A Summary of the Craig vs. Tooley Debate at UNCC – #8 Post of 2010

Post Author: Bill Pratt

On March 24, 2010, Christian philosopher William Lane Craig debated agnostic philosopher Michael Tooley about whether God exists.  I attended the debate and thought I would share a summary with you.

Craig opened with 5 well-known arguments for the existence of God (some of which we’ve presented on TQA in the past – follow the hyperlinks):

  1. cosmological
  2. teleological
  3. moral
  4. resurrection of Jesus
  5. religious experience

Tooley opened with one argument for the improbability of God’s existence: the argument from evil.

Let’s look at this argument more closely.  Tooley defined God as an all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect being.  What he wanted to show is that the existence of this kind of God is improbable because of the existence of evil.

He first catalogued all sorts of evils – the list was quite thorough and even poignant.  Following this shop of horrors, he argued that there are certain kinds of evil where the unknown good properties of that evil (granting that God can bring good out of evil) are outweighed by the bad properties that we know come from evil.  Put another way, he admitted that an all-powerful and all-knowing God could have good reasons for evil, but that we can inductively show that these good reasons cannot outweigh the “bad” from these evils.

His conclusion: since it is improbable that an all-good God could have sufficient good reasons for evil that outweigh the bad associated with evil, then it is is improbable that this all-good God exists.

How did Craig respond?  Craig responded by pointing out that you cannot assign probabilities to the existence of unknown good reasons for evil.  It’s like someone holding a giant bag of marbles and asking you: “What is the probability that, if you reached in, you would pull out a red marble?”  You could not assign a probability because you don’t know if there are any red marbles in there at all!  Tooley, likewise, is somehow claiming to assign probabilities to whether God could have unknown (his word) good reasons for evil.  This is clearly impossible to do with an all-knowing and all-powerful being.

How did Tooley respond to Craig’s arguments for God’s existence?  Well, he didn’t really address the cosmological and teleological arguments, content to let them stand.  He did address the moral argument by claiming that you can have objective moral values without the existence of God – he pointed to several philosophers who have tried to argue this way.

He addressed the argument from the resurrection by saying that all this proves is that the God of the Old Testament exists, and that this God is demonstrably not perfectly moral – he quoted many passages from the OT that seem to indicate an immoral God.

He addressed the argument from religious experience by saying that people from all sorts of religions have religious experiences, so this cannot establish the God of Christianity.

There were, of course, rebuttals given by Craig to Tooley’s critiques, but I won’t go into all of that today.  In the end, here is how they closed.

Tooley claimed that his argument from evil demonstrated that an all-good God is unlikely to exist.

Craig claimed that since Tooley had not addressed the cosmological or teleological arguments, that Tooley was, in effect, admitting that an intelligent, powerful, personal, non-spatial, timeless, creator of the universe exists; he just disputed that this creator was perfectly good.  The fact that Tooley conceded so much in the debate was not lost on the audience.  It was strange that he focused solely on the morality of God.

One final point to mention is the debating style of Michael Tooley.  Tooley is obviously an accomplished and brilliant scholar, but his presentation was extremely difficult to follow.  He presented a host of PowerPoint slides that he read from in rapid-fire fashion.  Since his argument from inductive logic was quite complex (he said as much), I would wager that a very small percentage of the audience could follow it.  That was unfortunate because none of us are served well by failing to understand all sides of a debate.  I have studied these kinds of arguments for many years, and I was barely able to follow his argument; he was just moving way too fast.

In addition, Tooley prepared slides for his rebuttals ahead of the debate and so found himself prepared to refute Craig on points that Craig never introduced.  He relied almost 100% on these prepared slides, again reading from them, line by line.  It was as if he did not want to respond real-time to Craig, and this came across poorly, since Craig did respond real-time to Tooley’s arguments.

Much more could be said about the debate.  If anyone else attended, tell us about what you thought.  We’d love to hear from you.

Can Science Test for the Supernatural?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Christians believe that a supernatural being can be reasoned to by working backward from effect to cause.  We observe ourselves and we observe the world around us (those are the effects) and we reason that a supernatural cause is the best explanation for the things we observe.  This is how almost all arguments for God’s existence work.

Science can shed additional light on what we observe in the world around us, so in that sense science can be employed in arguments for God’s existence.  For example, science seems to have shown that the universe had a beginning and that the physical laws and constants that govern the universe are fine tuned for advanced life.  Both of these scientific finds are often used in arguments for God’s existence.

Those who hold a naturalistic worldview (the natural world is all that exists) seem to be divided on this subject.  Some naturalists deny that science can ever be used to test the existence of God and others affirm that science can test for the supernatural and that those tests have all turned out negative.  Still others, like evolutionary scientist Donald Prothero, appear to hold both views at the same time.  Consider the quotes below from Prothero’s book Evolution.

Prothero first suggests that scientists “cannot consider supernatural events in their hypotheses.”  Why? Because “once you introduce the supernatural to a scientific hypothesis, there is no way to falsify or test it.”  He adds that scientists are not allowed to consider God or miracles (i.e., the supernatural) because they are “completely untestable and outside the realm of science.”  All right, it seems that Prothero is firmly in the camp of those who say that science cannot say anything about the supernatural.

But in the very next paragraph in his book, he completely reverses course.  Prothero explains, “In fact, there have been many scientific tests of supernatural and paranormal explanations of things, including parapsychology, ESP, divination, prophecy, and astrology.  All of these non-scientific ideas have been falsified when subjected to the scrutiny of scientific investigation. . . . Every time the supernatural has been investigated by scientific methods, it has failed the test.”

Huh??  Is your head spinning like mine?  Prothero first claims that science cannot test the supernatural and then he says that science has tested the supernatural.  Which is it?  It can’t be both.

I am not pointing this out to poke fun at Prothero, but because I see some skeptics making this mistake over and over again.  They want to desperately cling to the claim that science can say nothing about the existence of God (so that they can remove science as a tool in the Christian’s evidential toolbox), but they also desperately want to tell people how science has shown that God doesn’t exist (they retain science as a tool for skeptics to nullify the supernatural).  Unfortunately, holding both of these positions at the same time is flatly contradictory.  The skeptic must choose one or the other. Either science can test for the supernatural or it cannot.

I have seen this same mistake made in the intelligent design/evolution debate.  Evolutionists will claim that Michael Behe’s idea of irreducible complexity is non-scientific or scientifically untestable, but these same evolutionists will then produce scientific research they claim scientifically disproves irreducible complexity!  If it’s not scientifically testable, then how are they producing research which scientifically disproves it?

If you’re a Christian talking to a scientific skeptic, watch out for this skeptical two-step.  If you’re a scientific skeptic or naturalist, make up your mind which it is, because you are really confusing me.

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Are Christians Arrogant for Believing They Are Right?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most common accusations hurled at Christians is arrogance.  If Christians believe that only they are right about who God is, that is arrogant.

Usually, but not always, I hear this accusation from atheists.  They say something like, “If you think that the Christian God is the only true God, then you are excluding the rest of world who believe in other gods.  You are also excluding those who don’t believe in any god.  That betrays an incredible arrogance and narrow-mindedness.”

Typically these kinds of statements put Christians on the defensive and a few of us, unfortunately, will even claim that all religious concepts of God are basically the same so as not to seem narrow-minded.  After all, who wants to be seen as arrogant?

But there’s a problem with this accusation, especially for atheists.  Most religion surveys indicate that there are about 2 billion Christians in the world, which is about 1/3 of the world’s population.  That means that about 4 billion people don’t believe in the Christian God, or 66% of the world.

If we look at the number of atheists, those who deny that any kind of god exists, it’s probably around 150 million people, or 2.5% of the world population (see this link for data).  Even if we double that number, we get 300 million people.  That means that approximately 5.7 billion people are wrong about the existence of god, or 95% of all the people living in the world.

Now who is calling who arrogant?  If anybody is exclusive, if anybody is narrow-minded, it is atheists far more so than Christians.  As an atheist, you have to believe that 95% of all people alive are wrong about the existence of a higher power, a god or gods.  In fact, if numbers are how we determine arrogance, Christians are the least arrogant of any religious group because they have the most adherents!

Do I really believe atheists are arrogant for saying that no gods exist, a belief that contradicts 95% of the rest of the world?  No, of course not.  Truth claims are narrow, by definition, because they rule out falsehoods.  Numbers don’t determine truth, and it’s certainly possible that atheists are right, despite their relatively small numbers.  But that means that the accusation that Christians are arrogant also needs to be put to rest.  The atheist claiming that Christians are arrogant is sawing off the limb he is sitting on.

Let’s drop these silly accusations of arrogance and get back to reasonable and rational discussions about the existence or non-existence of God.  Can I get an atheist “Amen?”

Can Science Answer the Most Important Questions of Life?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Have you ever noticed that the most important questions in life cannot be conclusively answered by the scientific method of empirical observation and experimentation?

We can use science to study the weather, to create wireless communication, to study the respiratory systems of whales, to better see the stars, to learn about soil erosion, to build skyscrapers, and to fly aircraft.

All of these subjects yield themselves to scientific investigation such that mankind can eventually come to know these areas in extraordinary detail and precision.  We just continue collecting data, analyzing data, and testing hypotheses – over and over again until we finally understand.

These subjects are all wonderful, in and of themselves, but they aren’t what’s truly important.  What about God, love, friendship, morality, heaven and hell, human consciousness, the meaning of life, the origin of the universe?  These are the questions that strike us in the middle of the night when a loved one is in the ICU at the hospital, or when we witness the birth of a child, or when we suffer financial ruin, or when we contemplate marrying the person we love, or when we just have some peace and quiet and can immerse ourselves in deep thought.

None of these questions ultimately lend themselves to the scientific method, but they are the most important questions.

My family loves the silly movie Nacho Libre.  In the movie, one of the characters is asked if he believes in God, and he answers, “I don’t believe in God.  I believe in science.”

It is fitting that the movie is a comedy because this response is truly comical.  The person who believes in only science is fundamentally punting on all the major questions of life.  They are saying, in effect, “We are going to limit ourselves to the lesser things of life, the things we can know with a high degree of scientific certainty.”

It’s comical, but it’s also sad.  What impoverished existence – cutting off oneself from the only things that ultimately matter.

Does God Know What I Will Freely Do? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Yesterday, I posted on the issue of free will and God’s knowledge of of human free acts in the future.  This is an area the church has grappled with for centuries.  But how do other major worldviews deal with this issue?

Most atheists think they can avoid the issue by denying that God (or divine fate) exists.  Unfortunately, once you banish an ultimate mind as the source of the universe, you are only left with impersonal physical laws operating on matter and energy.

So free will, for the atheist, is just an illusion that our highly evolved brain gives us.  Fundamentally, we are completely determined in our actions and choices by chemistry and physics, by the mechanistic movement of atomic particles .  Free will, under atheism, does not exist.  So the atheist does not really solve the problem of fate and free will.  He just rids us of both, thus denying that the problem is real.

Monistic Pantheists argue that all of earthly life is just an illusion, that we are actually part of one ultimate, impersonal being.  When we realize that we are part of this one ultimate being, the illusion of our individual lives ends as we merge with the ultimate being.

In this sense, our individual free will is also an illusion because we, ourselves, are an illusion.  The only thing that really exists is this ultimate, impersonal being.  Their solution to the problem is to affirm divine fate at the complete expense of human free will or even true human existence.

Oddly enough, even though the theistic God seems to cause problems with the existence of human free will, without a personal God, free will cannot exist!

The Christian concept of God allows for mind to precede and transcend matter, which allows human free will to exist, in opposition to atheism (who only believe matter exists).

Christians also recognize that individual people exist apart from God, in opposition to pantheism.  The concept of human free will cannot exist without individual humans truly existing.  This the Pantheists deny.

Even though we Christians struggle with this doctrine, as do other theistic religions, at the end of the day a personal God is the best ground and source for free will.  Get rid of God, and free will quickly vanishes.