• Tooley vs William Lane Craig – a short review

    So I came across this debate between Dr Michael Tooley, a philosopher, and William Lane Craig, which can be seen here:

    This was a cracking debate based on the fact that Tooley was a philosopher, and prepared. Let me say that again. He was prepared. He had done his homework.

    OK, what I like about Tooley’s approach:

    • It is philosophical in the same way that Craig appeals to philosophy
    • His philosophical approach was complex enough to be more robust than some debaters previously (particularly non-philosophers)
    • He calls out Craig on EVERY SINGLE one of Craig’s arguments
    • As such, he rattles through a plethora of points using the same technique that Craig uses. He fights fire with fire.
    • He rightfully claims, for example in the moral argument (that without God you cannot have objective moral values), that (in listing a bunch of atheological moral philosophers) Craig would need to lay out all of these philosophies and show where they go wrong. He has not done that in any of his debates (or writing).
    • He jibes at Craig for not understanding stuff, which is great because Craig has done that to many of his opponents, and it makes the audience realise that Craig is not a master of all, and that there ARE philosophers who know more about disciplines of philosophy than he does. Eg, on morality “[explaining naturalistic moral philosophy] …so that’s the natural reading of it, right. And what happens is Bill rejects that natural reading, describes it as abstract and so on since he doesn’t understand it right. You know, philosophers working in that area have no difficulty understanding the notion, right… What he substitutes is very unclear…. He gives no account in any of his articles or his work of how that works [God as the basis of truth-making moral claims].”

    Where Craig does well:

    One point that Craig nailed which niggled me in Tooley’s approach was the application of probability values to unknowns. Eg that God could be good, indifferent to morality, or bad each have equal probability (and even more so in Tooley’s earlier talk about reasons for allowing different actions). One simply cannot apply a probability to such an option since it would effectively be arbitrary given our lack of knowledge about such claims. As Craig says, if I have a closed bag of 10 marbles, then what it the probability of picking out a red one? Well, we cannot say 1/10 since this would not be true if there was no red marbles, or any other value than 1. Such that the probability should be 0-1, meaning a range, since we just do not know.

    What annoys me about Craig:

    Well, where do I start?? Something Craig often states which annoys me is that any argument against the Old Testament (OT) as being problematic is not an argument against the Judeo-Christian God but against the inerrancy of the Bible. But Craig sidesteps the issues. if one starts unravelling the OT, the NT and Jesus comes tumbling with it. If one can call into doubt certain aspects of the OT, then how do we know the unproblematic claims are equally true? Craig himself has a worldview built upon the edifice of the Bible. Craig does nothing to refute these OT claims, saying they are irrelevant. This is not good enough. Is he conceding they are problematic? If so, then the rest of the Bible must surely suffer from conceding this.

    Secondly, Craig did nothing to dispel the idea that possibility means probability. So when offering reasons for evil and suffering (or not) he needs to appeal to probability over possibility, when all he ever does is retreat to logical possibility. But Tooley was using the evidential problem of evil argument.

    Thirdly, he claims that much of the OT/NT divine commands are only relevant to a theocracy and that we don’t live in one so they are not relevant to us. This is a grave acceptance of moral relativism! Covenantal Moral Relativism means that, suddenly, overnight, with the new covenant, things that were wrong and punishable by death suddenly become not so. Hundreds of rules are made defunct overnight. Even on Divine Command Theory where God’s commands are moral reflections of his character, this is problematic.

    Fourthly, God and foreknowledge. Yes, we get that God knowing it doesn’t causally make it happen. But by knowing it will happen will mean that it cannot happen otherwise. But more, it prompts more questions about God creating most people on earth in the full knowledge that will end up in hell. This is the issue with foreknowledge. Yes, it appears to me to invalidate free will (which I wrote about in my first book available in the sidebar), but it also raises nightmares for God’s reasons for actualising worlds in which people suffer AND go to hell.

    Something I learnt / found interesting about Craig:

    In the Q and A someone asked Craig why he had recently dropped the ‘fact’ of Jesus being buried by Joseph of Arimathea. I have been thinking for some time that he thought it was now a poor point, that it was easily debunked, but Craig claimed he cut it out for time purposes. This has answered a question that I have been wondering about for some time. However, that he chose to drop that point from his old 4 fact approach (now usually the 3 fact approach) shows that it was the weakest point of the lot. I concur. The arguments against this can be seen in my Joseph of Arimathea videos:

    All told, Tooley offered a myriad of strong and robust points against Craig and showed that every argument that Craig relies on is riddled with issue. Well worth a close listen. Sorry I haven’t had time to explain all of Tooley’s points.

    Category: ApologeticsAtheismDebates


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce