The Craig-Jesseph Debate
Does God Exist?

Dr. Craig's First Rebuttal

In this speech, I would like to review those two basic contentions that I have offered to defend tonight and see how they fared in light of Dr. Jesseph's criticisms.

I. Reasons for Atheism

First, is there any good reason to think that atheism is true?

Theistic Pluralism

Now Dr. Jesseph has reiterated that if you hold to a particular concept of God, this rules out the possibility of other Gods, and he finds this "unpleasant." I find that to simply be logically necessary. That is not an argument. If there is a concept of God that corresponds to reality, then obviously anything logically incompatible with that does not correspond to reality. That is not an argument against the existence of God.

Problem of Evil

Dr. Jesseph drops the point about the problem of evil. He didn't answer my allegation that he can't prove either of those two subsidiary premises; but to drive the point home, let me quote from Alvin Plantinga, one of America's leading philosophers on this problem. He says,

Now, as opposed to twenty or twenty-five years ago, most [atheists] have conceded that in fact there isn't any inconsistency between the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good God and the existence of the evil the world contains. It is heartening to see that the [atheists] are giving up the incompatibility thesis and are now prepared to concede that there is no contradiction here: that's progress. {1}

That is progress; and I think it means that we haven't been offered any good reason tonight to think that atheism is true.

II. Reasons for Theism

Now what about the reasons that I offered to show that theism is true?

Cosmological Argument

(1) First, I argued that God made sense out of the origin of the universe. Here Dr. Jesseph says, "The atheist doesn't need an explanation of the origin of the universe." But let me appeal to his Principle of Conservatism. That states that you should not posit unusual explanations when usual ones will do the work. The trouble is, he doesn't have any explanation here on an atheistic world view. Therefore, the principle justifies appealing to a supernatural cause. Remember what Anthony Kenny said: on the Big Bang model of the origin of the universe the atheist has to believe that the universe just came from nothing and by nothing, which I think is metaphysically absurd.

Now Dr. Jesseph says, "But the Big Bang is terribly uncertain. We can't go on this basis." Two comments. (i) I gave a philosophical argument for the beginning of the universe, based on the impossibility of an actually infinite regress of events. That sustains the conclusion alone; the Big Bang merely provides empirical confirmation of that philosophical conclusion already reached. But (ii) I must say I find it rather hypocritical when atheists use the theory of biological evolution to try to trash the design argument and Christian belief in a Designer and a Creator, but then the minute that science begins to confirm the Christian hypothesis through the Big Bang theory, all of a sudden we hear these grave intonations about how uncertain the model is, how we cannot trust its predictions for the future, and so forth. That is simply talking out of both sides of your mouth. The fact is that on Dr. Jesseph's view, the atheist must reject the Big Bang theory, which is the paradigm model of modern cosmology, in order to sustain his atheism. Now if you are an atheist, I think that ought to shake you up. That should make you very, very sober, I think, about what your world view is committing you to. By contrast, the Christian view, which predicted the origin of the universe long before it was ever discovered empirically, makes sense out of the origin of the universe and explains why it exists -- none of this hocus-pocus about something coming into being out of nothing without a cause.

Teleological Argument

(2) Now what about the complex order in the universe? Here Dr. Jesseph says, "The question is, are the initial conditions of the universe purposed by an intelligent designer for intelligent life?" That is, indeed, the question, I agree. But, he says, "You cannot predict the outcome of the Big Bang; therefore, it cannot be designed." I think this is just confused. The Big Bang singularity, the initial beginning point, is lawless, but in the first fraction of a second after the Big Bang the universe goes through several phase transitions, as they are called, in which these different cosmological quantities come out -- things like the relationship between the gravitational force and the weak force, between the mass of the proton and the mass of the neutron, and so forth. And what the atheist has to say is that the universe went through this series of phase-breaking transitions, and time after time after time, with an incomprehensible complexity and improbability, these conditions all fell out perfect for the sustenance and existence of intelligent life. It seems to me that that points to an explanation in design, not just chance.

Dr. Jesseph replies, "Well, it is only improbable relative to other universes." Now I am not sure what his point is here, but let me try to explain the probability.{2} Imagine that our universe is a red dot on a piece of paper. What you do is then alter infinitesimally some of the quantities that I described, like the neutron/proton mass ratio. That represents a new universe. If that universe is life-permitting, make it a red dot. If it is life-prohibiting, make it a blue dot. And then do it again, then do it again, then do it again. You know what you come up with? You come up with a sea of blue, with only a few pin points of red. That is what I mean when I say that it is incomprehensibly improbable that our universe should be fine-tuned in the way that it is for intelligent life.

Dr. Jesseph says, "But improbabilities happen all the time. Any arrangement is improbable." Remember, that is like somebody trying to explain away the skyscraper in the desert by saying, "Any arrangement of sand particles at that place is equally improbable; therefore we don't have to explain the skyscraper." Not at all! It is highly improbable that there should be a life-permitting universe in existence given the initial conditions of the Big Bang. And this improbability, I believe, cries out for an explanation.

Let me give you an illustration from John Leslie, the philosopher who has occupied himself most with these issues.{3} He gives the example of the dishonest silk merchant who shows us his roll of silk for us to buy, and it just so happens that his thumb is covering the moth hole in the silk. Now what would you say to somebody that says, "Well, that doesn't cry out for any explanation because any place on the cloth where the thumb might be placed is equally improbable and therefore there is no need to say why is it over the hole?" Obviously, its being over the hole rather than some other place cries out for some sort of explanation. There is an apparent explanation for that, namely, he is dishonest; he wants to conceal the flaw. Similarly, with respect to these initial conditions of the universe, there is an apparent explanation for this in intelligent design.

We intuitively recognize this sort of complexity. Imagine an archaeologist digging in the earth and unearthing artifacts like things shaped like tomahawks and arrowheads and so forth, and he says, "Oh, egad, look how the processes of sedimentation and metamorphosis have produced these curious rocks!" Of course not! He implicitly sees that there is an apparent explanation for these. It would be idle for him to say, "Well, but any rock formation in that place would be equally improbable." There is an apparent explanation for the complexity that is there, namely intelligent design. Similarly, the unbelievable complexity in the initial conditions of the universe cries out for an explanation, which, I think, makes design a very plausible hypothesis.

Now Dr. Jesseph would eliminate this design or these complex features by saying you can adopt an inflationary model of the universe. This doesn't get around the problem at all, because as John Leslie has shown, even the inflationary hypothesis requires an enormous degree of fine tuning in order to get the inflation started, so it just puts off the question one more step.{4}

And, finally, I think, we get to the real point. Dr. Jesseph says, "God is incomprehensible, and so how can He explain anything?" But that's not the way God is to me. I am talking about a concrete reality, a designer and intelligent mind who created the universe, brought it into being, is the source of moral goodness and value. He is not incomprehensible except in the sense that we can't understand everything about Him; but He is a clearly defined entity that I postulate, just as a scientist might postulate the existence of quarks or strings or other high level entities in theoretical physics to explain certain phenomena. So I don't think we've seen any good explanation on the atheist view for the complex order in the initial conditions of the universe. Dr. Jesseph has to just say it is there by chance.

Moral Argument

(3) What about objective moral values in the world? Here Dr. Jesseph simply asks, "What are objective values?" Objective values are values that hold independently of whether anybody believes in them or not. That is what an objective value is, and I submit those can't exist unless there is God to ground them.

He says, "Well, what is special about human beings? I answer that they suffer pain." But what I want to know is why on an atheistic view is it wrong to inflict pain on organisms? Animals do it all the time to each other, and that's all we are on an atheistic view. Richard Taylor, the ethicist, imagines people living in a state of nature without moral laws. Suppose one person kills another one and takes his goods. Taylor says this:

Such actions, though injurious to their victims, are no more unjust, or immoral than they would be if done by one animal to another. A hawk that seizes a fish from the sea kills it, but does not murder it; and another hawk that seizes the fish from the talons of the first takes it, but does not steal it -- for none of these things is forbidden. And exactly the same considerations apply to the people we are imagining.{5}

In a world without God, who is to say what is right and wrong? Who is to say that moral values exist? It seems to me that we would just be like these animals in the animal kingdom. But, as I think we both agree, this is obviously wrong. There are objective moral values that exist, and therefore it follows logically and inescapably that God exists.

Experience of God

(4) Finally, can God be known and experienced? Here, Dr. Jesseph asks, "Is this a reliable route to the truth? What about David Koresh?" In the case of David Koresh, we have good reasons to doubt the veridicality of his experiences -- for example, his fanciful hermeneutics and biblical exegesis, which are demonstrably false. So we would have good reasons to doubt that experience. But, in the absence of good arguments for atheism, I don't have any reason to doubt my experience of God, anymore than I have reasons to doubt my experience of the external world. Why should I give up my belief in the reality of the external world, in the absence of good reasons? And why should I give up my belief in God, who is a living and present reality to me, in the absence of good arguments for atheism? I can't see any good reason to.


So, basically, I think what we have got tonight are good reasons, good suggestive pointers, to the existence of God as the creator, designer, and sustainer of the universe and the source of objective value, and we have not got any good reason to give up our experience of God and become an atheist. So I am simply reluctant to adopt atheism. I don't see any good reason to embrace atheism. It seems to me that it is more plausible to be a theist.


{1} Alvin Plantinga, "Tooley and Evil: A Reply," Australasian Journal of Philosophy 60 (1981): 74. I have substituted the more familiar "atheists" for Plantinga's self-coined "atheologians" for clarity's sake.

{2} The following illustration is drawn from John Barrow, The World within the World (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), p. 216.

{3} John Leslie, Universes (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 10, 121.

{4} Ibid., pp. 29-33.

{5} Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), p. 14.


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