The Craig-Jesseph Debate
Does God Exist?

Dr. Craig's Opening Arguments


Thank you and good evening!

In tonight's debate, I am going to defend two basic contentions: (I) There are no good reasons to think that atheism is true and (II) There are good reasons to think that theism is true.

I. Reasons for Atheism

Let's look, then, at that first major contention, that there no good reasons to think that atheism is true. Immediately I have to disagree with Dr. Jesseph's definition of atheism. He says, "Atheism is the claim that there is no rational justification for belief in God." That is not atheism. That is agnosticism, which holds that you don't know whether God exists or not. Atheism is the claim that God does not exist. That is a claim to knowledge and therefore demands justification. This is most evident by the simple fact that many Christian theologians believe in God by faith and do not hold that there are any rational proofs for the existence of God -- for example Karl Barth. But nobody, by any stretch of the imagination, could call Karl Barth an atheist. So Dr. Jesseph has to carry his arguments against the existence of God if he is to prove atheism.

Now he presents three arguments for atheism.

Principle of Conservatism

(1) I will agree that when more familiar forms of explanation are available, then we should prefer those. But he has got to show that there are these more familiar forms of explanation available for the facts that I will be discussing, and I don't think that there are. He says that you can't test God as an explanation. You can run tests to verify God's existence. As we will see, certain beliefs or predictions have been verified by the evidence, and I think, therefore, this constitutes a verification of the theistic hypothesis.

Theistic Pluralism

(2) His second argument is that if you hold to one view of deity, that must deny alternative deities. Well, that is only logically necessary. If a certain concept of God is shown to correspond to reality, then, of course, contradictory concepts do not correspond to reality. But that is no argument against any concept of God or the existence of God.

Problem of Evil

(3) Thirdly, he asked, "Isn't evil inconsistent with God's existence?" I think not. There is no contradiction between the two statements "God exists" and "Evil exists." Now Dr. Jesseph will try to show a contradiction by supplying some additional premises. He says, "If God is all powerful, He can create any world that He wants. And if He is all good, He would want to create a world without evil." The problem is that neither of those additional premises is necessarily true. Consider the premise that if God is all powerful, He can create any world that He wants. If God chooses to create a world involving free creatures, then He cannot guarantee that they will always do what is right. It is logically impossible to make someone freely do something. And so what Dr. Jesseph would have to prove to carry this objection is that there is a possible world of free creatures which God could create which has as much good as this world does, but without the same amount of evil. Now how could he possibly prove such a thing? I couldn't even imagine how you would go about proving this.

What about the other premise, that if God is all good, then He would want to create a world with no suffering? Now certainly I agree that God wants the best for us. But we mustn't assume that the best for us simply means happiness in this life. According to the Christian view of God, the purpose of life is the knowledge of God; and many evils which one suffers in life might be utterly gratuitous with respect to producing happiness, but might not be gratuitous with respect with producing a deeper knowledge of God. Dr. Jesseph, to carry the objection, would have to show that there is a possible world with less suffering and natural evil than this one that also achieves the same amount of the knowledge of God and of God's salvation as this one. Now how could he possibly prove such a thing? I couldn't even imagine.

And that is why the logical problem of evil which he has proposed here has been rejected by the majority of philosophers today. So I don't think that any of his three arguments constitute good grounds for affirming atheism.

II. Reasons for Theism

Now are there good grounds for believing that God does exist? I believe there are, and I want to present four of them in tonight's debate.

Cosmological Argument

(1) God makes sense of the origin of the universe.

Have you ever asked yourself where the universe came from? Why everything exists instead of just nothing at all? Well, typically, atheists have said that the universe is just eternal, and that's all. But surely this is unreasonable. Just think about it for a minute. If the universe never had a beginning, then that means that the number of events in the history of the universe going into the past is infinite. But mathematicians recognize that the idea of an actually infinite number of things leads to self-contradictions. For example, what is infinity minus infinity? Well, mathematically, you get self-contradictory answers.

This shows that infinity is just an idea in your mind, not something that exists in reality. David Hilbert, perhaps the greatest mathematician of this century states,

The infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought. The role that remains for the infinite to play is solely that of an idea.{1}

But that entails that, since past events are not just ideas in your mind, but are real, the number of past events must be finite. Therefore, the series of past events just can't go back forever. Rather the universe must have begun to exist.

This conclusion has been confirmed by remarkable discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics. The astrophysical evidence indicates that the universe began to exist in a great explosion called the "Big Bang" 15 billion years ago. Physical space and time were created in that event, as well as all the matter and energy in the universe. Therefore, as the Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle points out, the Big Bang Theory requires the creation of the universe from nothing. This is because if you go back in time, you reach a point, at which, in Hoyle's words, "the universe was shrunk down to nothing at all."{2} Thus, what the Big Bang model requires is that the universe began to exist and was created out of nothing. That is why you cannot agree with Dr. Jesseph when he says, "Why not believe that the universe is just eternal?"

Now this tends to be very awkward for the atheist. For as Anthony Kenny of Oxford University urges, "A proponent of the Big Bang theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the universe came from nothing and by nothing." {3}

But surely that doesn't make sense. Out of nothing, nothing comes. So why does the universe exist instead of just nothing? Where did it come from? There must have been a cause which brought the universe into being.

Now from the very nature of the case, this cause must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being which created the universe. It must be uncaused because we have seen there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. It must be timeless, and therefore changeless, at least without the universe, because it created time. Because it also created space, it must transcend space as well and, therefore, must be immaterial, not physical. In other words, it has some of the central attributes of God which Professor Jesseph described at the beginning of his speech.

Notice that I am not saying that this Being existed before the Big Bang temporally. He is causally prior to the Big Bang, but not temporally prior to the Big Bang.

Thus, the Big Bang Theory fits in with what the Christian theist has always believed, namely, that "In the beginning God created the universe."{4} Now I simply put it to you: Which makes more sense, that the Christian theist is right on this matter or that the universe just popped into being, uncaused, out of nothing? I, at least, don't have any trouble assessing these alternatives.

Teleological Argument

(2) God makes sense of the complex order in the universe.

During the last 30 years, scientists have discovered that the existence of intelligent life depends upon a complex and delicate balance of initial conditions simply given in the Big Bang itself. We now know that life-prohibiting universes are vastly more probable than any life-permitting universe like ours. How much more probable? Well, before I give you an estimation, let me give you some numbers to give you a feel for the odds. The number of seconds in the history of the universe is about 10 to the 18th power. The number of sub-atomic particles in the entire universe is about 10 to the 80th power. Now with those numbers in mind, consider the following: Donald Page, one of America's eminent cosmologists, has calculated the odds of our universe existing as being one chance out of 10 to the power of 10 to the 124th power, a number which is so inconceivable that to call it astronomical would be a wild understatement!{5}

Our discovery of the fine-tuning of the Big Bang for intelligent life is like someone trudging through the Sahara Desert and, rounding a sand dune, suddenly being confronted with a skyscraper the size of the Empire State Building! We would rightly dismiss as mad any suggestion that it just happened to come together there by chance. Similarly, we would find equally insane the idea that any arrangement of sand particles at that place would be improbable and therefore there is nothing here to be explained.

Again, it seems to me that the view that the Christian theist has always held, that there is an intelligent designer of the universe, seems much more plausible than the atheistic view that the universe, when it popped into being uncaused out of nothing, just happened to be, by chance, fine-tuned with an incomprehensible complexity and detail for the existence of intelligent life.

Now Dr. Jesseph raises four objections that I think can be easily dismissed. (i) The human body could have been better designed. I don't care to dispute the point. You can't deny the design of a watch because there could have been a better-running, more complex watch. (ii) Evolution accounts for the appearance of design in biological organisms. My argument concerns the initial conditions of the Big Bang on which evolution itself depends and therefore does nothing to refute my argument. (iii) Maybe there is more than one God or designer. Occam's Razor says that you do not postulate causes beyond necessity. One cause is enough. That suffices to explain the data. (iv) It is not a supernatural cause. I beg to differ. This is a cause of the design of the universe, of the origin of the universe with its initial conditions in the Big Bang. So it is clearly supernatural.

Moral Argument

(3) God makes sense of objective moral values in the world.

If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. Many theists and atheists alike concur on this point. For example, the late J.L. Mackie of Oxford University, one of the most influential atheists of our time, admitted, "If there are objective values, they make the existence of a god more probable than it would have been without them. Thus, we have a defensible argument from morality to the existence of a god. "{6} But in order to avoid God's existence, Mackie therefore denied that objective moral values exist. He wrote, "It is easy to explain this moral sense as a natural product of biological and social evolution."{7} Professor Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science at the University of Guelph, agrees. He explains,

Friedrich Nietzsche, the great atheist of the last century who proclaimed the death of God, understood that the death of God meant the destruction of all meaning and value in life. I think that Friedrich Nietzsche was right. But we've got to be very careful here. The question here is not: Must we believe in God in order to live moral lives? I am not claiming that we must. Nor is the question: Can we recognize objective moral values without believing in God? I certainly think that we can. Rather the question is: If God does not exist, do objective moral values exist?

Like Mackie and Ruse, I must confess that I just don't see any reason to think that in the absence of God the morality evolved by Homo sapiens is objective. Dr. Jesseph's values are just obligations we owe to other people, but I don't see any reason in the absence of God to think that there are such obligations. After all, if there is no God, then what's so special about human beings? They're just accidental by-products of nature which have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust called the planet Earth, lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe, and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time.

On the atheistic view, some action, say, rape, may not be socially advantageous, and so in the course of human evolution, it has become taboo. But that does absolutely nothing to prove that rape is really wrong. On the atheistic view, apart from the social consequences, there is nothing really wrong with your raping someone. Thus, without God there isn't any absolute right and wrong that imposes itself on our conscience.

But the problem is that such a view is so obviously false. Objective values do exist, and deep down we all know it. There is no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world. Actions like rape, torture, child abuse, and so forth, aren't just socially unacceptable behavior. They are moral abominations. Some things are really wrong. Similarly, love, equality, generosity, and self-sacrifice are really good. But if objective values cannot exist without God, and objective values do exist, then it follows logically and inescapably that God exists.

Now does that mean that theists do the good out of fear, as Dr. Jesseph alleges? Not at all! I believe that as Christians, you do the good out of a loving response to your God and Father. It is because you love God so much, who gave Himself for you, who forgave your moral evils that you have committed in this life, that your natural response is one of love and obedience, to live a life that is holy and pleasing to Him. So it's not a matter of living out of fear.

But notice that in his arguments, Dr. Jesseph never explained what the atheistic explanation of the origin of the universe was. He never gave any explanation for the complex order in the universe that is present in the initial conditions. And he never told us what is the foundation for objective moral values. In all of these ways, it seems to me, theism makes more sense than atheism.

Experience of God

(4) Finally, God can be immediately known and experienced.

Now this isn't really an argument for God's existence. Rather it is the claim that you can know that God exists wholly apart from arguments simply by immediately experiencing Him. This was the way that people in the Bible knew God. As Professor John Hick explains,

God was known to them as a dynamic will interacting with their own wills, a sheer given reality as inescapably to be reckoned with as destructive storm and life-giving sunshine. They did not think of God as an inferred entity, but as an experienced reality. To them God was not an idea adopted by the mind, but the experiential reality which gave significance to their lives.{9}

Now if this is the case, then there is a danger that proofs for God could actually distract our attention from God Himself. If you are sincerely seeking God, then I believe that God will make His existence evident to you. The Bible promises, "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you."{10} We mustn't so concentrate on the external proofs that we fail to hear the inner voice of God speaking to our own hearts. For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives.

Now Dr. Jesseph would dismiss this experience as being purely based on psychological factors and wish-fulfillment. But the point of the argument that I am giving here is that belief in God, when you experience Him and know Him, is a properly basic belief. It is like the belief in the existence of the external world. Sure, it's possible that there is no external world, that you are really a brain in a vat being stimulated with electrodes by a mad scientist to believe that you are here in this auditorium experiencing this lecture, when actually you are not. You are just a brain sitting in a vat of chemicals being stimulated to think that. But why believe such a hypothesis? Why doubt your experience of the external world? In the absence of good reasons to doubt that, you are within your rational rights in believing that experience to be veridical and genuine. Similarly, in the absence of any reasons to adopt atheism, why should I give up or deny my experience of the existence of God, which is so real and significant to me?

Conclusion

In conclusion, then, I don't think we have seen good reasons to show that God does not exist, and we have seen four reasons to think that God does exist. Together, these reasons constitute a powerful cumulative case for theism. If Dr. Jesseph wants us to believe atheism instead, then he has got to come back and tear down all four of the reasons for God's existence that I have given and then in their place erect a case of his own to show that God does not exist. Until and unless he does that, I think that we can conclude that theism is the more rational world view.

Notes

{1} David Hilbert, "On the Infinite," in Philosophy of Mathematics, ed. with an Introduction by Paul Banecerraf and Hilary Putnam (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964), pp. 139, 141.

{2} Fred Hoyle, Astronomy and Cosmology (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1975), p. 658.

{3} Anthony Kenny, The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas' Proofs of God's Existence (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), p. 66.

{4} Genesis 1:1.

{5} Donald Page, cited in L. Stafford Betty and Bruce Cordell, "God and Modern Science: New Life for the Teleological Argument," International Philosophical Quarterly 27 (1987): 416. Betty and Cordell actually get the number too small.

{6} J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), pp. 115-16.

{7} Ibid., pp. 117-118.

{8} Michael Ruse, "Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics," in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269.

{9} John Hick, "Introduction," in The Existence of God, ed. John Hick, Problems of Philosophy Series (New York: Macmillan Co., 1964), pp. 13-14.

{10} James 4:8.

 

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