Does God Exist? William Lane Craig's First Rebuttal

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.

Now you'll remember that in my opening speech I said that there were two questions we needed to answer tonight.

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

and then,

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

I.  Well, let's look first at the two arguments against God's existence.

1.  The first one is that because there is an infinite regress of simultaneous causes, the universe is fully explained by those causes, and therefore God cannot be the cause.

I responded to Quentin's view in his written work, in which he argues that the singularity is metaphysically necessary and exists a se, and that is the explanation.  Now he has completely abandoned that view and tells us that far from being metaphysically necessary, the singularity doesn't even exist at all!

Now in saying this, he contradicts his own view.  But I don't think that that matters because actually this [new position] approaches the view whichI have defended myself in print, namely, that the singularity is simply an ideal point.{1}  And what this implies, then, is simply that there is no first instant of the beginning of the universe, even though there is a first finite interval of the existence of the universe.

Well, then, what about this simultaneous regress of causes that Quentin talks about? Well, first, notice that he has yet to identify for us that any such thing exists.  I still don't know what causes he's talking about. But, secondly, I would suggest that this sort of circular causation ultimately doesn't work. Imagine that our space-time is doughnut-shaped, so that time goes in a circle. In that case you could have every slice being caused by a prior slice. So ultimately the universe would be circularly caused. This is the sort of scenario Quentin envisions. But that still leaves the question unexplained:  where did the doughnut come from? Granted that all the slices in the doughnut explain each other, you've still got to answer why you've got a doughnut rather than just nothing at all. And that was my contingency argument, which I don't think Quentin responded to directly.  So I don't think that the gambit of circular causation is any more plausible than maintaining that the singularity exists necessarily.

2.  What about his second argument based on God's not being able to be the foundation of moral values? Well, here he argued that things simply have value because it’s a development of their natures. But my argument against that, you remember, was that that's arbitrary. Quentin himself admits that this is a new and novel view.  I want to know why, on atheism, to identify the good with the development of a thing's nature.  Indeed this leads to absurdities, such as his saying in his book that the moon has more moral value than a boulder because it's bigger, which to me is obviously defective as a moral theory.

Now I mentioned that there were several other problems with Quentin's moral theory.  Let me just mention some of these now.  Remember that on his view, goodness is the property being the development of a thing’s nature.

First, on this view, goodness is a property which belongs to another property or state of affairs. For example, goodness belongs to an object's being large. But then it follows that the object itself is not good. It’s its being large that is good. And therefore it follows that on Quentin's view neither persons nor their actions are good. And thus people, on Quentin's view, have no moral value; they are morally worthless.

Second, Quentin's theory leads to a paralyzing relativism. Quentin admits that the goodness of actualizing one’s own nature can be overridden by the need of other things to actualize their natures. So, he says, we must aim to actualize the overall goodness of the whole. But that, I submit, is an impossible calculus, which renders moral decision-making impossible.

Third, Quentin's theory entails morally false--and I would say even morally offensive--conclusions.  For example, Quentin claims that a serial killer's murdering people is intrinsically good because it satisfies his desires. Now this good just happens to be overridden by the greater good of his victims’ getting to live and satisfy their desires.  But, nevertheless, on his theory he says that a serial killer’s murdering people is intrinsically good.

Another example:  Quentin says that love relationships are not intrinsically good. He says, and I quote, “the primary reason love is good is that it satisfies our desires to love and be loved.”{2} But again, such a self-centered justification is morally repugnant.  He also denies that friendship, knowledge, health, and any other such thing is intrinsically good.

Another false moral statement, I think:  He says that even plants and rocks have moral rights.  He says a mountain has a moral right not to have a tunnel dug into it. Vegetables have the moral right not to be eaten.  Luckily, these are overridden by our moral right to survive!  But I take it that this is obviously absurd, that things like mountains and vegetables have these sorts of moral rights.

Fourth, Quentin's theory has an inadequate foundation for moral duties. Why am I obligated to develop my nature? Suppose I don't want to. Who or what lays such an obligation on me? Well, Quentin says that a state’s being good is a self-justification for a person to actualize that state. For example, he says, “David’s becoming a chemist is good, and so David ought to become a chemist.”{3} But this is inadequate because David's becoming a diplomat, or a firefighter, or a doctor is also good. So being good is alone insufficient to ground moral duty. What is the source of moral obligation on his theory?

Fifth, and finally, Quentin’s ethics degrades other people's moral worth. He says, and I quote, “A person who develops her theoretical reason is a better and more valuable kind of person than other kinds of people. The best possible person is someone who discovers why the universe exists.”{4} Well, isn’t that convenient?  This self-congratulatory analysis is so morally repugnant that I think it’s unacceptable as a moral theory. So for all of these reasons, I think that Quentin's atheistic moral theory is inadequate.

But remember the more fundamental point that I'm trying to make tonight is that it’s totally arbitrary.  There is no reason to think that if atheism is true, then the good is identical with the development of a thing’s nature, or that we have a moral duty to do such a thing. So I don’t think that either of Quentin’s arguments for atheism is compelling tonight.

II.  Now what about my arguments for theism?  Well, you remember that I presented four of them.

1.  First was the contingency argument.  Quentin really didn’t respond to that. If it’s true that everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in its own nature or in an external cause, then it follows that the universe must have a cause of its existence in some external being, which I argued must be a personal reality.

2.  Second, the teleological argument based upon the fine-tuning of the universe. I argued that this cannot be due to physical necessity or chance. Now Quentin responds that this is based upon a misuse of probability theory, that when you compare the range of life-permitting values to an infinite range, everything has zero possibility.  Well, that would be correct if that were the comparison.  But we needn’t take an infinite range of values. We can simply take any range of universe-permitting values, and that would be a finite range.  When gravity, for example, gets to too extreme a value, everything would simply be a single singularity.  So you can take any universe-permitting values as a kind of finite range and then compare the range of life-permitting values to that, and it is vanishingly tiny.  It is extraordinary that we should exist in so finely-tuned a universe, and this does indeed cry out for some sort of explanation. And I can think of no better explanation than the hypothesis of design.

3.  Now my third argument, you remember, was the moral argument, where I argued that if God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.  Now Quentin says, “I don’t follow the argument; human beings can understand moral values.” Well, sure they can!  But the question is the objectivity of the values that evolved in human society.  As the humanist philosopher Paul Kurtz puts it, “The central question about moral and ethical principles concerns their ontological foundation. If they are neither derived from God, nor anchored in some transcendent ground, are they purely ephemeral?”{5}  It seems to me that they would be ephemeral, if they are not so grounded.

My colleague J. P. Moreland has put it this way: 

On an evolutionary, secular scenario, . . . human beings are nothing special.  The universe came from a Big Bang.  It evolved to us through a blind process of chance and necessity. There’s nothing intrinsically valuable about human beings, in terms of having moral, non-natural properties.  The view that being human is special is guilty of specie-ism, an unjustifiable bias towards one’s own species.{6} 

It does seem to me that this is what the atheist is guilty of when he affirms that things like cruelty, child abuse, torture, intolerance, and so forth are objectively morally wrong.

But, we’ve seen, secondly, that moral values and duties do exist.  If you agree with me that there are objective moral values and duties, as we both agree tonight, then I think it follows logically and inescapably that God exists as a foundation for those values.

4.  Finally, fourth, my cosmological argument.  I argued that whatever begins to exist has a cause and that the universe began to exist.  Now here Quentin says, “On the Hartle-Hawking model, there is a timeless space which exists, out of which the universe came.”  But even on the Hartle-Hawking model, that space-time is finite in the past.  And as John Barrow points out, on these quantum cosmologies, the universe still comes into being, just as it does on the classical cosmologies,.but it just doesn’t do so at a beginning point or singularity.{7}  So by having a closed geometrical surface to space-time on a finite past, the Hartle-Hawking model actually implies the beginning of the universe, and the question of why the universe exists rather than nothing is left unexplained.

If you interpret this as being a timeless space, well, then I think Quentin would know that that’s a bit of gratuitous metaphysics --that the 4-dimensional Euclidean time that is postulated in the model is, as Hawking says, merely an instrumental reality.  It is not meant to be a metaphysical description of reality because time is distinct from space.  These are metaphysically distinct , and so that is just as much a gratuitous piece of metaphysics as Quentin claims the singularity is.

So in conclusion, then, I think that we’ve got good reasons from the contingency argument, the teleological argument, the moral argument, and the cosmological argument for thinking that there is a Creator and Designer of the universe who is the locus of absolute goodness and love and that the atheistic arguments we’ve heard tonight do not serve to subvert that conclusion.


{1}William Lane Craig,  “A Criticism of the Cosmological Argument  for God’s Non-Existence,” in Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology, by William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), pp. 257-260.

{2}Smith, Ethical and Religious Thought, p.

{3}Ibid., p.

{4}Ibid., p.

{5}Paul Kurtz, Forbidden Fruit (Buffalo, N.Y.:  Prometheus Books, 1988), p. 65.

{6}J. P. Moreland, “Ethics Depend on God,” in Does God Exist?, by J.P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, 1990), p. 112.

{7}John D. Barrow, Theories of Everything (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1991), p. 68.

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