Summary and audio: William Lane Craig debates Alex Rosenberg: Does God Exist?

Below, please find my summary of the Craig-Rosenberg debate, which occurred on February 1st, 2013 at Purdue University. The debate was streamed over the Internet live.

Brian Auten has posted the MP3 audio of the debate at Apologetics 315. Everybody bookmark that web site for the fastest access to debate audio. J.W. Wartick has a review of the debate here. Tom Gilson has a review of the debate here. Here’s another review of the debate from Carson Witnauer.

The debaters

William Lane Craig:

William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.

Dr. Craig pursued his undergraduate studies at Wheaton College (B.A. 1971) and graduate studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.A. 1974; M.A. 1975), the University of Birmingham (England) (Ph.D. 1977), and the University of Munich (Germany) (D.Theol. 1984). From 1980-86 he taught Philosophy of Religion at Trinity… In 1987 they moved to Brussels, Belgium, where Dr. Craig pursued research at the University of Louvain until assuming his position at Talbot in 1994.

He has authored or edited over thirty books, including The Kalam Cosmological ArgumentAssessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of JesusDivine Foreknowledge and Human FreedomTheism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology; and God, Time and Eternity, as well as over a hundred articles in professional journals of philosophy and theology, including The Journal of PhilosophyNew Testament StudiesJournal for the Study of the New TestamentAmerican Philosophical QuarterlyPhilosophical StudiesPhilosophy, and British Journal for Philosophy of Science.

Craig’s CV is here.

Craig’s list of publications is here.

Alex Rosenberg:

I joined the Duke faculty in 2000. Previously I was professor of philosophy at Dalhouse University in Canada, Syracuse University, University of California, Riverside and at the University of Georgia, in the US. I have also been a visiting professor and/or fellow of the Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Minnesota, as well as the University of California, Santa Cruz, Oxford University (Balliol College) and the Research School of Social Science of the Australian National University. Here at Duke, I am co-director of the Center for Philosophy of Biology, along with Robert Brandon, Dan McShea and Fred Nijhout.

In addition I am the director of the AB Duke Scholarship Program and its associated summer Duke in Oxford Program at New College. Along with Professor Martha Reeves of the Sociology Department I co-direct Duke’s summer program on Globalization in Geneva. Check the links below for more information on these programs.

My interests focus on problems in metaphysics, mainly surrounding causality, the philosophy of social sciences, especially economics, and most of all, the philosophy of biology, in particular the relationship between molecular, functional and evolutionary biology.

Below is the summary from tonight (February 1st, 2013).

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Summary of the debate

Dr. Craig’s opening speech:

The topic: What are the arguments that make belief in God reasonable or unreasonable?
First speech: arguments for reasonableness of belief in God
Second speech: respond to arguments against reasonableness of belief in God

Eight arguments:

  1. Contingency argument: God – a transcendent, personal being – is the explanation of why a contingent universe exists.
  2. Cosmological argument: God is the cause of the beginning of the universe, which is attested by physics and cosmology.
  3. Applicability of mathematics to nature: God is the best explanation for the applicability of mathematics to nature.
  4. Fine-tuning argument: God is the best explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe to permit life.
  5. Intentionality of conscious states: God is the best explanation of the intentionality of our mental states.
  6. The moral argument: God is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and duties.
  7. The resurrection of Jesus: God is the best explanation for the core of historical facts accepted by most ancient historians across the ideological spectrum.
  8. Religious experience: God is the best explanation of our immediate experience and knowledge of his existence.

Dr. Rosenberg’s opening speech

First argument: The fallacy of ad hominem

  • I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry
  • Dr. Craig has said all of that before in other debates
  • You didn’t need to come out on this cold night
  • Craig’s arguments have all been refuted
  • Dr. Craig just doesn’t listen
  • Dr. Craig is not interested in getting at the truth
  • Dr. Craig is just interested in scoring debate points
  • The adversarial system is the wrong approach to decide truth
  • Dr. Craig is very confident about his take of physics

Second argument: The fallacy of arguing from authority

  • 95% of members of the NAS are atheists
  • Therefore Dr. Craig cannot use science

Third argument: Effects don’t require causes

  • I am going to pretend that Craig said that “every effect requires a cause”
  • Quantum mechanics shows that some effects occur without causes
  • A particle of uranium (which is not nothing, it is something) decays without a cause
  • This uncaused effect is the same as the universe coming into being out of nothing uncaused
  • Therefore the principle of sufficient reason is false

Fourth argument: Silicon-based life and the multiverse

  • If these constants had been different, maybe we would have other kinds of intelligent life, like silicon-based life
  • Carbon-based life is not the only kind of life, maybe you can have other kinds of life, none of which have been observed
  • There could be different kinds of life in other areas of the universe that we can’t see
  • There are things we can’t see that disprove the current physics that we can see
  • Quantum foam is evidence that a multiverse exists
  • The multiverse would solve the problem of fine-tuning

Fifth argument: The Euthyphro dilemma

  • The moral argument is refuted by Euthyphro dilemma
  • Dr. Craig is such a moron that he has never heard of the Euthyphro dilemma ever before
  • This is found in the first and simplest of Plato’s dialogs
  • Why is Dr. Craig so stupid that he has not read this simple dialog ever before?
  • Evolution explains why humans evolve arbitrary customs and conventions that vary by time and place
  • Alternative moral theories: utilitarianism, social contract, etc. that don’t require God

Sixth argument: Mormonism undermines Dr. Craig’s three minimal facts about Jesus

  • Why is Dr. Craig so stupid and ignorant to persist in pushing such an ignorant, stupid argument?
  • Mormonism is a silly religion that is not historically well founded
  • Therefore, Jesus was not buried
  • Islam is a silly religion that is not historically grounded
  • Therefore, the tomb was not found empty
  • Scientology is a silly religion that is not historically grounded
  • Therefore, the eyewitnesses didn’t have post-mortem appearances
  • Eyewitness testimony is unreliable in some cases
  • Therefore, eyewitness testimony was unreliable in this case
  • Apparitions of Mary are bizarre
  • Therefore, the majority of historians are wrong to think that the disciples saw post-mortem appearances

Seventh argument: Deductive problem of evil

  • Evil and suffering are logically incompatible with an all good, all powerful God

Eight argument: God is not just to allow evil and suffering

  • God cannot make the evils of this life right in the afterlife

Dr. Craig’s first rebuttal

Dr. Rosenberg sketched the deductive argument from evil.

Dr. Rosenberg presupposes naturalism. Naturalism is a false theory of knowledge:

1. It’s too restrictive: There are truths that cannot be proved by natural science.
2. It’s self-refuting: no scientific proof for naturalism exists.

That’s why epistemological naturalism is considered false by most philosophers of science.

But more importantly than that: Epistemological naturalism does not imply metaphysical naturalism. (E.g. – W. Quine)

Dr. Rosenberg has to present arguments in favor of (metaphysical) naturalism, not just assume that (metaphysical) naturalism is true.

Dr. Craig presented eight arguments against metaphysical naturalism taken from Rosenberg’s own book:

1. The argument from the intentionality (aboutness) of mental states implies non-physical minds (dualism), which is incompatible with naturalism
2. The existence of meaning in language is incompatible with naturalism, Rosenberg even says that all the sentences in his own book are meaningless
3. The existence of truth is incompatible with naturalism
4. The argument from moral praise and blame is incompatible with naturalism
5. Libertarian freedom (free will) is incompatible with naturalism
6. Purpose is incompatible with naturalism
7. The enduring concept of self is incompatible with naturalism
8. The experience of first-person subjectivity (“I”) is incompatible with naturalism

Metaphysical naturalism is false: it is irrational and it contradicts our experience of ourselves.

And epistemological naturalism is compatible with theism.

Rebutting Dr. Rosenberg’s responses:

1. Contingency: no response

2. Cosmological: he mis-states the first premise to say every effect… when it is whatever begins to exist…, the origin of the universe was not from a vacuum, virtual particles come from a vacuum not nothing, there are interpretations of QM that are compatible with determinism. Rosenberg has to believe that the entire universe popped into being from non-being.

3. Mathematics: no response

4. Fine-tuning: the multiverse is refuted by empirical observations of the universe. Without fine-tuning, it’s not that we still have silicon to make life out of. It’s that we lose basic minimal things like chemical diversity, matter, stars, planets, etc. No life of any kind, not just no carbon-based life.

5. Intentionality: no response.

6. Moral argument: the answer to the dilemma is that you split the dilemma: God is the standard of good, and the commands flow from his unchanging moral nature. The commands are not arbitrary, and the standard is not external to God. Dr. Rosenberg is a nihilist and he cannot ground good and evil on his nihilistic view.

7. Resurrection: The Gospels are early eyewitness testimony. Mormonism and Islam have nothing to do with the minimal set of historical facts about Jesus agreed to by the majority of ancient historians across the ideological spectrum, general statements against eyewitnesses do not refute the specific eyewitness testimony in this case.

8. Religious experience: No response.

Dr. Rosenberg’s first rebuttal

I wrote a book and you should buy it, because it got me invited to this debate. Let me repeat the title a few times for you. Please buy it.

Dr. Craig is right, there are multiple interpretations of QM, not just the one I presented, including deterministic ones.

All the disturbing implications of naturalism that Dr. Craig stated follow from metaphysical naturalism, and metaphysical naturalism is true. (Note: he equates science with metaphysical naturalism)

Science proves that metaphysical naturalism is true, but I won’t say what specific scientific tests prove my philosophical assumption of metaphysical naturalism.

I’ll pretend that the Big Bang (science) doesn’t disprove naturalism, like Dr. Craig said. Again. (covers ears) La la la, there is no Big Bang.

We didn’t come here to debate epistemological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism.

Let me explain the problem of intentionality since I’m so smart and no one knows what it means.

There are many answers to this problem of intentionality.

My answer is that most scientists are naturalists, therefore naturalism is true, regardless of the argument from intentionality of mental states.

That’s how I would respond to one of the eight problems with naturalism that Dr. Craig raised. I won’t answer the other seven problems.

It is an argument from ignorance to argue that the applicability of mathematics to the universe requires a designer, because there are non-Euclidean geometries. Craig’s argument, which he gets from people like respected physicists like Eugene Wigner, is bizarre. It is bizarre, therefore I refute Eugene Wigner and all the other scholars who make that argument. It is bizarre! Bizarre!

Deductive problem of evil: there is no response to this argument, certainly not Alvin Plantinga’s free will defense. The deductive argument from evil has not been entirely abandoned at all! It’s not like arch-atheist J.L. Mackie himself admits that the deductive problem of evil doesn’t lead to a logical inconsistency between evil and God.

Dr. Craig has to tell me why God allows evil or God doesn’t exist.

It is offensive that Dr. Craig cannot tell me why God allows every evil and suffering that occurs.

He literally said this: “I will become a Christian if Dr. Craig can tell me why God allowed EVERY EVIL THAT OCCURRED IN THE LAST 3.5 BILLION YEARS”

Dr. Craig’s second rebuttal

We are not in a position to know why God allows specific instances of evil and suffering.

God cannot force people to freely do anything – freedom is not compatible with determinism. Freedom is a good, but freedom opens up the possibility of moral evil. You cannot have the good of free will without allowing people to choose to do morally evil things.

God can permit evil and suffering in order to bring more people into a relationship with him.

The atheist has to show that God could allow less evil and achieve more knowledge of God in order to say there is too much evil.

The purpose of life is not happiness, but knowledge of God.

Dr. Craig quotes agnostic Paul Draper (Purdue) and Peter Van Inwagen (Notre Dame) to state that the deductive problem of evil is dead because of free will and morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil.

1. Contingency: no response.

2. Cosmological: QM does not apply, because the universe came from nothing, not a vacuum, and QM only works in a vacuum.

3. Mathematics: He mentions alternatives like non-Euclidean geometry, but we have to explain the structure of THIS universe.

4. Fine-tuning: ???

5. Intentional states: intentional mental states proves that minds exist, which fits with theism better than it fits with atheism.

6. Moral argument: You need God to ground morality, and Dr. Rosenberg believes in morality. He needs God to ground objective moral values and duties.

7. Historical argument: He has to respond to the minimal facts supported by the consensus of ancient historians across the ideological spectrum.

8. The problems of naturalism: He says that you can’t have science without naturalism, but you can have science with EPISTEMOLOGICAL NATURALISM, and theists accept science and methodological naturalism. We don’t accept METAPHYSCIAL NATURALISM because of the eight problems Craig presented, like intentionality, first-person, persistence of self, etc. You can believe in both science and theism, by embracing epistemological naturalism, while rejecting methaphysical naturalism.

Dr. Rosenberg’s second rebuttal

Dr. Craig hasn’t answered many of my points, I won’t say which ones though.

Debates don’t work as a way of deciding what’s true, so we should overturn the entire criminal justice system.

The principle of sufficient reason is false because it is disconfirmed by quantum mechanics. And quantum mechanics (vacuum and virtual particles that exist for a short time) is similar to the origin of the universe (nothing and entire universe and 14 billion years).

We know that alpha particles come into being without cause all the time from a quantum vacuum for a tiny sub-second duration before going out of existence, so we can say that the entire physical universe came into being for 14 billion years from absolute nothing which is not a quantum vacuum.

Peter Van Inwagen is the best metaphysician working today, and he says that my deductive argument from evil is not decisive, it’s not a successful argument. (Why is he undermining his own problem of evil argument????!)

Dr. Craig invoked Plantinga’s free will defense to the deductive POE. Freedom allows us to do evil. God could have given us free will without evil and suffering. I won’t show how, but I’ll just assert it, because debates are such a bad forum for supplying evidence for my speculative assertions.

If you answer the question 3 + 5 as being 8, then you don’t have free will – you are biologically determined if you answer 8, because everyone answers 8, and that means everyone is biologically determined with no free will.

Why can’t God give us free will and then prevent us from making a free choice?

No scholars date the gospels earlier than 60-70 AD, especially not atheists like James Crossley who dates Mark to 40 AD. Therefore Jesus’ burial isn’t historical, like the majority of scholars across the broad spectrum of scholarship agree it is.

The original New Testament documents were written in Aramaic.

All New Testament scholars are orthodox Christians, like atheist Robert Funk for example.

Dr. Craig’s concluding speech

In order to sustain the deductive argument from evil, Dr. Rosenberg must show that God could create a world of free creatures with less evil.

Principle of Sufficient Reason: not using the general principle of sufficient reason, but a more modest version of this states that contingent things should have an explanation for their existence. And we know that the universe is a contingent.

The New Testament was not written in Aramaic, they were written in Greek. Dr. Rosenberg is wrong there too.

(Dr. Craig spends the rest of his concluding speech giving his testimony and urging people to investigate the New testament).

Dr. Rosenberg’s concluding speech

Some long-dead French guy named Laplace said that he has no need of that (God) hypothesis. He did not know about any of Dr. Craig’s arguments made in this debate tonight when he said that, though.

There is no need to explain how the universe began or how the universe is finely-tuned if you just assume metaphysical naturalism on faith.

The Easter Bunny, therefore atheism.

Most scientists are atheists, therefore atheism.

You can do a lot of science without God, just don’t look at the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, or the other parts of science that Craig mentioned, as well as the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, the habitability argument, and so on.

You can be a Christian, but good Christians should not use arguments and evidence.

Good Christians should be irrational and ignorant. Bad Christians look for arguments and evidence from science and history.

Good Christians should embrace the absurd. Bad Christians want to search for truth and use logic and evidence.

33 thoughts on “Summary and audio: William Lane Craig debates Alex Rosenberg: Does God Exist?”

  1. Wow… before I watched this debate I thought you MUST have been exaggerating. I’m glad that you were indeed commenting upon this debate very objectively!


      1. Germanium-based life sounds more appropriate. Since silicon-based life has been proposed before, I wouldn’t find it surprising that a similar element (e.g., Germanium) would be proposed.

        Regardless, such propositions are irrelevant in the context of what Craig was trying to get across with the fine-tuning argument. Germanium just wouldn’t exist.


  2. Excellent summary of the debate. The way you put it makes me realize, I really did hear a bunch of nonsense from Dr. Rosenberg. Does he really have a Phd in philosophy? It sure didn’t seem that way. It didn’t even sound like he was sane. I was terribly disappointed. I thought for sure that a man of his credentials would give Dr. Craig a run for his money. I can’t believe he invoked the problem of evil or the euthyphro argument. Again, does he really hold a Phd in Philosophy?


    1. I listened to it with my Dad and listed out 10 separate arguments for atheism that don’t suck. But he went with deductive problem of evil and Euthyphro. From freshman philosophy 101. Maybe he took one course in philosophy?


      1. Funny. As you’ll see, I drew precisely the same “philosophy 101” conclusion–before seeing your comment here. :-)


      2. Wintery Knight, what are the 10 arguments you had in mind for atheism that don’t suck? Just curious — I’m an atheist, myself.


  3. WK, terrific summary, snarkiness and all :-)

    One of the first things Rosenberg did was to misquote the Kalam by claiming it states, “everything that exists has a cause.” WLC never called him on that, but ended up not needing to!


  4. Nice use of sarcasm in this one. Rosenberg was a wally I didn’t bother watching past WLC’s first response. I like they way Craig went after Rosenberg’s book in the past he has stayed to only the material presented in the debate. It worked well.


  5. I about died when he pulled out Euthyphro. I couldn’t believe he thought that he had made a real point there. I bet Craig is tired of using the same old arguments too but since no one ever answers them…*sigh* He did toss out a few new bones but the dogs returned to their own vomit instead.


  6. Thanks, Wintery Knight. I look forward to listening to the audio later, but it’s good to get your summary quickly now. It’s disappointing (even for me, a Christian) what a bad showing atheists make in these debates — with the exception of Peter Millican, who I think did a good job.


  7. From what I have heard, and read of Rosenberg he doesn’t even think theism is worth his time. I don’t even think he knew what to expect (no excuse!). I honestly believe that many naturalist simply ignore other fields of philosophy, and simply do a lot of work explaining away consciousness, reason, and the rest of the “manifest image” human beings have. Then they see the logical absurdities they run into to be “research programs” that “science will some day solve”. Complete Bizzaro world.


  8. Thank you for this summary. I watched the debate very closely and laughed out loud at Mr Rosenberg’s points. If anyone seemed absurd — as he says Christians must force ourselves to be — it was him. He seems to be emotionally compromised by the problem of evil and I can’t blame him for that because if his circumstances. I think most atheists reject God because he hurt their feelings. We should pray for Mr Rosenberg.


  9. Great–and entertaining–summary.

    What an odd debate. Rosenberg appears to be out in front of those who just bite the bullet regarding the dire–and bizarre–implications of a thoroughgoing naturalism, but he seems to have forgotten all of that–and much else. If he prepared at all, he seems to have consulted his lecture notes from his freshman days in PHL 101. He presented an overly simplistic version of the Euthyphro Dilemma (and did so with a “smarter-than-thou” tone, as if Craig had never heard of it) and the almost universally abandoned logical version of the argument from evil.

    The highlight of the evening in my opinion was Bill’s segment in which he advanced a series of arguments against Rosenberg’s naturalism. As Thomas Nagel recently said, “It seems reasonable to run the test equally in the opposite direction: namely, to evaluate hypotheses about the universe and how we have come into existence by reference to ordinary judgments in which we have very high confidence.” Rosenberg’s view implies that I am not at this moment thinking about Rosenberg’s view. Therefore, so much the worse for Rosenberg’s view. :-)



  10. That about sums it up. To talk about how much Dr. Craig has ‘said all this before’ and then bring out the problem of evil and Euthyphro… obviously Dr. Rosenberg didn’t bother actually reading or listening to all that Dr. Craig has said before.


  11. I actually felt sorry for Rosenberg – he doesn’t seem to be aware of the fact that he DOES believe in God. He has a very strong hatred of God for what happened to his family in the holocaust before he was born (he couldn’t stop talking about it). One cannot hate what one does not believe in. His “arguments” seemed to be mostly emotionally charged accusations about his dislike of the world he lives in (It’s so UNFAIR!), including debate-style defense of argument, which he agreed to participate in. How does that make his point that faith in God is unreasonable? Your commentary on the debate, however, is very succinct . . . and hysterical. Thank you!


    1. Debby,
      I quite agree with you that Rosenberg’s lack of good arguments was appalling, given his credentials. To be fair, though, I wouldn’t say that atheists cannot hate what they don’t believe in.

      Some are just genuinely bewildered that many people do accept that the Trinitarian God of the Bible is worthy of praise, and they don’t think that faith that God has good reasons for allowing such horrors is a reasonable thing. Any person, whether theist or atheist, is going to be perplexed to the point of anger when they see someone affirming something that they don’t think is, by any means, reasonable.

      Still, I’m not sure why many former theists don’t just fall back to deism or some kind of watered-down, generic theism. If, for some reason, I ended up rejecting Christianity, that’s probably where I would end up.


  12. For all of his ranting about Craig’s arguments being repeated and all over the internet, Rosenburg was completely unprepared. I’m think his unpreparedness was directly related the same conceited and arrongant attitude that led him to simply dismiss Craig’s points without mounting a serious response.


  13. I laughed all the way through your summary. Very accurate.
    I was feeling sick for Rosenburg after his opener, I mean sick with nervousness and pity, if that didn’t ruin his career, nothing will.
    I was waiting for him to ask “If God created everything, who created God?” It was that tame.


  14. I just watched this and pretty much thought exactly the same snarky comments you wrote. Great summary! Thanks.


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