The Craig-Washington Debate
Does God Exist?

Dr. Craig's Second Rebuttal

To answer very directly the question of why we're here: we're here to consider the evidence for and against the existence of God and for each one of us to make up his mind on the basis of what we think is the most plausible.{1}

I. No good reasons to think
that atheism is true

The Argument from Harm

Now I argued that there is no good reason to think atheism is true. First, what about the argument from harm? Now, to be blunt, what Dr. Washington did in his last speech was basically an appeal to your emotions.{2} He read a very dramatic and horrifying account of a viral disease. But it didn't address the philosophical questions. We all admit this is horrible. We all admit there are horrendous evils in the world. But that doesn't address the question: is it necessarily true that an all-good God would create a world in which there is no harm? I suggested that you couldn't have a world without any harm in it, if you wanted rational behavior to be possible.

He says, "Oh, this would be fun!" I think that's the kind of reaction a college sophomore initially has. You know, I can drink and booze it up, do anything I want. But when you think about it for a while, you see that it would be absolutely impossible to behave rationally in a world that didn't operate according to natural laws. What that means is that it would lead to complete immaturity on our part, not responsibility. We would be like coddled, spoiled children, not mature, responsible, rational adults.

Moreover, I said, it may be that God does not have the ability to create a world without harm because of human freedom. And Dr. Washington agrees with that point. So he's willing to allow, now, the horrible evils in the world that human freedom perpetrates.

But he says, "What about natural evils?" Well, again, I said many of these result from natural laws. For example, earthquakes: if God eliminated all earthquakes, you would have to have a world where you didn't have any plate tectonics because that's what causes earthquakes. But without plate tectonics, the continents would all erode into the oceans, and there would be literally no life on earth. So these natural laws that cause harm are in many ways essential to our existence. Indeed, I've seen statements from biologists that even certain diseases and viruses contribute to the total ecosystem in ways that we do not even understand, of which we have no inkling. So it's easy to imagine plucking something out that we find harmful, but we don't even have any conception of the ramifications which that might have on the total world order.

In fact, I said, so long as it's even possible that God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing harm, the propositions that God exists and Harm exists are compatible. And Dr. Washington hasn't addressed that. He's only shown how evil certain things are. But he hasn't shown that God couldn't have morally sufficient reasons to permit it.

For example, maybe there are reasons that emerge later in history. Maybe God's reasons for permitting suffering in a particular case might not emerge until centuries later, maybe in another country. How do we know? There could be a ripple effect sent through history, where God's morally sufficient reason might not emerge until later.

Or it may be that there is no other natural system possible for God, which has these goods in it, but which doesn't also have comparable evils in it. How do we know?

Maybe only in a world that has gratuitous natural evil in it would people seek for God, and find God, and trust in Him. In a world without gratuitous natural evil, perhaps people would not have an incentive to seek God and trust Him.

All of these are possible. All of these and more could be God's morally sufficient reasons for permitting harm. And unless Dr. Washington can show this is logically impossible, there's simply no incompatibility between God and harm.

And remember the point I made about compensation in the afterlife. On the Christian view, the joy of knowing God for eternity, for infinite future time, so far outstrips what we suffer in this life, that no matter what you suffer, when you look back on it from heaven, you would say, "It was worth it! I would do it again to attain this sort of joy, this sort of glory, this sort of fulfillment!" So that compensation has to be put into the equation as well.

So I think, in short, that we haven't seen any logically, demonstrable incompatibility between God and harm.

Timelessness of God

What about God's being an abstract object? Dr. Washington asks here, "If God is not an abstract object or a material object, then what is He?" God is, in short, an unembodied mind. We are embodied minds; God is an unembodied mind.{3} And prior to, or rather beyond the existence of, the Big Bang, God existed in a changeless and timeless state.

II. Good Reasons to think
that theism is true

The Argument from Abstract Objects

Now what about the reasons to think that God does exist? First, the argument from abstract objects: Dr. Washington seems to say that you can construct abstract objects by counting. The problem with that suggestion is that there are numbers that no one has ever yet counted, numbers that no one has ever yet even discovered. There are properties that no human mind has ever discovered. So these simply cannot be the product of human intellection. They have to be grounded in an omniscient mind and, in fact, a divine mind.

The Cosmological Argument

He drops the point about the origin of the universe. I think that we have seen that the attributes of God are given by the very nature of the cause of the universe, which he admits exists.

The Teleological Argument

Third, the complex order of the universe: Dr. Washington didn't come back on my analogy of the lottery where the probability is specified, which shows that there needs to be intelligent designer.

The Moral Argument

As for objective moral values, Dr. Washington proposes the Euthyphro dilemma, that either the good is what God wills, or else whatever God wills is good. I would say that this is a false dilemma. You split the horns of the dilemma by saying that the good is the very nature of God and that the commands of God flow necessarily out of His moral nature. Because God is just, He commands things that are for us just. So the good is neither arbitrary, nor is it something outside and above God. Rather the good is the moral nature of God Himself, which is expressed necessarily in His moral commands, which become for us our moral duties.{4}

Notice, however, that Dr. Washington has never denied the premises of the argument. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. He admits that moral values do exist. It follows therefore logically and inescapably that God exists. If you don't deny the premises, you can't deny the conclusion.

The Resurrection of Jesus

As far as the historical facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are concerned, I'd just invite you to consider this historically. This isn't just something you take by faith. You can investigate these New Testament documents, using the ordinary canons of historiography. And I think you'll find that you can establish to a good degree of credibility facts like the empty tomb, the appearances of Jesus, and the origin of the Christian Way. There isn't any plausible naturalistic explanation for these facts, apart from the resurrection of Jesus.

The Experience of God

Finally, God can be immediately known and experienced. Dr. Washington says that this is not evidence relevant to the debate. I could not disagree more. I think this is very critical to the debate. One of the most important reasons, probably the most important reason, that people believe in God is because of their religious experience. To say that religious experience is irrelevant to question of the existence of God, I think, is just ignoring one of the most important questions. The question is, "Should I trust my religious experience?" Unless I see some good reason to think that my experience is delusory, or psychologically induced, or something, I will trust my experience; and I have an experience of God as a living reality. I believe that this is a reality that you can experience as well; and on the basis of that reality, it's rational to believe that God exists.

So in sum, I think we've got six good reasons to believe that God exists. We have inconclusive reasons for atheism. So I think, on balance, that the probability stands on the side of Christian theism.



{1} Dr. Washington seems to have misunderstood both the meaning and significance of the cited quotation from my book. The meaning is that there are two avenues to a knowledge of the fact of the resurrection: historical and experiential. My point is that even if, due to one's personal circumstances (e.g., lack of time, training, or opportunity), the historical avenue is closed, the experiential avenue is still open. The logic of the cited passage is perfectly valid: If there were no historical resurrection, then one could have no encounter with the Risen Lord today; but one can have an encounter with the Risen Lord today; therefore, there was a historical resurrection. The key premiss here is the second; this is in effect my sixth reason for believing that God exists. Until Dr. Washington refutes that sixth reason, my argument remains sound.

As to the significance of the passage, even if I were as blinkered and close-minded as Dr. Washington alleges, that does nothing to refute my arguments. For the arguments to be unsound, either (i) there must be a fallacy in the logic or (ii) one of the premisses must be false. There is no other means of escape. To reject the argument because I am thought to be close-minded is to argue ad hominem.

{2} Re-reading Dr. Washington's first rebuttal, I now think that this was an unfair allegation on my part. No doubt the account he read was emotionally devastating, and no one can come away from such an account without a feeling of revulsion and horror. But his was more than just an emotional appeal; this version of the argument is interestingly different from the version he presented before.

The earlier version argued that the propositions God exists and Harm exists are logically incompatible. In order to show this, Dr. Washington had to show that certain premisses were necessarily true. I argued that he could not do this, and he now concedes that in order to have free creatures, "maybe God has to allow some evil in the world."

So now he turns to arguing instead that the propositions God exists and Gratuitous harm exists are logically incompatible. Gratuitous harm means harm that is not required to achieve some greater good, and it is assumed to be necessarily true that "God will not have any more harm in this world than is necessary for accomplishing these greater goods." But, Dr. Washington argues, there is gratuitous harm in the world, as is evident from a person's dying a hideous death as a result of a "hot" virus. Therefore, God does not exist.

We can summarize this new version of the argument from harm as follows:

1. If God exists, gratuitous harm does not exist.
2. Gratuitous harm does exist.
3. Therefore, God does not exist.

Now the most contentious premiss in this argument is (2). The first version of the argument from harm posed an essentially internal problem about the consistency of Christian theism, since the Christian is committed by his own theology to the truth of the propositions God exists and Harm exists. But the Christian is not committed to the truth of (2). How, then, will the atheist prove that the harm in the world is truly gratuitous? Here it must be admitted that Dr. Washington's appeal basically is emotional, for he never considers anything of the context of Monet's death: his relationship to God, the impact of his suffering on friends, on family, on the nursing staff in the hospital where he died, the wider impact his and others' deaths had on medical research, and so on. Dr. Washington says God could have reduced his suffering. Of course, but that is not the question; the question is whether God had a morally sufficient reason for permitting his suffering. I argue in this rebuttal that we're just not in a position to assert with any measure of confidence that apparently gratuitous harm really is gratuitous, and I give several reasons for our lack of confidence in this regard. Dr. Washington never shoulders the burden of proof to demonstrate that the harm in the world really is gratuitous, but, as we shall see, he shifts ground to yet a third argument in his next rebuttal.

Now in asking whether some observed harm really is gratuitous, the most important question to consider is--surprise!--whether God exists. The Christian will readily admit that much of the suffering in the world is apparently gratuitous, but he may insist that it is not really gratuitous precisely because God exists. That is, he may argue:

1. If God exists, gratuitous harm does not exist.
2. God exists.
3. Therefore, gratuitous harm does not exist.

Thus, premiss (1), which is the same in both the atheist and the Christian's arguments, is sort of like a see-saw. The conclusion that comes out of it will depend on which side has the greater weight. As D. Howard-Snyder points out, an argument from harm is a problem only for "the theist who finds all its premisses and inferences compelling and who has lousy grounds for believing theism"; but if one has more compelling grounds for theism, then the problem of harm "is not a problem" ( "Introduction," in The Evidential Argument from Evil, ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder [Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1996], p xi). In the debate I presented six reasons for affirming that God exists, and Dr. Washington's responses to these were, I think we must admit, pretty thin. On the other hand, he gave no argument for thinking that harm such as Monet suffered was gratuitous and fails to respond to my several suggestions as to why we cannot confidently assert that God lacked morally sufficient reasons for permitting it. Thus, it seems to me both that Dr. Washington has failed to prove the crucial premiss of his argument, that Gratuitous harm exists, and also that we have good reasons for thinking that the harm which does exist is not really gratuitous, given my arguments for the existence of God.

Finally, we should ask whether premiss (1) itself is true. I suggested in the debate that it is possible that only in a world in which gratuitous natural evil exists would people seek and find God's salvation. Not only do I think this is possible; it seems to me quite plausible as well. The places in the world today where evangelical Christianity is growing at its fastest rates are precisely countries which have experienced great hardship and suffering, like El Salvador, Ethiopia, and China. (Read the accounts in Patrick Johnstone, Operation World [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1993].) The atheist might say that then the harm is not gratuitous after all: it serves the greater good of securing people's eternal salvation. All right, but then that makes it all the more difficult for the atheist to prove that truly gratuitous harm exists, for how could he possibly know what in God's providential plan of history does or does not contribute to the ultimate salvation of the greatest number of people?

{3} Notice that Dr. Washington just assumes that minds do not exist, which is begging the question. It is plainly false that "all practicing philosophers" assume that there are only two types of things: material objects and abstract objects. For many philosophers (and scientists) accept the existence of minds and of God; moreover, there are fields, space, and time, none of which is a material or abstract object.

{4} For further reading on this issue, see William Alston, "What Euthyphro Should Have Said," in William Alston, Divine Nature and Human Language (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989), pp. ; Thomas V. Morris, "Duty and Divine Goodness," and "The Necessity of God's Goodness," in Anselmian Explorations (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987), pp. 26-69.

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