that doesn’t make it (a) supernatural, or (b) intelligent.

        • randal

          Craig never argued that a transcendent cause is intelligent simply in virtue of being transcendent. He presented an independent argument for why that cause would be an agent.

  • http://landonhedrick.blogspot.com Landon Hedrick

    Randal,

    Regarding the “bait and switch,” I’m afraid you and Craig are wrong on this one. The evidential argument from evil aims to prove that God does not exist, given that “God” is conceived of as an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being. Law had in mind that there can be other “theistic” hypotheses, in which there is a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally neutral (or even maximally evil). So he’s saying that the argument doesn’t disprove those other hypotheses, only what you might call the “perfect God hypothesis.”

    Here’s why this isn’t a bait and switch. Most philosophers think that omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection are essential attributes of God. That means that any being lacking any of those properties would not be, properly speaking, “God.” Craig himself believes this, as he explicitly said during the debate! He pointed out in his first rebuttal, I think, that it’s misleading to talk about the “Evil God” as “God,” since God is by definition perfectly good. But then if God is, by definition, perfectly good, Law’s evidential argument from evil was right on topic after all, since it aims to disprove such a being. My guess is that you, like Craig, believe that any being that isn’t morally perfect cannot be “God.” (Am I right?) Then why the complaint that the conclusion of the argument is consistent with theism?

    Moreover, Craig contradicted himself during the debate on this point. He complained that Law hadn’t addressed the kalam cosmological argument. Law pointed out that such an argument doesn’t prove that God (as traditionally conceived) exists, since it’s consistent with Evil God. Craig’s bizarre complaint was that it’s a strange atheist who believes there was a timeless, spaceless, immaterial, powerful, personal creator of the universe. Perhaps that’s a strange view for an atheist to hold, but it’s consistent with atheism nonetheless given that Craig thinks that if the creator was Evil God, then God does not exist.

    It surprised me that all of this went over Craig’s head.

    • randal

      Excellent comments (as usual). I’ll respond to this in a blog post.

  • stephen

    Hi Randal

    Just so we’re clear, I aimed solely at God *as defined by Craig*. Which is to say, all-good. How’s that “bait and switch”?

    And if I showed there is no such god, I wouldn’t consider that a “modest” achievement! Hey, I’d settle for just that one in terms of career philosophical achievements!

    all the best

    Stephen

    • randal

      I agree, it isn’t a bait and switch. Whether or not you demonstrated that there is no such god remains to be seen. I’ve only listened as far as Craig’s first rebuttal.

  • AJ

    I was just wondering if you can tell me when the “results” of the debate will be determined? Was it a draw? They both had good arguments? But what do you mean by “let’s see how the rebuttals go tomorrow?”

    • randal

      My next entry will be later today. I’m not sure how many blog posts I’ll devote to this debate but probably a few more which means that my results should be in by the weekend or thereabouts.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    G. Rodrigues –

    Einstein did not thought that QM was wrong but that it was an *incomplete* theory, so your reading is incorrect on several counts.

    He argued that QM couldn’t be non-local, and therefore must be incomplete. The predictions of nonlocal behavior inherent in entanglement – which hadn’t been tested up to that point – were wrong, by Einstein’s view. Of course, as I’ve noted, it didn’t work out that way.

    it fails for every other field of knowledge, so as far as your original point goes, it is irrelevant.

    Examples? Are you claiming that “every other field of knowledge” makes no predictions about reality?

    I repeat, do you have any argument besides broad, logical possibility?

    The reason this comes up is that people argue that the universe could not have existed eternally. Either there’s a beginning, or it goes on forever (actual infinity of past). I’m on record here as saying we don’t know enough about universes to be sure those are the only two options.

    I’ll also note that General Relativity argues strongly for a B-series of time, which means that ‘successive addition’ problems with actual infinities of time go away.

    That “God’s mind” and “reality” as in that last sentence are two completely different things?

    Perhaps I have a different model of how minds are implemented than you?

    At this point, giving any other arguments against actual infinities would be a waste of both our times.

    Except you haven’t really given any to start with. You’ve said they are counter-intuitive, while admitting “there is no *logical* contradiction involved”. Which you then immediately admit is the case for QM, too.

    • G. Rodrigues

      @Ray Ingles:

      Apologies for the late answer.

      I honestly forgot what was the point of talking about Einstein’s thought, so I am letting go that part of the discussion.

      “Examples? Are you claiming that “every other field of knowledge” makes no predictions about reality?”

      Does History make predictions? What predictions does Metaphysics make? Does Mathematics make predictions? Is its subject matter part of reality? Does Literary Criticism make predictions? In what sense does it talk about reality?

      “The reason this comes up is that people argue that the universe could not have existed eternally. Either there’s a beginning, or it goes on forever (actual infinity of past). I’m on record here as saying we don’t know enough about universes to be sure those are the only two options.”

      Pointing out that possibly, maybe, there is a third option besides an absolute beginning or past-eternal is not an argument in favor of actual infinities.

      “I’ll also note that General Relativity argues strongly for a B-series of time, which means that ‘successive addition’ problems with actual infinities of time go away.”

      I disagree with your assessment of what GR argues for, but this at best only shows that the “successive addition” argument is problematic. It is not an argument in favor of actual infinities.

      “Perhaps I have a different model of how minds are implemented than you?”

      More deflection? As far as I take it, you do no believe in God. So how is dragging God’s mind, infinite number of ideas in it or even different implementations of a mind (whatever that means) an argument in favor of the existence of actual infinities in reality?

      “Except you haven’t really given any to start with. You’ve said they are counter-intuitive, while admitting “there is no *logical* contradiction involved”. Which you then immediately admit is the case for QM, too.”

      False. I pointed out that “reverse” Hilbert Hotel silmulations lead to paradoxical “creation out of nothing” scenarios. More arguments?

      – D. Oderberg, “Traversal of the infinite, the ‘Big Bang’ and the Kalaam cosmological argument” argues that a universe past-eternal would violate the PSR.

      – See Alexander Pruss’s arguments in http://alexanderpruss.blogspot.com/2011/08/actual-infinity.html. He argues against *specific* kinds of actual infinities and this is enough to prop up the Kalaam argument. In the post, you will also find links to other arguments against actual infinities like the Grim Reaper scenario.

      There are probably more if I dug around deeper. Feel free to debunk the arguments; but since you have not actually presented a single one, I rest my case.

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