William Lane Craig debates Peter Atkins: Does God Exist?

Apologetics 315 posted the video of a debate from the Reasonable Faith speaking tour in the UK:

This is a must-see debate. It was extremely fun to watch.


On Wednesday 26th October 2011 William Lane Craig debated Peter Atkins on the topic: Does God Exist? This debate took place at the University of Manchester  as part of the UK Reasonable Faith Tour with William Lane Craig. The debate was chaired by Christopher Whitehead, Head of Chemistry School at the University. Post-debate discussion was moderated by Peter S Williams, Philosopher in Residence at the Damaris Trust, UK.

Dr. William Lane Craig:

William Lane Craig (born August 23, 1949) is an American analytic philosopher, philosophical theologian, and Christian apologist. He is known for his work on the philosophy of time and the philosophy of religion, specifically the existence of God and the defense of Christian theism. He has authored or edited over 30 books including The Kalam Cosmological Argument (1979), Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology(co-authored with Quentin Smith, 1993), Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time (2001), and Einstein, Relativity and Absolute Simultaneity (co-edited with Quentin Smith, 2007).

Craig received a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications from Wheaton College, Illinois, in 1971 and two summa cum laudemaster’s degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, in 1975, in philosophy of religion and ecclesiastical history. He earned a Ph.D. in philosophy under John Hick at the University of Birmingham, England in 1977 and a Th.D. underWolfhart Pannenberg at the University of Munich in 1984.

Dr. Peter Atkins:

Peter William Atkins (born 10 August 1940) is a British chemist and former Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Lincoln College. He is a prolific writer of popular chemistry textbooks, including Physical ChemistryInorganic Chemistry, and Molecular Quantum Mechanics. Atkins is also the author of a number of science books for the general public, including Atkins’ Molecules and Galileo’s Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science.

Atkins studied chemistry at the University of Leicester, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, and – in 1964 – a PhD for research into electron spin resonance spectroscopy, and other aspects of theoretical chemistry. Atkins then took a postdoctoral position at the UCLA as aHarkness Fellow of the Commonwealth fund. He returned to Oxford in 1965 as fellow and tutor of Lincoln College, and lecturer in physical chemistry (later, professor of physical chemistry).

You can get the audio of the debate here, along with links to their previous debate from 1998. This debate is accessible and understandable to novice-level Christians.

I am happy when debates like this come out. I have friends who are Christians who doubt the importance of apologetics in evangelism, because they don’t think that apologists can prove anything or win arguments. I have friends who are skeptical of using arguments that assume a 14-billion year old universe, because they think that the Big Bang is compatible with atheism (!). I have friends who think that philosophical arguments have no persuasive force. I have friends who think that nothing can be proven from history, beyond a reasonable doubt. I have co-workers who ask me whether anyone wins these debates. I think that this debate answers all of those questions.

This debate clearly shows why Christians should not shy away from studying science, philosophy and history. We will not discover anything that harms Christian theism by thinking logically and by looking at the evidence. To the contrary, it is the atheist who makes war on the progress of science, and who is forced to resist the clear experimental evidence, and to resort to baseless speculations and blind faith. If you want to see a good debate with an intelligent atheist, I recommend watching the debate between William Lane Craig and Peter Millican instead. But if you want to see a really, really overwhelming defeat for atheism, watch this debate. It is very clear at the end of this debate why Richard Dawkins refused to debate William Lane Craig at Oxford.


I only had time to summarize the first two speeches. Keep in mind that Dr. Craig always shines in his rebuttals, and this debate is no different. So you’ll want to watch those rebuttals. Dr. Atkins literally says in this debate in his first rebuttal “There was nothing here originally. There is nothing here now. But it is an interesting form of nothing which seems to be something.” And the audience laughs nervously. This debate is like that. You will see a clear winner and clear loser in this debate. This fight is decided by knockout.

William Lane Craig opening speech:

1. the origin of the universe
2. the moral argument
3. the resurrection of Jesus

Peter Atkins opening speech:

1. Dr. Craig is stupid, lazy and evil:
– Dr. Craig’s arguments are old: from the 11th century! Old arguments can’t be true
– Dr. Craig is just asserting that “God did it” because he is lazy
– Dr. Craig feels pressured to agree with the theistic majority
– Dr. Craig needs a psychological crutch to comfort him
– Dr. Craig is fearful of death
– Dr. Craig is just wishing for an eternal life of bliss
– Dr. Craig is driven by his heart, and not by his head

2. Origin of the universe:
– Maybe the universe is eternal and has no beginning – we don’t know
– Maybe mommy universes can give birth to daughter universes
– It is naive to think that a cause is needed to cause the creation of the universe from nothing
– Science is just about to show how it is possible that something appears out of nothing without cause
– Some scientists have already begun to speculate about about how something can come into being out of nothing
– Maybe nothing is not really nothing, but it is actually something
– It would be admitting defeat to say that God created the universe out of nothing

3. Fine-Tuning:
– It could be the case that the fundamental constants are not variable
– It could be the case that the fine-tuning of the cosmic constants is a happy accident
– It could be the case that there are billions of billions of unobservable universes that are not fine tuned
– It could be the case that the cosmic constants in these billions and billions of unobservable universes are all random so that some are fine-tuned
– Anyone who infers that an intelligence is the best explanation of a finely-tuned set of life-permitting cosmic constants is lazy

4. Purpose:
– Philosophers and theologians are stupid
– I don’t think that there is purpose in the universe
– I think that the universe is more grand if there is no purpose, so there is no purpose

5. Miracles:
– I don’t think that miracles happen
– The resurrection is a fabrication
– It could be the case that Jesus didn’t exist
– It could be the case that Jesus wasn’t really crucified
– It could be the case that Jesus didn’t  really die after being crucified
– It could be the case that the disciples stole his body
– It could be the case that the women went to the wrong hole in the ground
– the gospels are political propaganda written long after the events they are reporting on

6. Theodicy:
– God has no morally sufficient reason for allowing humans to perform actions that result in suffering
– God has no morally sufficient reason for allowing nature to cause suffering

7. Morality:
–  customs and conventions emerges arbitrarily in different times and places based on an awareness of the consequences of actions, as well as various anecdotes and experiences
–  these customs and conventions are decided based on the goal for survival, in much the same way as politeness and manners emerge for decorum and to avoid offense
– it is childish to presume that there is an umpire God who decides moral values and duties

8. Religious believers are stupid, lazy and evil:
– the notion of God has arisen because people are stupid and want to be comforted
– there are no arguments or evidences for belief in God
– people who believe in God do not think, but instead take refuge in incomprehensible nonsense

6 thoughts on “William Lane Craig debates Peter Atkins: Does God Exist?”

  1. An interesting summary to say the least ! Atkins argument seems to hinge on Craig, believers, philosophers, and theologians being “stupid,lazy, and evil” while his assertions of “maybe,maybe,maybe…we dont know…scientist speculate…it could be,it could be,it could be..it is childish to presume….there are no arguments or evidences…” etc. are more likely ? I dont do philosophy but like to read it. Name calling = immaturity…religious believers are lazy because they have not come to Atkins conclusions ? (gimme a break) Offering an alternative explanation ( to what happened)which doesn’t make sense is a drowning man grasping for a straw. I wouldn’t exchange my faith for this alternative he offers.


  2. Atkins, in his first statement, said that he (and by extension, science) could not prove the non-existence of a deity. Skip forward to question time at the end where he unequivocally states (in an obvious attempt to discredit the arguments of Lane) that philosophy has zero value when it comes to these types of discussions. Good grief! What kind of foundation (other than philosophical) does he believe his Atheist views have, if, as stated, science can neither confirm nor deny his views?

    I also felt his example of the pastors who wrongly advised their church members to skip taking medication was not really here or there as an argument about the existence of God, or even as an argument that we would be better without religion. My one word refutation: thalidomide. In both cases people trusted someone in authority and there were bad results. Science has been known to screw up too, but no one argues that we would be better off if there had never been science.

    Atkins should probably stick to writing his textbooks on chemistry, he was well out of his depth…


  3. I responded to a challenge on the comments for this video. The result was a somewhat bizarre conversation:

    Atheist: What is the best falsifiable evidence for your favorite deity that would contradict your faith that says you have no evidence?

    Me: There could be lots of evidence that would falsify Christianity. Off the top of my head: 1) The corpse of Jesus would disprove the resurrection 2) An eternal universe would disprove creation 3) Gospels as fictional writing rather than biographies (based on author intent — not your opinion) 4) Evidence that “good” does not exist would give doubt of the possibility of a moral law-maker.

    Atheist: Or perhaps the many logical fallacies in Craigs arguments or the fact the Jesus was modeled after pagan gods And on and on and on Lastly the absolute lack of any evidence for any gods

    Me: Do you have reason to believe the contemporaries of Jesus were aware of the ancient pagan gods you allude to? You assertion makes sense given today’s knowledge of history and culture, but I don’t think it makes sense based on ancient knowledge.

    Atheist: Same story Kinda funny. A story that was essentially camp fire stories edited and put together in a book. a story they did not think important to put it down in words at the time or preserve them

    Me: It seems plausible on the surface that Jesus could be a fictional character have been modeled after pagan gods, but that’s a view that is solidly rejected by scholarship. Even atheist Bart Ehrman acknowledges that the historical nature of Jesus is one of the most certain things we can know about antiquity. The idea that Jesus emerged from camp fire stories cannot be taken seriously.

    Atheist: What evidence drive their BELIEF?Jesus the man may have existed I was speaking f Jesus the God

    Me: I’m not going to try to convince you of the divinity of Jesus (though I hope you come to accept it). Let’s start with conclusions based on historical evidence. 1) Jesus was a real person who was publicly executed through crucifixion. 2) Jesus’ followers were willing to risk harm testifying they saw Jesus risen. 3) The church persecutor Saul of Tarsus endured beatings for saying he met the risen Jesus. 4) The skeptic James became a believer after the death of Jesus.

    Atheist: There is no historical evidence just 30 + year old camp fire stories

    Me: You take a position on history that is rejected by scholarship at large. I listed four facts that are accepted by the vast majority of scholars — Christian, Atheist, Jewish, or otherwise, and you reject three out of four facts. I don’t have a response. Thank you for the good conversation.

    Atheist: The only fact that the BIBLICAL scholars may have is a man may have existed called Jesus. I’d love to see evidence of a god

    Me: I doubt you would like to see evidence of God, based on your response this video. Craig lays out a solid cumulative case.

    Atheist: FYI All of craigs arguments contain logical fallacies and and not valid argument. if you understand them i can go over them if you’d like

    Me: Fire away. I wish you the best. Many have failed to point out valid fallacies in Craig’s arguments. Atkins was reduced to saying “philosophy is not important” — and he’s a smart guy.


    Me: Your posts do not sound like arguments from the video. Please address Craig’s fallacies in any of the following:
    1. the origin of the universe
    2. the moral argument
    3. the resurrection of Jesus

    Atheist: Composition fallacy. Saying that the parts began to exist therefore the whole began to exist . Not to mention the equivocation and an affectless effect Equivocation creatio ex nihilo and creatio ex materia Time started with the universe saying god cause the universe requires causality ( time) but time did not exists before the universe so no causality.

    Me: This is not a logical fallacy on Dr. Craig’s part. This is you making an assertion. If I understand your assertion, I think you are saying that God cannot cause a universe until time exists?

    Atheist: Begging the question in The Objective moral and the Fine tuning

    Me: How so?

    Atheist: The arguments all of them Fail miserably

    Me: Once again, you are making an assertion rather than an argument.

    Atheist: I gave you the logical fallacies in the Kalam are 1composition fallacy 2equivocation of “begins to exist”3special pleading and 4argument from ignorance

    Me: Arbitrary lists of fallacies don’t cut it. You must support your conclusion with an argument.

    Atheist: using unproven objective morals to prove an unproven god , Do you get it?

    Me: I think the problem we have here is the definition of “proof”. We don’t accept objective morals based on proof in the mathematical sense, but in the experiential sense. We act on this, for example, by condemning past generations for slavery, rather than assuming that slavery was OK then, but not OK now. Again, no fallacy on Dr. Craig’s part.

    Atheist: I think you are AVOIDING demonstrating you lack of knowledge of LOGIC
    1 A-temporal causality makes no sense also composition fallacy among others
    2 Begs the question
    3- A camp fire story

    Me: Spell it out for me (#1 & #2).. For #3, you accept the death of Jesus, but reject the following: 1) Followers of Jesus risking harm testifying they saw the risen Jesus 2) Conversion of the church persecutor Saul of Tarsus 3) Conversion of the Skeptic James — all facts corroborated by multiple sources both biblical and a-biblical. This is not a fallacy on Dr. Craig’s part.

    Atheist: Funny how the Christians are to a great extent enormously more sinful than the atheists

    Me: If Christianity is true, then we would to be living in a fallen world with “wolves in sheeps clothing” in the church. This corresponds with your observation of sinful Christians. More importantly, you acknowledged that morality objectively exists, which is something you denied in a previous post.

    Atheist: You have not the faintest clue about that which you make an attempt to defend . It’s really pathtic

    Me: Do you know what an ad-hominem attack is? Can you explain why your above statement is an argument and not a personal attack? You need to step up your game if you want to continue this conversation.

    Atheist: What is an objective moral?When did I claim they exists? Do you know what the truth is? Apparently not I gave you the fallacies you said you understood logic yet I hear nothing . Whats up with that? I never admitted that objective morals exist. Here you go putting words in my mouth. If i said sio please post the quote. You are a liar

    Me: You say “Funny how the Christians are to a great extent enormously more sinful than the atheists”, which says that Christians are held to the same standard of morality as atheists. In other words, you say that sin is defined by the object of the sinful act, rather than the subject performing the act. This is by definition objective morality.

    Atheist: Back to you dazzling display of logic. the arguments
    2/3People are converted to religions all the time . The Heaven’s Gate for example. They dies with their sneaks on
    1 risking what the story as told around the camp fire for at least 3 decades before it was written down and lost
    as i said before people die for Allah of the mother ship this means NOTHING

    Me: If academia held to your rules of validating history, we would know very little of the ancient world. We would have to reject knowledge of the huns, Alexander the Great, and so on. You don’t get to pick the rules of how history is studied just because you don’t like the subject.

    Atheist: I don’t reject history only supernatural history. do you believe in the cyclops or the other gods?

    Me: None of the historical facts I gave that you rejected as campfire stories were supernatural in nature (willingness of disciples to suffer, conversion of Saul, conversion of James).

    Atheist: So Jesus was a guy BFD

    Me: I grant you that people will suffer for beliefs that they are convinced is true (i.e. Heaven’s Gate and Islamic terrorists), but that’s not the argument. There is a world of difference between suffering for something you convinced to believe and suffering for something you claimed to experience. Take Watergate for example. Nixon’s most trusted aids caved after three weeks of investigation. No one’s life was on the line, but they were unwilling to continue to lie because of the pressure..

    Atheist: There is no difference between the two. What would be the differenceThey both beleived is something and died for it

    Me: Big difference between the two. One dies for testifying about something they claim to have experienced, the other dies for something they were told to believe. The 2nd person would die for a lie they were told, but the 1st person would not likely die for a lie they created.

    Atheist: we were talking about Criag’s illogical arguments Actually the heaven deal sounds pretty cool but I’m a grow up now and Santa Claus and the tooth fairy along with worship of gods is no longer an option for me

    Me: I feel the same about existentialism. The idea that you lose consciousness after death gives comfort. No sorrow, no pain. I rejected atheism in my early 20’s because it no longer seemed like a coherent worldview.

    Atheist: A worldview based upon reality is best. Not superstition or ignorance

    Me: Agreed, that’s why I follow the evidence rather than having blind faith in materialism.

    Atheist: I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say i don’t think you were being entirely honest with me. Well? Didn’t you say you understood logic? Evidence? what evidence?

    Me: Watch the video.

    Atheist: I have watched many of Craigs videos as well as reading some of his books. He is a snake oil salesman . a magician gifted at pulling the wool over deluded theists eyes How bout the ridiculous assertion that an omniscient god that created then universe gave free will? 1 A being with free will, given two options A and B, can freely choose between A and B. 2 God is omniscient (all-knowing).  3 God knows I will choose A. 4 God cannot be wrong, since an omniscient being cannot have false knowledge. 5 From 3 and 4, I will choose A and cannot choose B. 6 From 1 and 5, omniscience and free will cannot co-exist.

    Me: Your problem is with premise #5. You conclude that since God knew you would choose A over B, then God caused you to choose A over B. That is like saying carrying an umbrella causes it to rain. You carry the umbrella based on knowledge of a weather report, not to cause rain.

    Atheist: It saying the being the created the universe knew how EVERYTHING was going to happen ( definition of Omniscience) every decision every atom every neuron every happening.
    Nice try though. Its a problem plaguing philosophers for thousands of years
    Granted but god DID create this universe he could have created another with different outcomes . So you objection to5 Fails
    Fine tuning begs the question and assumes the universe has a purpose objective Moral argument circular reasoning. Ontological incoherent definition of maximal greatness, cosmological causality is incapable of being discussed prior to the universe. The resurrection LOL nothing more need be said The most interesting of them is the Cosmological Craig admitted that the argument fails but still uses it.

    Me: The fine tuning argument does not presuppose the universe has a purpose. It says that the chance of a random life-permitting universe is extremely unlikely. Purpose is a conclusion, not a presupposition. You would have to demonstrate circular reasoning in the moral argument. I don’t use the ontological argument because I don’t understand it.

    Atheist: Again as afr as the logical fallacies… the way it works is a argument is valid IF it’s premises are valid and the conclusion follows the premises and there are no logical fallacies contained within.
    I have show you multiple logical fallacies and instances where the premises are not valid. what else do you want? A person familiar with LOGIC should know this

    Me: Good — you do understand logic. I was beginning to question if you knew the difference between an argument and an assertion. What you need to do is show your work. You are like a student taking an algebra exam who just writes down the final answer. The test is if you can derive the correct answer. You list fallacies without support how you arrived at your conclusions. I have no problem with the fallacies themselves, I just want to know why you think they apply.

    Atheist: I showed you the logical fallacies what do you dispute

    Me: Seriously? I just explained it at length. Let me try to explain a different way. You need to put coherent thoughts together. I’m trying to be patient. You mix disjointed bumper-sticker statements with insults and expect me to take it as an explanation of why Craig’s arguments are fallacious. I’ve been patient for too long already. This will be my last post. Feel free to hurl more insults. I won’t be reading them.

    Atheist: This is not a student teacher relationship ( if it was you would be the student and i the teacher) you don’t dispute the validity of my objections to craig’s argument if you do I invite a discussion but i fear you are ignorant to LOGIC and th earguments
    The are Fallacious because they contain logical fallacies which I have listed. I have been patient with someone who hides his ignorance. Dispute that there are Any fallacies and why you disagree or BYE


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