Craig-Cooke Debate


A few weeks ago at Auckland University, New Zealand, William Lane Craig debated Bill Cooke on “Is Belief In God a Delusion?” I hope you’ll view the debate. I have just a few points from it to highlight.

Dr. Craig had the opening statement and offered reasons to believe there is a God. Dr. Cooke’s approaches included giving emotional reasons to be repelled by belief in God, including some rather irrelevant political shots; questioning whether we really know what we mean when we say the word “God,” and trying “to show that Dr. Craig’s notion of God is not the only God in town.”

It seemed to me that he really unlocked his central worldview later in the debate when he insisted he was not trying to undermine Dr. Craig’s faith at all. He said he was happy for Dr. Craig’s Christian faith, but “it doesn’t wash” to claim that “my projection of God upon the universe is the true one.”

So in essence, his view seems to be that it’s fine to believe in God, as long as you don’t do icky things with it like make a big deal about morality; but don’t assume that you know what you mean by “God,” or that you have any reason to believe your view connects with any reality whatsoever. Keep your beliefs, but keep them to yourself. Remember they are not just to be disconnected from society, they’re actually disconnected from all reality. Above all, don’t think of your truth as being objectively or exclusively true. This, Dr. Cooke says later, is a “wiser, more humble view of God,” less likely to build barriers between people.

Dr. Craig’s defense was primarily to take the offense: there are real reasons to believe we know true things about the true God. Dr. Cooke really offered no rebuttal to those arguments. He appealed to a number of (generally liberal) Christian theologians who would disagree with the idea of “proving God.” More context here would have been helpful. Dr. Craig does not generally try to prove God exists. He speaks of having “good grounds for belief in God” (my emphasis). The actual proof he attempts is this: that God is a better explanation for various phenomena than the alternatives.

I’ll say that again in a different way: Dr. Craig’s general approach, not just here but elsewhere, is to say that for things like the beginning of the universe, the universe’s fine-tuning for life, the historical accounts of Jesus, the near-universally recognized fact of objective morality, and so on, God is the best explanation. His arguments are not intended to prove God exists; they are intended to show that God is a better explanation for these things than other options are.

I myself do not think God’s existence can be proven, but I do think we can demonstrate that God is the best explanation for these kinds of things. Still I know that even if such a proof—that God is the best explanation—succeeds completely, one could still opt against believing in God; but then one would be rejecting the better explanation and choosing some lesser one. If you want to do that, it’s certainly your prerogative.

I hope that distinction is clear: the difference between proving God and proving that God is a better explanation.

Now, admittedly there are theologians who say that answers to the question of God can’t be known at all, especially by rational/evidential means. God simply cannot be known, or if he can, not by any rational faculties. Dr. Craig’s response is simple. I’ll paraphrase: say what you will, the arguments point to God.

For my part, I would add that theologians who doubt we can know anything at all about God are committing the wrong-God fallacy (a version of the straw man). It is an argument against a God that Dr. Craig doesn’t believe in himself: a God who cannot make himself known to his creation, an incompetent God. I’m sure Dr. Craig would be quite content to have such a God’s existence disproved, or the concept shown to be meaningless. But the God he believes in, and that I believe in, is a God who is not less capable of communication than you and I are. You and I can speak to each other. God, who is greater than we are, can speak to us too. What’s complicated about that?

Liberal Christians theologians are often inclined to say that in some sense or other, God is love. Pity their poor God, then, who is all love, yet who cannot connect relationally with us whom he loves. He would be like the young man mooning over the picture of some unattainable woman. All emotion, but no relationship. In God’s case, the failure would be entirely his. That’s rather an odd view to take of him, isn’t it?

I know there are issues relating to God’s other-ness, his transcendence, and the like. He is not like us. That does not make him less competent than us, however. He made us in his image, so there is certainly something of himself he could share with us: personality, mind, volition, emotion, and so on–including the ability to relate and to communicate. He was even able to take human form in Christ and reveal himself in that most human-relevant manner.

I strongly encourage you to watch the debate and hear the interchange for yourself.

13 Responses

  1. How can one argue that God is the best explanation? To be able to make such a claim one must know all possible explanations, including the often intricate metaphysical assumptions inherent in those explanations, which is truly beyond what anyone can claim. We could even just reduce this to the issue of metaphysics: how can we know that the substance/object metaphysic of traditional philosophy and theology is the correct view, as opposed to say a Peircean, Whiteheadian, or Heideggerian understanding of being (or perhaps a metaphysic that has yet to be articulated)?

    This claim also makes the rather striking assumption (and it is an assumption) that there can only be one decent explanation for everything. On what grounds can one justify that assumption? Sure, we could say that there is one truth about how things are, but that doesn’t demand in any way that there aren’t other explanations that could be seen as coherent with the facts, perhaps short of absolute certainty (or omniscience), which Moreland et al. have argued is not being assumed in non-
    (so-called-)postmodernist views.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    How can one do these things? How can one ask that question without viewing the debate? It’s the best starting point I can suggest for an answer. Have you taken the time to do that?

    How can one argue that God is the best explanation? To be able to make such a claim one must know all possible explanations, including the often intricate metaphysical assumptions inherent in those explanations, which is truly beyond what anyone can claim.

    Is that really so difficult? With respect to the beginning of the universe, for example, there are two options: It was caused by a timeless, transcendent, personal being, or it was not caused by a timeless, transcendent personal being. That’s rather a finite set of possibilities.

    This claim also makes the rather striking assumption (and it is an assumption) that there can only be one decent explanation for everything.

    It does? I thought it made the assumption that it might be possible, if argumentation succeeds in this respect, to show that in some cases for some things a theistic answer is more plausible than atheistic answers.

    I suspect you have reacted altogether too quickly to this, Kevin. You might not want to ask how Craig could do these things without first seeing how he does these things.

  3. I’ve read a good amount of Craig’s work and, in reading the debates that I have, he hasn’t come up with anything new for years now (it’s all practically cut-and-paste from his old work). Furthermore, I see these as basic questions about apologetics and philosophy in general. Furthermore, and perhaps most important for this discussion, I see the analysis of alternative viewpoints as being highly inadequate by Evangelicals. Whether they are talking about open theism, so-called postmodernism, or Buddhism, I have yet to see a decent Evangelical analysis of the alternatives; heck, if I believed what they said supposed postmodernists or Buddhists believe, I’d agree with them. But they don’t get it right, which makes me doubt claims like best possible explanation when spoken by Craig, Moreland, or just about anyone.

    As for your analysis of the possible genesis of the universe, it is much more complicated than that, and not only because the second alternative is in fact a number of possible alternatives. Even more important than this, the Kalam cosmological argument on which this alternative rests is fundamentally inadequate. In fact, it begs the question: it demands that we view an infinite set as a well-ordered set, meaning {[infinity], …, -3, -2, -1. [present]}, which has the logic that the argument requires, paticularly the claim that one cannot traverse an infinite. However, proponents of the infinite past are not assuming a well-ordered set, but a not-well-ordered set: {…, -3, -2, -1, [present]}.

    Let me spell this out: the argument that we cannot traverse an infinite assumes that, if there were an infinite past, we ‘started’ an infinite time ago and traversed from this infinite point to the present, thereby making the infinite a point in time. Put differently, it makes ‘infinite’ a number from which one can move, which is a complete misunderstanding of the infinite past; infinite as number (as a necessary assumption of the claim “traverse an infinite past”) contradicts infinite set theory. Put one more way, the statement “traverse an infinite past” is meaningless because it requires we treat the infinite past as a point in time. This argument then begs the question as it demands a starting point by the sleight of hand of making the infinite into a number when the concept of infinite does not allow that assumption. One cannot traverse an infinite because the infinite is not a point in time, so any time that we can be said to traverse is finite.

    Your last point deserves quoting:

    I thought it made the assumption that it might be possible, if argumentation succeeds in this respect, to show that in some cases for some things a theistic answer is more plausible than atheistic answers.

    Yes, it might be possible, but it yet again assumes that the person making the “more plausible” argument is familiar enough with all viable possibilities, not just hardcore eliminative materialism, to be capable of justifying the “more plausible” claim. From my experience, this familiarity is seriously lacking in Evangelical work so, if I am right, the “most plausible” claim is seriously suspect.

  4. Let me add that I think arguments for God’s existence can show the plausibility of God’s existence, but cannot demonstrate the probability of God’s existence. Given the incredibly expansive knowledge that would be necessary to demonstrate probability, I don’t think they are very useful.

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    The current debate is with, as far as I can tell, a materialist. He is not entirely clear about that. He is certainly not a Heideggerian, a Peirceian, or a Whiteheadian.

    Most of us here are not that familiar with any of these three. Other than propounding that we ought to be familiar with them, what can you offer about what they say, that ought to be taken into account here?

    Kevin, I spent a lot of time yesterday observing another online discussion where someone reviewed what he had not read, and did a lot of name-dropping instead of arguing to support his conclusions. It was not a pretty picture.

    I do not accuse you of doing quite the same thing, though there are resemblances. I respect that you have read a lot of Craig and Moreland. I see that you have arguments (in distinct contrast to that other person I refer to). But I do ask that you do present your arguments in terms that we can work with them here. Please do not assume we know Heidegger or Peirce, or that we know the difference between a well-ordered set and a not-well-ordered set.

    And I still suggest that if you are going to take a posture of reviewing what Craig says in this debate, please view it first.

    Thank you.

  6. Trust me, I’ve tried to discuss at length (pages and pages) a Heideggerian alternative (to pick the one I’m most familiar with) in other venues, and (1) they were not incredibly productive as they really do require extensive reading on the interlocutor’s part (you can’t expect to understand Heidegger from an online discussion; it takes great time and effort to understand what he’s getting at) and (2) I simply don’t have the time right now to even attempt it. But I will repeat myself: I have yet to see an Evangelical critique of a “worldview” I’m familiar with that gets it right. Furthermore, the Evangelicals would still have plenty to argue against (from their view) even if they did get the alternatives right, so I’m not claiming that the alternatives are immune from criticisms (which will vary according to the view from which one critiques them).

    On the infinite set theory (which is a lot easier to explain than Heidegger), a well-ordered set is a set with a first term, which, as I argued, is necessary for any claim like “traverse a [put your length here] set”. So here’s a few examples: {-2,000, -1,999, -1,998, …, -3, -2, -1, 0}, {1, 2, 3, …}, and so on; it may or may not have a final term, but it does have a first from which it starts. A not-well-ordered set is a set without a first term: e.g., {…, -3, -2, -1, 0}, {…, -2, -1, …, 26, 27, 28, …}, and so on. So, to say that someone “traversed an infinite” you will have to have a first term such that {[infinite], …, -3, -2, -1, [present]}, but that is not what is being claimed in relation to an infinite past: there is no starting point such that one can traverse an infinite length of time with the present being the last term. This is why I said that the statement “traverse an infinite amount of time” is incoherent, contradictory from the get go, nor is it assumed in the not-well-ordered set that is part of the infinite past claim.

    Of course, Moreland et al. then proclaim, “But then you couldn’t even get started in the first place,” which exactly proves my point: a starting point is assumed as necessary, so when it isn’t presented Moreland et al. proclaim victory. The argument begs the question.

    So, (1) the argument “you can’t traverse an infinite past” is completely irrelevant because the not-well-ordered set inherent in the infinite past claim does not demand that one do so; (2) the argument claiming that the infinite past claim requires traversing an infinite is only plausible because it makes the infinite a number from which one can move; and (3), from (2), the argument then begs the question as it assumes that a beginning is necessary before it even argues its case (i.e. “But then you couldn’t even get started…”). In short, the Kalam cosmological argument looks plausible because of the sleight of hand that it performs by changing the infinite into a number (i.e. changing the not-well-ordered set into a well-ordered set), when such is not required (let alone assumed) by the theory of the infinite past.

    I hope that clarifies it further.

  7. Brian says:

    Full audio of the Craig / Cook “Is God a Delusion” debate can be found here.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you, Brian.

  9. Tom:

         With all due respect to you and Craig, Kevin is correct: the Kalam argument is flawed. I don’t want to get in other ways it can be shown to be flawed, except to say that Craig (NOTE: I’m speculating here, but not without some basis) has “issues” with Aquinas who rejected the Kalam argument—and by “issues” I mean non-rigorous criticisms on the level of “well, I’m just not impressed.” (That’s NOT a quote.) Craig is not in the camp of world-ranked philosophers. Sometimes I get the impression he feels personally slighted by this: you’ll note he’s not teaching at what is considered world-standard school. That alone, of course, is no argument against his level of philosophical knowledge and exposition, but it nonetheless appears to be an issue for Craig… Anyway, kind of in this respect Kevin is also correct about “cut and paste” repeats from his past work (see his and Moreland’s textbook for example). I would further add, it’s not that he just cuts and pastes, but cuts and pastes errors. His and Moreland’s univocal view of being is very close to that of Duns Scotus where being was seen as an “emanation” from God. That view is wrong and causes more problems than either of these gentlemen would care to admit.

         Kevin is incorrect, however, in saying,

    … I think arguments for God’s existence can show the plausibility of God’s existence, but cannot demonstrate the probability of God’s existence. Given the incredibly expansive knowledge that would be necessary to demonstrate probability, I don’t think they are very useful.

         First, it’s not clear what the first sentence means without first clearly understanding what Kevin means by “plausible” and “probable”: I suspect there’s too much mathematical baggage being imported into the latter word, because, well for example, dialectical and even rhetorical arguments—without using even a smidgen of math—can have conclusions productive of “probable” knowledge. Second, we have to understand what Kevin means by “God.” The First Cause argument is inescapable: that it demonstrates God’s existence but only gives the most fleeting, cross-sectional insight into God’s nature is beside the point. God exists, or rather, He IS Existence itself.

         This last point is a problem for Kevin’s apparent favorite existential philosopher, Heidegger… who actually had some fairly interesting things to say. BUT, given that his philosophy was a priori guided by no spiritual principle, it’s not only that Heidegger ends with destruction and death as his vision for reality (for Heidegger, existence in its attempt to transcend its limits ends in nothingness), but of course it impacts any critique of any argument for the existence of God—which we see reflected in Kevin’s words “plausible” and “probable.” I have a strong issue with Heidegger’s vision of man’s creation ex nihilo (or at least as far as the soul’s existence is seen): Heidegger pretty much believe men and things are “fashioned” by nothingness. To be clear and to avoid the error of some critics of Heidegger: it’s not that he believes, by virtue of this that we are nothing. Rather, that we are “from” nothing… and therefore must accept this. (The follow-on development, initial error notwithstanding, is quite interesting if not brilliant (especially regarding how Heidegger views what the individual is), and forms the basis of more serious atheists’ (i.e., not village atheists like Dawkins, Harris, Stenger, Hitchenson, etc.) attempts to face reality.)

         The fundamental error Heidegger makes is a metaphysical one: he speaks of nothing or nothingness as if it were actually something when he employs the terms “from” or “fashioned by” nothingness. Nothingness is nothingness: there is no potential which can be actualized. We humans even have a difficult time understanding nothingness, and are forced to employ the term as a “being of reason” somewhat akin to a shadow being the privation of light to try to wrap our minds around the utter non-beingness that nothingness is. But whereas a shadow is the privation of light, nothingness is much, much more fundamentally the privation of being. Period. (Quite interestingly, this lies at the basis of Craig and Moreland’s univocal view of being and their believe that being is a genus. The error is startling disarming: if being were a genus, then beingness would have to differ in some respect. But what is different from being? Non-being, i.e., nothingness—which is trivial.)

         I realize what I’ve shared here may strike some as philosophically stratospheric. In one sense, if one isn’t used to the terms employed or is not familiar with the development of philosophical thought post-Descartes, it can certainly seem that way. But the ideas posed are very important, and they can be grasped by any healthy thinker ready to make his neurons sweat a bit.

  10. Holo,

    The First Cause argument is not inescapable, but is flawed for the same reasons that the Kalam Cosmological Argument is flawed: it does not demonstrate the need for an absolute beginning or a first cause, but merely assumes it as part of the argument.

    That being said, you are seriously misunderstanding Heidegger. Not only do you give “death” a far more important role than it played in Being and Time (no thanks to Sartre, who, to quote Hubert Dreyfus, gave a “brilliant misreading of Being and Time” in his Being and Nothingness), but you misunderstand the role of “destroying” the philosophical tradition: it is, in fact, a very constructive approach to the philosophical tradition, when properly understood.

    The worst part, though, is that you are also seriously misreading Heidegger’s understanding and use of nothingness. The term itself is different whether you are talking about his earlier or later works: in the earlier works the “nothing” demonstrates the groundlessness of public practices, that there is no necessary and sufficient reason that we, say, eat with forks instead of with chopsticks. Later Heidegger, however, corrects this as our practices certainly are grounded in being (or the being of beings), but the being of any particular being exceeds any given articulation. The “nothing” in later Heidegger is not the nihil (as it can be understood in early Heidegger), but the excess, that which stands behind and indeed supports any given finite articulation of beings as this or that. One of the better known articulations by Heidegger on this is his understanding that every uncovering is also a covering (truth/untruth/the counter-essence of truth; see “On the Essence of Truth”), that every articulation of a being as this or that only brings to light a finite set of aspects of that being and covers over those that are not relevant to that particular articulation. It is “nothing” precisely because it is not articulated, it does not yet have a place in our understanding of that being and thus cannot coherently be said to be anything.

    Lastly, Heideggerian existentialism (separated as it should be from Sartre’s and Camus’ particular kind of existentialism) is not antagonistic towards religion, spirituality, or any of that. In fact, it would be argued to be the very basis of such insofar as religion and spirituality are meaningful relations to beings, or even to one being in particular: God. Without an understanding of man’s mode of being, we cannot adequately understand his relation to God (or truth or knowledge or society or etc.). The presence of such figures as Charles Taylor, Emanuel Levinas, and Jean-Luc Marion show Heideggerians (more or less; that is a fascinating and complicated issue, especially with Levinas) who are deeply religious and for whom God plays a very important role.

  11. Hi Kevin:

         Sorry, but you just amplified your misunderstanding of causality and hence understanding of the First Cause argument… and interestingly the error is similar to that of Craig’s. You continue to view the First Cause as part of a causal chain of events (hence your misplaced critique of it, and your assigning “probability” to its existence, which by the way you did not address). If the First Cause was part of the chain of efficient causes, then you’d be correct—it would be assumed as part of the argument. Put somewhat simply: the First Cause what explains the per se existence of the chain—not the first (or infinitely distant) link in the chain. (Do you understand the distinction between per se and per accidens and the analogous nature of being?) Ontology, beingness, metaphysical reflection, etc. are the key here.

         Further, to preclude your further dependence on “probabilities,” it is the modern empirical sciences per se that are able to demonstrate the existence of God. They (add math to the pile if you wish) can “point to” or “suggest” or “cry out for” a deeper explanation, but it is natural philosophy, which focuses on motion or change as such, that can provide the demonstration of the existence of a First Cause. I suggest you revisit the First Cause argument. I will not pursue.

         There is a deeper issue that I sense in back of your thinking that troubles me more, and it is at least obliquely connected to Heidegger. That is, a despairing that human reason can come to the knowledge of the existence of God. (That not everyone exercises this privilege is no argument against it.) I have a theological (who we are with respect to God), philosophical (what we are with respect to the rest of nature), and instinctual “gut reaction” against anyone who despairs of the power of human reason. I don’t know to which faith community you belong (if any) but the Catholic Church correctly understands that one can come to know of the existence of God through human reason. As Peter Kreeft pithily says it: “It is a dogma of faith that the existence of God is not just a dogma of faith.”

         Regarding Heidegger, no, I do not let Sartre pollute Heidegger’s words by speaking for him—you should give me more credit than that. Also, I said the result of Heidegger’s thinking is death and destruction based on its starting point—I wasn’t taking it in the way you put it, and hence I stand on what I said. You also misrepresent what I said—implying that Heidegger was supposedly antagonistic against fiath, which I didn’t say. I said his thinking was not guided a priori by any spiritual principle… which ties forward to what you mentioned about the importance of understanding man’s mode of being in order to understand his relation to God, truth, etc. (That Heidegger was later attracted to eastern mysticism as a potential window through which to understand being is beside the point.) In fact, you’ve got it backwards (as did Heidegger): you start with man (this is big time in Husserl) instead of starting with what we know outside ourselves. Take it as a dogmatic philosophical assertion: we don’t know ourselves first, we know being through extra-mental data, and then we reflect back upon ourselves. Crudely put (don’t take me to task for this—take it as a distant echo impact), this reflects the distant ripples of Cartesian cogito error. While leads to my next point…

         … Animating this is the concept of being in Heidegger that is simply wrong: ontology for him is about what a thing is wrt what-a-thing-means-to-me. No, no, no! The existence vs. essence thing is screwed up in Heidegger: he truly believes the distinction between me (as subject) and extra-mental entities (as objects) depends on knowledge. That’s ludicrous: the implication of Heidegger’s view is that if the distinction between subject and object is captured through knowledge, then before knowledge there is no distinction! (Consider how Heidegger’s view partially echoes forward into poor interpretations of quantum theory by philosophically-inept physicists who believe our viewing of an object collapses its wave function!) Anyway, this is so at odds with a realist philosophy of nature and a realist view of the world and a correct anthropological understanding of man as to be irreconcilable. We human beings (a hylomorphic substance of body and soul—NOT dualism!!!) have the capacity to sense and know objects—not to actualize them.

         Also, I disagree that my reading of Heidegger’s view of nothingness is wrong… just because yours differs from mine. First, I am careful to distinguish not only between earlier and later in Heidegger, but also the strong risk Heidegger’s has toward artificial antinomies: consider your own supposedly profound words that mean little apart from contradiction: “destruction” as “constructive,” or “nothing” as “excess.” Don’t chase me on these because I do know what’s trying to be said (in this light I mostly—but not completely—agree with the end of your third paragraph), but what I’m claiming is its wrong because of word manipulation (perhaps unintentional) to fit a particular a priori view, i.e., that we begin from ourselves. (To me, it’s philosophical self-centeredness.)

         Finally, consider you claim: “… the being of any particular being exceeds any given articulation…” This really is a distant echo of Descartes: whereas he’s seeking ultimate certitude in knowledge and grounds it in his own thinking, Heidegger is seeking being (crudely put), suggests that because we don’t have an ultimate grasp of natures/beingness (true if you compare us to angels or God, but we can certainly build upon our knowledge of natures… and we have), but then looks for it in man as a starting reference, and then proceeds from there.

         I’m not going to pursue this discussion any further—it’s off topic, we’ve clashed before on these issues, I doubt we’ll be able to come to some level of agreement, and I breaking my promise to respond to Tony. Thanks, however, quite honestly for your comments.

  12. johnshade says:

    Dude, you mis-stated the definition of a well-ordered set. A well-ordered set is a totally ordered set, every non-empty subset of which has a first (or least) element. By your definition, the non-negative reals under the usual ordering is well-ordered, which isn’t the case (though if you assume the axiom of choice, a well-ordering of it exists).

  13. Holo,

    You continue to so seriously misunderstand and misrepresent Heidegger that I don’t even know where to start (“a thing is wrt what-a-thing-means-to-me”? Did you even read the first Division? Do you even know the relationship between articulation and publicness, even as it relates to authenticity, especially as the latter was re-articulated in Heidegger’s later thought?). So, honestly, I won’t; it would take way too much time to essentially summarize Division I, its relation to Division II, and then relate that to Heidegger’s later thought where the subjectivity you’re attributing to Heidegger is rejected even more than it was in Being and Time. Despite your claim, you are most certainly reading Heidegger through Sartre and thereby missing the major contribution that Heidegger made to thought.