Rereading the front of my copy of “God is not great: how religion poisons everything” by the late Christopher Hitchens couldn’t be more satisfying, as in the bottom there’s an addition by popular evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. “If you’re a Christian apologist, and you’re invited to debate Christopher Hitchens, decline.” Now, obviously these alone wouldn’t bring about in me such cause for to chuckle, rather I’m satisfied by the wider context which has played out after having read “the new atheists” write so condescendingly with regards to their Christian neighbours. Dawkins, who advised Christians to avoid debate about their faith, proscribed silence not because Christopher’s case was so perfectly constructed, but rather because atheists don’t wish to (or even can’t) defend their belief in our being in a godless universe. “the default position” which atheists insist to being atheism, for listening to many of the bullies and intellectual featherweights which atheists deem their champions, isn’t actually atheism, it’s cowardice.
Thankfully not everyone was so frightened by Dawkins’ sermonizing, instead, world-class philosopher and Christian apologist William Lane Craig took the chance to debate Hitchens as an opportunity to invite both their opponent and others to the Christian faith community. Despite believers being told to pipe down and “decline” an invitation to speak on their hope in Christ, speakers like Bill Craig aren’t simply accepting the challenge, they’re utterly blowing their competition out of the water. The great irony came far later however, when, after having thoroughly dismantled the dry wit of Mr. Hitchens, Dr. Craig was asked to debate Mr. Dawkins, and surely, Dawkins wouldn’t decline, would they? Not after having promoted free inquiry, denounced the inability to defend one’s position, in addition to insisting believers have no intellectual ground to stand upon. Let’s find out. . .
Well, thanks for that, Mr. Dawkins. In fact, for fans of the Guardian newspaper, writer Polly Toynbee was featured in the above video, they threw their hat into the ring as a substitute Dawkins, apparently without first looking into who Dr. Craig was. Although having made their rash decision, they must have Googled their would be debate opponent, after which she promptly removed herself from the debate also! No wonder the new atheists and their sympathizers have garnered a reputation for being cowardly bullies. In short, if you are an apologist for atheism, and you’re invited to debate an educated Christian about God, decline. Returning again to Christopher Hitchens, who after having debated Dr. Craig said, to paraphrase: “I never knew believers had arguments like this.” The famous Hitchens Craig debate took place in 2009, and for Christians who haven’t yet watched their conversation, it comes highly recommended.
― T. C. M
Does God Exist?
William Lane Craig vs. Christopher Hitchens
Biola University , La Mirada, California, – April 4, 2009
William Lane Craig
- Opening Speech
- Opening Speech
William Lane Craig
- First Rebuttal
- First Rebuttal
Questions & Answers
- Cross Examination
William Lane Craig
- Second Rebuttal
- Second Rebuttal
William Lane Craig
- Closing Speech
Questions & Answers
- Question & Answers
Good evening, and welcome to Biola University. My name is Craig Hazen, and I’m the Director of the Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics here. And I’m honored to be the host tonight to get things started. Although the gym is packed with nearly 3000 people—and it looks like you are stuffed in here pretty well—and my condolences to those of you who’ve already been sitting an hour and have another couple of hours to go. Hang in there! Hang in there! But you are not the only ones watching. There are thousands of people in other venues on this campus. Not only that, there are people in overflow sites across the country and around the world. We have people in 30 states in 4 different countries watching this, and a special greeting to all of you who are watching across campus and in places such as Stockholm and Sri Lanka. I hope you really enjoy this.
A special greeting to some distinguished guests tonight: William Lane Craig’s wife, Jan, is here. Jan, it’s good to see you. Betsy Hewitt is here. My wife Karen Hazen is here. Dr. Barry Corey, the University President is here. Yes, we’ve got distinguished philosophers all over the place: Doug Geivett, J. P. Moreland—Hi, Hope!—his wife. Good. All right. We’re thrilled all of you could come. Well, this event was initiated by the Associated Students of Biola University, and it makes sense that A.S. President, Eric Weaver, should give a quick welcome on behalf of the student body. Eric, come on up.
Weaver: Good evening everyone. Biola is a one-hundred-year-old Christian University, which desires to wrestle with big questions in an honest and open way. In my senior year, my A.S. colleague, Mark Keith, and I thought we should sponsor a blockbuster event that pursues the biggest question of all: Is it reasonable to believe that God exists? A proposal was presented to the Senate, and the student body heartily agreed. So we invited two acclaimed academic leaders in this area: William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens. And along with the wonderful people from the Apologetics Program, we’re thrilled to see it on display tonight. On behalf of the students of Biola, I hope you really enjoy this event. Thank you.
Hazen: Thank you for representing the students, Eric. You are a senior—how is that job search going in this economy? Is that going well? Well, we will give you some help. Oh no, our career services on Biola: first rank! Thank you. Well, the students got this going. But there is one other important sponsor, and that is the program that I direct: the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics. If you like wrestling with the big questions: the existence of God, evidence for the resurrection, the problem of evil, the historical reliability of the Bible, reconciling science and faith, this really is a degree program for you. And if you are watching at a distance and you are thinking I can’t do it because you don’t live in southern California, that’s not the case. We have this amazing distance learning program, and it’s really open to anybody. And you don’t need to relocate to Southern California, although it was a very nice day today. You might want to consider it, although they’ve just taxed us into oblivion, so you may want to reconsider that. If you want to find out about these programs, check out Biola.edu: B-I-O-L-A.E-D-U and go to the Christian Apologetics page on that site. Well, how is this all going to work tonight? It’s pretty straightforward. In fact, your handy-dandy program will tell you what’s going on right up at the top inside panel. The Program numbers 1 through 8. It will guide you through what’s taking place every step of the way during the debate. So take a look at that.
Toward the end, we will have some time for questions, but as you notice, there is no microphone sitting up in the aisles. We are going to throw it open to the students—we have a student section up there. Bravo! Students of all stripes! Now, it’s your job tonight to think of some tough questions. And I expect you to actually vet them; that is, you may have learned in school that there is no such thing as a dumb question. That is not true! O.K. Not to intimidate you, but check it out. Do peer review. If you come up with a question, run it by the person next to you on either side, and let’s see how it goes. So we will throw it open for some Q&A time, and our thoughtful moderator will make sure it goes well. All right.
Well, when we are done tonight, there is one other thing you need to be considering and that is getting outside of this building to the pavilion right outside here and several places along the walkway to pick up the featured books tonight. One is God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens and another one is Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig, these are the featured books. Pick them up, and you can actually have them signed. To have them signed, just walk out this building and look for all the lights. And there are some tables out there, and our distinguished debaters will be out there signing books and answering your toughest questions right there at the table—I’m sure. If you have got a lot of books at home—in fact, you own a book so you don’t need another one—perhaps you can buy some DVDs or CDs of some dynamite debates and lectures that Bill Craig has done around the world. These are first ranked materials, and our Apologetics Program is actually the center point for getting all of these. So if you want to get them tonight, they’ve got wonderful special deals. Check out the red flyer in your brochure, and that will tell you the scoop. You can even pre-order tonight’s debate, if you’d like to get a copy of it. If it’s something you want to share with a lot of people, you can: pre-order it tonight, fill out the form, take it to the table, and they will move you right through.
Well, we’re delighted to have Mr. Hitchens here on campus, but we realized that we theists certainly have the home court advantage. I mean being in the basketball court, that makes a lot of sense. After all, it’s a Christian University, and [it] even says, “All . . . Glory to God” or something above the bleachers there. So, clearly this is a home court advantage for the theists. And I imagine the crowd here is over two-thirds Evangelical Christians, although I’m thrilled to see the atheists and agnostics community turn out wearing t-shirts. I love that! Yeah, absolutely, yeah [to members of the audience]! I was lecturing at the University of South Florida a few weeks ago, and the entire atheist club came outwearing t-shirts. And we had the best time ever, so I expect the same tonight. Well, since we have the home court advantage, those of you who are theists—believers in God—please let’s be polite to Christopher Hitchens. He is known to say a provocative thing or two. So if you could practice your polite golf clap [demonstrates a golf clap]. All right? Let’s practice it. Practice that. No shouting. No hooting. There will be plenty of opportunity for it, but let’s restrain ourselves. And those of you who are from the atheist and agnostic community, again, no shouting, no hooting, no hollering. In fact Mr. Hitchens, I can guarantee, doesn’t really need a lot of help. I just saw a video of him debating four prominent Evangelical theists in Dallas, and it really wasn’t fair. We needed more theists on the panel. So I think he will do just fine. But we’re grateful for him to come to sort of . . . what, the pit of opposition at Biola University! But we’re grateful to really open up the doors and run through these big, important questions. And if the debate is not resolved at the end, this is a basketball court for goodness sakes, we will lower the hoops, we will turn up the lights and we will let them go one-on-one. Yes, I hear Chris has game, so we will see how that goes.
Well let’s get to it. It’s my pleasure to introduce our moderator of the debate tonight, and he’ll get this party started. Hugh Hewitt, yes Hugh Hewitt. Hugh is a law professor and broadcast journalist whose nationally syndicated radio show is heard in more than one hundred and twenty cities across the United States every weekday by more than two million listeners. Not only locally, this program is heard on KRLA, which is 870 AM, and it goes from three to six—great program. In fact, I think it’s one of the most important, smartest, fast-paced news and issues program on the airwaves today, so check that out. If you live in our outlying regions, check HughHewitt.com to find out where he is broadcasting or podcasting. Professor Hewitt is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Michigan Law School. He has been teaching Constitutional Law at Chapman University Law School since it opened in 1995. He was a frequent guest on all the big cable news networks. And he has written for the most important newspapers in the country. He has received three Emmys for his groundbreaking television work and is the author of eight books including two bestsellers. Professor Hewitt served for nearly six years in the Reagan administration in a variety of posts including Assistant Counsel in the White House and special assistant to two Attorney Generals. Don’t miss his daily blog at hughhewitt.com. He has always been so very generous with his time toward events like these at Biola, and we are deeply grateful for his help here tonight. Join me in welcoming our moderator, Professor Hugh Hewitt.
Moderator: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Number one, please turn off your cellphones; I repeat, please turn off your cellphones. Number two, gentlemen to the extent that any of you have jackets that are still on, please as Ronald Reagan once used to say, “Feel free to just throw them on the floor. It is a little bit warm in here.” Our guests, by virtue of this crowd, it is obvious needs no introduction. I am not going to waste time then on elaborate introductions. I just wish to thank them both for being willing to participate in this most important of conversations.
It is the best of times—it is the best of times for those who like to argue about God in the public square, largely because of the rise of new atheists such as Mr. Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, my friend William Lobdell and others who have once again put [at] the center of the public stage the question of whether or not God does exist and whether or not Jesus Christ is His son. And it is up to people like William Lane Craig—prolific author, much beloved professor—here to enter into that conversation in a way that’s both persuasive and winsome. And so without further ado, allow me to welcome up Vanity Fair columnist, prolific author, my friend, and champion of freedom, Christopher Hitchens. And from this extraordinary lighthouse institution, another prolific author and apologist, a scholar extraordinaire who, like Mr. Hitchens, has his Ph.D. from a wonderful English University, Professor William Lane Craig. Please, Professor.
It’s a very structured debate according to classical lines until the questions at the end. We begin with an opening argument [of] twenty minutes to Professor Craig—Professor.
William Lane Craig – Opening Speech
Good evening! I am very excited to be participating in this debate tonight. Jan and I used to sit in those very bleachers right over there watching our son John run up and down this court as a forward on the Biola Eagles, and so I feel like I’m playing on the home court tonight.
And I want to commend Mr. Hitchens for his willingness to come into this den of lambs and to defend his views tonight. On the other hand, if I know Biola students, I suspect that a good many of you, when you came in tonight, said to yourself, “I’m going to check my own views at the door, and I’m going to assess the arguments as objectively as possible.” I welcome that challenge.
You see the question of God’s existence is of interest not only to religion but also to philosophy. Now Mr. Hitchens has made it clear that he despises and disdains religion, but presumably he is not so contemptuous of philosophy. Therefore, as a professional philosopher, I’m going to approach tonight’s question philosophically from the standpoint of reason and argument. I’m convinced that there are better arguments for theism than for atheism. So in tonight’s debate I’m going to defend two basic contentions: First, that there’s no good argument that atheism is true, and secondly, that there are good arguments that theism is true.
Now, notice carefully the circumscribed limits of those contentions. We’re not here tonight to debate the social impact of religion, or Old Testament ethics, or biblical inerrancy—all interesting and important topics, no doubt, but not the subject of tonight’s debate, which is the existence of God.
Consider then my first contention, that there’s no good argument that atheism is true. Atheists have tried for centuries to disprove the existence of God, but no one’s ever been able to come up with a successful argument. So rather than attack straw men at this point, I’ll just wait to hear Mr. Hitchens present his arguments against God’s existence, and then I will respond to them in my next speech. In the meantime, let’s turn to my second main contention that there are good arguments that theism is true. On your program insert, I outline some of those arguments.
- The Cosmological Argument
The question of why anything at all exists is the most profound question of philosophy. The philosopher Derek Parfit says, “No question is more sublime than why there is a universe: why there is anything rather than nothing.” Typically, atheists have answered this question by saying that the universe is just eternal and uncaused, but there are good reasons, both philosophically and scientifically, to think that the universe began to exist. Philosophically, the idea of an infinite past seems absurd. Just think about it, if the universe never began to exist that means that the number of past events in the history of the universe is infinite. But mathematicians recognize that the existence of an actually infinite number of things leads to self-contradictions. For example, what is infinity minus infinity? Well, mathematically you get self-contradictory answers. This shows that infinity is just an idea in your mind, not something that exists in reality.
David Hilbert, perhaps the greatest mathematician of the twentieth century, wrote, “The infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature, nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought. The role that remains for the infinite to play is solely that of an idea.” But that entails that since past events are not just ideas, but are real, the number of past events must be finite. Therefore, the series of past events can’t go back forever. Rather, the universe must have begun to exist.
This conclusion has been confirmed by remarkable discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics. In one of the most startling developments of modern science, we now have pretty strong evidence that the universe is not eternal in the past but had an absolute beginning about thirteen billion years ago in a cataclysmic event known as the Big Bang. What makes the Big Bang so startling is that it represents the origin of the universe from literally nothing; for all matter and energy, even physical space and time themselves, came into being at the Big Bang. As the physicist P. C. W. Davies explains, “The coming into being of the universe, as discussed in modern science . . . is not just a matter of imposing some sort of organization . . . upon a previous incoherent state, but literally the coming into being of all physical things from nothing.”
Now, this puts the atheist in a very awkward position. As Anthony Kenny of Oxford University urges, “A proponent of the Big Bang theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the universe came from nothing and by nothing.”
But surely that doesn’t make sense. Out of nothing, nothing comes. So why does the universe exist instead of just nothing? Where did it come from? There must have been a cause which brought the universe into being.
Now as the cause of space and time, this being must be an uncaused, timeless, spaceless, immaterial being of unfathomable power. Moreover, it must be personal as well. Why? Because the cause must be beyond space and time, therefore it cannot be physical or material. Now, there are only two kinds of things that fit that description: either an abstract object, like numbers, or else a personal mind. But abstract objects can’t cause anything. Therefore, it follows that the cause of the universe is a transcendent, intelligent mind. Thus, the cosmological argument gives us a personal creator of the universe.
- The Teleological Argument
In recent decades, scientists have been stunned by the discovery that the initial conditions of the Big Bang were fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent life with a precision and delicacy that literally defy human comprehension. This fine-tuning is of two sorts. First, when the laws of nature are expressed as mathematical equations, you find appearing in them certain constants, like the gravitational constant. These constants are not determined by the laws of nature. The laws of nature are consistent with a wide range of values for these constants. Second, in addition to these constants, there are certain arbitrary quantities put in as initial conditions on which the laws of nature operate; for example, the amount of entropy or the balance between matter and anti-matter in the universe.
Now, all of these constants and quantities fall into an extraordinarily narrow range of life permitting values. Were these constants or quantities to be altered by less than a hair’s breadth, the balance would be destroyed and life would not exist. To give just one example, the atomic weak force, if it were altered by as little as one part out of 10100, would not have permitted a life-permitting universe.
Now, there are three possible explanations of this remarkable fine-tuning: physical necessity, chance or design. Now it can’t be due to physical necessity because the constants and quantities are independent of the laws of nature. In fact, string theory predicts that there are around 10 to the 500th power different possible universes consistent with nature’s laws. So could the fine-tuning be due to chance? Well, the problem with this alternative is that the odds against the fine-tunings occurring by accident are so incomprehensibly great that they cannot be reasonably faced. The probability that all the constants and quantities would fall by chance alone into the infinitesimal life-permitting range is vanishingly small. We now know that life-prohibiting universes are vastly more probable than any life-permitting universe. So if the universe were the product of chance, the odds are overwhelming that it would be life prohibiting.
In order to rescue the alternative of chance, its proponents have therefore been forced to resort to a radical metaphysical hypothesis; namely, that there exists an infinite number of randomly ordered, undetectable universes composing a sort of world ensemble or multiverse of which our universe is but a part. Somewhere in this infinite world ensemble, finely-tuned universes will appear by chance alone, and we happen to be one such world. Now wholly apart from the fact that there’s no independent evidence that such a world ensemble even exists, the hypothesis faces a devastating objection, namely, if our universe is just a random member of an infinite world ensemble then it is overwhelmingly more probable that we should be observing a much different universe than what we in fact observe. Roger Penrose has calculated that it is inconceivably more probable that our solar system should suddenly form through a random collision of particles than that a finely-tuned universe should exist. Penrose calls it “utter chicken feed” by comparison. So, if our universe were just a random member of a world ensemble, it is inconceivably more probable that we should be observing an orderly region no larger than our solar system. Observable universes like those are simply much more plenteous in the world ensemble than finely-tuned worlds like ours, and therefore ought to be observed by us. Since we do not have such observations, that fact strongly disconfirms the multiverse hypothesis. On atheism, at least, then it is highly probable that there is no world ensemble.
The fine-tuning of the universe is therefore plausibly due neither to physical necessity nor to chance.
1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
It therefore follows logically that the best explanation is design.
3. Therefore, it is due to design
Thus, the teleological argument gives us an intelligent designer of the cosmos.
- The Moral Argument.
If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. By objective moral values, I mean moral values which are valid and binding whether we believe in them or not. Many theists and atheists agree that if God does not exist then moral values are not objective in this way. Michael Ruse, a noted philosopher of science, explains:
The position of the modern evolutionist is that . . . morality is a biological adaptation, no less than our hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, . . . such reference is truly without foundation, morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory.
Like Professor Ruse, I just don’t see any reason to think that in the absence of God, the morality which has emerged among these imperfectly evolved primates we call Homo sapiens is objective. And here Mr. Hitchens seems to agree with me. He says moral values are just “innate predispositions,” ingrained into us by evolution. Such predispositions, he says, are “inevitable” for “any animal . . . endowed with . . . social instincts.” On the atheistic view, then, an action like rape is not socially advantageous, and so in the course of human development has become taboo. But that does absolutely nothing to prove that rape is really morally wrong. On the atheistic view, there’s nothing really wrong with raping someone.
But the problem is that objective values do exist and deep down we all know it. In moral experience, we apprehend a realm of objective moral goods and evils. Actions like rape, cruelty, and child abuse aren’t just socially unacceptable behavior. They are moral abominations. Some things, at least, are really wrong. Similarly, love, equality, and self-sacrifice are really good, but then it follows logically and necessarily that God exists.
- The Resurrection of Jesus.
The historical person Jesus of Nazareth was a remarkable individual. Historians have reached something of a consensus that the historical Jesus came on the scene with an unprecedented sense of divine authority, the authority to stand and speak in God’s place. He claimed that in Himself the Kingdom of God had come, and as visible demonstrations of this fact He carried out a ministry of miracle working and exorcisms.
But the supreme confirmation of His claim was His resurrection from the dead. If Jesus did rise from the dead, then it would seem that we have a divine miracle on our hands and thus evidence for the existence of God.
Now most people probably think that the resurrection of Jesus is something you just believe in, by faith or not, but there are actually three established facts recognized by the majority of New Testament historians today, which I believe are best explained by the resurrection of Jesus.
Fact #1: On the Sunday after His crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty by a group of His women followers. According to Jacob Kremer, an Austrian specialist, “By far most scholars hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb.”
Fact #2: On separate occasions, different individuals in groups experienced appearances of Jesus alive after his death. According to the prominent New Testament critic Gerd Lüdemann, “It may be taken as historically certain that the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.” These appearances were witnessed not only by believers, but also by unbelievers, skeptics, and even enemies.
Fact #3: The original disciples suddenly came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus despite having every predisposition to the contrary. Jews had no belief in a dying, much less rising, Messiah. And Jewish beliefs about the afterlife prohibited anyone’s rising from the dead before the resurrection at the end of the world. Nevertheless, the original disciples came to believe so strongly that God had raised Jesus from the dead that they were willing to die for the truth of that belief. N.T. Wright, an eminent New Testament scholar, concludes, “That is why, as a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.”
Attempts to explain away these three great facts—like the disciples stole the body or Jesus wasn’t really dead—have been universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. The simple fact is that there just is no plausible, naturalistic explanation of these facts. And therefore it seems to me the Christian is amply justified in believing that Jesus rose from the dead and was who he claimed to be. But that entails that God exists.
- The Immediate Experience of God.
This isn’t really an argument for God’s existence; rather it’s the claim that you can know that God exists wholly apart from argument simply by immediately experiencing him. Philosophers call beliefs like these properly basic beliefs. They aren’t based on other beliefs; rather they are part of the foundation of a person’s system of beliefs. Other properly basic beliefs include the belief in the reality of the external world, the belief in the existence of the past, and the presence of other minds like your own. When you think about it, none of these beliefs can be proven. But although these sorts of beliefs are basic for us, that doesn’t mean they are arbitrary. Rather, they are grounded in the sense that they are formed in the context of certain experiences. In the experiential context of seeing and hearing and feeling things, I naturally form the belief in a world of physical objects. And thus my beliefs are not arbitrary, but appropriately grounded in experience. They are not merely basic but properly basic. In the same way, belief in God is, for those who know him, a properly basic belief grounded in our experience of God.
Now, if this is right, there is a danger that arguments for God’s existence could actually distract your attention from God himself. If you are sincerely seeking God, then God will make his existence evident to you. We must not so concentrate on the external arguments that we fail to hear the inner voice of God speaking to our own hearts. For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives.
So, in conclusion then, we’ve seen five good arguments to think that God exists. If Mr. Hitchens wants us to believe instead that God does not exist, then he must first tear down all five of the arguments that I presented, and then in their place erect a case of his own to prove that God does not exist. Unless and until he does that, I think that theism is the more plausible worldview.
Christopher Hitchens – Opening Speech
Well, am I audible? Am I audible to all? Yes. Well, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades, friends, thanks for coming out—as Senator Larry Craig actually did say at his press conference. Thank you, Mr. Hewitt and Dr. Craig, for being among the very many—very, very many—Christians who have so generously and hospitably and warmly taken me up on the challenge I issued when I started my little book tour, and welcomed me to your places to have this most important of all discussions. I can’t express my gratitude enough. And thanks to the very nice young ladies who I ran into at The Elephant Bar this afternoon where I hadn’t expected a posse of Biola students to be on staff, but where I thought, “God, they’re everywhere now!”
Now, what I have discovered in voyaging around this country and others in this debate—and debating with Hindus, with Muslims, with Jews, with Christians of all stripes—is that the arguments are all essentially the same for belief in the supernatural, for belief in faith, for belief in God, but that there are very interesting and noteworthy discrepancies between them. And one that I want to call attention to, at the beginning of this evening, is between those like my friend Doug Wilson—with whom I’ve now done a book of argument about Christian apologetics—who would call himself a presuppositionalist. In other words, for whom really it’s only necessary to discover the workings of God’s will in the cosmos and to assume that the truth of Christianity is already proven. And what are called, they include Dr. Craig with great honor and respect in this, the evidentialists.
Now, I want to begin by saying that this distinction strikes me first as a very charming distinction, and second as false, or perhaps as a distinction without a difference. Well, why do I say charming? Because I think it’s rather sweet that people of faith also think they ought to have some evidence. And I think it is progress of a kind. After all, if we had been having this debate in the mid-nineteenth century, Professor Craig or his equivalent would have known little or probably nothing about the laws of physics and biology, maybe even less than I know now, which is to say quite a lot in its way. And they would have grounded themselves—or he would have grounded himself—on faith, on Scripture, on revelation, on the prospect of salvation, on the means of grace, and the hope of glory, and perhaps on Paley’s natural theology.
Paley, who had the same rooms, or had had the same rooms later occupied by Charles Darwin in Cambridge—with his watchmaker theory of design that I know I don’t have to expound to you, but which briefly suggests that if an aborigine is walking along a beach and finds a gold watch ticking, he knows not what it is for or where it came from or who made it. But he knows it is not a rock. He knows it is not a vegetable. He knows it must have had a designer. The Paley analogy held for most Christians for many years because they were willing to make the assumption that we were mechanisms, and that therefore, there must be a watchmaker.
But now that it has been—here’s where the presuppositionalist-versus-evidentialist dichotomy begins to kick in—now it has been rather painstakingly and elaborately demonstrated to the satisfaction of most people—I don’t want to just use arguments from authority—but it’s not very much contested any more, that we are not designed as creatures, but that we evolved by a rather laborious combination of random mutation and natural selection into the species that we are today. It is, of course, open to the faithful to say that all this was—now that they come to know it, now that it becomes available to everybody, now that they think about it, and now that they’ve stopped opposing it or trying to ban it—then they can say, ah, actually, on second thought, the evolution was all part of the design.
Well, as you will recognize, ladies and gentlemen, there are some arguments I can’t be expected to refute or rebut because there’s no way around that argument. I mean, if everything—including evolution, which isn’t a design—is nonetheless part of a divine design, then all the advantage goes to the person who’s willing to believe that. That cannot be disproved. But it does seem to me a very poor, very weak argument because the test of a good argument is that it is falsifiable not that it’s unfalsifiable. So this I would therefore—this tactic or this style of argument which we’ve had some evidence of this evening—I would rebaptize, or might I dare say I would rechristen it as retrospective evidentialism. In other words, everything can, in due time—if you have enough faith—be made to fit.
And you too, are all quite free to believe that a sentient creator deliberately, consciously put himself—a being—put himself or herself or itself to the trouble of going through huge epochs of birth and death of species, over eons of time, in which ninety-nine percent—in the course of which at least ninety-nine point nine percent—of all species, all life forms, ever to have appeared on earth have become extinct, as we nearly did as a species ourselves.
I invite you to look up the very alarming and beautiful and brilliant account by the National Geographic’s coordinator of the genome project. By the way, you should send in your little sample from the inside of you cheek and have your African ancestry traced. It’s absolutely fascinating to follow the mitochondrial DNA that we all have in common and that we have in common with other species, other primates, and other life forms, and find out where in Africa you came from.
But there came a time, probably about one hundred and eighty thousand years ago, when, due to a terrible climatic event, probably in Indonesia, an appalling global warming crisis occurred, and the estimate is that the number of humans in Africa went down to between forty and thirty thousand. This close, this close—think about fine-tuning—this close to joining every other species that had gone extinct. And that’s our Exodus story, is that somehow—we don’t know how because it’s not written in any Scripture, it’s not told in any book, it’s not part of any superstitious narrative, but somehow the escape from Africa to cooler latitudes was made. But that’s how close it was.
You have to be able to imagine that all this mass extinction and death and randomness is the will of a being. You are absolutely free to believe that if you wish. And all of this should happen so that one very imperfect race of evolved primates should have the opportunity to become Christians or to turn up at this gym tonight, that all of that was done with us in view. It is a curious kind of solipsism; it is a curious kind of self-centeredness. I was always brought up to believe that Christians were modest and humble, and comported themselves with due humility and this—there’s a certain arrogance to this assumption that all of this, all of this extraordinary development was all about us, and we were the intended and desired result. And everything else was in the discard. The tremendous wastefulness of it, the tremendous cruelty of it, the tremendous caprice of it, the tremendous tinkering and incompetence of it—never mind, at least we’re here and we can be people of faith.
It doesn’t work me. I have to simply say that. And I think there may be questions of psychology involved in this as well. Believe it if you can, I can’t stop you. Believe it if you like, you are welcome. It’s obviously impossible, as I said before, to disprove. And it equally, obviously helps you to believe it if, as we all are, you are in the happy position of knowing the outcome. In other words, we are here. But there’s a fallacy lurking in there somewhere too, is there not?
Now it’s often said—it was said tonight, and Dr. Craig said it in print—that atheists think they can prove the nonexistence of God. This, in fact, very slightly but crucially misrepresents what we’ve always said. And there’s nothing new about the New Atheists; it’s just we’re recent. There’s nothing particularly new. Dr. Victor Stenger, a great scientist, has written a book called The Failed Hypothesis, which he says he thinks that science can now license the claim that there definitely is no God. But he is unique in that, and I think very bold and courageous.
Here’s what we argue: We argue quite simply that there’s no plausible or convincing reason, certainly no evidential one, to believe that there is such an entity. And that all observable phenomena, including the cosmological one to which I’m coming, are explicable without the hypothesis. You don’t need the assumption. And this objection itself, our school falls into at least two perhaps three sections: there’s no such thing—no such word, though there should be—as adeism or as being an adeist, but if there was one I would say that is what I was.
I don’t believe that we are here as the result of a design, or that by making the appropriate propitiations and adopting the appropriate postures and following the appropriate rituals, we can overcome death. I don’t believe that, and for a priori reasons don’t. If there was such a force, which I cannot prove by definition that there was not, if there was an entity that was responsible for the beginning of the cosmos and that also happened to be busily engineering the very laborious product (production of life on our little planet), it still wouldn’t prove that this entity cared about us, answered prayers, cared what church we went to, or whether we went to one at all, cared who we had sex with or in what position or by what means, cared what we ate or on what day, cared whether we lived or died. There’s no reason at all why this entity isn’t completely indifferent to us. You cannot get from deism to theism except by a series of extraordinarily generous—to yourself—assumptions. The deist has all his work still ahead of him to show that it leads to revelation, to redemption, to salvation or to suspensions of the natural order; in which, hitherto, you’d be putting all of your faith—all your evidence is on scientific and natural evidence.
Or why not, for a change of pace and a change of taste, say, “Yes, but sometimes this same natural order, which is so miraculous in observation, no question about it, is so impressive in its favoring the conditions for life in some ways, but it is randomly suspended when miracles are required.” So with caprice and contempt these laws turn out to be not so important after all, as long as the truth of religion can be proved by their being rendered inoperative. This is having it both ways in the most promiscuous and exorbitant manner, in my submission.
Bear in mind also that these are not precisely the differences between Dr. Craig and myself, I mean, morally or intellectually equivalent claims. After all, Dr. Craig, to win this argument, has to believe and prove to a certainty. He is not just saying there might be a God because he has to say there must be one, otherwise we couldn’t be here and there couldn’t be morality. It’s not a contingency for him. I have to say that I appear as a skeptic who believes that doubt is the great engine (the great fuel of all inquiry, all discovery, and all innovation), and that I doubt these things.
The disadvantage, it seems to me, in the argument goes to the person who says, “No, I know. I know it. It must be true; it is true.” We’re too early in the study of physics and biology, it seems to me, to be dealing in certainties of that kind, especially when the stakes are so high. It seems to me, to put it in a condensed form: extraordinary claims—such as the existence of a Divine Power with a Son who cares enough to come and redeem us—extraordinary claims require truly extraordinary evidence. I don’t think any of the evidence we heard from Dr. Craig, brilliantly marshalled as it was, was extraordinary enough to justify the extreme claims that are being made and backed by it.
“Hypocrisy,” said La Rochefoucauld, “is the compliment that vice pays to virtue.” Retrospective evidentialism strikes me in something of the same sort of light. It’s a concession made to the need for fact. Maybe we better have some evidence to go along with our faith, but look what Dr. Craig says in his book. He says—I’ll quote directly—he says, “Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter.” He adds not vice-versa, but a good editor, I think, would’ve told you, you don’t have to put the vice-versa in, it’s clear enough as it is. I’ll say it again, “Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence then it is the former, which must take precedence over the latter.” That’s not evidentialism, that’s just faith. It’s a priori belief. It’s rephrased in another edition. It says:
Therefore, the role of rational argumentation in knowing Christianity to be true is the role of a servant. A person knows Christianity is true because the Holy Spirit tells him it is true, and while argument and evidence can be used to support this conclusion, they cannot legitimately overrule it.
Now, then he goes on to say:
The Bible says all men are without excuse. Even those who are given no . . . reason to believe and many persuasive reasons to disbelieve have no excuse, because the ultimate reason they do not believe is that they have deliberately rejected God’s Holy Spirit.
That would have to be me. But you see where this lands you, ladies and gentlemen, with the Christian apologetic, you are told you are a miserable sinner who is without excuse, you have disappointed your God who made you, and you have been so ungrateful as to rebel. You are contemptible. You are wormlike. But you can take heart; the whole universe was designed with just you in mind. These two claims are not just mutually exclusive, but I think they are intended to compensate each other’s cruelty and, ultimately, absurdity. In other words, evidence is an occasional convenience.
“Seek, and ye shall find.” I remember being told that in church many a time as a young lad. “Seek, and ye shall find.” I thought it was a sinister injunction because it’s all too likely to be true. We are pattern-seeking mammals and primates. If we can’t get good evidence, we will go for junk evidence. If we can’t get a real theory, we will go with a conspiracy theory. You see it all the time. Religion’s great strength is that it was the first of our attempts to explain reality, to make those patterns take some kind of form. It deserves credit. It was our first attempt at astronomy, our first attempt at cosmology; in some ways our first attempt at medicine, our first attempt at literature, our first attempt at philosophy. Good! While there was nothing else, it had many functional uses of that kind. Never mind that they didn’t know that germs caused disease, maybe evil spirits caused disease. Maybe disease is a punishment. Never mind that they believed in astrology rather than astronomy—even Thomas Aquinas believed in astrology. Never mind that they believed in devils. Never mind that things like volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tidal waves were thought of as punishments, not as natural occurrences on the cooling crust of a planet. The pattern seeking has gone too far. And it’s gone, I think, much too far with what was, until recently, thought of as Christianity’s greatest failure, greatest of all failures: cosmology. The one thing Christianity knew nothing about and taught the most abject nonsense about. For most of its lifetime, Christianity taught that the earth itself was the center of the universe, and we had been given exclusive dominion as a species over it—could not have been more wrong!
How are we going to square the new cosmology, the fantastic new discoveries in physics, with the old dogmas? Well, one is the idea of this fine-tuning—about which I’ve only left myself three and a half minutes. I’ll have to refer some of this to later in the discussion. This is essentially another form of pattern seeking on the basis of extremely limited evidence.
Most physicists are very uncertain—as they have every right to be—in fact, I would say for physicists as they have the duty to be, at the moment, extremely uncertain about the spatio-temporal dimensions of the original episode: the Big Bang, as it’s sometimes called. We’re in the very, very early stages of this enquiry. We hardly know what we don’t know about the origins of the universe. We’re viewing it from an unimaginable distance, not just an unimaginable distance in space perched on a tiny rock on an extremely small suburb of a fairly minor galaxy, trying to look to discern our origins, but also at a very unbelievable distance in time. And we claim the right to say, “Ah, we can see the finger of God in this process.” It’s an extraordinarily arrogant assumption. It either deserves a Nobel Prize in physics—which it hasn’t yet got, I notice. I don’t know any physicist who believes these assumptions are necessary—or it deserves a charge of hubris. Let me make three tiny quick objections to it as it stands, and I’m no more a physicist than most of you are. I’ll make these lay objections.
One: Was there pre-existing material for this extra-spatio-temporal being to work with, or did he just will it into existence, the ex nihilo? Who designed the designer? Don’t you run the risk with the presumption of a god and a designer and an originator of asking, “Well, where does that come from? Where does that come from?” and locking yourself into an infinite regress? Why are there so many shooting stars, collapsed suns, failed galaxies we can see? We can see with the aid of a telescope, sometimes we can see with the naked eye the utter failure, the total destruction of gigantic, unimaginable sweeps of outer space. Is this fine-tuning, or is it extremely random, capricious, cruel, mysterious, and incompetent?
And have you thought of the nothingness that’s coming? We know we have something now, and we speculate about what it might have come from. And there’s a real question about ex nihilo, but nihilo is coming to us. In the night sky, you can already see the Andromeda galaxy; it’s heading straight for ours on a collision course. Is that part of a design? Was it fine-tuned to do that? We know that from the red light shift of the Hubble telescope, or rather Edwin Hubble’s original discovery, the universe is expanding away from itself at a tremendous rate. It was thought that rate would go down for Newtonian reasons. No, it’s recently been proved by Professor Lawrence Krauss the rate of expansion is increasing; everything’s exploding away even faster. Nothingness is certainly coming. Who designed that? That’s all if before these things happen, we don’t have the destruction of our own little solar system in which already there’s only one planet where anything like life can possibly be supported. All the other planets are too hot or too cold to support any life at all. And the sun is due to swell up, burn us to a crisp, boil our oceans, and die—as we’ve seen all the other suns do in the night sky. This is not fine-tuning, ladies and gentlemen. And if it’s the work of a designer, then there’s an indictment to which that designer may have to be subjected.
I’m out of time. I’m very grateful for your kindness and hospitality.