The Craig-Curley Debate: The Existence of the Christian God

Dr. William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife Jan and their two teenage children Charity and John. At the age of sixteen as a junior in high school, he first heard the message of the Christian gospel and yielded his life to Christ. Dr. Craig pursued his undergraduate studies at Wheaton College (B.A. 1971) and graduate studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.A. 1974; M.A. 1975), the University of Birmingham (England) (Ph.D. 1977), and the University of Munich (Germany) (D.Theol. 1984). From 1980-86 he taught Philosophy of Religion at Trinity, during which time he and Jan started their family. In 1987 they moved to Brussels, Belgium, where Dr. Craig pursued research at the University of Louvain until 1994.

Dr. Craig's First Rebuttal

1. I want to thank Dr. Curley for his very personal and sensitive remarks.  In this speech, I hope to show, however, that most of his objections are aimed at a false target, at a conception of God which I, as a Christian, reject.  What Dr. Curley offers is really seven deadly objections to the Calvinistic God, not the Christian God.  It is only by equating Calvinism with Christianity that his objections have any force.  And I just deny that equation.  I am not a Calvinist.

2. Now, for those who are unfamiliar with this terminology, let me explain.  Calvinism is a type of theology stemming from the French Protestant reformer John Calvin.  It holds that all people are enslaved to sin, but that God, in His grace, sovereignly chooses to save some of them and to leave the rest to be damned.  Those He has predestined to salvation, He irresistibly draws and imparts to them justifying faith.  Thus, one's salvation or damnation is not a result of human free will, but of God's sovereign choice.

3. Now Calvinism is the theology of the Anglican, or the Episcopalian, Church in which Dr. Curley was raised.  But most Christian denominations don't hold to Calvinism.  Its simply parochial to think that all of these other denominations are, therefore, not faithful Christians.  Are Catholics, and Methodists, and Baptists, and Eastern Orthodox all on the slippery slope to heresy, as Dr. Curley alleges?  I think that would be a rather narrow–minded dogmatism.

4. My own theological views are broadly Wesleyan, named after John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.  I believe in human free will and that where we spend eternity is, ultimately, the result of our choice.  So let me consider specifically Dr. Curley's theological objections.

5. 1.  Predestination.  Dr. Curley presents the following argument:

1.  Predestination is incompatible with God's love and justice.

2. Predestination is taught in the Bible.

3. Therefore, the God of the Bible does not exist.

6. Now I agree with his first premise, but I deny the second, that predestination, as he defines it, is taught in the Bible.  On the contrary, I think that the Bible teaches that it is God's will that every single person be saved.  II Peter 3:9 states, "God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." And I Timothy 2:4 says, "God, our Savior, desires all persons to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth."  So God's will is that everyone be saved, and the only obstacle to His will coming true is human freedom.

7. But then what about the biblical passages on predestination?  I suggest they be understood corporately.  God has predestined a group, a people, for glorification and salvation. But who is it that is a member of the group?  ––Those who freely respond to God's offer of forgiveness in Christ Jesus, and place their trust in him.  And, thus, I think that Dr. Curley is simply mistaken that a faithful, Bible–believing Christian has to believe in arbitrary individual predestination.

8. 2:  The argument from hell.  Dr. Curley presents the following argument:

1.  Minor sins do not deserve eternal punishment.

2. The Bible teaches that God will eternally punish minor sins.

3. Therefore, the God of the Bible does not exist.

9. Now in this argument I think that both of those premises are false.  But time only allows me to deal with the second.  With regard to the second premise, it is far from obvious that the Bible teaches eternal punishment for minor sins.  Rather, what separates us from God forever is the sin of freely rejecting God out of our lives.  This is a sin of infinite gravity and proportion, since it is the creature's  free decision to reject God Himself.  Admittedly, Dr. Curley's Calvinism has no room for this sort of sin.  But on a biblical view, it is not so much God, as creatures themselves, who determine their eternal destiny.

10. 3:  Original Sin.  Dr. Curley gives the following argument:

1. Infants are damned because of original sin.

2. The Bible teaches original sin.

3. Therefore, the God of the Bible does not exist.

11. I dispute the first premise.  In fact, I challenge Dr. Curley to read me a single passage of Scripture that teaches that infants are damned because of original sin.  The Bible teaches no such thing.  On the contrary, Jesus took up the little children in his arms and blessed them, saying "Let the little children come to me... for such is the kingdom of heaven" (Mark 10.14).

12. Arguments 4 and 5 are lumped together: Justification by Faith and Exclusivism. Here Dr. Curley's argument seems to go like this:

1. The Bible teaches that God gives justifying faith to those He arbitrarily chooses and excludes others.

2. It is unfair to do this.

3. Therefore, the God of the Bible does not exist.

13. I think the first premise is false.  Nowhere does the New Testament teach that justifying faith is arbitrarily bestowed by God.  Rather, justification by faith is the wonderful doctrine that God's forgiveness and salvation is a free gift that you can't do anything to merit. This is a wonderful doctrine because it gets us off the treadmill of trying to earn favor with God and trying to merit salvation.  All we have to do is freely place our trust in Him.  God, therefore, excludes no one. Jesus said, "Whosoever will, may come" (John 7.37).  But some people freely exclude God from their lives.

14. So, in summary of the five theological objections, I want to say:  Dr. Curley––and I mean this sincerely––I have good news for you.  (The word "gospel" means "good news.")  You don't have to be a Calvinist to be a Christian!  (Laughter) 

So let me turn to the remaining philosophical objections.

15. 6. The Problem of Evil.  Here Dr. Curley's argument seems to go something like this:

1.  God exists.

2.  If God is all–powerful, He can create any world that He wants.

3.  If God is all–good, than He would create a world without evil.

4)  Therefore, evil should not exist.

But, evil does exist.  So it follows, therefore, that God does not exist.

16. Now the problem with this argument is that Dr. Curley hasn't shown either of the two crucial premises to be necessarily true.  Take premise (2), that an all–powerful God can create any world that He wants.  If God wills to create free creatures, then it's logically impossible for Him to make them freely do what He wants.  So Dr. Curley would have to show that there is a world of free creatures, which God could create, which has as much good as this world, but which has less evil.  But how could he possibly prove such a thing?  It is pure speculation.

17. What about premise (3), that an all–loving God would prefer a world without evil. Now that premise might be true if God's purpose were to create a comfortable environment for His human pets.  But on the Christian view, we are not God's pets.  And the purpose of life is not happiness, as such, but rather the knowledge of God and His salvation––which will ultimately bring true happiness.  But many evils occur in life which are utterly pointless with respect to producing human happiness.  But they may not be pointless with respect to producing a deeper knowledge of God.  Dr. Curley would have to prove that there is another world that God could have created with this much knowledge of God and His salvation but with less evils.  But how could anyone prove such a thing?  Again, it is pure speculation.  And, therefore, the problem of evil, I think, is simply inconclusive and doesn't disprove Christian theism.

18. Finally, 7:  The Problem of Morality.  Here the argument runs like this:

1.  If divine command morality is true, then God is liable to command almost anything.

2.  This is destructive or morality as we normally think of it.

3.  Therefore, divine command morality is not true.

19. Now on the face of it, even if the premises of this argument were true, the argument is unsound because it's just invalid.  The conclusion doesn't follow from the premises.  Divine command morality could still be true even if it has the deleterious consequences that Dr. Curley ascribes to it.

20. But are the premises, in fact, true?  Well, I think not.  First, it is not the case that God is liable to command anything.  God's commands flow necessarily from His own nature and character, which is essentially loving, holy, compassionate, just, and so forth.  And thus, His commands are not arbitrary, but reflect God's own morally perfect nature.

21. Secondly, divine command morality is not destructive of morality precisely because God's commands are stable and steadfast.  The case of Abraham and Isaac is the exception which proves the rule.  I think we can safely guide our lives by the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule without worrying that God will command us to do something otherwise.  And remember the alternative:  if there is no God, then everything is relative, and we have completely lost our moral compass.  As Dostoevsky rightly said, "All things are permitted."

22. So while Dr. Curley, I think, has given us, perhaps, good reasons to think that Calvinism is not true, he has not given us good reasons to think that Christian theism is not true. On the contrary, I think we've seen, as yet unrefuted, five good reasons for thinking that a Creator and Designer of the universe exists who is the locus of absolute value and who has revealed Himself decisively in Jesus Christ.  And, therefore, I think that Christian theism is the more plausible world view.

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