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 Second Rebuttal

1. Now you'll remember in my opening speech I said that there were two questions we needed to decide in tonight's debate: 

First, are there any good reasons to think that God does not exist? 

Now as I look at my notes from what Dr. Curley said in his last speech, it seemed to me that he dropped his defense of most of his seven objections.

2. He said:  "I'm aware that there are passages inconsistent with Calvinism, but that just shows that the Bible is inconsistent."  Well, I think I gave, in my [first rebuttal], a consistent interpretation of those passages.  If we interpret predestination as a corporate notion primarily, then it is perfectly compatible with freedom of the will to say: "Anyone who wants to be a member of that predestined body can freely do so."  So until he shows some incoherence in that position, I think that all of his objections fail.  He recommended a book.  I'll recommend one of my own:  Robert Shank wrote a book called Elect in the Son, which is a wonderful study of the doctrine of predestination from the point of view that I've laid out.{1}  And I think that it is a coherent view.

3. In the last speech, however, we got a number of new objections to the concept of God, that the concept of God is incoherent.  But notice that we got very little argument to support those assertions.  In fact, it was Dr. Curley now appealing to the authority of Anthony Kenny and Swinburne that the concept of God is incoherent!  But what is the argument here?

4. Well, for example, he says foreknowledge is not compatible with freedom.  Well, I think that this is simply an invalid argument.  It goes something like this:

1.  Necessarily, if God foreknows X, then X will happen.

2.  God foreknows X.

3.  Therefore, necessarily X will happen.

5. Well, that simply commits an elementary  fallacy in modal logic.  It is simply a fallacious argument, and most people recognize it as such.  It is possible that X not happen even though God foreknows it.  What is true is that if X were not to happen, then God would not have foreknown X.  And as long as that subjunctive counterfactual is true, there is simply no incoherence in God's having knowledge of future contingents.

6. He also presented an argument to suggest that divine timelessness is incompatible with personhood.  Well, I would simply disagree with this.  I think what's essential to personhood is self–consciousness and freedom of the will, and those are not inherently temporal concepts.  A good study of this is John Yates' book, The Timelessness of God.   Let me quote from Yates;  he says:

The theist may immediately grant that concepts such as memory and anticipation could not apply to a timeless being.  But this is not to admit that the key concepts of consciousness and knowledge are inapplicable to such a deity.  There does not seem to be any essential temporal elements in words like 'to understand,' 'to be aware,' 'to know.'  An atemporal deity could possess maximal understanding, awareness, and knowledge in a single, all–embracing vision of reality.{2}

So, I think there's no incoherence in the notion of a timeless, personal being.

7. Well, basically then, I don't think we've heard any good reasons to think that Christian theism is not true.  Now what about my reasons for thinking Christian theism is true?

First, I argued that God makes sense of the origin of the universe; and notice the structure of the argument here is a deductive argument.  I argue:

1.  Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2.  The universe began to exist.

3.  Therefore, the universe has a cause.

And then you philosophically analyze the concept of a cause of the universe, and you can recover several of the traditional divine attributes.

8. Now Dr. Curley raises a number of objections without really disputing the truth of the premises.  He says, for example, that I'm arguing from authority.  Hilbert abandoned his formalist program.  That's true, that he abandoned his formalist program.  But Hilbert never abandoned the view that an actual infinite cannot exist in reality.  And the very fact that, as I said, you cannot do inverse operations like subtraction in transfinite arithmetic with infinite quantities shows that an infinite can't be instantiated in the real world––because in the real world you can take away from things, if you want to, and, therefore, you are going to have self–contradictions.  And so I don't think that that undermines my objection to the actual infinite.

9. He says:  "Well, but then how can God be actual and infinite?"  Well, I do have a good answer to that!  Namely, when theologians talk about the infinity of God, this isn't a mathematical concept.  In set theory, the idea of an actual infinite is a collection of an infinite number of definite and discrete finite parts.  But the infinity of God isn't a mathematical concept at all.  It just means God is all–knowing; He's all–powerful; He's all–loving; He's eternal; He's necessary; and so forth.  It's just totally different concepts.  It's not a univocal concept of infinity.

10. He says: "Well, if your argument were correct, then space is necessarily non–Euclidean and, surely, that's not right."  Well, I have two responses here. 

First, I would say that Euclidean space can be finite, if you adjust the topology of space.  For example, if you make it into a cylinder and then bend it into a torus or a donut shape, you can have a Euclidean space that is finite.

11. But, secondly, I argue that even if a Euclidean space––a flat Euclidean space that has a topology of a plane––might be logically possible, that's no proof that it's metaphysically possible.  And my argument is that, in fact, actual infinities are metaphysically impossible.

12. He then asks: "Well, how could you have an eternal will without the effect being co–eternal?"  Well, I think very easily.  God could have a timeless intention to create a world with a beginning.  Since He is omnipotent, His will is done, and a world with a beginning starts to exist. Now I actually think that at the moment of creation, when God creates the world, He does enter into time.  I think God becomes temporal, so that His decision to create a temporal world is a decision as well for God to enter into time in virtue of His real relations with the universe.  But I would say that without the universe God is timeless.

13. Now, as far as I can see, that is all of the objections to the first argument.  ––Oh, except for saying that Anthony Kenny perhaps didn't understand the Big Bang!  Notice my quotation from Kenny was simply to show that if you're an atheist, you've got to believe that the universe popped into existence out of nothing.  And Dr. Curley doesn't dispute the point.

14. Let me just quote from a couple of more recent authorities on this.  Stephen Hawking, in The Nature of Space and Time, published in November of 1996, says, "Almost everyone now believes that the universe and time itself had a beginning at the Big Bang." {3}And, therefore, you've got to explain how the universe came to exist.  Quentin Smith, a philosopher of science at the University of Western Michigan, says in Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology (1993):  "It belongs analytically to the concept of the cosmological singularity that it is not the effect of prior physical events.  The definition of a singularity entails that it is impossible to extend the space–time manifold beyond the singularity.  This effectively rules out the idea that the singularity is the effect of some prior natural process."{4}  It can only be the result of a supernatural process, a supernatural being.

15. Notice that Dr. Curley hasn't yet responded to my arguments based on the complex order in the universe, the existence of objective moral values, and the historical facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  So I think that my case this evening is still basically intact and that we have good grounds for believing in the truth of Christian theism.


{1}Robert Shank, Elect in the Son (Springfield, Mo.:  Westcott, 1970).

{2}John Yates, The Timelessness of God (Lanham, Md.:  Unicversity Press of America, 1990),  p. 173.

{3}Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time, The Isaac Newton Institute Series of Lectures (Princeton, N. J.:  Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 20.

{4}Quentin Smith, “The Uncaused Beginning of the Universe,” in Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology, by William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 120.

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