Another debate at Westminster Chapel

William Lane Craig debates Stephen Law on the existence of God:

Craig : “As a professional philosopher I think God makes sense of the wide range of data of human experience”.

I skip the rest of his speech assuming I have heard it before, ie The argument from creation, absolute morality, and resurrection.

Stephen’s argument is the problem of evil. He starts by talking about the suffering of animals and moves onto human suffering.

Me – but this does not address the existence of God, rather the nature of the God who may exist.

Paraphrase of Stephen’s argument: “If professor Craig’s God exists then … there must be an entirely adequate reason [for all this suffering]. This is very unlikely and there is powerful evidence against the existence of God…the evil God hypothesis is just as good an argument for Professor Craig’s origin of the universe “creator God” argument….but then there is the problem of good (ie why is there all this good in the word). Why then if the problem of good is fatal to the “evil God” hypothesis, is the existence of evil fatal to the “Good God” hypothesis. Christians say that a good God allows evil because he wants his creatures to be free. But an evil God could have given us free will so that we can choose to do evil and do moral evil. An evil God could give us good things so that we feel the loss all the more when they are taken away. He may give good things to one person in order to provoke another to jealously. Whatever good we experience in this life will be more than compensated for by the horror of the next. If we can rule out the existence of the evil God why not the existence of the good God?”.

This is an interesting argument I have not heard before.

Paraphrase Craig “The problem of evil is an emotional obstacle but not a philosophical obstacle.”. He argues that God may have a morality sufficient reason for allowing evil. He says a supreme being must have moral excellence. You cannot have an evil God because he is not worthy of worship. You can have an evil creator of the universe. Good things do not disprove the existence of an “evil God” and bad things do not disprove a “good God”. Eco systems need predators or they would not exist. There are three levels of pain awareness. An amoeba’s response to stimulus, an animal’s experience of pain, an a self-aware persons response to pain that comes from a part of the brain that is only there in man and higher primates. We are so often guilty of anthropomorphism. God in his mercy has spared the animal world the experience of suffering that we have.

Me – I didn’t feel he actually addressed the flipping issue though. Why are good and evil not arbitrarily symmetrical? Perhaps it relies on the self-evident notions of goodness and perfection. You could perhaps separate out two steps. One is the existence of a god (good or evil). The next is to define his characteristics. Arguments from the origin of the universe can get you ro the existence of a creator God. Arguments from morality (starting from some pre-supposition or existential knowledge of absolute morality) then gets you to a good God.

Stephen Law. “I assume Christians have reasons other than what they see to think that God is good. The idea that the existence of evil proves God is wrong. I do not need to buy into the existence of evil. If we can dismiss the evil God because of the good we see around us then why not the good God. Craig is just saying that we cannot know why God allows evil. That is a highly implausible card to play.

Craig: “Law has not responded to my arguments. Especially that there is a powerful creator of the universe. He has to interact with this argument because that is the essence of atheism. Law has retreated from the assertion of the existence of moral good and evil but we know there is an objective moral reality. Thirdly, the argument for the resurrection of Jesus has not been addressed.

Law: “the moral argument is rejected by the vast majority of philosophers. There may be a basis for morals without the existence of God….most of the time evidence for UFOs turn out to be explained by other things. So it might be for the resurrection.”.

Craig “My argument that there is a powerful, timeless…creator of the universe has gone uncontested. We can therefore all agree that there is such a begin. Many atheist philosophers agree that without God there are no objective moral values. The explanation of God raising Jesus from the dead fits the data better than any other naturalistic explanation. You cannot judge whether God is good or bad based on the good and evil that is in the world so Laws argument is not relevant.

Law “We see suffering on a stupendous scale. My contention is that this suffering does constitute very powerful evidence against the Christian God who is good”. Further, any reason given to explain the suffering could be flipped to support an evil God. “Why should we believe that if there is no God there are no objective moral values?” “The argument for the resurrection is comically flimsy”.


They both agree that is seems like there are objective moral values. Bill thinks that the best explanation of that is God. Law thinks Bill has to show that there is no atheistic basis for the existence of absolute moral values, even ones he has not thought of yet.

In summary:

Laws is specifically going against Craig’s good God. He refuses to argue about the existence or not of another God. His main argument seems to be

1)      There is evil and suffering in the world

2)      Therefore it looks like God is not good

3)      Any argument for why God is good but allows evil (for some morally sufficient reason) can be switched as an argument to support an evil  god who allows good (for some sufficiently malevolent and devious purpose)  and so cannot be used in support of a good God.

The Key issue is whether good and evil allow this sort of symmetry or weather there are augments to support a God who is good, that cannot be flipped. I would say that in our experience good and evil cannot be flipped. Some things are just good and some things are just evil and we aspire and esteem and long for the good while rejecting and recoiling from the evil. You could come back “but what about psychopaths and Satanists”. Never the less the asymmetry of good and evil is observable in the experience of the sane majority. That is not to say that good and evil are grounded in the majority, but that their objective asymmetry is evidenced by the rational consensus of the majority (as is the existence of the physical world in the west). Any intrinsic symmetry between good and evil removes the very morality that we are convinced exists. Probably why this gets tricky is that good is defined and grounded in God who is good. We therefore start with God and his goodness or reason back to him from our experiential sense of absolute goodness. If you really wanted to go against your sense of the good, then you could swap good for evil in many arguments I suppose. I’m not sure though that many people seriously start any moral exploration with a sense that it is good to “do to others what you would not want done to you”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s