Was Stephen Law guilty of a bait and switch?
In my summary of the debate I argued that Law was guilty of a bait and switch. I wrote:
“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).”
Landon Hedrick responded by asserting that I was wrong. I. was. wrong. Here is the offending statement:
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?
Now as I respond to Landon’s charge keep in mind that I have only listened to the debate to this point up to and including Craig’s first rebuttal.
So am I flat-out wrong? I think it is not quite that simple. What we have here is admittedly a strategic move on Stephen Law’s part. In his opener he opted to leave it open that a being of great power brought the world into existence. In other words, he didn’t touch the kalam cosmological argument. Yes, this lifts from his shoulders the burden of providing a plausible account for the origin of the universe. But it does so at significant cost.
Here’s the cost. Even if Law is successful in his argument, a person could walk away from the debate persuaded that a being of infinite power brought the universe into existence. And that is not all. The fact is that that person could walk away holding a doctrine of God like that of leading Christian theologian and ethicist James Gustafson which affirms God’s perfect goodness but denies omnibenevolence. And that’s the point I made above. Law focuses his whole argument so narrowly that it only critiques one attribute in the classical theist’s package. His argument is in fact consistent with many Christian theologies of God. Any pro-atheist argument which is consistent with the existence of God as defined in some orthodox Christian theologies is a very weak argument indeed.
I’ll concede it is probably too strong to call Law’s method a “bait and switch”. However, it is worth underscoring just how modest his argument is. It is almost as glaring as if he had decided to rebut atemporal views of God while ignoring the fact that many theologians understand God to be a temporal being.