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. Larson: Let's give applause to both speakers. (Applause) We're going to take questions now. But before doing so, it's been a long haul; we've gone through some difficult arguments. Let's take about two minutes and just scratch your neighbor's back, stretch, and don't leave. If you can stay, please, there's more to come.
On your right! If you have a question for Dr. Curley, please line up at the other microphone. Dr. Curley will be back very shortly. So we'll begin by taking questions for Dr. Craig, and we'll give Dr. Curley and equal number of questions when he arrives back from a very brief break. So let's take the first question. I want to encourage you, please frame it as a question. So limit any comments or remarks you have simply to preliminaries to the question and avoid making extended statements. Could we have the first question, please?
1. Question: Hi, Dr. Craig! It's an honor to ask you a question. I was thinking about your reasoning about the order and complexity of the universe and––you know––I see a piece of dirt, and that has lots of atoms and lots of order, and I see a raindrop and that has lots of atoms and lots of order. I think of the infinite possibilities to where that raindrop could have fallen. And I posit a dirt God and a rock God at the same time––a dirt God and a rain God. How am I wrong in my reasoning, according to your basis?
2. Dr. Craig: Well, I think that the way you would be wrong is that things like a raindrop, for example, don't have the kind of complex order that I'm talking about that would be exhibited by the initial conditions of the universe. What would have order would be things like the atomic structure of that raindrop, and that, I think, does cry out for some sort of explanation. Why is it that the weak force and the strong force have the exact ratios and values they do? Why is it that the proton and the neutron have the mass ratios that they do? I think that that sort of thing does cry out for a fundamental explanation because those are contingent quantities that just appear out of nowhere in the beginning of the universe and, yet, are fine tuned for a life–permitting universe. So I would agree that at the most fundamental level there is order there that needs to be explained, but not at the macroscopic level of a raindrop or a piece of dirt.
Dr. Larson: Could we take a question for Dr. Curley?
Dr. Craig: He gets a one minute response if he wants.
Dr. Larson: If you want.
3. Dr. Curley: Yeah, I think I would like to say something actually about that. Order cries out for explanation. Yes, that's right, I think. I think order does cry out for explanation. But the question is whether positing any kind of god––let's forget about Christian––whether that explains anything. Look, what's in it for God whether there's a Big Bang universe or a steady–state universe? It's really very hard to see that there's any difference between the two. I mean, what exactly is his interest in having the particular kind of order that, on the theistic hypothesis, he's chosen to have? It seems like whatever purposes he might have had, it's very mysterious, on the whole, what those purposes were. He could have realized those purposes in any number of possible ways.
Dr. Larson: A question for Dr. Curley.
4. Question: O.K. Dr. Curley, are you familiar with Ockham's Razor?
Dr. Curley: Oh, yes!
Question: Well, for those who are not, Ockham's Razor says that the simplest explanation is right, whereas the less assumptions, the less suppositions, is the rightest answer. His theory is filled with infinity divided by infinity, etc., saying that everything was at the right temperature, we'd have an explosion. A neutron goes here and there, and we have the universe. Well, clearly, his explanation is much simpler. So then my question is––you tell that if we disavow predestination, we're undermining God as a whole––now I ask you if you're violating Ockham's Razor, are you violating everything that Ockham's Razor supports, which would be astrophysics, the Big Bang, everything that you're arguing for?
Dr. Curley: No, no! Are you through with your question?
Question: That's the question. You're violating Ockham's Razor, so are you not in fact violating all of astrophysics?
5. Dr. Curley: Well, no, I don't say that I'm violating Ockham's Razor. I mean Ockham's Razor is a little tricky to apply. Actually, you might get cut. (Laughter) The––first of all my argument didn't depend solely on predestination, Good Lord! But the––I guess I really should be careful about that, shouldn't I? (Laughter) Anyway, no, look, it's a question as to whether the theistic hypothesis is really as simple as it's alleged to be. I mean––Richard Swinburne likes to run this argument a lot––that, you know, here you've got all these things like the existence of the universe, and the order in the universe, and you've got one simple hypothesis to explain all these various phenomena. And isn't that wonderful? But, I mean, it seems to me that if you're really going to give a personalistic explanation, as he calls it, of the various phenomena––the personalistic explanation has the logical form of: a person does something to achieve an end. O.K. And, so, if you're going to explain why things are arranged the way they are, you have to explain what, exactly, is the end that God had. And so all the facts that are supposed to be explained by this one simple hypothesis; the hypothesis has to be embellished with a lot of explanations as to why all these things are good from the point of view of God. And I don't know that any theist has made any serious attempt to do that.
6. Dr. Craig: Well, I think it is remarkable that the God hypothesis does have such explanatory scope. The case I've drawn tonight appeals to philosophy, science, ethical theory, history, and personal experience. And, in all of these, the God hypothesis helps to make sense of a wide range of data in the world today and is a simple hypothesis, I think. We don't need to know what God's purposes are in every case, I think, to employ the idea of a personal creative intelligence behind the world. And I think it is a hypothesis with remarkable power and explanatory scope.
Dr. Larson: Question for Dr. Craig.
7. Question: Good evening! It seems to me at the end of the day that your hypothesis pretty much can be summarized this way––and I ask a question here––it seems that, because we cannot explain the origin of the universe, and because of the Elvis–like reappearance of Jesus Christ, that there must be a God, you say. I would ask you what distinguishes this rationale from the belief of ancient people who ascribe to the existence of God to the sun, there was a sun God, and a wind God, and a God of flight, and any of a number of manifestations of God which, at the end of the day, symbolized man's inherent refusal to acknowledge his own ignorance and the fact that we just don't know.
8. Dr. Craig: I'm not positing God as the so–called "God of the gaps," to explain gaps in our scientific knowledge. Rather, my argument is based upon the best of what we do know in science. For example, take my first argument: it's a deductive argument. Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore, the universe has a cause. Now that second premise, that the universe began to exist, is not a religious statement, not a theological statement. You can find that statement in any contemporary textbook on astrophysics or cosmology. And it is supported, as we've seen, by the vast majority of cosmologists today. So I'm simply saying that the best scientific evidence we have today supports the truth of that second premise. And from that, the rest of the deductive argument follows. So in no way is this an appeal to ignorance, to try to punt to God to explain what we don't understand.
9. As for Elvis, I don't think that the people who claim to have had those sightings actually saw Elvis. I think that they were either lying or they were hallucinating. (Laughter) Now with respect to the disciples, neither of those hypotheses is plausible. They clearly weren't lying because they were willing to go to their deaths for the truth of this message they proclaimed. Nobody who reads the New Testament can doubt these people sincerely believed what they said. And, as for hallucinations, I think this is disqualified by such things as the diversity and the breadth of the experiences of the appearances after Jesus' death. [The hallucination hypothesis] has weak explanatory scope in that it can't explain the empty tomb. You'd have to have an independent hypothesis conjoined to the hallucination hypothesis to account for the full data. And, thirdly, I don't think that hallucinations would have lead to their belief in the resurrection. At most, it would have lead them to believe that Jesus had been assumed into heaven, glorified into paradise, where Jews believed the righteous dead went upon death. But it would have gone contrary to Jewish beliefs that he was literally raised from the dead. So I don't think the hallucination hypothesis cuts mustard with respect to the resurrection appearances.
Dr. Larson: Dr. Curley.
10. Dr. Curley: Yeah, O.K. I think I should take this opportunity to talk about the resurrection because I didn't do so in my earlier talk. Look, first, I recommend a book by a man named Randel Helms called Gospel Fictions which has a very interesting study––actually, he doesn't understand the term "fiction" in quite the way you might think from the title, but never mind––very interesting study of the resurrection stories. And there are some basic facts that you can just verify for yourself by going to scripture. The earliest reports of Jesus having survived his crucifixion are in St. Paul, of course, which is about 20 years after the crucifixion. And he mentions various post–resurrection appearances, but not the empty tomb. It's only later when you get the Gospels–––the Gospels are quite a bit later, another 20 years or so, the earliest of the Gospels––and some of the Gospels come quite a bit later than that. So there's been quite a long time for an oral tradition to develop, and if you look at a work by A. D. White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, and particularly the chapter on the growth of healing legends, where he endeavors to document, in the case of Francis Xavier, about whom many legends grew up over time––although we have contemporary accounts which make it quite clear that these things didn't, in fact, happen in his lifetime––healing wonders that St. Francis was supposed to have been able to achieve.
11. Legends grow up about charismatic people. And the accounts we have––first of all, they're only from Christians. I mean, we don't have pagan accounts of what happened. The Gospel stories are inconsistent with one another in their details about the various appearances. And the oldest of the Gospels, the Gospel of Mark, the part of the Gospel of Mark in which the appearances are recounted is in modern critical editions now relegated to a footnote because it doesn't appear in the oldest manuscripts––which means it's evidently been added to later manuscripts because it was felt that the Gospel of Mark needed to have its story about Jesus' appearances to his disciples.
Dr. Larson: A question for Dr. Curley.
12. Question: You seem––both of you, actually––seem to be using arguments that premise logic as a major component––obviously, because you're debating. For example, Dr. Curley, you use this argument: that if God is loving and God is omnipotent, then God cannot predestine people to go to Hell. I would like to know why you think that, if there is a God, that God must obey the laws of logic and, you know, not something else, since by definition he would be above something.
13. Dr. Curley: Oh, well, yeah, O.K. Well, there have certainly been theists who have held that God was not bound by the laws of logic. Although the one whom I know best (and I wrote an article on this back in the 80s––it was in the Phil Review––that you could go look at, if you want to) was Descartes, who held that God had created the eternal truths, by which he meant to include both the truths of logic and the truths of mathematics. It seemed to me on examination ––it's a rather technical article, I'm afraid––but it seemed to me on examination that that view wouldn't hold up. And even in Descartes' case, although he held that God created the laws of logic, and that belief in God's omnipotence required us to suppose that, he didn't think that God, once he had created those laws, was not bound by them. He thought that after God had created the laws of logic––it's a little hard to know how to take this "after he had created the laws of logic," because, of course, Descartes believed (as Dr. Craig does, and as most theologians in the Christian tradition do) that God is eternal––so the date of his creation––I mean there is no date for his creation of the laws of logic––so it's quite a mysterious notion, this business of his priority to the laws of logic. But, in any case, to put it in temporal language, he said after the creation of the eternal truths, God is bound by them. And I imagine that Dr. Craig probably wouldn't want to deny the laws of logic either. You hold a view of God's omnipotence [according to which] he has to act within the laws of logic, right?
Dr. Craig: Right.
Dr. Larson: See, we've got agreement, finally!
Dr. Curley: And most people do nowadays. It's not really a very attractive alternative, the one you're proposing.
Dr. Larson: Would you like to say something?
14. Dr. Craig: I would say, philosophically, that the idea that God somehow transcends the laws of logic is just unintelligible, and I think here Dr. Curley and I would agree.
Dr. Curley: Finally! (Laughter)
Dr. Craig: Right! It's to say there's a possible world in which God does things that are impossible. But then in what sense is that a possible world? It seems to be unintelligible to talk like that. Theologically, though, too, as a Christian, I think that the Bible says, in the Gospel of John, "In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word was God" (John 1.1). And logos is the concept of reason, or the word, from which we get logic. And it is the very mind of God. It is the way that God thinks. So I think that God is the supremely logical individual and that our use of logic is just part of our being created in the image of God and a finite reflection of His supreme rationality. So I think it does no praise or glory to God to deny that God obeys the laws of logic or to say that somehow He's beyond logic.
Dr. Larson: Question for Dr. Craig.
15. Question: Dr. Craig, given that, in the past, in its quest for simplicity physics has often discovered previously unsuspected connections between seemingly unrelated constants like electromagnetic constants and the speed of light and given that, in his 1997 lectures at Harvard University, physicist Ed Witten said that most of the recent string theories have no free parameters, that is, no variable constants in the model––all the constants just follow from the mathematical structure of the theory itself, O.K.?––given that, don't you think it's even probable that future discoveries in physics will reduce, or even completely eliminate, these seemingly strange improbable coincidences that you appeal to, to give evidence for God's creation and tweaking of constants in the human universe?
16. Dr. Craig: No, I don't see any reason to think that that's probable at all, though I would like to hear more about Witten's claim with respect to string theory. I'm not aware that that's a feature of that model––that it eliminates all need for fine–tuning. I would very surprised to hear that were the case. I mean what you're really talking about is a so–called "Theory of Everything." But what that would ultimately show would be that the laws of physics are not really just physical laws at all but, somehow, they're logically necessary, which, I think, strikes me as extremely counter–intuitive, that this is the only possible universe that could exist. So from what I've read, I think that the idea of ultimately finding some sort of a "Theory of Everything" is really a fantasy. I think we're always going to be stuck with a certain amount of contingency that just is put in at the beginning.
Dr. Larson: Dr. Curley, would you like to comment on this?
17. Dr. Curley: Oh, I'll just be very brief about that. I'm not competent to evaluate the latest theories in physics. I am cautious about making bets against the possibility of science working things out in the long run. But that's all I have to say about that.
Dr. Larson: Question for Dr. Curley.
18. Question: Dr. Curley, I appreciate your talk tonight. I think it's significant that the first thing you spoke in your opening statement was "Tonight, I'm here to defend atheism," then you caught yourself and back–peddled...
Dr. Curley: No, I didn't say that. Did I?
Question: Well, you did at first, and then you caught yourself and back–peddled and said "I'm not here to defend atheism," and, indeed, you didn't. You basically...
Dr. Curley: O.K. If I said I'm here to defend atheism, it was a slip of the tongue.
Question: Right, and then you corrected yourself. You said you're not here to defend it and you didn't. You basically offered stories that appeal to emotion, some dating back to your childhood, some very entertaining...
Dr. Curley: I think there was some hard argument in there, too.
Question: I appreciate the humor. You also offered complaints about various sectarian doctrines that you don't happen to like. But you didn't offer one single word in defense of your own view. So my question is: how is it that you feel that you don't have to defend the positive assertions of atheism? Surely, you realize it's fallacious to think that by throwing rocks at another position you've supported your own. That's my question.
19. Dr. Curley: Look, this is a debate, and I came to defend the negative side of the debate. O.K. I have no responsibility for defending a positive position. If you want to come and talk to me at the philosophy club meeting on the 24th, I'll be happy to explain my [positive] views. But the time constraints on this debate tonight were terribly––I mean, really very limiting.
Question: I understand that but would that suggest that...
Dr. Curley: So, I mean––you know––Dr. Craig suggested to me in an e–mail exchange that we had before the debate that I should both explain why I rejected Christianity and why I hold whatever other religious views I hold. He called them "pantheism," which is not a label that I accept for my views. I said: "Look, it would take me 20 minutes just to explain what my views are, much less defend them."
Question: So, just to clarify, would you say that atheism has no positive assertion or it's just that you're not interested in explaining...
Dr. Curley: I think atheism, per se, has no positive assertions. That's right. It's just a denial of theism, that's all. And it's completely open–ended until you specify what theos [god] is under consideration. So it's not really a very interesting position to defend in that sense.
Dr. Larson: Do you want to take this question?
20. Dr. Craig: Yeah, I do want to say something. I was agreeing with most of what was going on there until the very end. I think atheism definitely is a position. I mean atheism, as traditionally defined, is the belief that "God does not exist." Now that's a knowledge claim. That's a claim to know something, and, therefore, it does require justification just as much as the claim that God does exist. So the middle ground between theism and atheism would be agnosticism––we don't know whether God exists or not. And it's true that Dr. Curley hasn't wanted to defend any sort of positive position of his own tonight. But I think––you know––when we speak theoretically, atheism is a knowledge claim. It's the claim "There is no God," and that beggars some sort of justification if one is asserting it.
Dr. Larson: Question for Dr. Craig.
21. Question: Dr. Craig, you answered Dr. Curley's argument about an all–loving God letting people go to Hell by saying that God's will, as you described from the scripture, is that he wants to save all people. Then you answered Dr. Curley's argument about predetermination by saying that God's will is to let people have the freedom of choice. However, I ask how can these two wills not contradict, when one is saying that he wills all to be saved and another is saying that he wills all to have the choice, when having the choice always leads to at least some people not choosing God and, therefore, being damned?
22. Dr. Craig: Well, it means that one of His desires is frustrated. I mean, with my children, it's my will and desire that my children should always obey me. But I also want them to have free will and so, unfortunately, by giving them or letting them have free will, I run the risk of them disobeying me. And I think that, well, God doesn't delight in the loss of any person; His desire is that all should be saved. But some people freely reject God and are lost. I had planned to read a passage of Scripture if I had time tonight. Let me just read this to you from Ezekiel. Listen to what God says about the lost. He says, in Ezekiel chapter 18:
Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die, says the Lord God, and not that he should turn from his ways and live? . . . As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die? (Ez. 18.23; 33.11)
Here God literally pleads with people to turn back from their self–destructive course of action and be saved. So I think that it is God's will and desire and His effort to save and draw every person to salvation. And the only reason that universal salvation is not true is because people have freedom to reject God's grace and to separate themselves from God forever. And that's a tragedy that God mourns.
23. Dr. Curley: O.K. I think I'll take this opportunity to say something about the interpretation of scripture, because it's an issue that hasn't really been properly addressed, in my view, yet. I mean, I made this facile remark about there being contradictions in scripture and, of course, certainly on the surface there are contradictions between passages which favor predestination and passages which favor free will. And the question is what you're going to make of these things. And the philosopher by whom I've been the most influenced, Spinoza, I think wrote a very sensible book called the Theological–Political Treatise, which I'm in the process of translating now (I mean, not that it's not been done before, but not well, I think). One of the fundamental principles of Spinoza's biblical interpretation is that you need to approach the texts without preconceptions about their truth. You wouldn't approach an ordinary text assuming that everything in it was true and you shouldn't approach the Bible that way, because if you do that, you're going to wind up imposing your own conceptions of truth on the text you're trying to read. And I think these reconciling interpretations of: "Yeah, well, it doesn't really mean individual predestination..." I mean, there are centuries of interpretation where people interpreted it that way, and it needs to be explained, if all those people were wrong, how God could have permitted them to be so wrong about fundamental aspects of his message. The message ought to have been clearer it seems to me.
Dr. Larson: Question for Dr. Curley.
24. Question: Yeah, I was gratified to learn that you both are going to uphold the idea that the concept of God itself must be non–contradictory, and my question is whether you think that the concept of God is non–contradictory. For example, omniscience, omnipotence, existing, creating all that exists––which has traditionally led to these paradoxes, like, well, can God learn? ––if he is all powerful and all knowing, then how can he learn and gain new knowledge which he didn't have and, you know, and so forth. So what is your position on these kinds of paradoxes, as an argument that the very concept of God is contradictory?
25. Dr. Curley: Yeah...well, I think the very concept of God is contradictory, yeah... at least... now, let me qualify that in the following very important way before I get fried here... I think the Christian conception of God as it has developed over nearly 2,000 years has developed an awful lot of inconsistencies in it. And the primary problem I see as the cause of that is that people began incorporating Platonic theology, or Neo–Platonic theology more properly, into a biblical tradition which had not been inclined to incorporate such notions as timelessness. I mean it seems to me timelessness is really very difficult to reconcile with the notion of personality. He gave you a little argument about how the notion of God having knowledge doesn't involve God being temporal at all, but he didn't explain how the notion of God having desires could be atemporal and I don't understand that. There may be some contradictions even if you take out the Platonic theology that crept in along the way, and that's a question for further investigation; and I'm not sure what the answer to that is.
Dr. Larson: Dr. Craig.
26. Dr. Craig: I think that Dr. Curley is largely right in what he's just said, in that the biblical concept of God is, in a sense, philosophically underdetermined. For example, when you read the Bible, you're not going to learn from the Bible whether God's eternity means timelessness or omnitemporality because that's a philosophical or metaphysical question that the biblical writers didn't confront. For them, they knew that God was eternal; that meant that He had no beginning and no end; but the status of His temporality or timelessness was not a metaphysical issue they raised. That's a philosophical issue. And I have made it my life's work as a philosopher to study the concept of God with a view toward crafting a coherent doctrine of God. I spent about seven years studying the divine attribute of omniscience and working on these problems of foreknowledge and freedom and things of that sort. The last ten years I have just spent studying the concept of divine eternity and God's relationship with time and just finished a massive two–volume work in September on how God relates to time in relativity theory, in philosophy of language, in philosophy of space and time, and so forth. And I'm convinced that the Christian concept of God is perfectly coherent and is like a hub from which philosophical exploration can go out and touch virtually every area of rational inquiry and shed light on it. So, I'm deeply committed to the idea that this is a consistent notion.
Question: So, what about the paradox?
Dr. Larson: Do you have a question for Dr. Craig?
27. Question: Yes, this question is slightly related to the last question. And I'll have to read it because I'm nervous! So: During your opening statement, Dr. Craig, you gave various reasons as to why God's existence makes "sense." However, you said little to nothing of how, although unquestionable to those who are already Christians, which it would be incorrect to assume your audience to be, how God came into existence. What is your view on the theory that religion and its subsequent gods is an "idea" formulated in the course of human evolution as a universally necessary means to create the order that would be obsolete in the absence of it, which would explain the necessity of religion in a variety of vastly different cultural places?
28. Dr. Craig: I did address a little bit about that with respect to the origin of God. Namely, I argued in my first argument, you recall, that as a cause of the universe, the cause of the universe must be uncaused, timeless, and spaceless. And, therefore, it's simply wrong to say that God came into being. That is metaphysically impossible, for God to come into being. A timeless, spaceless, uncaused being doesn't come into existence. Now what you're really talking about is the origin of religion as a sociological phenomenon, not the origin of God as a metaphysical reality or as a being. And it may well be the case that religion as a sociological reality is due to all sorts of factors such as you mentioned. But don't fall into the fallacy of thinking that, therefore, that means that God does not exist or that there is no objective truth to these matters. That would be called the genetic fallacy. And, in fact, what you've stated is almost a classic example of the genetic fallacy, namely, trying to show that something is false by showing how that belief originated. The way in which a belief originated has nothing to do with whether or not that belief is true or false. So, for example, I may have learned about my religious or ethical views at my grandmother's knee and have utterly no basis for believing them, other than what my grandma told me. But that does nothing to show that those views are false or true. To think that they do would be the genetic fallacy.
Dr. Larson: Do you want to take that one?
29. Dr. Curley: Yeah, well, I certainly agree about the genetic fallacy stuff. That is to say, to give a causal account of the origin of a belief doesn't imply that the belief is not true. I do think that it's a problem for Christians, it seems to me... at least exclusivist Christians... and I'm not sure he actually addressed the question of exclusivism. But, gee, he may have, and I maybe forgot it. But exclusivism implies that all of those who are not Christians are condemned to Hell. And you know, if you think that what your religious beliefs are going to be is very largely determined by which culture you happen to have been brought up in, as seems to be broadly true, then there does seem to be an element of unfairness in the exclusivism. Now I don't want to commit myself to any kind of social determinism, or anything like that, because I think that people often do grow up in a culture and then decide that they don't accept the views of that culture (well, me). But there is a tendency for people to believe what they've been told when they were kids.
Dr. Larson: Time has come for us to end the formal program. So we're going to take a break here. Those of you who would like to stick around and continue to ask questions, please feel free to do so to the extent that our guests here can stay and continue to answer your questions. But, please, take a few moments to jot down some things on the survey cards you were handed before you leave. Thank you!