millican vs craig

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William Lane Craig vs. Peter Millican- Thoughts and Links

Theistic philosopher of religion William Lane Craig recently debated Atheistic Philosopher Peter Millican on the topic “Does God exist?” I daresay this was one of the most interesting debates I’ve heard. Millican came in with a clear strategy, and the debate covered an extreme range of topics. The friendly nature of the debate was also quite rewarding to hear. Clearly, we can have such discussions without attacking each other. Anyway, to the outline and analysis.

Craig Opening

Craig began by outlining the topic: Does God exist? The topic can be answered as yes or no. Craig argued for the former, and left the latter to Millican.

First, he argued philosophically against an infinite past. This argument would become quite important throughout the debate so I’ll outline it briefly. If we had an infinite number of coins, each with a number upon them, and took away ten, the number of coins would still be infinite. If we took away all the even coins, we’d have subtracted an infinite number of coins, and still, there would be an infinite number of coins. If, however, we subtracted all the coins above 3, we’d have subtracted infinite from infinite, and be left with 3 coins, not infinite coins. Craig argued that this is obviously a contradiction because despite subtracting the same amount (or different amounts) we can come up with two different answers (or the same answer). Therefore the past cannot be infinite.

Craig also argued scientifically that the universe began by bringing up the Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin theory which shows that irregardless of theories about the multiverse, bubble universes, and the like, the universe had a beginning.

He then presented the Kalam cosmological argument, though with a slight twist. He instead presented it as “The universe began to exist; if the universe began to exist, then it has a transcendent cause; therefore, the universe has a transcendent cause.”

He then argued the fine-tuning argument. There are a number of conditions of the universe which have been fine-tuned within a narrow range for the existence of life. Because of this, argued Craig, we can conclude the universe was designed.

Objective morality also necessitates the existence of God, argued Craig. The argument was based upon two major conditions: that objective morals exist, and that they cannot if there is no God. He quoted atheist philosopher Michael Ruse who said (in part): “morality is just an aid to survival” on naturalism.

Yet our moral experience leads us to believe that morality is indeed objective, and we know that, on naturalism, there is no ontological basis for morals. Thus, God exists.

Three facts must be explained by those who argue Jesus did not rise from the dead, and any theory must answer all of them: 1) the empty tomb; 2) on different occasions and settings to different people, Jesus appeared alive; 3) disciples showed a sudden belief that Jesus had risen, despite every predisposition to the contrary.

Craig noted that these three facts are agreed upon by New Testament scholars–both theists and non.

Finally, Craig argued for the experiential awareness of God.

Millican Opening

Millican used a different strategy here. Rather than immediately rebutting Craig’s arguments, as most have done in debates with Craig (although, notably, Stephen Law did not either in his debate with Craig), Millican argued against the method used first.

Christianity, he stated, is a hypothesis about reality. It makes a claim about what reality is. Therefore, the burden of proof lands squarely upon the theist.

He argued that people are primed for belief in gods. They have a “permiscuous teleology” which seeks for design. Furthermore, the dominant determinant of religious orientation is place of birth.

Before one could accuse Millican of the genetic fallacy (I actually wrote this on the side of my notes), he stated that he was not arguing these disprove God. Rather, he argued that if a method leads to variant beliefs, then it should discredit the method.

He then turned to rebutting Craig’s arguments. He said that quantum mechanics has shown that particles can come into existence out of nothing (note that he did indeed use the word “nothing” here). He furthermore argued that in our experience, we only see physical things being rearranged, not coming into existence ex nihilo. He argued that our experience must establish these truths.

He also cited Vilenkin, in a letter, stating that his theorem did not show the universe had a beginning.

Regarding the moral argument, he asked “what is objective?” He said that based upon how one defines this, one could have different answers about objective morality.

Craig First Rebuttal

Craig noted that Millican’s attempt to put all burden of proof on the theist didn’t work, because they also make a claim about reality: “There is no God.” This claim needs support as well, and Millican did not support it.

Regarding Millican’s claim about method, Craig responded that his method is logic, evidence, and personal experience–the same things which the scientific method relies upon. Thus, if the method yields God’s existence, it is not to be distrusted but embraced by those who value the latter method.

Not only that, but Millican’s argument seemed to suggest that religions all used the same methodology in reaching their truth claims, which is highly contentious and definitely untrue. Religions use a broad array of methods in how they discover truth.

Craig argued that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Only if we should expect more proof than there is should we be in doubt of the existence of something due to absence of evidence. Furthermore, argued Craig, he presented a great wealth of evidence already.

Craig then quoted Vilenkin’s letter in context. Vilenkin wrote that the beginning could be avoided only if one allowed for a contracting universe, but that this was highly unlikely and would have prevented the expansion of the universe. Thus, Vilenkin said, if he were to give a short answer to the question “Does your theory imply the beginning of the universe?” the answer would be yes. I should note that Millican dropped Vilenkin faster than Dawkins runs from Craig after this quote was read.

Craig then argued that the unembodied mind is hinted at our own experience. Furthermore, epiphenominalism simply cannot ground reality as we experience it.

Finally, regarding the moral argument, Craig asked why we should value humans and not chimps.

Millican First Rebuttal

Millican responded to the fine-tuning argument by saying that perhaps we may explain these evidences later. Further, we can’t base it all upon current physics, which may change. He also argued that there is difficulty with using the probability argument because our only sample is our current universe. God, argued Millican, would have been greatly inefficient if he made the universe as he did.

He briefly touched on the evil god thesis (as seen in the Law debate) and argued that the evidences could work for an evil deity.

Millican also suggested we should expect more evidence–why can’t there be more evidence for the existence of God?

Regarding the philosophical argument about the beginning of the universe, Millican noted that transfinite math does not allow for subtraction or addition because it yields diverse answers. Thus, he stated, Craig’s argument is confused.

He also conceded that the quantum vaccuum is not nothing, which was interesting considering he had literally used that word for it in his opening statement. He pressed his point, however, by stating that it is the closest we can come to nothing in our experience.

Unfortunately, Millican ran short on time and couldn’t respond to all Craig’s points.

Craig Second Rebuttal

Craig argued there are still no good reasons to support the contention “there is no God.” Furthermore, Millican’s response to the “absence of evidence” argument was just a personal opinion: ‘I think there should be more.’

God’s ‘inefficiency’ presupposes a God-as-engineer, argued Craig. One would have to be limited on time or resources in order to be compelled towards efficiency–limits God obviously does not have. God might be better compared to an artist or chef–enjoying the creation and beauty as he designed the universe.

The philosophical argument about infinites is problematic for Millican, argued Craig. The reason is because while we can slap the hand of a mathematician who tries to do so with abstract math, we can’t do the same thing in real life. If we literally had infinite coins, we couldn’t prevent someone from taking one away, and leading to the absurdities. In fact, Millican essentially demonstrated the point: such things are excluded in transfinite math because they are absurd, and so can’t happen in the real world.

Millican’s argument that the fine-tuning argument depends only on current physics illustrates Craig’s point exactly, countered Craig. Namely, that current physics supports the existence of God.

Millican Second Rebuttal

Millican argued that it doesn’t follow that if epiphenominalism is false, dualism is true. I think it’s really unfortunate the debate was so short–it would be interesting to see their views on this matter face off. He argued statistically that there are many moral realists who are not theists.

Why shouldn’t an atheist believe in objective moral values? asked Millican. There’s no good reason they can’t detect them and experience them. Further, we can value humans because they’re rational, and the same species.

Finally, he argued that scholars like Bart Ehrman had undermined the evidence for the resurrection by showing that the Gospels weren’t independent and unreliable.

Craig Conclusion

Craig noted there still was no good argument for atheism and that he’d presented good arguments for theism.

Bart Ehrman and the others Millican cited actually agree with the three facts Craig used to support the resurrection, so there was still no counter to that argument.

Craig noted that rationality doesn’t serve as an objective cut off point for morals. Sam Harris argued that sentience is. On atheism, argued Craig, there is no non-arbitrary line at which to base morality. Why should we value rationality? Why value humans more than chimps? Again, the line is arbitrary. The fact that many atheistic philosophers believe in realism of morality doesn’t show that it has grounds ontologically in atheism.

Millican Conclusion

Millican said there are many theories of how objective reality can be established on atheism.

He argued that physics may change and so we can’t base the existence of God upon current physics.

Finally, regarding evil, Millican said that our empirical evidence should lead us to doubt whether God exists. What should we see if there is a God? Certainly not this much suffering.

[Millican also argued throughout that there is no experiential evidence for things coming into being out of nothing, so that the causal premise of the Kalam is undermined. I forgot to write down where he started this argument, but wanted to make note of it here.]


The debate was great. There were so many topics covered, it was a whirlwind.

Millican’s refutations of the Kalam were dramatically undercut by Craig. His citation of Vilenkin was just utterly demolished when Craig read the rest of the passage. His arguments about how we can’t add or subtract from infinity merely demonstrated Craig’s point: that it is absurd to suppose actual infinites exist. Regarding the causal premise, Craig argued in the debate that Millican would have to hold there was no essential or material cause for the universe, an argument to which Millican never had a response. To be fair, this may have been due to time.

I thought Millican’s response the fine-tuning argument was quite strange. Certainly, physics may change, but that doesn’t mean we can’t trust what we know now. As Craig argued, physicists today are quite convinced of the trustworthiness of physics. Further, Craig responded to the probabilistic argument by showing that we do indeed know the probability–despite the sample size. There is simply a life-permitting range for the values cited, so we can be justified in holding the fine-tuning argument to be true.

The moral argument was another point of contention. I don’t think Millican really undermined it. He merely referenced that atheists think they can have objective moral values, and questioned the meaning of the word “objective.” Interestingly, in the Q&A, Craig responded to Millican’s confusion: “That’s why I defined it.”

The resurrection definitely didn’t get defeated. Millican’s deferment to Ehrman and the like actually justified Craig’s 3 facts approach, because the scholars he cited affirmed the three facts.

Overall, I think Millican did much better than Law and definitely better than Harris or Krauss in those debates which I reviewed. That said, Craig still established the existence of God–at least as best can be done in under an hour to speak. Millican’s objections were interesting, but ultimately defeated by Craig. I think it’s fair to say that this debate showed, once more, that in the forum of rational inquiry, theism has an upper hand.


Check out the audio of the debate at Apologetics 315. Also see their awesome feed which features tons of Craig’s debates.

See Wintery Knight’s summary of the debate.



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