Does God Exist? William Lane Craig's Opening Speech

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.

Good evening!  I'm delighted to have the opportunity to debate my good friend Quentin Smith on this most important question:  “Does God exist?”

Now in the debate tonight, we need to ask ourselves two fundamental questions:

I.  Are there any good arguments against God's existence?


II.  Are there any good arguments for God's existence?

I.  Well, what about that first question:  Are there any good arguments against God's existence? Quentin thinks that there are, and he presented two arguments to prove that God does not exist.

1.  His first argument is that there cannot be a divine cause of the universe because there is an infinite regress of simultaneous  causes.

Now, I'm not sure, frankly, what Quentin is talking about here. I assume that he's talking about a simultaneity  class  of events, quantum events, perhaps, that are simultaneously related. But I think that we can avert this question by simply considering what is the cause of the initial cosmological singularity that spawned the universe. For the initial singularity  is part of the universe. The universe is comprised of all its space-time points and its boundary points. The initial singularity is the beginning of the universe, the first state of physical reality. As Stephen Hawking explains, “All the matter and energy [were] compressed into a single point, or singularity . . . . the entire observable universe . . . started out compressed into such a point.”{1} And since that point is not governed by quantum laws of physics, there cannot be this infinite regress of simultaneous causes at the singular state.

So the real question is, where did the singularity come from?  Did it just pop into being out of nothing?  The theist claims that God created the initial singularity and thereby caused the universe to exist. Now in order to rule out this possibility, Quentin in his most recent work has to stipulate that the initial singularity exists both necessarily and a se.{2} That is to say, it exists not only in every possible world, but it does so independently of any other reality.

But now the problem is that there's just no evidence whatsoever that the initial singularity has such extraordinary properties.  Nothing in classical or quantum cosmology even suggests that the singularity is metaphysically necessary.  In fact, there's no evidence to suggest that the singularity is even nomologically necessary.  That is to say, it's not even necessary according to the laws of nature.  The laws of nature permit all sorts of non-singular cosmological models. Thus, the singularity cannot be metaphysically necessary.

Moreover, there's no reason to think it exists a se either.  Quite the opposite is true:  the singularity is the boundary of the space-time manifold; so if the manifold didn’t exist, neither would its boundary points.  Quentin, in his written work{3}, admits that the space-time universe did not have to exist; but he imagines that its singular boundary point, like the smile of the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, would still continue to exist even in the absence of the reality it bounds!  But there is no physical reason to believe such a remarkable assertion.

Now, if this is correct, then not only is there no inconsistency in the theist's view that God created the singularity, but Quentin's supposed argument for atheism actually turns out to be an argument for God's existence.  We can formulate such a contingency argument as follows:

1.  Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in some external cause.

2.  The universe (including any singular state) exists.

It follows from (1) and (2) that the universe has an explanation of its existence.  Premiss (3) states:

3. The universe (including any singular state) does not exist by a necessity of its own nature.

4. Therefore, the universe has an external cause.

The explanation of the universe must be found in a being which transcends space and time, is metaphysically necessary ,and is changeless and immaterial.  Now the only things we know of that can exist in that way are either abstract objects, like numbers, or a mind.  But abstract objects don't stand in causal relationships and so cannot be the explanation of the universe.  So the explanation of the universe is most plausibly a transcendent Mind, which is minimally what everybody means by "God".  So thank you, Quentin, for the first argument!

But that's not all.  The reason that Quentin thinks that the atheistic hypothesis is more probable than theism is that he claims, in his written work again, that it's more probable that the singularity, rather than God, would produce a chaotic Big Bang.{4}

But the fundamental problem with this argument is that it's false that the Big Bang was chaotic, or disordered.  One of the most important discoveries of the past generation is that the Big Bang was not like a chaotic explosion, but was an extraordinarily low-entropy, highly ordered event.  The old chaotic cosmology championed by people like Charles Misner is dead and gone.  As the philosopher of science Ernan McMullin explains, what has been discovered instead is that in order for the universe to exist as it does today, its initial conditions had to be severely constrained.  He writes,

Were a ‘chaos’ . . . sufficient to give rise to the sort of universe we now have, no question would arise about why its parameters had the initial values they had.  But if the present universe severely constrains the range of possibilities for a plausible starting-point, a question about the significance of that constraint immediately presents itself.{5}

When you compare the range of assumable values of the fundamental quantities permitted by the laws of nature with the range of life-permitting values, the range of life-permitting values is incomprehensibly small in comparison with the wider range of assumable values.  The probability that all of the constants and quantities would fall by chance alone into the razor-thin life-permitting range is vanishingly small.  We now know that life-prohibiting universes are incomprehensibly more probable than any life-permitting universe like ours.

So, if Quentin is right that it is much more probable that an orderly universe would come from God's hand than from the singularity, then it follows that it is probable that God exists. And we can formulate such a teleological argument as follows:

1.  The fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.

2.  It is not due to physical necessity or chance.

3.  Therefore, it is due to design.

So, in short, Quentin's probability argument renders it more probable that the Big Bang is the result of God's creative action than of the blind out-spewing of an unconstrained singularity.  So, we now have a second argument for God's existence.

2.  Well, that now brings us to Quentin's second argument for atheism, which is that God cannot be the foundation of moral values and duties. He gives two reasons for this.

a.  First of all, he says that if moral values are grounded in God, then this is subjective because it's just God's opinion.

Well, I think not. On the theistic view, the Good is identical to the moral character of God. God's character is necessarily holy, loving, just, kind, etc. And these attributes are constitutive of the Good. Now God's moral nature in turn expresses itself toward us in the form of certain divine commands, which become for us, then, our moral duties. And thus these commands are not arbitrary or subjective, but they flow necessarily from God's nature. As the prominent philosopher William Alston says, “If God is essentially good, then there will be nothing arbitrary about his commands; indeed it will be metaphysically necessary that he issue those commands.”{6}

b.  What, then, about the problem of evil? Well, I would simply say that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering and evil in the world. Quentin knows philosophy of religion well enough to know that no atheist has ever been able to shoulder the tremendous burden of proof of showing that God does not or cannot have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil in the world. So if he's going to take that line, I await his argument.

Now what about Quentin's own view of ethics, as explained in his book that he mentioned?{7} Well,  his view is that the Good is the actualization of one's nature. Now I think that there are lots of problems with this view, but the main problem is that it's arbitrary. If you say that the Good is the realization of human nature, then you’re guilty of specie-ism, which is an unjustified bias in favor of your own species. There’s no reason to think that given atheism, humans beings are special.

Now Quentin realizes this, and so to avoid specie-ism  he claims that the Good is the actualization of anything's nature. But this identification of the Good is not only arbitrary but, I think, preposterous. On Quentin's view--he says this explicitly -- a big rock has greater moral value than a little rock, because its nature is more fully realized!{8} Or when a slime mold increases in size, it increases in moral value. Now, I take this to be self-evidently ridiculous.  And even if you think it's not self-evidently ridiculous, you have to agree that scarcely anybody else believes such a thing, so that Quentin's identification of the Good is, I think, at best idiosyncratic and hardly a foundation for a compelling argument for atheism.

And once again, I think Quentin's argument for atheism supplies the materials for an argument for God's existence.  For if there is no God, then it's plausible that the moral values and duties which have gradually evolved among homo sapiens are not really objective.  By “objective” I mean “valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not.”  For example, to say that the Holocaust was objectively wrong is to say that it was wrong even though the Nazis who carried it out thought that it was right, and it would still have been wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in brainwashing or exterminating everyone who disagreed with them. Many atheists and theists alike agree that if God does not exist as a transcendent anchor point, then the moral values and duties that have evolved in human society are not objective in that way.

In other words,

1.  If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

Now this first premiss seems eminently plausible.  For on the atheistic view, human beings are just animals, relatively evolved primates; and animals don't have moral obligations.  When a lion kills a zebra, it kills it, but it doesn't murder it.  When a great white shark brutally forces a female into submission, it copulates with her, but it does not rape her.  For animals are not moral agents with moral duties to observe. 

But on the atheistic view, human beings are just animals.  Their morality is just the result of socio-biological evolution.  Just as members of a troupe of baboons will exhibit altruistic behavior because it is advantageous to the species in the struggle for survival, so human beings have evolved certain behavior patterns which enable us to cohabit in society and so are beneficial for the species.  But there’s nothing objective about this herd morality.

Now if you find such a view morally abhorrent, then I agree with you.  It’s evident, I think, that objective values do exist, and deep down we all know it. Quentin and I, in fact, agree on this. Actions like rape, cruelty, and child abuse aren’t just socially unacceptable behavior; they're moral abominations.  Some things are objectively wrong.  Similarly love, equality, and self-sacrifice are really good.  Accordingly, we can affirm:

2. Objective values and duties do exist.

But then it follows logically and inescapably that:

3.  Therefore, God exists.

God thus provides a foundation for the moral values which the atheist just has to accept by faith.

In summary, then, far from giving us good reasons to think that God does not exist, Quentin has provided us with three positive arguments for God's existence, namely, the contingency argument, the teleological argument, and the moral argument. 

II.  In effect, then, we've already answered the second question that we put ourselves tonight, namely:  Are there any good arguments for God's existence?  We've already got three!

But in my remaining time let me add one more:  the cosmological argument. We have good reasons, philosophically and scientifically, to believe that the universe is not eternal in the past, but had an absolute beginning.  But something cannot come into being out of nothing.  Therefore, there must be a transcendent cause of the origin of the universe. 

We can formulate this argument as follows:

1.  Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

Now by “begins to exist” I mean “comes into being,” and the idea here is that things don’t just pop into being uncaused. 

Now in his written work, Quentin claims that certain cosmological theories, like the Hartle-Hawking theory, can explain how the universe comes into being without a cause.{9}  But the fundamental problem with Quentin's objection is that his interpretation of the Hartle-Hawking equations is, I think, incoherent.  For Quentin interprets them to give an unconditional probability, say, 99%, that the universe would come into being uncaused out of absolute nothingness. And it’s important to appreciate that by “nothingness” we mean not a physical void or empty space, but absolute non-being.  But how can being arise from non-being, especially with a 99% probability?  What explains the origin of the universe in this lawful way?

Well, you might be tempted to say that the laws of nature explain why the universe comes into being out of nothingness with 99% probability.  But that can’t be right because, as Quentin himself said in his first speech, the laws of nature are simply propositions in a certain mathematical form describing the regular behavior, potentialities, powers, and dispositions of things in the natural world.  The laws of nature are at most abstract entities which can’t cause anything.  But the origin of the universe can’t be explained in terms of the potentialities, powers, and dispositions of things in the natural world because those factors don’t exist until the natural world exists, and we’re trying to explain the origin of the natural world.

So it seems that the powers, potentialities, and dispositions must belong to nothingness itself.  Nothingness must possess some disposition to spawn a universe with 99% probability.  But this is clearly incoherent.  For nothingness, absolute non-being, has no properties whatsoever--no dispositions, no potentialities.  Such properties inhere only in actual things.

So Quentin's interpretation of the Hartle-Hawking equations is, I think, clearly incoherent.  And that's why, to my knowledge, nobody else agrees with his interpretation.  I talked with James Hartle about this at U.C. Santa Barbara, and he told me that Quentin's interpretation of his and Hawking's model is just wrong.  And in fact, none of the quantum cosmologists I’ve talked to, including Donald Page, Chris Isham, Alex Vilenkin, and so on, interprets these quantum models as Quentin does.  Again, I think that it’s his own idiosyncratic and, I fear, incoherent interpretation of the model.

So premiss (1) seems necessarily true.  If the alternative to theism is the claim that the universe popped into being uncaused out of nothing, then it takes more faith to be an atheist than a theist!

Now, premiss (2) is that:

2.  The universe began to exist.

Recall, by “the universe” we mean all physical states, including whatever exists at any point in, or on the boundary of, space-time.  And Quentin and I agree that the universe is not infinite in the past but began to exist.

From the two premises it follows that:

3.  Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

Conceptual analysis of what it means to be a cause of the universe enables us to deduce that as the cause of space and time, this cause must be an uncaused, timeless, changeless, immaterial, personal agent of enormous power which created the universe. 

So in conclusion, then, we’ve seen no good arguments, I think, to believe that atheism is true. And we have seen four reasons, namely, the contingency argument, the teleological argument, the moral argument, and the cosmological argument, to think that God does exist.  Therefore, it seems to me that theism is the more rational world view.


{1}Stephen Hawking,  “The Edge of Spacetime,” in The New Physics, ed. Paul Davies (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1989), p.61.

{2}See Quentin Smith, “Time Was Created by a Timeless Point,”in God and Time, ed. Gregory E.Ganssle and David M. Woodruff (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 112-113.

{3}Ibid., p. 115.

{4}Ibid., p. 117.

{5}Ernan McMullin, “Anthropic Explanation in Cosmology,” paper delivered at the conference “God and Physical Cosmology,” January 30 –February 1, 2003, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame , Indiana.

{6}William Alston,  “What Euthyphro Sould Have Said,” in Philosophy of Reilgion:  A Reader and Guide (New Brunswick, N. J.:  Rutgers University Press, 2002), p. 285. 

{7}Quentin Smith, Ethical and Religious Thought in Analytic Philosophy of Language (New Haven, Conn.:  Yale University Press, 1997).


{9}Quentin Smith “Why Stephen Hawking’s Cosmology Precludes a Creator,”  Philo 1 (1998): 75-94.

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