My closing statement

From yesterday's debate with William Lane Craig. I removed a few phrases from the beginning. My opening statement and my refutations of Craig's moral and resurrection arguments are posted below.

As we look back across the hundreds of millions of years of sentient life on this planet, we find suffering on a stupendous scale. For example, we humans have - over many hundreds of thousands of generations before before either Jesus or the idea of Prof. Craig’s god were known to us - had to watch a third to a half of our children die painfully in our arms. Immense suffering and horror are built into the fabric of the world we are forced to inhabit.

My contention is this suffering constitutes powerful evidence against Professor Craig’s god. Even many Christians acknowledge it constitutes a very powerful intellectual threat to their belief.

I’ve challenged Professor Craig to explain why, given this mountain of evidence, belief in his God is supported by the evidence and arguments. Why, in particular, is belief in his good god better supported than belief in an evil god, which is clearly absurd.

Professor Craig has failed to meet this challenge.

He tried to explain that mountain of suffering, of course.

He appealed to the promise of an after life.

He also played the mystery card – insisting that God has his good reasons for unleashing hundreds of thousands of years of horror – it’s just that we don’t know what they are.

I pointed out these explanations can be used just as effectively to deal with the evidence against the evil god hypothesis. So obviously they fail to show that belief in a good god is better supported than belief in an evil god.

Professor Craig offered three arguments for god, of course. But only two were even relevant to meeting my challenge. The arguments he did offer for his good god were, at best, remarkably weak.

He offered a moral argument, of course. But such moral arguments are rejected by vast majority of moral philosophers. Even Richard Swinburne thinks Craig’s moral argument fails.

Professor Craig’s particular version has a highly dubious first premise – that if there’s no God, there are no objective moral values – a premise for which Craig failed to provide a decent supporting argument.

But even if Craig he could show that the premise was true, he would hardly have succeeded in showing that belief in his god is reasonable after all. For of course, when placed next to a mountain of observational evidence that there’s no such god, his moral argument merely generates the conclusion that there are no objective moral values. A conclusion that, while counter-intuitive, can’t just be assumed false.

Craig’s other argument was his resurrection argument, which is, frankly, almost comically flimsy. Even many Christians – including Alvin Plantinga, consider it terribly weak

So let’s not lose sight of the weight of argument and evidence on either side of debate. There is a mountain of observational evidence against Craig’s god. He has signally failed to explain that evidence away.

He offered a couple of arguments for his particular God, but they turned out to be at best, well, weedy. Indeed, both have high-profile Christian critics.

So it’s clear where the balance of probability lies.

We may not know why the universe exists. But we can quite reasonably rule certain answers out, such as that an evil god created it. We can, for much the same sort of reasons, quite reasonably also rule out the suggestion that Professor Craig’s good god created it.


Anonymous said…
Was this debate recorded? Is there, or will be, video available?
Jacob said…
Well done on the debate last night; I plan to write a review soon as it gave me a lot to think about.

Do you mind if I ask who the people following you out the building were? At first it looked as if you might be going to the pub or something, but it soon became clear they were haranguing you ...

Hope they didn't put too much of a bad end to the night.
It seems to me that you "creamed" Craig. Hope all the inputs provided on the blog were helpful!1
Seems like you were successful in tilting the scale. Congrats Steve. The strategy you adopted seems to have been paid off.
Stephen Law said…
Jacob no they were cool - just asking questions. I just got tired and legged it....

Anon: recording available tomorrow I believe...
Audio now available on Premier Christian radio's website and on iTunes.
Anonymous said…
Dr. Law

Wow - the 'early comments' I read from facebook made it seem like you were floundering somewhat and that Craig (figuratively) destroyed you. However, after reading your closing statement, it seems clear this was just some of Craig's 'groupies' (what a disturbing image) trying to put some spin on the debate.

Nice idea of emphasising Craig's Christian critics as well. I look forward to seeing the recording.

Well done
Listened to the debate. You put up a very good show. I would compare it Craig vs Arif debate. Your closing was really great. Your really exposed the dishonesty of Craig's approach.
Jonathan Smith said…
If you attempted to answer the debate topic in this way in an exam you would have got an F. It is no good answering to the subject 'does God exist' with the single argument 'if he does, we can't possibly know what he's like'. I'm sorry, but you did really badly here.
I did listen to the debate. Your closing statement was really superb. You exposed the dishonesty of Craig's approach. You put up a "superb" performance. I would compare it to Craig vs Arif. I never expected that your "evil God" hypothesis would be such powerful.

Stephen Law said…
Jonathan - that wasn't my argument.
Listed to the Q&A. Great show, Steve. Would compare it to Craig vs Kagan.
Listed to the Q&A. Great show, Steve. Would compare it to Craig vs Kagan.
Ducking the "cosmological trap" was a strategic move. That really disappointed Craig. He could not do his normal "bastardization" of cosmology.
Ducking the "cosmological trap" was a strategic move. That really disappointed Craig. He could not do his normal "bastardization" of cosmology.
Ducking the "cosmological trap" was a strategic move. That really disappointed Craig. He could not do his normal "bastardization" of cosmology.
Pawprints said…
I had to split my comment into two because of the length and the first half seems to be missing. Probably my fault?

Also, it might be fun to have a debate on the existence of Zeus, with Law arguing for and Craig against. Are there any solid arguments against Zeus which wouldn't hold for YHWH? Any solid arguments for YHWH which wouldn't hold for Zeus?
Joshua Stein said…
Hope you're well, brother. I'm out on the west coast of the United States, so I was happy to wake up and find this sort of stuff already posted.

It sounds like it went well, though (like the first commenter) I am excited to see video.

I certainly wouldn't have taken the approach to the debate (the "Evil God" argument) that you seem to, but it sounds like it worked out fairly well. It raises a handful of major issues, all at once: theodicy, falsifiability and privileging the Christian model.
RobertofBrisbane said…
At first I wondered what WLC was going on about with his talk of Atheists believing the Universe is infinate, of course he could ahve been going on about Fred Hoyle and his Steady State theory, but it seems he was going on about old Greek atheists.

I'm never heard him talk before, and afer a while I was almost about to shout :-
"Infinity, You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

So his argument was Christianity shows it's true by showing the universe has a beginning (Eg 13.7 Billion years ago(, as it says in Genesis.
Bit of a long shot, and rather confusing.

I would have answered that "You have seen the pictures from Hubble, and you have seen the pics of billions of Galaxies and stars. You think your god made these all for you?

His answer to your statement about animal suffering, that animals don't have 3rd order pain, was probably a bit difficult to rebut at the time.

But I suspect the last paragraph here shows the current thinking, and that WLC is wrong.

Personally while I understand the Good/Bad God argument, I think most of the audience was just thinking "Of course he is a Good God"

I don't think anyone was a conclusive winner as "Is the a God" is a bit slippery as it's a Theologians home ground.

Something like "Derren Brown created a preacher con man, but arn't they all" would be much more engaging.

Oh I used "War for Children Minds" as a reference when bitching about Chaplains in Oz schools on the PodDelusion months ago, but thanks for signing my book.
unitedandy said…
Well done Stephen, enjoyable as always. Just listened to the debate, and there where a few noticeable points. Firstly, your refutation of Craig's moral argument was superb, and it was clear that this was an argument you refuted with 3 or 4 crucial points that Bill didn't really respond to well. Also, the PoE really took centre stage in the debate, and I thought it quite surprising that Craig basically accepts that "evil God" is just as plausible as his God, given the amount evil vs good. The approach you used seemed to work really well, although I'm surprised Craig didn't try to show the asymmetry between the good and evil god, which could have at least potentially undermined the thought-experiment you used to dismiss various theodicies. Also, the Q&A was immensely one-sided, because you were insistent upon responding to Craig, and not allowing him to either wrongly characterise your view, or to get a free shot at your arguments without a response, as well as interacting with much of Craig points really well. Great job on the Q&A.

As for Kalam and the resurrection, as stand-alone arguments, I thought Craig won both of these pretty convincingly, and so on balance, it would probably be a draw, or close to it. Judging these from the perspective of Craig's God, however (and even, as Craig argued, as God having to be a being which is necessary omnibenevolent), your PoE really does rule out pretty conclusively that whatever caused the universe, or explains the resurrection, is not all powerful and all good. Although an atheist can't be satisfied with Kalam or the resurrection argument standing in this way, as you pointed out, these do not provide a cumulative case for theism (as opposed to deism, or the evil God), and I thought your insistence on this point was end the end the deciding factor .

It was close, but on my judgement, a rare win for the atheist against Craig.
Adzcliff said…

"It is no good answering to the subject 'does God exist' with the single argument 'if he does, we can't possibly know what he's like."

I'm not sure - from what I've read - that that was Stephen's argument; but that aside, why would that not work? To have no idea about what an invisible, unknowable entity is like, provides a pretty good illustration of its unfalsifiability. If you wanted to argue how all the evidence stacks up in favour of your preferred invisible entity, and I pointed out all the available evidence for countless others, then that at least reduces the likelihood of yours either (1) existing; or (2) existing by itself (as infinite others are just as likely to exist). (And of course if yours is the self-professed 'one true' invisible entity - then you/it has a problem.)

Now I've never taken a philosophy GCSE or A level, but I'd be very suspicious of the motivations of an examiner who awarded an F for Stephen's Evil God hypothesis.

Martin said…
Nice work Stephen, very interesting. I've just listened to the debate + questions.

I'm really glad you made your point very clear at the end of the Q&A that the kalam argument was just as cumulative towards an evil God as I think that made your position on that easy to understand. Until you put it that way I imagine many folks weren't swayed that your argument justified ignoring kalam. Througout the Q&A WLC struggled badly.

It seems to me that the trouble with god debates is that the theist arguments often seem reasonable without too much thought, but the atheist arguments (and precisely what's wrong with theist rebuttals) require more work from the listener to appreciate. I found it hard to nail down in real time exactly how WLC was failing to refute your argument.

There was his obvious strawman claiming you were attacking a Christian belief based on good in the world. He also says that you must prove that it's highly improbable that (good) god has morally sufficient reasons to permit evil, but that implies he must also require a dismisser of a bad-god (like a Christian) to do the mirror proof to justify their dismissal. He loses if he dismisses bad god without such a proof. I think though in the Q&A he might have salvaged that by saying he can't dismiss bad god based on good in the world (IIRC). It might make a good blogpost if you detailed precisely how WLC's rebuttal doesn't address your argument.

I'm glad this debate has got your "evil god" angle on the evidential evil argument "out there". Another weapon in the arsenal so to speak!
Curious said…
I'm bemused that so many people seem to think that the Evil God theory added anything to the debate. The point of that argument is simply to show that we can't deduce God's moral properties from nature. The point of the debate was whether God exists. Craig could (and in fact did) concede your point entirely and still win the debate. You accept that no-one believes God is good based on the observance of good in the world - but Christians have other reasons for thinking that. However as it was out of the scope of the debate Craig was right to ignore it and you were wrong to push it.
Martin said…
Hey Stephen, I am a Christian and I really enjoyed your debate with Craig. I actually think you took the victory and I've written a review of the debate here:

if you are so interested. All the best,

pensiveblake said…
I think there is a more relevant response (or at least way of saying things) that could have been given to address your concern about the relevance of the Kalam.
It goes like this: "The fact that the Kalam argument doesn't discriminate between God (omnibenevolent) and anti-god hardly implies that the Kalam isn't an argument for God. Why? Because the Kalam can still be (and in fact is) evidence for both God *and* anti-god."
Just plug the evidence that "a powerful, omniscient, personal, timeless, spaceless, immaterial creator exists" into the equation that was given in the Krauss debate. On both the God and anti-god hypotheses the observation constitutes evidence. So, the Kalam is important and does good work for "Craig's theism" even prior to the other elements of a cumulative case.
I just finished listening to this and I am truly flabbergasted. Stephen basically took aim with a single argument (and one that Craig must have known was coming) and Craig completely whiffed on it. The question is dastardly simple: why is an all-good god more likely than an all-evil god? The question did not evade the debate topic because virtually nobody believes in a triple-O being who is all-evil. So why is the existence of a triple-O being who is all-good not only more likely, but substantially more likely? Please, Craig defenders, help me out here. All I heard Craig say in response to the challenge was:

1. All-good is part of how he defines his god; and

2. There is no way to differentiate between an all-good god and the "anti-god" by observing the world.

Heck, Craig didn't even say that the Holy Spirit whispers "god is good" to him. Even I could have come up with that one.

This debate will go down as a legendary loss for Craig. Well done Stephen.
The reference in my last comment should have been "double-O" (i.e. omnipotent and omniscient) and not "triple-O". The question is why omnibenevolent and not omnimalevolent?

Craig apologists, what is the answer to the Law challenge?
Adzcliff said…
Reading all this is really interesting, and sort of confirms my suspicions about Craig: he's not interested in truth and reality, he's interested in winning debates (or at least appearing to), and pushing his local god agenda.
Craig's rhetoric did not work this time. He came up with his "possible world" non-sense. That was not all related to the challenge Steve posed. Steve clearly recognized this and mentioned it was a "red-herring."
To refute Steve's evil god hypothesis, Craig would have to show that there is no other "possible world" Craig God could have created with varying amounts of Evil. He failed to meet the challenge Dr.Law posed. I think Dr. Law should have been a bit more technical in exposing "possible world" diversion Craig attempted to create. Those who are interested may listed Dr.Ray Bradly Vs Craig.
Craig's rhetoric did not work this time. He came up with his "possible world" non-sense. That was not all related to the challenge Steve posed. Steve clearly recognized this and mentioned it was a "red-herring."
To refute Steve's evil god hypothesis, Craig would have to show that there is no other "possible world" Craig's God could have created with varying amounts of Evil. He failed to meet the challenge Dr.Law posed. I think Dr. Law should have been a bit more technical in exposing the "possible world" diversion Craig attempted to create. Those who are interested may listen to Dr.Ray Bradly Vs Craig.
A couple of commenters at Apologetics 315 (wonderful site by the way - who pays to upkeep that?) are suggesting that Craig's moral argument, if established, defeats the evil-god challenge. I will post both of them here:

To the atheist missionary,
Our apprehension of moral values and duties would give us an experiential reason to believe God is good. We know the difference between right and wrong. We know we should do right, and as long as our faculties our working correctly our conscience condemns us when we do evil. Secondly the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth is a loving Holy God who offers us eternal life and happiness. So if the argument for the ressurrection holds up we can logically deduce that's its more likely than not that God is good.

Law built a straw man out of his bad god and tried to force Craig to prove Gods existence using Laws unstable material. Craigs job was to posit an affirmative case for his Theistic view. He certainly did that. The problem of evil is not designed to prove Gods existence but to disprove it. As long as Craigs arguments held up (which they not only held up buy were hardly attacked) all Craig had to show was that the problem of evil or good for that matter does not disprove Gods existence. He certainly did that. In fact Laws own reasoning did that.

Laws argument while interesting to think about was so weak it's hard to point out all of it's inadequacies. I've heard a great majority of Craigs debates and while he is normally the clear cut winner; this may have been the most one sided I've heard. I even feel Craig was to generous in his handling of the bad god argument. Instead of showing it's complete impotence in dealing with the subject of the debate he dignified it with logical responses. Maybe he was appreciative of the respect Law gave him by agreeing to debate when the other cowards backed out. I know the winner and looser of a debate such as this is a subjective decision, but I just don't see how anyone could have thought Law won.
Here's the second one;

TAM, Craig's opening speech outlined his argument for the actual goodness of God- the moral argument, which, if successful, proves the existence of a ground of moral value who wills the good, prohibits evil, and is of supreme value. A moral argument just cannot be run for an evil god.

Law's "evil god" thing was only good for refuting inferences to God's goodness based on the quality of life in the world, which no theist advocates anyway.

That said, I think that Law did score a point where he said that Craig ought to have elaborated on the connection between morality and a God more.

What I don't understand is that, if I accept the moral argument (and I understand that is conceding alot), why can't the deity will the bad and prohibit the good? Or is it correct to observe that the moral argument cannot be run in reverse?
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Whenever Craig loses, his fans come up with explanations,Craig is being charitable!!!

The same trick they employ to cover-up defeat inflicted upon by Shelly Kagan.
Mike Gage said…
Why do people keep saying the evil god argument is just some epistemic point? It is possible because of an epistemic point, but it is about a double standard.

If it is the case that an evil god is rejected for reasons x, y, and z, then it should also be the case that a good god is rejected when reasons similar to x, y, and z are present. The argument against god is not the evil god - it is the evidential problem of evil. The evil god is meant to dismantle how people respond to said argument.
Anonymous said…
The "Evil God Challenge" conflates ambiguity about God's properties with the entirely separate question of whether God exists.

The argument works (or in my view fails to work), by essentially constructing a straw man proof for the inferring God's goodness- i.e. that we can infer it from a survey of goodness/badness in the world which is not actually used by Theists themselves, and then by demonstrating that the argument can be run for a Bad God too.

Even if one accepts, for the sake of argument, that one cannot determine whether God is good or evil, that is a separate question to his existence. A blind man might not know what colour socks he has on, but you can't use that fact to say that he cannot know he is wearing socks, simply because he cannot identify one of the attributes of them.
Mike Gage said…
The purpose of the argument, at least as I stated it, does not work as you describe. It's not countering belief in god, it's countering a defense to PoE.

By the way, In the case of essential properties it is relevant and Craig most certainly thinks this is an essential property in order to avoid the Ethyphro Dilemma.
"A blind man might not know what colour socks he has on, but you can't use that fact to say that he cannot know he is wearing socks, simply because he cannot identify one of the attributes of them"

The blind man may be wearing "evil socks". But he may mistakenly believe that he is wearing "good socks." That simply means you cannot rule out the possibility that an evil god exists. To prove the existence of a "good god", you have to disprove the existence of "evil god" which can be done only if you could prove that there are "objective" moral values. In other words, cosmological, fine tuning and resurrection do not build a cumulative case for the existence of a good God. A non-theist in principle cannot disprove the existence of a good good. A theist by the same token cannot disprove the existence of an evil God.