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. Curley's Second Rebuttal

1. O.K., well, let's see.  I'd better say something about the complex order argument.… Oh, but wait a second!  I can't let this one go!  He accused me of committing an elementary modal fallacy, when I inferred from God's foreknowledge that human actions are necessary.  No, I don't think so, actually.  I think the argument that I was relying on is pretty nicely laid out by Nelson Pike in an article in the Philosophical Review––about 25 years ago now, I think it was––in which he argued that the only way you could make sense of God's foreknowledge consistent with the kind of indeterministic human freedom which Dr. Craig favors is by assuming the possibility of backwards causation.  And backwards causation is a pretty hard notion to understand.

2. Look, here's the idea––I'll try to explain it very simply––it's a complicated argument––but it goes like this:  what do we mean when we say that a person acts freely when he does something?  Well, on an indeterministic conception of freedom, what we're saying is that, at the point of action, the person had the power to act otherwise than he, in fact, did act.  Now 20,000 years ago––not to go too far back––God knew, if he has foreknowledge, that the person would make the choice he made.  So what are we saying when we say that at that point in time he had the power to act otherwise?  Well, we seem to be saying that he had the power to change what God believed 20,000 years ago.  That's backward causation, and I don't think it makes any sense. So I know about the modal fallacy he accused me of committing.  It's an old story, and this argument doesn't depend on it.

3. O.K., let's see now.  So many things, so many things!  O.K. here's one:  this is another appeal to authority.  This actually comes out of Dr. Craig's book. (Laughter)  Here's what he writes on page 46 of his book, "The majority of scientists who adhere to the Big Bang model of the universe probably see no theistic implications in it whatsoever."  This is an appeal to authority within an appeal to authority, mind you.  I'm appealing to Dr. Craig appealing to the authority of Dr. Tinsley of Yale, Beatrice M. Tinsley: "When I asked Dr. Tinsley of Yale what relevance the model has to the question of the existence of God she replied, 'I don't see that all this has any bearing on the question.  I asked your question to a group of my colleagues and their initial reactions were the same as mine, no relevance.'"  I congratulate Dr. Craig on his candor in reporting Dr. Tinsley's response.  I think it's admirable of him to admit that most physicists don't see that there's any theological relevance to their theories; but there you are!

4. On the business about the complex order of the universe.  I must say something about that because those numbers that he pulls out are awfully impressive. I mean, Good Lord! (Laughter) Old habits die hard! (Laughter)  Do I get some extra time now? (Laughter)  Dr. Craig relies heavily on the claim that it's wildly improbable that there should be a life–permitting universe.  Of all the possible universes, only a very few are of such as to permit the development of life; most are life–prohibiting universes.  Now I'm very skeptical about our ability to calculate these probabilities with any accuracy.  And here I'm going to quote from my colleague, Larry Sklar, who is a specialist in the philosophy of physics whom I asked about––I showed him––actually what I showed him was not the draft of Dr. Craig's opening statement for this debate, but I showed him a draft from one of his previous debates.  Some of his debates are available on his web–site, and I was able to procure some others that weren't on his web–site.  Here's what Larry said about this business of improbability:

The whole issue of the improbability of the world is a mess.  The stuff about how delicately the parameters would have to be balanced rests upon very speculative cosmology.  All of these arguments rest upon the dubious assumption that any legitimate sense can be given to the probability of some initial state.  What is the reference sample of events from which we observe frequencies and, hence, infer to probabilities:  a vast number of creations of which our kind of universe is created only rarely?  Has Craig observed them?  Is the probability from some a priori measure of chances?  Who told him what that was?  If one applies certain kinds of reasoning that are legitimate in the universe as it is, in specified contexts where appropriate reference classes exist, to the cosmic case, you can generate those numbers.  But such wild extrapolations of probabilistic reasoning are simply not justified.

Well, that's what our local expert on these matters thinks.

5. I better say something about––how much time have I got?––two minutes––O.K., I'd better say something about this business of objective values, and so on.  Look, I believe in objective values.  I even believe––near to atheism as I am––and it is, in a way, a bit of a quibble to say that I'm not an atheist because I'm an atheist with respect to the most important kind of God that people in this society think about––I happen to think there's a decent chance that there might be some other kind of God––but most of you wouldn't recognize that kind of God as being God, because it's so remote from what you think of as God.

6. But for practical purposes, let's say that I'm an atheist because my own peculiar religious inclinations don't come close enough to what's normal.  O.K.  But I still think rape is wrong.  In fact, I wrote an article––it's interesting that he should have chosen that example––I wrote an article, about twenty–some years ago––I don't always work in history of philosophy and I did an article for Philosophy and Public Affairs––I think it was 1975––in which I was arguing, among other things, that rape was wrong.  I was also concerned, however, about the conditions under which people could be excused from raping, excused for having raped someone, because there had been a court decision which said that if the defendant believed that the woman was consenting, no matter how unreasonably, he couldn't be convicted.  Look, I think an atheist, any kind of non–believer, can make a perfectly good case against the wrongness of rape.  And I think Dr. Craig does morals no service by supposing that we have to believe in God in order to think that rape is wrong.

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