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 Closing Statement

1. O.K.  Obviously, a lot of questions are going to be left unanswered at the end of this evening.  I promise to stay as long as anybody wants to.  I understand the hall has be cleared by 10 o'clock.  I'm willing to go out for coffee afterward, if you want to keep talking. (Laughter)  I promise in the question and answer period to address some of the questions that I didn't get a chance to talk about in my rebuttal periods.  I didn't say anything about his arguments about the resurrection.  I have some things to say about the resurrection.  I didn't say anything about the argument from religious experience.  And if you want to know why I think rape is wrong, and how I think it can be rationally justified to hold that judgment, I'll be perfectly happy to talk about that.

2. The advertising for tonight's debate invited you to come, hear the debate, and draw your own conclusion.  In a few minutes the organizers––well, actually they distributed the comment cards at the beginning of the evening––I didn't realize that was going to happen––inviting you to say which of the two speakers has made the better case, inviting you, by your votes, to declare a winner.

3. By all means, you must draw your own conclusions from what you have heard.  But I suggest that it is premature at this point to come to any firm conclusion as to which of us has the truth on his side.  These are complicated and difficult issues.  Each of us has made many arguments.  The proper assessment of any one of them could easily be the subject of an entire college course.

4. The conditions under which this debate has operated do not really encourage adequate reflection on the arguments.  The recommended strategy in these situations is to put up a lot of arguments, more than your opponent can really respond to in the time allotted for his rebuttal, and then to claim victory by pointing out that your opponent has not answered all your arguments.  Dr. Craig has followed that strategy.  Having been forewarned that he would do this, I have tried to emulate that strategy.

5. Yet the matter you are asked to decide seems to be of the utmost importance.  If Dr. Craig is right in his beliefs, your eternal salvation is at stake.  And the consequences of not being saved are awesome.  So he has a very powerful altruistic motive for trying to persuade non–believers that he is right.

6. If I am right in my beliefs, however, the stakes are not so high.  I cannot hope to win eternal joy for anyone by persuading them to reject the Christian God.  Nor can I hope to save anyone from Hell.  If I am right, there is no life after death.  And if I am wrong, I will pay a terrible penalty for being wrong.  If, in addition to being wrong, I persuade others to join me in my error, thereby procuring their damnation (Laughter), I may indeed deserve eternal punishment.  So I don't have quite the same motivation to persuade that Dr. Craig has. (Laughter)

7. Why, then, debate?  That's a good question.  Those of us who dissent from the Christian majority in this country are able to live here and go about our business undisturbed only because the majority have decided to extend to us the freedom to think what we like, and to say what we think.  It may seem to some among that majority that we go beyond the limits of what is proper if we accept an invitation to speak against the majority religion, or if we press our case too vigorously.

8. My wife would have preferred that I not appear here, as I said earlier.  Sometimes the sins of the husband are visited upon the wife. (Laughter)  Ask Hillary. (Laughter)  Now, I'm a Democrat, O.K.  But social disapproval is a small matter compared to the penalties heretics used to suffer.  Not very long ago, I might, in some Christian countries, have been burned at the stake even for holding the views I do, much less stating them candidly.  Dr. Craig remarked that atheists had failed to make an adequate case against the existence of God.  Well, yeah, there's a reason why they were keeping quiet! (Laughter)

9. Our Supreme Court now interprets the First Amendment to imply that freedom of religion extends, not only to those who accept one of the many varieties of Christianity, but also to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and those who accept no religion at all.  This freedom not to believe, and to say why I do not believe, is precious to me.

10. I suppose that is the deepest reason I have for my decision to appear here.  Not to convert believers to disbelief, but to put a human face on disbelief, which still often feels that it must hide itself.  There are politicians in this country who do not believe that the protections of the First Amendment should extend to those who reject all organized religion.  If you doubt me, I invite you to consult Patrick Buchanan's web site.

11. Putting a human face on disbelief means, among other things, trying to show that my position is one which might be held by a reasonable man, a man of some intelligence, who has, within the limits of his abilities––God knows there are limits––given long, and careful, and fair–minded consideration to the arguments of the other side, and who has concluded, with some regret, that he cannot accept them.

12. What should you do if you wish to reflect further on this issue before reaching a decision?  Come to the meeting of the undergraduate philosophy club, scheduled for 8pm, February 24th in Angell Hall 2271.  I'll be at that meeting to discuss the issues of the debate further.

13. I'll also put material relating to this debate on my web site.  You have my web address on the article the organizers circulated.  I don't know that they actually circulated that article of mine on Spinoza.  But I think they've offered to circulate it to those who want it.  So that'll give you my web site, if you're interested.  I'll put up my opening and closing statements by the weekend, and with Dr. Craig's permission, I'll add the full transcript of both sides as soon as they become available.  I'll also put up a transcript of the very interesting debate Dr. Craig had with Michael Tooley, at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

14. Finally, one of my projects this year has been a seminar on religious toleration.  I want to put in a plug for that.  Next week we're having a distinguished visiting speaker from Great Britain, Professor David Wootton, who will be speaking on the toleration of atheists in early modern society.  The title of his talk is "Enemies of All Society."  I invite you all to hear his public lecture, at 4pm next Monday.  Further details about that will be on my Web site.

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