• Stephen Law vs William Lane Craig Debate Review Part 1

    Back in October 2011 I posted this review (and a couple of follow-ons) on my old-old site covering the debate between Stephen Law and William Lane Craig. Due to the fact that Stephen is now a co-SINner here with us, I would like to resurrect this review. It was a great debate, and Stephen, against a formidable opponent, did very well indeed, as you will see. There is now updated video of the debate.


    Last night, two friends and I went to the Stephen Law vs William Lane Craig debate at Westminster where the two philosophers were debating ‘Does God Exist?’ Craig’s Reasonable Faith tour has been hotly anticipated by Christians and non-Christians alike, and with the relative unknown of Stephen Law (in debating terms), there was a feeling of unpredictability thrown in to the usual wager that Craig would win.

    The debate was good, though not necessarily for the straightforward reason of one person trouncing another, or it being a close contest, though this might well have been the case, as you will find out.

    Craig started as one might expect – with tried and tested arguments and by speaking first. However, I was mightily surprised to find that his usual four or five pronged assault for the affirmative position has changed to only a three pronger assault:

    1)      a transcendental cosmological argument for a first cause

    2)      the moral argument

    3)      the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus

    This was a shock because this meant that he was not producing an impossible scatter-gun approach and that the debate could be narrowed to a realistic landscape of arguments for the available time.

    What was also very interesting and actually a bit of a shock was that Craig has reformulated his first argument. He has moved away from his classic interpretation of the Kalam Cosmological Argument and settled for a slightly different version.  I think it went something like this, but I could be wrong:

    1)      The universe began to exist

    2)      The universe had a cause for its existence which must be an immaterial, transcendental, infinite, personal cause

    3)      Therefore, God caused the universe

    Craig, in utterly typical fashion, used the Borde, Guth, Vilenkin interpretation of cosmology to argue a finite beginning to the universe through the Big Bang theory. H, yet again, cherry picks his cosmology, and even the quotes within the work of cosmologists. As the creators of the BGV theory themselves admit, their theory only supposes the beginning to inflation. However, there are many more cosmological theories out there – it is not as if the BGV theory is the most prevalent or orthodox! Craig paid paltry lip service to some of the other theories doing the rounds, particularly Loop Quantum Gravity. He did nothing to refute these other than assert that they “had problems”. Not only this, but he offered no evidence for the veracity of the BGV theory, or more importantly, that his interpretation of the BGV theory was correct and appropriate. Which it doesn’t seem to be – see my critique of A Reasonable Faith on this website (http://atipplingphilosopher.yolasite.com/book-reviews.php).

    So he basically asserts, rather than proves, premise 1. He made a fairly good case for premise 2, though there is good debate to be had there. Primarily, though, it remains to be proved that this universe is not some kind of cyclical universe whereby spacetime reboots each time in successive Big Bangs, amongst other mechanistic explanations (such as the differing multiverse theories).

    What gets me so much, and I have written an essay on this too ((http://atipplingphilosopher.yolasite.com/essays-and-papers.php), is that he is very dogmatic over his conclusions that can be drawn from his selective appraisal of cosmology. This is rendered even more precarious by the very real possibility that General Relativity might well be called into question by the experiments that seem to show that neutrinos can travel faster than the speed of light which have been hitting the newstands recently. How you can stand there and dictate such concrete conclusions about cosmology to an audience when the discipline is in its nascence and is changing on a monthly basis, I don’t know. It takes balls (or the willingness to hoodwink less critical thinkers).

    Secondly, Craig was in the affirmative with his main argument, the moral argument, which 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 Law later 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.

    Finally, Craig moved onto his argument from the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. Again, I can’t be precise, but it included three data:

    1)      empty tomb

    2)      post-resurrection appearances

    3)      belief of followers following the claimed empty tomb

    I can’t remember if premise 2 was different, maybe multiple attestation (Craig has argued all these points and more, though it is good to see he has dropped the Joseph of Arimathea point now, as critiqued in my videos here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwcoWerYTCc.

    Craig raced through his usual points here and claimed that the most plausible explanation of these three ‘facts’ was the Resurrection of Jesus itself.

    I am being perfectly honest here when I declare that it was the weakest opening statement I have heard from Craig in all the debates I have seen and heard of him – some twenty or so. The arguments were underdeveloped and hasty as though he was actually now becoming a little bored of his own arguments and couldn’t be bothered to effectively substantiate them. Maybe he was relying on previous knowledge of his arguments from the audience and Law. He may well have very good defences of the arguments he delivered, yet on the night he did not philosophically establish his arguments to a satisfactory standard.

    My next post will look at Stephen Law’s opening statement.

    Category: Debates


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce