William Lane Craig debates Arif Ahmed: Does God Exist?

I thought that I would summarize a debate that occurred at Cambridge University between Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Arif Ahmed. Everyone knows Dr. Craig, but I should say that Arif Ahmed is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Philosophy at Cambridge University.

The full MP3 is available here.

Below, I’ve summarized the two opening speeches from each debater. I put snarky clarifications in italics.

Here is Dr. Craig’s opening speech: (1:24)

Craig’s case for God.

1) The origin of the universe (3:10)
– an eternal universe is not compatible with mathematics
– the impossibility of an actual infinite in nature (cites David Hilbert)
– an eternal universe is not compatible with science
– the big bang theory requires space and time to come into being out of nothing (cites PCW Davies)
– even radical alternative theories require an absolute beginning (cites Stephen Hawking)
– atheists must believe that the origin of space and time came from nothing and by nothing (cites Anthony Kenny)

P1.1) Whatever begins to exist requires a cause
P1.2) The universe begin to exist
C1.3) Therefore, the universe requires a cause

What can the cause be:
– it must be eternal, because it caused time to exist
– it must be non-physical, because it caused space to begin to exist

Why must the cause of the universe be a person instead of a force?
Only minds can exist non-physically
– the only non-physical entities we know of are abstract objects and minds
– but abstract objects can’t cause physical effects
– therefore, the cause universe is a personal mind

Only minds can cause effects in time without antecedent conditions
– causally prior to the universe’s beginning, there were no antecedent conditions
– the only entity capable of acting freely, not based on antecedent conditions, are free agents
– therefore, the cause of the universe is a free agent

2) The fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe (9:15)
– the fine-tuning of the universe is supported by science
– the constants and quantities given in the big bang can take any of a range of values
– the actual values are within a extremely narrow range that supports the requirements of life
– he gives the example of the fine-tuning of the gravitational constant
– he gives the example of the fine-tuning of the weak force

P2.1) The fine-tuning is either due to law, chance or design
P2.2) It is not due to law, because the numbers are independent of the law
P2.3) It cannot be due to chance, the life-permitting band is tiny compared to the possible values
C2.4) Therefore, the fine-tuning is due to design

3) Objective moral values are plausibly grounded in God (12:41)
– objective moral values are values that exist and are binding regardless of what individuals think
– objective moral values cannot be rationally grounded on an atheistic worldview (cites Michael Ruse)
– atheists can recognize moral values and act on them, but they cannot explain their origin and existence
– atheists can only appeal to personal or cultural preferences to say what is right and wrong
– the existence of objective moral is undeniable

P3.1) If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist
P3.2) Objective moral values do exist
C3.3) Therefore, God exists

4) The resurrection of Jesus implies that God exists (16:04)
– if the resurrection of Jesus happened, then it would be a miracle, implying that God exists
– three facts are recognized by the majority of scholars
– the tomb was found empty after his death (cites Jacob Kramer)
– individuals and groups saw Jesus after his death (cites Gerd Ludemann)
– the belief in the resurrection of Jesus was totally unexpected (cites N.T. Wright)
– naturalistic explanations of these facts have been rejected by the consensus of scholars

P4.1) The 3 minimal facts are established
P4.2) The hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead is the best explanation for these facts
P4.3) The hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead entails that God exists
C4.4) Therefore, God exists

5) God can be known directly by personal experience (20:02)
– God can be experienced just like you experience a relationship with human persons

Dr. Ahmed’s first opening speech: (22:10)

Rebuttal to Craig’s case for God.

0) Craig is wrong about faith and reason (25:20)
– Craig’s book Reasonable Faith, he makes a number of statements about faith and reason
– He writes that Christianity is not accountable to reason if reason goes against Christianity
– He writes that the truth of Christianity is knowable without rational arguments
– He writes that even if there are no reasons to believe, and many reasons to disbelieve, humans are still obligated to believe
– Question for Craig: is Christianity reasonable or isn’t it? Do reasons matter or don’t they?

1) Response to Craig’s first argument: the origin of the universe (28:27)
– what mathematicians say about the contradictory nature of subtraction and division for actual infinities is wrong
– what cosmologists and physicists say about the beginning of time is wrong, every event follows another one, there is no first event
– even if the universe is 15 billion years old, the act of Creation requires time and there was no time prior to the supposed beginning of the universe for God to act in
– the cause of the universe need not be a personal agent
– all minds are made of matter so a mind cannot be the cause of the universe, 
– it is impossible for a person to act outside of time
– why did God wait 15 billion years before creating humans and relating to them? 

2) Response to Craig’s second argument: the fine-tuning of the creation (32:38)
– where do these probabilities that Craig is using come from?

3) Response to Craig’s third argument: the moral argument (34:07)
– I have personal preferences about what counts as right and wrong, and they are superior to God’s preferences
– moral intuitions are not a good way of discovering objective moral values, so therefore objective moral values don’t exist

4) Response to Craig’s fourth argument: the resurrection (36:00)
– the number of eyewitnesses is not enough, because groups number of eyewitnesses can be fooled by illusions, as in David Copperfield illusions
– the Gospels contradict themselves, e.g. – the story of Matthew’s earthquake and walking dead isn’t in Mark – so that’s a contradiction, so the Gospels are not reliable sources for Craig’s 3 minimal facts

5) Response to Craig’s fourth argument: personal experience (37:30)
– there are many different religious experiences because there are many different religions, which means that no one religion can be right

Ahmed’s case against God.

1) Absence of evidence is evidence of absence (39:00)
– if there is are no reasons to believe in God, then this is evidence that he doesn’t exist

2) The inductive argument from evil (40:04)
– some evil is gratuitous – events cause people to suffer, and has no benefit that I can see, which argues against the existence of a good God
– God would not have allowed people to suffer, because he has no overriding purpose that would justify his permission of human suffering

3) Belief in God makes people evil (41:52)
– all genuinely religious people are very immoral, when measured against my subjective standard of morality

Further study

In case you are wondering about his inductive argument from evil, please read this summary on the problems of evil and suffering, which is taken from my list of arguments for and against Christian theism.  Keep in my mind that I am a software engineer with two degrees in computer science… not philosophy!

Craig mentions a paper by the late William P. Alston of Syracuse University in his rebuttal to the inductive problem of evil. The paper lists six limitations on human cognitive capacities that make it difficult for humans to know that some instance of  apparently gratuitous evil really is gratuitious – that God has no morally sufficient reason for permitting this specific instance of evil.  Since Ahmed is making the claim that some evil is gratuitous, he bears the burden of proof.

3 thoughts on “William Lane Craig debates Arif Ahmed: Does God Exist?”

  1. Craig ought to debate Stenger who has tried to show through the standard model of cosmology that there is no fine tuning. He failed, of course.


      1. This is quite good, thank you.

        Incomprehensible, the mind of physicists who dwell in the region of quantum mechanics. Some prove low entrophy, others randomness. If the latter, improbability stoutly defeats their argument.

        Curtis Mohommed


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