The Craig-Washington Debate
Does God Exist?

Dr. Craig's Third Rebuttal

I. No good reasons to think
that atheism is true

The choice before us tonight is whether atheism or theism is more plausibly true. I've tried to argue tonight that there are no good reasons to think that atheism is true. And basically what it's come down to in the last speech is the problem of harm. The question is: if God is all-good, is it logically possible that He could create a world involving harm? If God is all-powerful, is it logically possible that He couldn't create a world of free creatures in which there is no harm? It seems to me that Dr. Washington has not been able to demonstrate either of the two premises that are essential to his argument to show that God and harm are logically incompatible.

He says, "Well, it wouldn't be so bad to have a world in which there were no natural laws and you could do whatever you want." I'll simply rest my case in saying that that is logically incompatible with moral maturity, with maturity and responsibility and agency. And I think it is logically possible that God might choose to prefer a world in which moral maturity and responsibility are goods He wants to achieve. And as long as that's logically possible, it follows there's no incompatibility between God and harm.

What about God's having morally sufficient reasons for permitting the harm in the world? I gave a number of suggestions why God might have such reasons. Dr. Washington says, "This is capitulatory." It's not at all capitulatory.{1} What I'm saying is that we're not in a good position to assess with confidence the probability of whether God could have a morally sufficient reason for permitting any specific evil. Let me give you an example from science: chaos theory. In chaos theory, it's been shown that even the flutter of a butterfly's wings could set in motion forces that would result in a hurricane over the Atlantic, and yet no one observing that butterfly would be able to predict that outcome. Similarly, when we see, say, the murder of an innocent man, we have no idea of what ripple effect that might send through history, how God's morally sufficient reason for permitting that might not emerge until later. We're simply not in a good position to assess that kind of probability.{2}

Dr. Washington says, "Well, look, but would you do evil, would you lynch someone, to prevent harm?" I'm not saying that. I'm saying that God allows harm to occur, which He will compensate for in the afterlife, in order to achieve certain greater goods, like moral maturity and human freedom.{3} As long as that's even logically possible, it follows that God and harm are not incompatible.

Let me share just one last thought. What is the atheist's alternative? On the atheist's alternative, we are locked in a world with gratuitous and unredeemed evil, with absolutely no hope.{4} It seems to me that God is in fact the only answer to the problem of evil because He redeems us from evil. He gives us moral cleansing and forgiveness from the evils we commit. And He offers us an afterlife of unspeakable joy and happiness for eternity, in fellowship with Him, the source of infinite goodness and love. God is ultimately the only solution to the problem of harm.

II. Good reasons to think
that theism is true

Now what about the good reasons to think that theism is true?

The Argument from Abstract Objects

First, you need God as a foundation for the abstract objects that exist, and they can't be merely human constructions.{5}

The Cosmological Argument

Second, you need God to explain the origin of the universe. Dr. Washington has admitted there has to be a cause of the universe. And I think I showed convincingly that it has the essential attributes of God: timelessness and spacelessness, immateriality, and personality.{6}

The Teleological Argument

Third, the complex order of the universe requires a designer. Dr. Washington says, "But you don't know that there is a being out there arranging the conditions." The argument is for such a being.{7} It's saying that there are two alternatives: chance or intelligent design. And you would have to be crazy to think that this happened by chance, given the odds against a life-permitting universe. Therefore, it follows that design is the more plausible of the two explanations. I don't see how anybody can deny that design is more plausible than chance, given the astronomical odds against these initial conditions.

The Moral Argument

Fourth, objective moral values. I argued that they're rooted in the nature of God Himself and that His moral commands flow necessarily from His divine nature.{8}

The Resurrection of Jesus

Fifth, the historical facts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. You wouldn't believe in the silly sort of miracle that Dr. Washington imagined because it has no religio-historical context of any significance. But the resurrection of Jesus is different in that it occurs in the context of Jesus' own unparalleled life and teachings and, particularly, his claim to be the absolute revelation and divine son of God. In that context, Jesus' resurrection makes good sense as God's vindication of those claims for which Jesus was convicted for blasphemy. So I think that in the case of Jesus you've got good evidence. Dr. Washington never denied the empty tomb, the appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith.{9}

The Experience of God

Sixth, God can be immediately known and experienced. I wasn't raised a Christian. I became a Christian in high school as a teenager and found God to be a living reality in my life. I want to challenge you, when you leave this debate, to go home and ask yourself, "Could there really be a God who loves me, who revealed Himself in Christ, who could change my life?" I believe that He could do that for you, just as He did it for me. Thank you!



{1} Rather than respond to my arguments that we are not in a position to judge confidently whether God could have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the harm we observe, Dr. Washington shifts to accusing God Himself of doing the evils so as to bring about a greater good. His last rebuttal also emphasizes the same accusation. This is an obvious caricature of the theistic position. God need not do the harm in order to have morally sufficient reasons for permitting harm to occur. To give an analogy: Think of the Allied commanders on D-Day who ordered a frontal assault against the German gunpit atop the Point-du-Hoc on the cliffs of Normandy. They knew that they were sending many of those brave men to their deaths; but if the German guns were not taken out, the whole invasion might have been compromised, the war effort against Nazi Germany disastrously set back, the war prolonged, and countless more lives lost. For the sake of the greater good, they ordered the assault. They did not kill the American men--the German soldiers freely did that- -, but they allowed, even directed, the men to be in a situation in which they knew they would be killed. They had a morally sufficient reason for allowing this harm. The most significant difference between God's case and this analogy is that God has the ability to more than compensate those who make the sacrifice for the greater good.

Dr. Washington also caricatures the theistic position when he suggests in his last speech that on my view God allows the weak and the poor to suffer so that the rich can develop into moral beings. I cannot imagine how he can attribute this view to me. What I argued is that rational and moral behavior requires a world that operates according to predictable natural laws, and that natural harm may be a by-product of such a law-like world, harm which God will more than compensate for in the after life. It is no part of my view that harm is meted out to some just so others may develop; on the contrary, if anything it is often those who suffer, not the coddled, who develop morally. It is interesting to observe that it is precisely in Latin America, Africa, and Asia that Christianity is growing at over twice the rate of population growth, whereas in the West it is moribund. What Dr. Washington's example really shows is how intertwined natural and moral evil are in this world. In a sinless world, natural evil would be vastly mitigated.

{2} See William Alston, "The Inductive Problem of Evil and the Human Cognitive Condition," Philosophical Perspectives, vol. 5: Philosophy of Religion, ed. James E. Tomberlin (Atascadero, Calif.: Ridgeview Press, 1991), pp. , who lists six limits on our cognitive capacities pertinent to assessing the probability that God could have a morally sufficient reason for permitting some evil. He concludes,

The judgments required by the probabilistic argument from evil are of a very special and enormously ambitious type, and our cognitive capacities are not equal to this one. We are simply not in a position to justifiably assert that God would have no sufficient reason for permitting evil. And if that is right, the probabilistic argument from evil is in no better shape than the late lamented logical argument from evil (Ibid., pp. 59, 61).

{3} In his final rebuttal Dr. Washington says that it is question-begging to argue for God's existence by assuming the reality of the afterlife. But, of course, that is not what I am doing. I give six reasons to believe that the Christian God exists, none of which assumes the reality of the afterlife. The mention of the afterlife arises only in response to the atheistic claim that harm is incompatible with God's existence or that gratuitous harm exists. My point is that neither of these claims is plausible if the Christian view of immortality is true. Dr. Washington needs to provide some reason to think that view is implausible. In favor of the Christian view is the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, which is the harbinger of our own resurrection.

{4} Dostoyevsky's final answer to the problem of harm was that the atheistic alternative was unlivable. He showed in his novels that if God does not exist, then "all things are permitted," even the most terrible of atrocities. His atheist character Ivan Karamazov, quoted by Dr. Washington, finally finds it impossible to live within the framework of an atheistic worldview.

{5} As I re-read the debate, I am struck by how weak Dr. Washington's response to this argument was. He only makes some vague gestures toward some sort of constructivism without showing how this accounts of the full range of abstract objects or answering my objection that there are numbers which no one has conceived. Perhaps he will address these issues more fully in his annotations; but then I shall have no opportunity to respond, since our annotations were prepared independently. I can only refer the reader to my suggestions for further reading.

{6} Again, Dr. Washington's response to this argument, in my opinion one of the most compelling arguments for God, was virtually non-existent. He actually concedes both premisses and the conclusion and does not rebut my deduction of the principal divine attributes. Not knowing what he will say in his annotations, I have no recourse but to refer the reader to the suggested further reading.

{7} Dr. Washington seems to have lost his way in the argument here. His lottery illustration was meant to show that improbability alone is not a proof of design. I agreed and argued that the probability in question also had to be specified in some way, as, e.g., if the lottery winners all had Mafia connections. In the same way the initial conditions of the universe are both inconceivably improbable and specified with respect to the production of intelligent life. That the design inference does not beg the question of the existence of an agent is evident in cases where we do not know and want to discover whether there are such agents, as in the search for a signal from extra-terrestrial intelligence or in an archaeological dig.

{8} In his last rebuttal, to which I could not, of course, respond, Dr. Washington says that he does not admit my premiss that if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. But then he goes on to make the remarkable admission, "I don't have the answer to what explains objective moral truths." That is precisely the problem: atheism lacks the resources to account for the objective moral values which we all intuit. Richard Taylor, an eminent non-Christian philosopher, is especially forthright on this point. He says,

The idea of political or legal obligation is clear enough . . . . Similarly, the idea of an obligation higher than this, and referred to as moral obligation, is clear enough, provided reference to some lawmaker higher . . . than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations can . . . be understood as those that are imposed by God. This does give a clear sense to the claim that our moral obligations are more binding upon us than our political obligations . . . . But what if this higher-than-human lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of a moral obligation . . . still make sense? . . . the concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone.

. . . The modern age, more or less repudiating the idea of a divine lawgiver, has nevertheless tried to retain the ideas of moral right and wrong, not noticing that, in casting God aside, they have also abolished the conditions of meaningfulness for moral right and wrong as well (Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith and Reason [Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1985] pp. 83-84, 2- 3).

So why does Dr. Washington resist God's being the source of moral values?--Apparently because of the Euthyphro Dilemma, which I in turn answered. Dr. Washington says in his last speech that he doesn't understand the solution I gave. I'm surprised at this, since it represents the classical theistic position and seems quite clear to me. If the reader shares Dr. Washington's perplexity, take a look at my suggestions for further reading.

{9} Dr. Washington evinces no familiarity with the literature concerning the historicity of Jesus' empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, or the origin of the belief in Jesus's resurrection, all three of which are regarded as historical by the majority of critical scholars today. Rather his skepticism is rooted in a philosophical bias against miracles derived from Hume. What the reader may not realize is that philosophers generally recognize that Hume's argument against the identification of a miracle is fallacious. Hume assumed the principle: it is always more probable that the testimony to a miracle is false than that the miracle occurred. But this principle is wrong. The hypothesis that "God raised Jesus from the dead," for example, is not improbable with respect to either our background knowledge or the specific facts of the case. What is improbable is the hypothesis that "Jesus rose naturally from the dead." That hypothesis is fantastically improbable, given what we know of the necrosis of human cells. Hypotheses like the conspiracy theory, the apparent death theory, the legend theory, are all more probable than that. But they are not more probable than the hypothesis "God raised Jesus from the dead," unless you have independent grounds for thinking God's existence to be improbable (which, I've argued, we do not). Indeed, relative to the specific evidence of the case, the hypothesis "God raised Jesus from the dead" is more probable (or a better explanation) than hypotheses like conspiracy, apparent death, etc. Hume believed that the testimony for the laws of nature always counterbalances or outweighs the testimony to a miracle. But this is incorrect, since the testimony to the laws of nature at best proves that people do not rise naturally from the dead. That in no way contradicts the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead. Indeed, the Christian believes both these truths.

The reason we are skeptical about President Gerberding's flying around campus is that this is naturally impossible and there is nothing in the religio-historical context of the event to make us suspect that God would do such a thing. But, as I explained, it is radically different in the case of Jesus' resurrection, given his own unparalleled life and teaching.

Well, then, how good is the evidence for the facts of the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the disciples' belief in the resurrection? In his last rebuttal, Dr. Washington finally gets around to addressing that question. Notice that he does not say anything to dispute the fact of the empty tomb. Nor does he offer any refutation of the fact of Jesus' post-mortem appearances. Rather he directs all his attention to the question of the origin of the disciples' belief in the resurrection. He does not deny that the first disciples came sincerely to believe in Jesus' resurrection and were willing to go to their deaths for that belief. In my opening speech I argued that the disciples' belief cannot be explained in terms of either Christian influences or Jewish influences. I did not mention pagan influences because no informed scholar today would hold such a thing. This sort of explanation was popular back around the turn of the century in the so-called "History of Religions School." The movement soon collapsed, however, principally for two reasons: (i) The supposed parallels are spurious. In his important study The Post- Resurrection Appearance Stories of the Gospel Tradition (Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1975), John Alsup has examined all the alleged parallels to Jesus' resurrection and shown them to be apotheosis stories, disappearance stories, etc., not resurrection accounts. The myths of dying and rising gods like Osiris or Adonis, for example, concern merely seasonal symbols for the crop cycle--the plants dying in winter and coming back to life in the spring. (ii) There is no causal link to the disciples' belief. This is evident in Dr. Washington's own examples from ancient Mexico or Nepal. According to Gerhard Kittel, there is "no trace" of myths of dying and rising gods in first century Palestine (Gerhard Kittel, "Die Auferstehung Jesu," Deutsche Theologie 4 [1937]: 159). Thus, no informed scholar would today argue that the original disciples came to believe that Jesus rose from the dead due to pagan influences. It is not surprising that as a philosopher Dr. Washington should be unfamiliar with the field of New Testament studies and historical Jesus research; but it is a shame that this sort of ignorance should be perpetuated among students.

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