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Opening speech - Craig debate

The opening speech from my debate with William Lane Craig last night. My criticism of his moral and resurrection arguments are posted immediately below. Interestingly, Craig ran only three arguments instead of the usual five - those two and his cosmological argument. Possibly he dropped the fine-tuning argument because it would be as irrelevant as his cosmological in dealing with the evil god challenge. Possibly he dropped the appeal to his personal experience - "I just know" - because of this.

My thanks to the organizers of this debate for the invitation to take part – I’m genuinely honoured to share the stage with Professor Craig.

We’re here to debate the question “Does God exist?” We’ve just heard various arguments that are supposed to justify an affirmative answer. I’ll address those arguments in the first rebuttal period.

I’m going to devote my opening speech to sketching out an argument against the existence of God. There are many such arguments. I’m going to make things relatively easy for Prof Craig by sketching out just one.

It’s an argument with which I’m sure you’re familiar. It’s often called the evidential problem of evil.

There’s a great deal of bad stuff in the world. There are moral evils: the terrible moral deeds we do. There are also natural evils – such as natural diseases and disasters that cause humans and other creatures immense suffering.

Let’s start with animal suffering. I recently watched a documentary about Komodo dragons poisoning, tracking for a week or so, and then, finally, when their victim became too weak to defend itself, disembowelling and eating alive, a water buffalo. The cameraman said this had been his first ever wildlife assignment, and it would probably also be his last, because he just couldn’t cope with the depths of suffering he had been forced to witness.

Each day, millions of animals are similarly forced to tear each other limb from limb to survive. And this has been going on for hundreds of millions of years. This might, in many ways, be a beautiful world. But it’s also a quite staggeringly cruel and horrific world for very many of its inhabitants.

Perhaps some will dismiss all this animal suffering by saying, “But they’re just animals. They don’t ultimately matter.” I wonder if they’d say the same thing if took a red-hot poker to their cat.

Then there’s human suffering. Take, for example, the psychological suffering a parent must go through who has to watch, helpless, as their young child dies slowly of starvation or an agonizing disease.

The consensus among population experts is that, over the sweep of human prehistory - hundreds of thousands of years - the parents of each generation have had to watch, on average, between a third and a half of their under-five children die, usually from disease.

Kenneth Hill, Director of the Hopkins Population Centre at John Hopkins University, writes (and I quote)

“over the long haul of prehistory, the probability of dying by the age of five for females was probably no lower than 440 per thousand live births, and was probably no higher than 600.”

That’s to say, on average around half of literally millions of generations of girls never made it beyond their fifth birthday.

This appalling suffering and death was not something these children and parents brought on themselves.

Unavoidable, unspeakable horror on an almost unimaginably vast scale is built into the very fabric of the world we find ourselves forced to inhabit.

So now here’s the argument. If Professor Craig’s God exists, then these hundreds of thousands, nay, hundreds of millions, of years of horror must, ultimately, be, well, all for the best!

For an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good God: (i) will know about, (ii) will have the power to prevent, and (iii) will desire that the world not contain, any pointless, gratuitous suffering. If Professor Craig’s god exists, there must be, not just some reason, but an entirely adequate reason for every last ounce of all this suffering and horror.

But surely, as we look back across the aeons, we witness suffering of such depth and magnitude that it becomes highly implausible that it can all be fully explained away.

In which case, it looks like very powerful evidence against the existence of Professor Craig’s God.

Now, interestingly, a similar argument can be run against an alternative god hypothesis I want you now to consider.

Suppose that, after a bump on the head, I become convinced that the universe is the creation of a single, all-powerful designer. However, I also believe this being is evil. There’s just one god and he’s cruel and evil as it is possible for him to be.

Who believes in a creator like that?

Hardly anyone outside of a mental institution.

Yet notice that this evil god hypothesis is as well supported by, say, Professor Craig’s cosmological and fine-tuning arguments as is belief in his good god hypotheses.

For those arguments fail to provide us with any clue at all as to our creator’s moral character.

Yet, still, I’m sure you consider the idea of such an evil creator absurd. Why?

Well, one obvious reason for dismissing the idea is that our world is clearly not the sort of world an all-powerful and maximally evil being would create. Take a look at it. Yes, it contains suffering. But it also contains a great deal of good. Far too much for it plausibly to be considered the creation of such an evil being.

Why, for example, would an evil creator intent on maximizing evil give us beautiful scenery to enjoy?

Why would he allow people to reduce the suffering of others, sometimes quite selflessly? An evil god would want to maximize suffering and prevent morally virtuous behaviour. So surely he’d clamp down on, say, Mother Theresa’s activities straight away. And he’d destroy all the hospitals.

Why, you might also ask, would an evil god bestow on some people immense health, wealth and happiness? David Beckham, for example, who leads a charmed existence.

And why would an evil God give us children to love? Evil God hates love. Surely the last thing he’d do is populate the world with bundles of joy.

So, you might think there is, on the face of it, overwhelming observational evidence against the evil god hypothesis.

I’m sure some of you have spotted that what we’re looking at here is, in effect, the evidential problem of good. If you believe in a good god, you face the problem of explaining why there’s so very much bad stuff in the world. Similarly, if you believe in an evil god, you face the mirror problem of explaining why there’s so very much good.

So why, we might ask, if the problem of good is fatal to the evil god hypothesis – and it is – is the problem of evil not similarly fatal to the good god hypothesis? If one hypothesis is pretty straightforwardly falsified by observation of the world around us, why isn’t the other?

Now, as you know, Christians have cooked up some pretty ingenious explanations for all the bad stuff. Let’s look at a few such explanations, beginning with free will.

Some Christians try to explain certain evils by saying that, being good, god gave us free will – the ability to make free choices and act on them. Why? Because god wants to allow for the possibility of moral goodness. God could have made us puppet beings [act] or automata that always did the right thing. But puppet beings lack moral responsibility. Their good behaviour, if compelled, would not be morally good. So God cut our strings. He set us free. As a result, some of us choose to do evil. That’s the price god must pay to allow for moral goods.

I’m sure you’re familiar with that sort of explanation. But now notice that someone who believes in an evil god can mirror it with a free will explanation of their own. Evil god gave us free will. Why? To allow for the possibility moral evil. Evil god could have made us puppet beings that always did the evil thing. But puppet beings lack moral responsibility. Their bad behaviour, if compelled, would not be morally evil. So evil god cut our strings. As a result, some of us choose to do good. That’s the price evil god must pay to allow for moral evils.

You can see that I have taken one standard Christian theodicy and just flipped it round.

Here’s another example of theodicy flipping. Some Christians try to explain some pain and suffering as the result of the operation of laws of nature – laws that are nevertheless, on balance, supposed to be good. So, for example, a Christian might argue that, without a law-governed universe in which the effects of our actions can be predicted, we can’t morally interact with each other. Suppose I see you cold and hungry. In order to help you by lighting you a warming fire and cooking you a much needed meal, I need to know both that by striking a match I will create a flame and that wood burns to release heat. Unfortunately, these same laws of nature have a downside – they entail that there will, occasionally, be spontaneous forest fires that cause suffering. That’s the price god pays for greater goods.

But again, someone who believes in an evil god can produce a mirror explanation to account for goods. In order to allow the very great evil of my burning down your wooden house with you and your family inside, they may say, I need to know both that by striking a match I will create a flame, and that wood burns. Such laws of nature are required for such very great evils to exist. True, these same laws have good consequences. They allow people to cook each other warming meals, for example. That’s the price evil god pays for greater evils.

We can similarly flip round the familiar Christian suggestion that the pain and suffering we endure are there to allow us to grow and develop morally and spiritually.

Yes, evil god wants us to suffer, do evil and despair. To that end, he introduces various goods into the world.

But then why, you may ask, would an evil god allow a few people, such as David Beckham, to lead a charmed life? Why, to make the rest of us feel worse, of course. To invoke feelings of jealousy and resentment in others. To motivate crime.

Why would an evil god pepper his creation with some beauty, which we enjoy? Why, because he requires a contrast. In order to fully appreciate the drab dreariness of day-to-day life, we need to BE reminded now and them of how much better things might have been.

Why would an evil god give us children to love? Because it’s only if we truly, unconditionally love someone that we can made to suffer as deeply as we do when evil god kills them slowly before our eyes.

In short, someone might conclude, this is not, as many Christians suppose, a vale of soul-making. It’s a vale of soul destruction – engineered by an evil god intent on crushing and breaking our spirits so that we bow out in agony and despair. As so very many of us do.

While not all standard Christian explanations for evil can be reversed in this way, most can. Take, for example, explaining evil in terms of god’s mysterious ways. A defender of belief in an evil god can adopt the same ruse, putting the good we see around us down to evil god’s mysterious ways. After all, evil god is omnipotent and omniscient, so of course his evil plans are likely to be largely beyond our understanding! Just because certain goods appear to us to be quite gratuitous given the aims of an evil god gives us no reason to suppose that they really are gratuitous.

Don’t presume to know the mind of evil god!

Moreover, just as some Christians maintain that whatever horror we experience in this life will be more than compensated for in the next, those who believe in an evil god can maintain that whatever goods we experience in this life will be more than compensated for by the far deeper, unremitting horror of the next.

Clearly, despite these and various other ingenious manoeuvres that might be made in defence of belief in an evil god, it remains the case that there’s far, far too much good stuff in this world for it to be the creation of such an evil deity. We can still, on the basis of what we observe around us, reasonably conclude there’s unlikely to be an evil god.

So my question is: if the evil god hypothesis can, solely on the basis of observational evidence, be ruled out as highly unlikely, why can’t we similarly rule out the good god hypothesis?

True, we may not know the answer to the question: “Why does the universe exist?” Perhaps we’ll never know. It doesn’t follow that we can’t reasonably rule certain answers out. Obviously we can quite reasonably rule out the evil god hypothesis. So why not the good god hypothesis?

Why suppose, as I assume Prof. Craig does, that the good god hypothesis is, not just a bit more reasonable, but very significantly more reasonable, than the evil god hypothesis? For remember, the latter hypothesis remains downright absurd, notwithstanding such appeals to evil god’s mysterious ways, and so on?

That’s the challenge I am setting Professor Craig tonight. To explain why belief in a good god is, on the basis of the available evidence and arguments, not just a bit more reasonable than belief in an evil god, but very significantly more reasonable.

How might Professor Craig respond to this challenge? He has given his arguments for his particular god of course. I’ll examine those next.

He may also try to disarm the problem of evil, perhaps by invoking a smokescreen of scepticism and mystery. He may say, “Well, we just can’t presume to know, regarding all the horror we see around us, that God lacks adequate reasons for it.”

But as we’ve just seen, we can use the same sort of smokescreen to defend belief in an evil god. We can say: “We just can’t presume to know, regarding all the goods we see around us, that evil god lacks adequate reasons for them.”

Professor Craig can’t, by means of such a smokescreen, show that belief in his good god is better supported than belief in an evil god.

It will be interesting to see how he thinks it can be shown to be better supported.


How did you feel it went? I was only able to following via a (Christian) Facebook group so not really that balanced! The audience was a bit hostile, I gather?
Ben Emlyn-Jones said…
It was good to see you again, Stephen. It was an interesting evening, although slightly disappointing. Maybe this is because the question in the title of the debate is one that learned men have been debating for so many centuries... nay millennia! Will we ever get a final answer? One that will end this perennial conundrum? If we do I want to be able to tell my great-grandchildren that "I was there! I was there on the day that we finally knew for certain!" Unfortunatly yesterday evening failed to produce such a eureka moment. (By the way, if you ever want to find out more about UFO's, I can help you!)
Edward Ockham said…
I summarised your opening speech in my blog. Let me know if not correct. Plus I have a question. Is your sufficient-reason 'flip' argument about the evil God original? This was interesting, but it's clear from comments at other sites (linked to in my post) that no one understood it. Bill Vallicella had a post on his blog about this debate, commenting that the debate medium is very poor for coming to properly philosophical conclusions.
Slimer said…
My take from the debate last night is that you and Craig basically disagree on this single point:

"Clearly, despite these and various other ingenious manoeuvres that might be made in defence of belief in an evil god, it remains the case that there’s far, far too much good stuff in this world for it to be the creation of such an evil deity. We can still, on the basis of what we observe around us, reasonably conclude there’s unlikely to be an evil god."

But isn't this merely an assertion rather than an argument? You can't establish the point and didn't provide any evidence for its truth last night. You certainly didn't exhaust all the possible motivations evil god might have for allowing good (which is what you demanded from Craig when considering his arguments). You didn’t even explain debunk the reasons you yourself provided for evil god’s providence over good. You simply asserted that we can reject them – and I can’t see how that’s worthy of a professional philosopher. If you want to rule out evil God, you need to do it on the basis of something other than the observance of good, or provide compelling arguments why good and evil god are incompatible. You didn’t do this. Similarly if you want to rule out God, you need to show some inconsistency between his existence and the occurrence of evil. Again, you didn’t do this.

As Craig said, given our cognitive, geographic and temporal limitations, God's necessary complexity in playing out the human drama, the purpose of existence being to know God not enjoy ourselves etc it's not at all obvious that we should be forced to conclude that God doesn't have morally sufficient reasons for allowing the evil in the world. And even if you conclude it's more probable that God doesn't exist based on the evil in the world, relative to the full scope of the evidence presented last night God's existence is overwhelmingly plausible.
Stephen Law said…

My point was that the good god and evil god hypotheses come out equally reasonable with respect to the empirical evidence. yet belief in an evil god is absurd. So why is a good god more reasonable. Craig had only two arguments to show why it was more reasonable and I refuted them both (certainly, Craig had no effective come back to my refutations). So Craig lost the argument. But he may well have have won the debate though, in terms of presentation, etc.

My arguments were too involved for many in the audience, in retrospect. They just didn't follow them. Especially, the refutations of Craig's arguments - pointing out just how weedy they are.
Slimer said…
Whether your arguments were confusing or just confused will be for the listeners to decide. Based on your response I just need to repeat what I said above. Why is "yet belief in an evil god is absurd" anything more than just an assertion? What argument or evidence can you provide for it? Why not think evil God has justifiable reasons for good – maybe something along the lines you yourself provided? Why are these implausible? Unless you can show some good reason for refuting evil god, and thereby God (granting for the sake of argument that your attempt to flip the argument is successful – which I dispute) then at best you’ve proved that we can’t discern God’s moral properties from nature. And that was exactly Craig’s point in response when you first presented the arguments.
Stephen Law said…
Slimer, you ask "Why is "yet belief in an evil god is absurd" anything more than just an assertion?"

Well, Craig never denied it's absurd. In fact I'm pretty sure he actually conceded it's absurd. So he lost the argument on the night.

But even if he took your route and denied it's absurd, he would then still have had to show that belief in his god is significantly more reasonable. But his moral and resurrection arguments clearly failed to do that.

So he would still have failed to provide good reason to believe HIS god exists (i.e. any more reason than to suppose various other gods exist, e.g. an evil god, a morally neutral god, etc. and as these mutually exclusive gods, the probability of it being Craig's god that exists still comes out low).

Craig is in a lot more trouble with my argument than you realize.
Stephen Law said…
Slimer, you said: "even if you conclude it's more probable that God doesn't exist based on the evil in the world, relative to the full scope of the evidence presented last night God's existence is overwhelmingly plausible."

"full scope of the evidence presented last night"? There were just two feeble arguments for a good god that were easily shown to be fallacious. Craig couldn't back them up - not even in the Q&A.
Edward Ockham said…
I’m not sure about your argument now . Its general form is a reply to an argument for the existence of an A+B, by replying that the argument at most establishes the existence of an A, and not of A+B. For example A = Creator being B = benevolent or good.

This works only if the existence argument fails to establish A+B. Two objections:

(1) I think this is reasonable in the case of the kalam argument. But what about the fine tuning argument? Doesn’t fine tuning sort of imply good? Aquinas says “We see that things which lack cognition, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result.” I.e. whatever the fine tuning gives, is the best result, ergo etc.

(2) Even if it doesn’t, your ‘evil god’ reversal argument is a loose wheel. For it to be conclusive at all, requires that the existence argument proves only A, not A+B. But in that case you have proved your point, namely the existence proof (namely of an A+B) is not conclusive. Why prove any more?
Stephen Law said…
Yes the kalam proves A at best. The evil God thing is merely used re Kalam to illustrate the point that it leaves god' moral properties entirely open, as Craig happily admits.

Why does fine tuning support a good god? Natural selection is horribly cruel and inefficient way of producing life. Why fine tune for that? etc. etc.

Pointing out that something is designed for an end doesn't show it's a good end. Auschwitz was designed for an end.
A Cambridge Mathematician said…
I think you are giving yourself too much credit for the strength in this line of reasoning. As Slimer notes, as a philosopher you should know that failing to develop an argument from initial premises to the desired conclusion by logically deductive steps does not constitute a successful argument, no matter how appealing or novel the ideas that you use.

Since you were not hugely clear in outlining a formal structure to your argument, I have offered an inferred structure below:
The structure to your argument was:
1) assume cosmological argument is true
2) evil god is possible by (1)
3) conjecture: evil god does not exist
4) conjecture (3) is independent of whether god is good or evil
5) by (3) and (4), good god does not exist
6) by (3) and (5), god does not exist
7) (6) and (1) are a contradiction, so the initial assumption (1) is false

Perhaps if you had spent some time to formally write out your reasoning as above - instead of relying on rhetoric - you would have noticed the few logical fallacies that unfortunately render this attack vector ineffectual.

I contest the soundness thus:
a) you did not provide sound reasoning for 'evil' god not existing. Simply blurting it as "absurd" surely even your students would recognise as vacuous. Without conjecture (3) the entire argument above is logically invalid.
b) you were not explicit in your definition of 'evil', which is clearly a central pillar to this argument. Moreover, Craig even contested this point live in the debate with his rebuttal that occurences which may /appear/ as evil to you or I cannot be definitively stated as evil as their potential impact may not be seen even in our lifetimes. He provided empirical evidence of this in the example of nature where the suffering of a herd of buffalo as food for wolves can be seen from a natural equilibrium perspective preventing extinction due to uncontrolled population growth.
c) your argument relies upon Objective Morality, for otherwise there cannot be well established concepts of "good" and "evil". The impression I got from you was that you were almost agnostic to the truth/falsehood of objective morality with your bizarre admission "I don't know" supposed to fill the void of logical foundation! This is not how logical reasoning works, Steven, as a Philosophy Professor you should keenly know this. The Christian has a reasonable ground to stand on here, as she believes that objective morality comes from God and that humans may be confused at properly recognising good vs evil wrt this objectivity.
d) proposition (6) does not follow from proposition (3) and (5). The possibility space for God is not exhaustively divided into { "good god", "bad god" }. Since you will not admit moral objectivity, it follows that certain actions by a God may be viewed as evil and good by different people respectively. This provides not just a continuum, but a multi-dimensional lattice of possible Gods whose moral relativity is a function of the observer.

You are right that Craig failed to sufficiently elaborate why, assuming moral objectivity, a divide origin of that objectivity is more reasonable to a possible athiest origin of that objectivity. However, I must note that you also failed to offer a athiest origin of objectivity, and so I see that particular part as nil-nil.

Finally, and most crucially, you failed to tackle the question of the debate, which was whether God exists or not. The debate did NOT call for the morality of such a god, but that there should be an all-powerful, all-knowing, uncreated, personal creator to the universe. The cosmological argument still stands.

I think you would benefit from analysing your arguments more rigorously in future.

I do thank you for participating though, both you and Craig gave me much to ponder.
Stephen Law said…
Well congratulations on finding flaws in some other argument!

You say: "The debate did NOT call for the morality of such a god, but that there should be an all-powerful, all-knowing, uncreated, personal creator to the universe. The cosmological argument still stands."

There are many god hypotheses I did not refute. Thor, for example. Obviously I cannot refute them all in one evening.

So I simply addressed the question of whether Craig's God exists. He has always understood such debates to be about whether his god exists, not whether, say, some deistic god exists. I simply made the same assumption as Craig regarding the subject matter.

Wouldn't establishing that Craig's God does not exist be a pretty major achievement? Or do you like me, already dismiss it as highly implausible, and so consider my arguments redundant?
Stephen Law said…
BTW, "Cambridge Mathematician" sounds very grand, but what exactly does it mean?
A Cambridge Mathematician said…
Hi Steven,
Cambridge is a town in East Anglia.
A Mathematician is a person whose primary area of study is mathematics.
The conjugate pseudonym represents a description of the comment author, namely that I am a cambridge trained mathematician.

Thanks for your reply. I was surprised that you denied that the argument outline I provided was a representation of the one which you offered - since I thought very hard both during the debate and afterward to parse your statements correctly.

Perhaps you could provide an accurate concise formal outline to your argument in order that we can be on the same page.

Kind regards,
ATL said…

‘Well, Craig never denied it's absurd. In fact I'm pretty sure he actually conceded it's absurd. So he lost the argument on the night.’

*I think Craig could say that the evil Creator hypothesis is LESS absurd than atheism, given the failure to rebut the kalam Cosmological argument for a beginningless, uncaused, timeless, enormously powerful and personal Creator of the universe.

‘But even if he took your route and denied it's absurd, he would then still have had to show that belief in his god is significantly more reasonable. But his moral and resurrection arguments clearly failed to do that… there were just two feeble arguments for a good god that were easily shown to be fallacious. Craig couldn't back them up - not even in the Q&A’

*Craig did back up his moral arguments and resurrection arguments in the debate and Q&A—he justified the first premise of the moral argument by saying that without a transcendent Person to be accountable to there isn’t any grounds for ‘ought’, and he supported his resurrection argument by saying that using objective criteria like explanatory power, explanatory scope etc the resurrection is clearly superior to the naturalistic alternatives.

So in view of the kalam cosmological argument, AND the fact that there seem to be objective moral values (remember: Craig mentions using the Matrix example that we should not deny our seemings unless there are good reasons to do so) AND the historical evidences for the resurrection, theism has better explanatory power and scope than atheism.
Pawprints said…
Evil God could have just such a standard, except it would be a mirror image of Good God.

The argument is that only God can provide an objective moral standard. Therefore if objective morality exists, so does God. It does not actually assert or rely on God himself being good. Humans might claim god_good Good God is human_evil (and be wrong), or human_good (and be right). Evil God might agree he is god_evil. Or in fact, what we call human_evil God may in fact think he is god_good and we humans are wrong to call him Evil God.

The Moral Argument is not an argument for a Good God, it an argument for God.

Personally I am not convinced we can show objective morality is a real thing, so the moral argument may not stand.

I was fascinated that you thought there could be a non-divine grounds for objective morality. To my mind morality is something we associate with persons, not objects or abstractions. So to have a non personal origin is something I struggle with. If we agree about the necessity for personhood, then surely only God has the claim that it is His subjective personal view that applies objectively to His whole creation?

We are still waiting for even a sketch of an idea of a non-divine origin of objective morality. I would be genuinely interested to hear this. (Although as above, we can just claim good and evil don't really exist to dismiss the Moral Argument).

In summary I don't think the Evil God argument worked, because it is not true that we all accept the non-existence of Evil God on the basis of good in the world. The fact that you thought the Moral Argument constituted an argument for Good God also suggests you may not have understood it. Unless the very idea of God contains the notion of good (as Craig wanted to suggest in fact). For example 'whatever God says is good, is good' - in which case Evil God is even more of a nonsense.

Finally I would like to salute your courage in coming along, because it was a Christian run event with an inevitable bias, and it can't be easy to stand in front of a broadly hostile crowd.
Jonathan Smith said…
Can we nail the 'hostile crowd' nonsense? Stephen Law got a bigger whoop-whoop during the introduction than Craig did. I was up in the circle and there were some very hostile people to Craig there, shouting out in a fairly uncontrolled manner.
Secular Outpost said…
Hi Stephen -- Greetings from the USA! I'm with the Internet Infidels, Inc., maintainers of the Secular Web. Perhaps you've heard of us? Anyway, I've added a link to your opening statement from our blog, The Secular Outpost.

If you'll pardon the shameless self-promotion, our blog (and website) contains numerous articles on Craig's arguments, as well as detailed summaries of several his debates.


Jeffery Jay Lowder
Stephen Law said…
So, "Cambridge mathematician", at what institution and to what level were you once trained in mathematics in the town of Cambridge?

Are you employed as an actual mathematician now (rather than e.g. an accountant or other maths-related job)? If so, where?

I'll try to find time to do a big blitz response to all the various detailed question/comments I am getting in a while.

Suddenly I'm also inundated with emails about the event too. Just responding to a Catholic priest...
Stephen Law said…
Thanks Jeffery - yes of course I know all about you guys. I'd be honoured to be included on your site...
Mike Gage said…
Here's one thought to add regarding just how the evil god argument can apply to theism, though, I don't think it was specifically intended.

I corresponded a while back with Graham Oppy about turning the modal ontological argument into a reductio by positing a maximally evil being. Oppy referred me to a work by Michael Tooley from Mind and said that the key would be to show that the evil god was on an epistemic or doxastic par with the good god.

I've been considering lately just how to make this case and I think Stephen's approach here is on the right track. They key word there is par. If you can make the same sort of arguments and they have about the same force, then the good god hypothesis is in trouble.

So, we can then extend the argument from showing that the evil god hypothesis is on par with the good god one, if that is the case (and I think it is), to all sorts of reductios and similar dilemmas.
Bruce Russell said…
Here is a valid argument that I believe captures Stephen Law's reasoning:

1. If we are not justified in believing that an evil God exists, then we are not justified in believing that a good God exists.
2. We are not justified in believing that an evil God exists (at most, we are justified in suspending judgment about the existence of such a God).
3. Therefore, we are not justified in believing that a good God exists (at most, we are justified in suspending judgment about the existence of such a God).

The evidence Stephen adduces supports (2), and (1) seems obviously true given the relevant parallels.

I have debated William Lane Craig twice, and here is my version of the problem of evil.

4. If God = an all knowing, all powerful, wholly good being exists, then there would not be excessive unnecessary suffering.
5. But there is such suffering.
6. So God (so understood), does not exist.

If you say that we are in no position to judge that (5) is true, then you will be committed to saying that we are in no position to judge that God did NOT create the universe 6,000 years ago (or even 5 minutes ago, as Bertrand Russell proposed) FOR REASONS BEYOND OUR KEN. Sure, if he did that, then he deceived, or at least misled, us, but sometimes, all things considered, it is morally permissible to deceive, or mislead. Think of the standard philosophical example of lying to the Nazis when telling them that you are not hiding Jews. So how do we know that God did not have good moral reasons for making the universe appear much older than it really is? If we are in no position to judge that there is excessive unnecessary suffering, we are also in no position to judge that the earth was NOT created a short time ago by God. Since it's obvious that we ARE in a position to judge that it was NOT created a short time ago, we are also in a position to judge that there is excessive and unnecessary suffering. QED in an argument that concludes that Craig's God does not exist, not JUST that we are not justified in believing he does, which I think is the only conclusion justified by Stephen's argument.

Bruce Russell
Department of Philosophy
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI
I'm pretty sure Craig believes in contra-causal freewill. Is this not incompatible with Kalām?

1) contra-causal freewill: effect without cause.

2) Kalām: everything that begins to exist has a cause.

I'm assuming a schoolboy error on my part. Can anyone help?
Slimer said…
During the debate you assumed God’s existence for the sake of argument and claimed that we can narrow down his nature by looking at the world. I want to make 2 assumptions by way of a thought experiment to test that claim, as this is the root of all forms of the evidentialist argument from evil. Let’s assume 1) That there are only two options – good god (who pursues the happiness of humans) or evil god (who pursues their harm). A Cambridge Mathematician has already called you on that point, but let’s grant it for the sake of argument. 2) We can overcome our cognitive, temporal and geographic limitations to make a reasonable estimate of the probability of god having morally sufficient reasons for the way the world is.

Imagine you are in a world that is 99% evil and 1% good. If that were the extent of our knowledge then it would be reasonable to rule out good god as the creator. It’s likely that we could justify the existence of 1% of good despite the existence of evil god, as you did in the debate. Conversely if we were in a world with 99% good and 1% evil we could reasonably conclude that evil God isn’t the creator and there are morally sufficient reasons for the 1% evil that good god allows.

Now you conclude that given the way the world is, neither option is more plausible. So what % of good / evil do you think we need to arrive at this agnosticism? 90/10? 75/25? 50/50? You obviously have an answer to this or else you can’t make the claim. With that in mind what % good / evil do you think exists in the world? Again, you must have an answer. In that case could you please let us know how you reach that conclusion? Given all thoughts, words and deeds that have taken place from the birth of the first moral creature until the end of the world, how do you come to a sensible answer? What justification do you have for thinking your answer is true? Even if you were trying to weigh the respective quantities of good and evil for today alone, how would you reasonably expect to do that across the world’s 7 bn people – let alone including the entire animal kingdom? Now multiply that across all people and all animals across all time. I think it’s patently obvious that one guy in London in the 21st century lacks the necessary resources to conduct such a calculation. If you were God, that might be a different matter, but to claim that you can do it seems monumentally arrogant to me.

Now when you realise that in addition to this both of the initial assumptions are false, I trust it’s obvious the argument is hopeless as an intellectual proposition. If you want an emotional appeal then that’s fine, but that’s not the realm of philosophy.
Cambridge Mathematician said…
Calm down, Stephen - are you angry because I misspelled your name with a 'v'?

My identity is independent of the validity of my arguments. I make no claims to proof by authority, as it is a flawed reasoning mechanism. I simply denote my background as a pseudonym to add context to my preference for the use of logic in arguments.
Deductive reasoning is a bit of a lost art, perhaps because society has discovered more persuasive mechanisms such as rhetoric (see politicians, etc.) - but I have friends who studied philosophy at University, and they certainly studied formal logic to the same level of rigor that I did in my degree. It is this reason that I made reference to your philosophy credentials, which are clearly strong, and so my surprise at basic errors in logical flow.

I care only about logical reasoning, and therefore would welcome if you could correct the formal argument outline that I made earlier because that is the structure of the argument that I understood from you, and it is clearly logically invalid.
Stephen Law said…
Hi "A Cambridge Mathematician". You say: "Calm down, Stephen - are you angry".

I'm pretty calm, I think. I'm just rather bemused by your self-description when it seems (given your reticence) you're neither based at Cambridge University nor a mathematician.

The way you attempted to set my argument was a clue.
Stephen Law said…
Thanks Bruce - and everyone else for comments. Will try to comment later...

Bruce - the point that the skeptical theist's value skepticism re observable reality inevitable leads to a general skepticism about observable reality is probably right, I think, and had occurred to me too. Seems to me, Craig's playing the skeptical card leaves him no reason to reject e.g. Young Earth Creationism given the observable evidence because, after all, god might have reasons to make it look like the universe is much older, even if it isn't (e.g. to test our faith). So why doesn't Craig stick with the Biblical account, like Ken Ham?

It did occur to me to push this but I decided it was way too complicated for a non-philosophy audience. It seems I lost a lot of them much of the time in any case, given the comments being made here and elsewhere.
Stephen Law said…
Fergus - won't Craig just qualify (2) to allow mental events to be, in at least some cases, uncaused? He'll just restrict its scope to, say, the natural world.
Stephen Law said…
Mike Gage - have you read Wes Moriston's thing on anti-god? I only found it after I published "The Evil God Challenge". Moriston points out Skeptical Theism has big problems with evil god. I think John Loftus pointed this out somewhere too?
Stephen Law said…
For Morriston's article (free download) search "the evidential argument from goodness". It's excellent.
A Cambridge Mathematician said…
Hi Stephen,
Half right, I am not based in Cambridge but am a mathematician in industry and have a degree in maths from Cam. I think the description is fitting.

Bit unsure about your bemusement at my setting out of your argument - I don't see any huge problems with it syntactically - although granted I could have expressed it even more formally in the propositional calculus if that's what you were looking for.

The beauty of mathematics and logic is that the truth of a theorem is independent on the person who creates the proof.

I am glad that you are calm.
"won't Craig just qualify (2) to allow mental events to be, in at least some cases, uncaused?"

But aren't all contra causal mental events uncaused by definition? (Sorry if I've misunderstood you.)

And if uncaused events are commonplace, then what's so special about the Universe?
Mike Gage said…
Thanks, Stephen. I'll download it. Morriston is usually pretty well in line with my own views (except that he's actually a theist).
Michael Allen said…
I have to say I found the thread of the whole night's counter-argument rather hard to follow. It seemed to first suggest God could be evil and therefore he couldn't exist (though it was never explained how the conclusion was reached), which was followed by an argument saying evil wasn't real anyway, which seemed to confuse the main counter-argument presented.
Stephen Law said…
I sympathize, Michael. I did my best to make my arguments as clear as I could, but they are still not that easy to follow, I admit. If it just wasn't clear, I apologize...
Anonymous said…
Hi Stephen,

I found your argument easy to follow. I admit to a lay interest in philosophy - but I have no education beyond a comprehensive system.

When it comes to the moral argument. I personally think the problem non-philosophically inclined theists have with the idea that there is no 'objective morality,' is with the idea that there is therefore no sufficent reason to behave ethically.

I therefore think it is important to show that there are sufficent reasons to behave ethically based on a naturalistic foundation.

I enjoyed your opening statement, and your responce.
Hi Stephen

Thanks for a really engaging debate last night – appreciated. Sorry to have stuffed my book (The Little Book of Unholy Question) into your hands in a hasty fashion at the end!

I think this was a good and surprising debate for several reasons:

1) Craig seems to have dropped a 5 or 4 pronged approach in favour of a narrower 3 pronged attack. This is easier to debate as he has not produced a scatter-gun impossible-to-refute-in-the-allotted-time scenario.
2) He has dropped his standard formulation of the Kalam Cosmological Argument in favour of a reformulated transcendental approach.
3) You didn’t, by your own admission, get drawn into an unnecessary demand to refute every point that Craig made.

What was interesting is that you did a good job of what you needed to do. Due to Craig’s more polished approach (slick production values), it may have appeared to theistic laymen that he had more substance, but they would be misguided. Craig was in the affirmative, and you rightly nailed that his main argument, the moral argument, was poorly philosophically established:

1) If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2) Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3) Therefore, God exists.

All Craig effectively did, as far as I could see, was assert premise one and premise two as facts, and claimed that the conclusion follows necessarily. Well, it does, given the premises. But merely asserting the premises as true is nothing more than.. an assertion. And as you said, the burden of proof is on him to establish these premises. He did no t do this. Most theists present (some of whom I spoke to and pointed this out) accepted these premises unhesitatingly, and therefore found the conclusion to be persuasive. Assertion, however, does not, and should not, win you philosophical arguments.

Craig called you out on what your reasons for the belief in objective morality, but that was essentially shifting the burden of proof.

Amid much toing and froing, there were some good ripostes about the evidential problem of evil. This I found fascinating. I found it, as ever, frustrating that Craig, like many theists, deferred to the omniscience escape clause in defending his good God against the POE. A weak, and improbable defence. I would like to have seen a more robust attack on the probability of this defence.

I was also a little disappointed that my neat little question was not picked out of the hundreds handed in to be one of the three read out. Yes, those odds are pretty poor, and Brierley should have pushed things on a little more rapidly. However, I got to ask my question to Craig after the debate to which he answered (and I am delighted by this) “Gee, that’s a great question…interesting… I don’t know”.

One of the major themes of the debate was the suffering of animals over the course of history. Craig gave some pretty poor, skeptical answers. So I asked him one to one, “Why didn't an all-loving God make humans and all animals photosynthesise; or even create them not need energy at all?”

This would have bypassed any need to require the pain, suffering and death of billions of animals over history.

His claim that animals don’t have subjective experience of pain as primates do, and therefore animal suffering is not an issue, also needed a good rebuttal: namely, “If it is so much better, would you mind being an antelope being ripped limb from limb?” If the answer was no, then he has no epistemic right to claim as he did.
I also submitted this question:

“You often claim that atheists don’t have good grounds for morality, such as in utilitarian or consequentialist ethics. However, if God, throughout the bible, has brought about the deaths of many (such as millions of people and animals in the flood, various tribes of people, women becoming pillars of salt, Jesus on the cross and so on) and these actions are normally seen (by Christians) as intrinsically or objectively bad acts, then they are justified by Christians as serving a greater good. This is actually consequentialist ethics. Either acts do not have intrinsic moral value, or the intrinsic value is utterly negligible since it is universally trumped by the consequences that the act brings about. This is proven by the events of the bible itself. How is God not simply a moral consequentialist since all the pain and suffering which has existed since the dawn of time must serve a greater good?”

Finally, Stephen, can you remember the exact formulation of Craig’s altered KCA or cosmological argument that he gave, as I am critiquing the debate here:

Thanks again for a good show.

Jonathan Pearce
Also, great to see Jeff Lowder posting here. Great contributions to the Internet Infidels and the superb 'The Empty Tomb - Jesus Beyond the Grave".

I recently watched Lowder demolish Phil Fernandes in the excellent debate on Naturalism / Theism. He should debate more!
Landon Hedrick said…

Good job on the debate. Can you give me the publication details of your Faith and Philosophy paper (i.e. volume and page numbers)?
I really enjoyed reading your opening statement and the comments. With regard to the problem of suffering I have often wondered? If there is coming a day in the fullness of time when the consummation of God's will and purpose occur, and a time when there will be no more sorrow or suffering and all tears will be wiped away and, there will be joy everlasting; why wouldn't an almighty, omniscient, benevolent God just start there? Just wondering.
Mark Jones said…

"You obviously have an answer to this [what % of good or evil do we need for agnosticism) or else you can’t make the claim. With that in mind what % good / evil do you think exists in the world."

I don't think this is relevant to Stephen's argument. The power of what he's arguing is this, I think: if the arguments for an evil god are *close enough* to the arguments for a good god then we don't have to calculate these percentages. And since they're pretty much inaccessible to us all - *including* those who argue for a good god, then it's all good (!). If this calculation problem doesn't bother the good god advocates (and it doesn't seem to) then of course it doesn't need to bother the evil god advocates either.

To sum up; the good god advocates have to show *sufficient* difference between the arguments for a good god and those for an evil one to justify their belief in the good god. That is their challenge, and I've not seen any decent attempt to answer that.
Michael Baldwin said…
Hey Johnny P, you've got some great questions there!
In particular the second q is one that, as a Christian studying philosophy, I've also asked myself.

I think a good response to that q would be as follows, though I'm not going to pretend as though a sceptic will necessarily find it convincing:
1) God as Creator ex nihilo in the Christian narrative has the absolute right to give and take away life as he pleases. Being the very source of life, the only reason we are still existing is by his grace and mercy and so he has no obligation not to take away life as he sees fit.
2) Human beings have no right to take away the lives of fellow human beings, as we are all contingent beings, and no person is the property of another. In fact,
3) Consequentalism as a moral philosophy for humans is wrong from a Christian perspective because it is exercising a right over God's property (a precious human life) which isn't rightfully theirs. In order to obtain socially desirable state x, action y is necessary. Y involves the torture of innocent children. This is unjustified because I have no right to destroy God's property in that way.
This actually illustrates how God's sovereignty and good purposes to do as he wills with his creation is precisely what prevents humans from doing so: it's not our perogative.

As I said, I'm not expecting you to suddenly believe that this is all true as a result of this explanation. However, it will hopefully see the Christian position more clearly, and why it may not be as incoherent as it seems at first glance.
Michael, by your picture, you look like the guy I talked to at the end of the debate with my friend Peter S Williams. If so, nice one. We were talking about utilitarianism.

Anywho, to your responses.

Each of these are merely assertions, and are not deductive.

For example, you would have to establish that rights exist. Are they a Platonic reality? Are they a deductive concept based on other logical premises? And so on.

Also, it does not follow that God has the right to take like merely because he created it. I could create some dingbats in the lab who are perfectly sentient, feeling creatures. Does that give me the right to destroy them, involving pain and suffering? I'm not sure that necessarily follows.

Furthermore, I will give you a full response to point three when I get back from work. It will allude to this:

Take it easy.

Johnny P
Steven Carr said…
If you'll pardon the shameless self-promotion, our blog (and website) contains numerous articles on Craig's arguments, as well as detailed summaries of several his debates.

I wondered why Craig spent over a decade ducking debates against Doug Krueger and Lowder.

They write numerous articles on Craig's arguments, so earning themsleves immunity from being chosen as Craig's opponents in a debate.
Anonymous said…
Hi Stephen,

Many thanks for your engaging and, in my view, very effective arguments against Craig.

I do have two (related) questions about your problem of evil argument. You say in your opening speech that "While not all standard Christian explanations for evil can be reversed in this way, most can."

1. What are the "standard Christian explanations" that you think cannot be "reversed"?

2. How would you respond to a theist who argues that, if, as you suggest, "the onus is on Professor Craig to show that no atheist-friendly account of the objective truth of moral claims can be given . . . even the ones we haven’t thought of yet", then there is a similar onus on you to "reverse" (and thereby rule out) EVERY Christian explanation for evil — even those that haven't been thought of yet?

Much appreciated.

Best wishes,
Sola Ratione
Wes Morriston Fan said…
Thanks for the link – that is indeed a great article. If Wes is right and his evil-theodicy works:

1) It shows that Christians have a good argument to defend against the problem of evil – the only plank in your attack on Craig’s theism.

2) It shows that some of God’s attributes are not communicated through general revelation – a claim Christians have always defended.

This is an article in defence of Christian orthodoxy. I appreciate you sharing it.

Of course if his argument fails then the whole demonism problem collapses. We may in fact have good reasons to prefer God’s existence. In which case you evil god argument in the debate collapses along with it. So if it’s true, you lose. And if it’s false, you lose. I know you think it supports your position but it really doesn’t.

The mistake you make is to combine Wes’ argument with an arbitrary dismissal of the Demon. This is remarkable, as the whole point of the article is that we can’t just dismiss his existence; it’s fully compatible with the good we see around us.

But perhaps you will backtrack on that claim and merely say that if we can’t dismiss him, then at least there’s no reason to favour belief in God over the Demon based on what we see in nature. And that, of course, isn’t a problem for the Christian who doesn’t deduce God’s moral properties from observational evidence.

Your confusion in the debate came from flipping between these two objections. You were strongest in your presentation of why the probability of the existence of evil god and good god may be equivalent based on nature. You were weakest in drawing inferences from this conclusion. Do you think we must dismiss both? Or do you think we must be agnosticism – unless we have other reasons for believing in one? If the former you provided no argument. If the latter – no-one disagrees.

"Now you conclude that given the way the world is, neither option is more plausible. So what % of good / evil do you think we need to arrive at this agnosticism? 90/10? 75/25? 50/50? You obviously have an answer to this or else you can’t make the claim. With that in mind what % good / evil do you think exists in the world?"

Your problem here is that you believe that there is a coherent answer to these dilemmas. Positing God is perfect and all-loving, to me, is INTERNALLY incoherent. In other words, the terms are entirely nonsensical. Thus to apply them to a God invalidates the existence of a God, or requires the redefining of those properties.

If anything, Stephen helps to illustrate this. Rather than pitting one God against another, either forget God, or entirely redefine the characteristics of God so that they are logically coherent.

I would say there are many, many issues with perfection and all-loving.

Perfect requires, to me, being perfect FOR something and a subjective appraisal of that value. It is hard enough to argue objective ideals exists anywhere outside of the individual, conceptual mind. And so on.

As for all-loving - to who? Water voles? Mosquitoes? Dinosaurs? What is love? How can you be loving? All-loving?

To me, like linguistics, these things are deeply and semantically subjective. Is my idea of a hero the same as yours? Do both ideas exist objectively? If I think of a forqwibles, does it now exist objectively?

And so on. So I think your objections fail on far more fundamental and epistemological grounds.
J.M.T said…
The evil god v. good god argument is interesting to say the least. I'll have to read Craig's response. I do agree with Law that the "objective moral truth" angle is not at all convincing without the Resurection or some other significant supernatural event.
Anonymous said…
It's Johns Hopkins University.
I have now reviewed Stephen's opening statement

and will look to review the rebuttals tomorrow.
Anonymous said…
At first hearing and quick scan it seems to me that the argument is in two parts being:
1 the evidential argument from evil. This argument then attracts the standard Craig responses eg we are not in a good position to know that god does not have a morally sufficient reason etc
2 you then close the door on him with the evil god argument which seems to be:
1 arguments for god plus evidence implies good god
2 same arguments for god (flipped) plus evidence implies evil god.
3 you don't believe in the evil god and therefore you cannot consistently believe in the good god
3 or you believe in the good god and therefore you must also believe in the evil god.
Either way it seems belief in good god must go out the door with belief in evil god therefore a vital component of Craig's god goes out the door.

At first blush it sounds reasonable to me, if I have got it right and I await the attack of those with greater logical skills than I have to bring it down.

As I recall, Craig's answer to this was to concede the argument but say that Christians do not arrive at their gods good properties from the evidence. That may well be the case but on my recall he did not say how Christians arrive at their gods good properties. I would have thought that to dismantle the evil god argument he would have to present the basis on which Christians arrive at their gods good properties and those reasons must be such that they could not be flipped to the evil god. Net result evil god was not refuted during the debate.

Therefore if you believe in good god or do not believe in evil god then you should also believe the contradictory leaving you in a hopeless muddle.

One other thing as far as I can recall in all the Craig debates I have heard he has only once been called on by his opponent to define what he means by god. While you didn't call on him to define his god you did make it clear you were only concerned with dealing with his god. I think your move was reasonable and you made it clear your concern was to defeat his god which I think you did. However it would generally seem prudent to have the god you are debating defined prior to the debate since a deistic god seemed to be left standing at the end of the debate.

Some good points. The problem with Craig claiming that Christians arrive at the theory of the good god through other methods is that Stephen could then claim that these were ploys of the evil god to hoodwink people even more cruelly. How cruel is it to fool people into believing their entire life that something exists which doesn't, and to devote all their lives to this? The revelations of this good god could be seen in similar ways.

So it is not that easy to disprove evil god because Law can adopt the same AD HOC reasoning that Christians use on a daily basis.
Review Part 3 completed
John Piippo said…
Law's argument is interesting. How about this as a rebuttal?

Love is only “love” if freely chosen.

Evil is “evil,” whether freely chosen or not.

The relationship between the two theodicies is not isomorphic.

Therefore two theodicies cannot be “flipped around.”
Stephen, that's a fantastic critique, clearly demonstrating that Craig's argument is invalid. I don't understand why it seems so contentious to the commentators above me: if a series of premises have more than one possible conclusion, then that series of premises followed by only one of the conclusions is (definitionally) an invalid argument.

I'm impressed. :)
Sam D said…
The main problem with apologist like WLC is that their main objective is to show a great PR for christianity as oppose to seek truth like philosophers. Time and time again we see WLC's rhetorical moves to escape the argument proposed. I think if these debates were in a collection of essays it would be easier to point out the logical fallacies WLC utilizes. Oral debates unfortunately lack the intellectual power due to the fact that one side can easily adhere to fallacies. Moreover, many people mistake rhetorical style for philosophical content.
Great job Stephen your arguments were solid. I truly admire your work.
Dustin S said…
I love your argument, Stephen. I don't want to sound more 'intellectual' than others, but I followed every bit of it and it makes a lot of sense.

I also noticed reading the comments that it is never called the 'perfectly tuned argument' , but the 'fine tuning argument'.

Maybe because it's OBVIOUS the universe is not 'perfectly tuned'?

So then, God must be a clumsy engineer? Or does he like to crash billions of rocks against other rocks for shits and giggles?
Henry said…
I see this as a variation on Russell's teapot argument. Any story about a supernatural entity or event that we did not grow up with sounds absurd. God is merely Santa Claus for adults.
hmm said…
@John Piipp "Love is only “love” if freely chosen."

Why? You have simply asserted this. No argument whatsoever.

Do you choose who you love? No, you don't. You can't, if you are a heterosexual male, choose to fall in love with another male. Or you cannot choose to "turn off" your love for a woman.

And if love is unconditional, then it is not freely chosen at all. It is just there.
teetee said…
It seems that most responses from Christians fail to address the actual point being made. Instead, they are nitpicking on details that are basically irrelevant to the argument.
Maryann Spikes said…
A falling short (sin), or privation (evil) [sin=evil], of the way things are supposed to be (the good), cannot exist unless there really is a way things are supposed to be. So--first exists the way things are supposed to be, without which a falling short (sin), or privation (evil), is impossible (again, sin=evil). That good--that 'way'--is God. God, because he is omnipotent, cannot fall short of himself, cannot be a privation of himself, cannot depart from the way things are supposed to be (himself). Such falling short, privation, departing--all of those things are weakness.

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