This is one of the top 4 best debates that William Lane Craig has ever done in my opinion. (The other three are Craig-Millican debate and the first and second Craig-Dacey debates). If you’ve never seen Dr. Craig in a debate with a non-Christian, this one is probably the best introductory one out there. Dr. Craig is the foremost defender of Christian theism on the planet, and probably of all time.
Sinnott-Armstrong is very courteous, respectful and intelligent scholar and he is very good at defending his side. This is a very cordial and engaging debate, and because it was held in front of a church audience, it was targeted to laymen and not academics. So if you are looking for a good first debate to watch, this is it! Normally, Dr. Craig debates at major universities in front of students and faculty.
There is also a book based on this debate, published by Oxford University Press. I was actually able to find a PDF of it online. I should also remind people that you can get the wonderful Craig-Hitchens debate DVD from Amazon.com if you are looking for a debate to watch, or show in your church, this is the one to start with.
- WSA: 15 minutes
- WLC: 15 minutes
- Debaters discussion: 6 minutes
- Moderated discussion: 10 minutes
- Audience Q&A: 18 minutes
- WSA: 5 minutes
- WLC: 5 minutes
WSA opening speech:
Evil is incompatible with the concept of God (three features all-powerful, all-god, all-knowing)
God’s additional attributes: eternal, effective and personal (a person)
He will be debating against the Christian God in this debate, specifically
Contention: no being has all of the three features of the concept of God
His argument: is not a deductive argument, but an inductive/probabilistic argument
Examples of pointless, unjustified suffering: a sick child who dies, earthquakes, famines
The inductive argument from evil:
- If there were an all-powerful and all-good God, then there would not be any evil in the world unless that evil is logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.
- There is evil in the world.
- Some of that evil is not logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.
- Therefore, there can’t be a God who is all-powerful and all-good.
- Evil: anything that all rational people avoid for themselves, unless they have some adequate reason to want that evil for themselves (e.g. – pain, disability, death)
- Adequate reason: some evils do have an adequate reason, like going to the dentist – you avoid a worse evil by having a filling
God could prevent tooth decay with no pain
God can even change the laws of physics in order to make people not suffer
Responses by Christians:
- Evil as a punishment for sin: but evil is not distributed in accordance with sin, like babies
- Children who suffer will go straight to Heaven: but it would be better to go to Heaven and not suffer
- Free will: this response doesn’t account for natural evil, like disease, earthquakes, lightning
- Character formation theodicy: there are other ways for God to form character, by showing movies
- Character formation theodicy: it’s not fair to let X suffer so that Y will know God
- God allows evil to turn people towards him: God would be an egomaniac to do that
- We are not in a position to know that any particular evil is pointless: if we don’t see a reason then there is no reason
- Inductive evil is minor compared to the evidences for God: arguments for a Creator do not prove that God is good
WLC opening speech:
Summarizing Walter’s argument
- If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
- Gratuitous evil exists.
- Therefore, God does not exist.
Gratuitous evil means evil that God has no morally sufficient reason to permit. WSA doesn’t think that all evil is incompatible with God’s existence, just gratuitous evil.
Everyone admits that there are instances of evil and suffering such that we cannot see the morally sufficient reason why God would allow it to occur.
The claim of the atheist is that if they cannot see that there is a moral justification for allowing some instance evil, then there is no moral justification for that instance of evil.
Here are three reasons why we should not expect to know the morally sufficient reasons why God permits apparently pointless evil.
- the ripple effect: the morally sufficient reason for allowing some instance of evil may only be seen in another place or another time
- Three Christian doctrines undermine the claim that specific evils really are gratuitous
- Walter’s own premise 1 allows us to argue for God’s existence, which means that evil is not gratuitous
Christian doctrines from 2.:
- The purpose of life is not happiness, and it is not God’s job to make us happy – we are here to know God. Many evils are gratuitous if we are concerned about being happy, but they are not gratuitous for producing the knowledge of God. What WSA has to show is that God could reduce the amount of suffering in the world while still retaining the same amount of knowledge of God’s existence and character.
- Man is in rebellion, and many of the evils we see are caused by humans misusing their free will to harm others and cause suffering
- For those who accept Christ, suffering is redeemed by eternal life with God, which is a benefit that far outweighs any sufferings and evils we experience in our earthly lives
Arguing for God in 3.
- If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
- God exists
- Therefore, gratuitous evil does not exist.
Four reasons to think that God exists (premise 2 from above):
- the kalam cosmological argument
- the fine-tuning argument
- the moral argument
- the argument from evil
One thought on “William Lane Craig debates Walter Sinnott-Armstrong: evil, suffering and God”
Yeah, I was debating an atheist on the street over 5 years ago. He was the angry type but I gave him evidence and that calmed him down. We spent a good hour together. Near the end of our debate, I actually pointed him to this debate, thanks to you for pointing it out to me, WK, because I felt like it was a good debate from both sides, and the atheist I was debating was caught up in the “problem of evil” too. Interestingly, the first name of the atheist I was debating was also Walt.