Audio from William Lane Craig’s debate with Stephen Law

UPDATE: The audio for the debate has been posted here at Apologetics 315.

Reactions from the first debate of the Reasonable Faith UK speaking tour, featuring Dr. William Lane Craig.

These are just cut and pasted by me from Facebook with names removed.

J:

I cant believe Law didnt offer any objections to Theism other than the problem of evil.. The heckling was a bit disappointing, entertaining debate though. Law made some bad admissions in the after discussion which was quite funny :)

M:

so i just got home from the debate between william lane craig and stephen law.

was a very interesting debate, and law turned out to be one of the few atheists who had clearly carefully considered his debating strategy. Not once did he even attempt to argue for atheism, all he was ever trying to do was argue against “Craig’s God” (which is what he said himself).

wlc presented just three arguments this time, the kalam, the moral and the resurrection.

law didn’t respond at all to the kalam and literally just left it with “i don’t know”.

law’s opening speech was all on the evidential problem of evil without responding to any of Craig’s arguments. Then in first rebuttals he completely ignored all the arguments again, only seeking to defend his evidential argument from evil. I have to say his strategy was interesting but I think it backfired, simply because atheism just came out to be utterly indefensible. The kalam was not challenged once, only the moral nature of the Creator of the cosmos. As WLC said numerous times, “it’s a strange form of atheism that holds to the existence of an uncaused, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, powerful, transcendent and personal being who just isn’t morally perfect”!

atheism was definitely left in a bad state in this debate!
wlc had some good responses to the evil God challenge

More M:

it was quite an interesting debate. wlc presented just 3 arguments: kalam, moral & resurrection. then law spent his whole first speech on the evidential problem of evil, with his evil God challenge mixed in. In the whole first rebuttals again law COMPLETELY ignored wlc’s 3 arguments, and didn’t respond to them until the FINAL rebuttal!

law didn’t even argue for atheism. he didn’t challenge the kalam once, and i mean not once! for me, he conceded that atheism was false (even though he doesn’t believe that himself) and instead just tried to show that whoever this Creator is, we can’t know whether he is good or evil. I thought he was really weak on the moral argument as well. I found that overall his tactics were to not specifically deny any of the premises of any of the arguments, instead he just kept repeating that craig hasn’t proved ____(insert premise) to his satisfaction.
But check it out for yourselves later in the week!

C:

I give respect to Stephen Law, he seems like a nice guy who is very intelligent and took this debate seriously.

The evidential problem of evil is tougher to fend off, but once again another Non-theist (as I think Law is an agnostic) tries his argument for personal preference.

Law basically stated ” I don’t find God to be good under my standards of what I think is good, therefore I don’t think he exists, but if he does exist he is an evil God”

And was it me or did Law mix up what is “prescriptive” morality and “descriptive” morality when he spoke about ethical naturalism? It seems as if he had it backwards.

Law gave me the impression he was either an agnostic or a closet Deist

Some selected Tweets as of Tuesday morning at 2 AM:

reNewedAtheist Tom Samuel:
i think it’s safe to say that Law didn’t do his homework. i even tweeted at him telling him to come prepared….

UnbelievableJB Justin Brierley:
Did Law defend atheism or agnosticism tonight? #RFTour one person left saying deism perfectly plausible on Law’s arguments tonight

And most importantly:

UnbelievableJB Justin Brierley:
Complete Craig vs Law debate goes online as an early podcast tomorrow. premier.org.uk/craig #RFTour

UnbelievableJB Justin Brierley:
@BenMartinBass video will go online after tour is over but I’m putting the audio out as an early poddie tomorrow @RFupdates

You should follow @UnbelievableJB on Twitter for more updates. It’s Justin Brierley’s feed, and he is posting updates continously.

The thing you need to realize about the evidential/probabilistic argument from evil is that it has to be weighed along with other countervailing evidence in favor of God’s existence. It is not a deductive argument. Craig presented three arguments in favor of the proposition, so Law has to respond to those in order to win the debate. Moreover, I am sure that he would not be able to answer the challenge of how he knows that any particular instance of evil is gratuitous. I hope Brian posts the debate audio soon.

12 thoughts on “Audio from William Lane Craig’s debate with Stephen Law”

  1. Law seemed prepared to concede almost everything on the basis of his one killer argument, which on the evening fell flat on its face. Ironically it failed because he himself argued too persuasively against it. His argument as to why we should reject God’s existence relied on the fact that no-one would believe in the existence of an evil god given the presence of good in the world. But then he proceeded to give lots of reasons why evil god may in fact allow much good. So all he showed is that we reject evil god for other reasons, which was exactly Craig’s point in the first place! I’m not sure if he missed the force of Craig’s rebuttal, or, more likely, kept repeating himself because he only came with one argument and was sticking to it come hell or high water.

    In terms of his response to Craig’s points, again it was a bit of a letdown. He failed entirely to deal with the Cosmological argument – bizarrely claiming that establishing the existence of God has no place in a cumulative argument seeking to establish the existence of the Christian God. On reflection I wonder what he thought the title of the debate was? On the Moral Argument he simply said that he don’t believe God could have morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil but provided no argument. He singularly failed to respond to Craig’s supporting arguments regarding our cognitive, temporal and geographical limitations, the necessary complexity of God’s plans for humanity, the purpose of life being knowledge of God not human happiness etc. At one point it looked like he might be getting somewhere with the evil god hypothesis, but in the end he simply asserted that no-one would believe in evil god because of the good in the world – again all assertion, no argument. And on the resurrection he made the curious and disingenuous move of demanding Craig answered all the possible naturalistic accounts of the resurrection (even those no-one’s thought of!), even though he didn’t adopt the same burden of proof when putting forth his own argument from evil – he didn’t rule out any reasons God might have, let alone all of them.

    So in conclusion his one argument was weak and unpersuasive, he made no response to Craig’s first point, only superficially tackled the second and totally side-stepped the third. I was also not impressed by his debating trick of leaving his rebuttal of Craig’s arguments for his second rebuttal slot so that Craig could only engage with his response in the closing 5 minute remarks. But still, I was glad he turned up, as even a weak debate is better than no debate.

    1. Hi Slimer,

      RE: Law’s Problem of Evil argument:

      You seem to be suggesting that Law’s argument was this:

      (1) There are a lot of reasons why evil god might allow good in the world (call these reasons ‘REG’).
      (2) Everyone is (or should be) persuaded by REG: i.e. these reasons are (or should be taken as) sufficient to ‘justify the ways of evil god’.
      (3) So everyone rejects (or should reject) evil god for reasons other than the implausibility of REG. (from 1, 2)

      But so far as I can tell, Law was actually arguing this:

      (1’) REG are exactly parallel to the reasons that theists give for why good God allows evil (call these reasons ‘RGG).
      (2’) No one is (or should be) persuaded by REG.
      (3’) So one should be persuaded by R-GG. (from 1, 2)

      RE: Law’s response to the KCA

      First, neither Law nor Craig suggested that the KCA, on its own, “establishes the existence of God”. The KCA, if successful, could only show that there is a cause of the universe that has a SUBSET of the essential properties or attributes of the Christian God (i.e. timelessness, immateriality, etc.). Any being with only this subset of properties — i.e. lacking the essential property of perfect goodness — would not count as ‘God’, even on Craig’s definition of the term.

      Second, Law, it seems to me, was arguing that the KCA becomes irrelevant to the case for the existence of the Christian God if it has already been established — i.e. by the evidentialist problem of evil — that it is highly improbable that there exists an omnipotence and omniscient creator that also has the essential property of perfect goodness. In that context, the KCA, even if successful, could not ‘take up the slack’, so to speak, and provide counter-evidence for the existence of a creator that DOES have the essential property of perfect goodness. As Craig acknowledges, the KCA says nothing about whether the creator has (or does not have) perfect goodness. So, in a context where it is precisely that property which is in question, the KCA is irrelevant. This is why, I think, Law’s strategy was to focus on the problem of evil.

      RE: Law’s response to Craig’s ‘theodicies’

      You say that Law did not respond to any of Craig’s attempts to show that God might have morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil. But Law did in fact provide an argument, namely, (1’)-(3’) above. For any of Craig’s RGG reasons (e.g. “the necessary complexity of God’s plans for humanity”), there is an exactly parallel REG reason. But since we reject (or should reject) REG reasons (and therefore the existence of an evil god), Craig’s RGG reasons should be similarly rejected (along with the existence of a good God).

      RE: Law’s response to the resurrection argument:

      You say that Law demanded that Craig answer “all the possible naturalistic accounts of the resurrection (even those no-one’s thought of!), even though he didn’t adopt the same burden of proof when putting forth his own argument from evil – he didn’t rule out any reasons God might have, let alone all of them.”

      First, Law made this demand in the context of Craig’s moral argument, not the resurrection: “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.” (See http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com for the transcript).

      Second, Law does actually rule out virtually all of the most popular theistic explanations for evil — i.e. on the grounds that, for each such reason, there is an exactly parallel explanation for why evil god allows good; and so if the latter are implausible, so are the former. (Note, Law does give the caveat that: “While not all standard Christian explanations for evil can be reversed in this way, most can” – but he doesn’t appear to specify what these ‘other’ explanations are.) At any rate, Law’s survey of the main Christian explanations for evil (free will, natural law, moral and spiritual development, ‘it’s a mystery’, compensation in the afterlife) is far more comprehensive than Craig’s ‘survey’ of just ONE non-theistic account of morality.

  2. Law’s argument depended upon the idea that as there are obvious instances of gratuitous goodness which count against the evil-god, likewise there are obvious instances of gratuitous evil which count against a good God. Craig kept saying that he disagrees with both points and appealed to epistemic limitations to know what counts as gratuitous either way. The best point of the debate was in the answer period, when Craig forced a contradiction with regard to epistemic humility by drawing out Law’s reasons for not addressing or accepting the KCA. Law said that there are epistemic limitations to knowing the answer of what caused the universe, and would not presume to know. Craig pointed out that though this humility does not undercut KCA argument, Law is only selective in his epistemic humility, i.e. Law will presume to know what counts as gratuitous in the moral realm, but remains agnostic towards the cause of the universe. When this point was made, Law quickly and nervously insisted these were very different cases. He then explains that epistemic humility does not prevent one from ruling out possible explanations for a given phenomenon. Law explained that he may not know the answer to what caused the universe, though he can reasonably rule certain answers out. He then says he thinks Craig and most others would reasonably rule out a belief in an evil God on the basis of the gratuitous good. But note that Law misrepresents the analogy here. Craig’s epistemic humility is not with regard to what kind of God exists–ruling out an evil one. He’s epistemic humility is towards there being gratuitous good and evil. This is not a matter of “ruling out”, but is about forming a positive belief about the moral character of the world. Thus it is analogous to Law’s refusal to form a positive belief about the causal nature of the universe. Law only says that he feels that there is gratuitous good and evil and never makes an argument for them. Thus Law demonstrated that in order for his argument to run, he must be inconsistent in his application of epistemic humility. That combined with his refusal to engage KCA is enough for me to say that Law was duly defeated.

  3. One thing I noticed about Stephens blog is how virtually all his “posters” claim he obliterated Craig’s arguments, so I’m really curious what debate they watched. From my PoV, not only did Craig defeat the challenge, he showed why a good God is the logical conclusion. It is also funny how Law never replied to Craig’s answer to his moral problem.

    On another note, I really think Law is a closeted Deist, maybe agnostic at best. Also, anyone else curious how bad Peter Atkins is going to get embarrassed this time around?

  4. Well last time they debated, poor Peter Atkins was absolutely and utterly dismembered, limb from limb. Should be funny though.

  5. 1. Attacking Craig’s arguments is not sufficient to establish that God does not exist, which as an atheist, Law was obligated to do for his side of the debate.

    2. The question should have been asked by Craig or somebody during the after-debate discussion…”Stephen, would an evil god create such an amazingly finely tuned universe for the benefit of intelligent life?” Maybe next time.

    Law made a valiant effort to avoid the Cosmo argument as much as he could, and merely took an agnostic view of the other arguments Craig presented…. hardly a positive case for atheism. As usual, Craig was at his best, and it showed.

  6. Mike you said “The question should have been asked by Craig or somebody during the after-debate discussion…”Stephen, would an evil god create such an amazingly finely tuned universe for the benefit of intelligent life?” Maybe next time.”

    The answer is: yes. For without it, evil god would have no sentient creatures to torture.

    btw I went into this debate to argue against what CRAIG means by “God”. I understood the question “Does God exist?” as CRAIG understands it. What’s the problem with that? And to refute Craig’s belief in God, it’s enough to show there’s no all-powerful, all-good God. Obviously, I didn’t need to refute the cosmological argument to win. Obviously.

  7. Mr. Law:

    Thank you for showing enough courage to debate, unlike Dawkins who chickened-out and “justified it” by showing how large a straw man he can build in his most recent article. I don’t find your arguments persuasive but I thank you for your thoughtful philosophical approach and analysis.

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