A Classic Debate on the Existence of God

November 1994
University of Colorado at Boulder

Dr. William Lane Craig & Dr. Michael Tooley

Dr. Tooley's First Rebuttal

I donít have time to answer all six of Dr. Craig's arguments. Perhaps his idea is that there is safety in numbers. If you offer enough arguments, some may escape rebuttal. (Actually I've prepared responses to four or five of them. Whether I can get through those responses in the limited time allotted is another question!)

Let me begin with Dr. Craig's second argument and by addressing the question why anything at all exists. The first point to be made about this is that if you bring God into it, the question then is not why the universe exists but why God plus the universe exists. And it's not clear that one is any better off.

Now Craig thinks that one is better off, because of a certain sort of philosophical argument called the Kalam version of the cosmological argument. And the crux of that argument, as he indicated, is the belief that there cannot be an actual infinity of things. He offered no arguments for that claim. He simply appealed to authority. I'm going to offer an argument for the claim that there can be an actual infinity of states of affairs.

The argument can be put in terms of the following two assumptions: Assume, first of all, a realist view of space. That is, assume that space is not just a matter of relationships between objects in space, and that you could have empty space, as Newton thought, and as is compatible with the general theory of relativity. Secondly, assume that space is continuous: rather than being made up of discrete parts, it's characterized by continuity. Then take a small stretch of space-take for example the stretch of space that coincides with this distance between my hands. Lets call this a meter.

The continuity of space means that space can be divided up into subregions. There's a subregion that ranges from this end to essentially the halfway point. Call that subregion number one. There's another subregion ranging from the halfway point to the three-quarter point. Call that subregion number two. If space is real, both of those regions are real. It is not a matter of any potentiality there; it's not a matter of dividing up, as one might slice a piece of butter into two pieces. The regions exist regardless of whether thereís anyone around thinking about it, or anything. Similarly, you have another region ranging from the three-quarter point to the seven-eighth point, and so on. In general, in any finite stretch of space, if space is continuous and real, there will be an infinite number of actual subregions all of finite size. (We're not talking about the points here: we're talking of regions of finite length.) So that's one example of an actual infinity.

Another example is this. People believed for a long while that space was Euclidean. Indeed, some philosophers believed that they could prove that it had to be Euclidean. It was only with the development of non-Euclidean geometry that people came to believe that it was possible for space to be non-Euclidean. In any case, suppose that it is really possible for space to be Euclidean. That means that it has no boundaries. You can take a region that is a meter long, and that region will exist next to another region a meter long, and next to it there will be another region a meter long, and so on. And that's not a matter of potentialities: it's a matter of an actual infinity of spatial regions within Euclidean space. So Dr. Craig would have us believe, without offering any argument at all, that that's impossible.

So that's one argument---a version of the Kalam cosmological argument. Dr. Craig also appeals to the Big Bang. Here my remarks are based in part on a paper, "Should We Believe in the Big Bang," by Mark Zangari and Graeme Rhook read at the Philosophy of Science Association Conference about a month ago. For there are points in their paper which are very relevant to Dr. Craig's argument.

First, the Big Bang theory has recently been criticized by a number of physicists who contend that it suffers some critical anomalies, such as the flatness problem and the horizon problem.

Secondly, there is evidence against the Big Bang interpretation of red shift, since there is evidence that nearby objects have intrinsic red shifts independent of their velocity relative to the earth.

Thirdly, the Big Bang theory is supported in part by its prediction of background radiation. That's one of the main reasons it was adopted. But Zangari and Rhook point out in their article that the Big Bang theory predicts a background radiation of five degrees Kelvin, whereas the measured temperature is not five degrees but two point seven degrees Kelvin. If you consider Hoyle's theory, which was published in 1946, it also predicted background radiation, and the method used there turns out to predict background radiation of a temperature of two point eight degrees Kelvin, almost exactly the observed temperature. So it's a theory that does a better job of explaining background radiation than the Big Bang theory.

Fourthly, in order to avoid serious anomalies-such as the flatness problem and the horizon problem-the Big Bang theory had to introduce an additional hypothesis called the inflation hypothesis. But that hypothesis has recently come under serious attack.

Fifthly, the Big Bang theory predicts an enormous amount of matter that hasnít yet been observed-something of the order of ninety-eight percent to ninety-nine percent-so-called dark matter. Physicists have been searching for this dark matter, and haven't succeeded in finding it.

Finally, there are serious inconsistencies between estimates of the ages of the stars and the age of the universe. I noticed that Dr. Craig mentioned that the universe is about fifteen billion years old. According to the New York Times, October 27th, the best estimate now is that it's between eight billion and twelve billion years old. And unfortunately, the best estimate of the age of certain stars is about sixteen billion years old. So the theory is hopelessly inconsistent at the present.

Many philosophers, including William Craig-perhaps especially William Craig-are extremely incautious in their use of physical theories. People like Richard Swinburne---who is Professor of Philosophy of the Christian Religion at Oxford University---are much more careful in this area, and Swinburne points out that this area of physics is in a highly unstable state. The first point about the Big Bang version of the argument is, thus, that one needs to be very careful about relying on scientific theories that are not well established.

The second main point is this-that even if the Big Bang theory is right and our present universe goes back to a singularity, it's just a complete fallacy to think that that means it had to have a non-physical cause. It's perfectly possible that our spatio-temporal world is embedded in a larger spatio-temporal world---a hyper-space---and that within that hyper-space there is a physical explanation-a material explanation-of the origins of the various subuniverses. Dr. Craig thinks he can rule that possibility out on the basis of the Kalam cosmological argument. But as we saw earlier, that depends on the completely unsound claim that there cannot be an actual infinity, the claim that I refuted earlier. So there is nothing in the Big Bang argument.

Let us turn now to Dr. Craig's third argument-sometimes called the "fine tuning argument." This involves certain calculations of the probability of their being a universe that supports life. The first point to be made with regard to this is that these calculations are simply unsound. For the calculations to be sound, you would have to look at all logically possible laws and boundary conditions. But the calculations Craig has in mind aren't made that way. What they have done is to look only at laws rather like ours, and to consider the extent to which the constants can be changed. But that means that the argument is unsound.

The second important point is that there is an alternative explanation, for an explanation of the many worlds sort is possible. Other people have tried, unlike Craig, to offer arguments against this. Swinburne, for example, attempts to offer an argument. He tries to maintain that the many worlds account is not as simple as the theistic account. But Swinburne has overlooked a certain type of move that can be made at this point-namely, that it's not that one has to postulate a number of independent universes in the many universes account, since one can explain all of them in terms of a single law. So in fact the many worlds account, as properly formulated, can be an extremely simple account and, arguably, is simpler than the theistic alternative. (This is what I call the 'superlaw' hypothesis---a hypothesis that underpins and explains the many worlds hypothesis.)

Dr. Craig's fourth argument was the argument from objective values. Craig's setting out of this argumentation was interesting, for there was no real argument offered. It was simply claimed that if there are objective values, there must be a God. No God, no objective values.

That contention goes against certain quite famous philosophical arguments, one going back to Plato's Euthyphro. The argument involves asking whether the gods love the things that are holy because they are holy or whether things are holy because they were loved by the gods.

There is a theory which has the consequence that there cannot be objective moral laws unless God exists---that's the so-called 'divine command theory of morality'. What it says is that an action is wrong because and only because God forbids it. And an action is obligatory because and only because God demands it. If that theory were right, then there would be an argument in support of the claim that Dr. Craig has advanced. But that theory is quite a hopeless theory because of it's implications, One of its implications, for example, is that if God had commanded mankind to torture one another as much as possible, then it would follow that that action was obligatory. Perhaps Dr. Craig would be happy with that consequence. But many people, including many religious thinkers, are very unhappy with that consequence, and so have rejected the divine command theory of morality.brit

The divine command theory of morality represents one way in which one might think that the existence of God was presupposed by the existence of objective moral values. Unfortunately, Dr. Craig has not offered any explanation of the connection that he believes to exist between the two, so I can't really offer an argument against his own view concerning the connection. Perhaps he'll say something about this later on.

The other point that needs to be made, however, is that there are a number of ethical theories--such as that of the famous British philosopher G.E. Moore--in which moral values are identified with non-natural properties, which provide one with perfectly objective values even in a world without God. Consequently, the existence of God is just completely irrelevant for the existence of objective moral values.

Turning now to Dr. Craig's fifth argument, let me comment briefly on the resurrection of Jesus. Again, there were a number of points which were quickly thrown out, and which it is very difficult to come to terms with in such limited time. If one had a couple of hours to discuss the various considerations, one could do something rather useful. Nevertheless, let me say a few things very quickly.

The basic point I want to make in the time remaining is that there have been many studies of how (given a situation in which nothing exciting happens, where nothing really has taken place) fabulous stories gradually develop which are elaborated over time with the introduction of more detail, and with descriptions of events that are ever more miraculous.

One of the more scholarly accounts is that of A.D. White's classic book, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom,{28} in a chapter entitled "The Growth of Healing Legends" where he's discussing the miracles attributed to St. Francis Xavier. What White shows is that, if you look at the writings of St. Francis Xavier and his contemporaries, there are no references to miraculous events. But when you look at Xavier's early biographers, you start seeing some minor miraculous events coming in. You look further along, at the accounts offered by later biographers, and eventually you have accounts of St. Francis Xavier raising people from the dead, with complete details of the names, the towns and so on where these events supposedly took place.

There have been similar investigations of miraculous claims in the present day---such as Louis Rose's book on faith healing.{29} All of these investigations have had the same result---namely, the evidence for miracles has turned out never to be satisfactory. Thank you.


{28}Andrew Dickson White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1896).

{29}Louis Rose, Faith Healing, ed. Bryan Morgan (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1971)


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