Tag Archives: moral argument

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 Evil Exist Without God?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Many skeptics of Christianity claim that the existence of evil in the world proves that a good God cannot exist.  I believe this viewpoint is exactly backwards.

If you truly believe that there is evil in the world, then you must believe that there is good in the world as well.  We can’t know what is wrong unless we know what is right.  We can’t know a crooked line unless we know a straight line.  We can’t know injustice unless we know justice.

But if there is real good and real evil in the world, then there must be an ultimate standard, a measuring stick by which to judge goodness and badness.  This measuring stick must be perfect, so that all moral activity can be compared to it, just like determining the straightness of any line requires a perfectly straight line by which to compare.

Here is the argument summarized in short from:

  1. evil implies good
  2. good implies a perfect standard by which to define it

Now, if you believe that there exists real, objective evil in the world – evil that any person from any place or time would agree is really evil – then you are stuck with admitting that there must be a perfect standard of goodness also in existence, a moral law.

Where does this perfect standard of goodness come from?  The Christian answer is that this standard originates in the nature of God.  God’s own nature is the perfect standard of good, and God has always existed as the first cause of everything.

If you’re a person who wants to escape this answer, you can claim that this moral law just sort of exists, like a floating “cloud” of goodness that just permeates the universe.  But the Christian can ask: “Where did this floating ‘cloud’ of goodness come from?”

You could say that the objective moral law, the perfect standard of goodness, comes from blind, purposeless, natural processes (the standard atheist account of everything that exists).  The Christian can ask: “Why should anyone feel obliged to follow and obey a perfect moral standard that comes from atoms randomly banging together over billions of years?”

I don’t think there is a good answer to that question.  The person who wants to affirm the existence of evil while denying the existence of God finds himself caught in a deep hole of irrationality.  He asks us to obey moral laws that come from rocks.

Some atheists, like Nietzsche, saw where this hole was leading and bailed out quickly.  They affirmed that there is no such thing as real moral evil in the world.  What we think is evil is really just our personal preferences.  You like to kill people and I don’t.  I like red and you like blue.

The consistent person who wants to affirm the existence of evil really must affirm the existence of a personal moral lawgiver – God.  If you don’t think God exists, then you should stop complaining about all the evil in the world.  You’re not making any sense.