arguments for God

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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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.


17 thoughts on “William Lane Craig vs. Peter Millican- Thoughts and Links

  1. Millican’s deferment to Ehrman and the like actually justified Craig’s 3 facts approach, because the scholars he cited affirmed the three facts.>/i>

    Could you please give more details on this, as Ehrman argues against Hume’s argument against miracles?

    Posted by Matko Gjurašin | October 27, 2011, 3:28 PM
    • Craig’s contention was based upon the “minimal facts approach” to defend the resurrection (I believe Gary Habermas coined this term). Millican brought up Ehrman to try to rebut the claims about the resurrection, yet Ehrman actually agrees that the three facts Craig used did, in fact, occur. As Craig pointed out, Ehrman’s problem with the resurrection is not historical, but philosophical.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | October 27, 2011, 7:33 PM
      • It really bothers me that Craig continues to misrepresents Ehrman in regards to the four (now it’s three) facts about the resurrection. In the Craig-Ehrman debate, Ehrman made it VERY clear that he doesn’t agree with Craig about them. At one point he specifically stated, “I have, in fact, disputed the four facts that he continually refers to. The burial by Joseph of Arimathea I’ve argued could well be a later invention. The empty tomb also could be a later invention. We don’t have a reference to it in Paul; you only have it later in the Gospels. The appearances of Jesus may just as well have been visions of Jesus as they were physical appearances of Jesus because people did and do have visions all the time.”

        How Craig manages to see that as Ehrman agreeing with him is beyond me.

        Posted by Zachary Kroger | April 1, 2013, 10:02 PM
  2. This was very much a great debate. I also enjoyed the fact that Peter Millican made it clear that he thinks this subject IS important and that the arguments DO have weight. He seemed very different than the other Atheists involved with this endeavor and definitely very different from the assumptive position of Dawkins.

    Great analysis of the debate. I found some of Millican’s defenses as strange as well, seeing as some of them helped establish Craig’s points.

    One thing I also found strange is his assertion that there need not be a cause. In light of all else he said, and especially in light of the fact that he talked about working from experience to gain knowledge (while undermining this claim later on claiming that experience is unreliable)… this was extremely strange

    Posted by Matt | October 27, 2011, 3:29 PM
  3. Great job JW. I thought Millican did well. However, I was shocked that, in Millican’s conclusion, he seemed not to know what the response to the problem of evil was supposed to accomplish. He mentioned the problem of evil, then Craig’s normal response succinctly (“for all we know, God may have reasons”). Then Millican responds, “but that’s no reason to believe in God!” But the response to the problem of evil isn’t an argument for God’s existence, it’s a defense! It is supposed to undercut the warrant for saying the problem of evil is really a problem. It’s just not an argument for God’s existence. No one says, “God may have reasons for what he does, therefore God exists,” but “God may have reasons for what he does, therefore the problem of evil does not succeed.”

    Posted by Randy Everist | October 27, 2011, 9:26 PM
  4. Thank you J.W. I think you did a great job!
    Costa Rica

    Posted by Luvin Areas | October 28, 2011, 10:34 AM
  5. I watched the debate today. On some level it made sense that WLC has as much comprehension of zero as he has of infinity: none at all. Here is a quick example of infinity: make a few regular polygons. As the number of sides approach infinity, the ratio of the circumference to diameter approaches pi. Take that definition of pi and plug it into the equation for the volume of a sphere. Why do you think it gives a perfect relation between the diameter and the volume? WLC’s example of zero elephants is even more moronic! In spoken languages, when we say something is accelerating, for example, we mean it has non-zero acceleration. The same goes for elephants in gardens.

    Incidentally, I found less biased, and more focused.

    Posted by IAAM | March 25, 2012, 9:11 PM
  6. I just recently discovered this debate, via Millican’s comments regarding the Kalam. And frankly, I don’t think Craig has any answer at all for the important substance of Millican’s criticism, which is that the Kalam is a fallacy of composition. There’s no epistemic justification for assuming that causality must somehow apply “to” the universe, save for the fact that the assumption is necessary for the Kalam to work — which is clearly just begging the question. Craig has the burden to establish that this “non-physical causality” does in fact exist.

    I’m also unimpressed by Craig’s attempt to shift the burden of proof, because atheism is simply a rejection of belief in a god or gods. It does not entail the belief that gods cannot exist or an absolute knowledge thereof. Rather, the debate is on the evidence available, and whether the evidence is sufficient to establish the existence of a god or gods. Clearly Craig was unable to meet that challenge.

    And finally, Craig’s abuse of the BGV Theorem is the height of intellectual dishonesty. Vilenkin, himself an atheist, has clearly stated that the theorem only shows that expanding geodesics cannot be eternal into the past, and that (his words) “inflationary models require physics other than inflation to describe the past boundary of the inflating region of spacetime.” Millican addressed this with the problem of the breakdown of general relativity — it’s simply a limitation of current science, not a gap in which to insert a Creator. I’m not aware of Craig having any knowledge of a quantum theory of gravity that has somehow eluded physicists.

    However, it’s right to point out that a quantum vacuum isn’t “nothing”; however, it *is* an example of something beginning to exist without a cause. The confusion comes because Craig carelessly interchanges the concepts of “something from nothing” and “without a cause” — they are not the same thing!

    Posted by Mike D | February 25, 2013, 7:42 PM
    • Mike D

      From my interaction with the debate and arguments put forth therein (as well as others like them) William Lane Craig is responding to the assertion of others who claim that the Universe can come into existence without a cause (which would be from nothing in the long run). Based on that case, it would be the advocates for existential becoming without a cause who have the burden of proof to show that things do, with epistemic justification for assuming the universe is such a thing, come into existence without a cause (direct or indirect).

      Atheist is not simply the rejection of a belief in a god or gods. Atheism affirms that a god does not and/or cannot exist. Agnosticism claims that one cannot know, based on the evidence, whether a god does or can exist.

      In your discussion of Vilenkin and the BGV you are suspiciously absent of calling out his assumptions that there are other physics that describe the boundary of the inflating region of spacetime as well as the assumption that if such physics exist, they exist without a cause.

      In your second to last post you speak of the limitations of current science and then you go on to assume that things actually come into existence without a cause. Why do you assume that the quantum vacuum is, actually, an example of something coming into existence without a cause while not considering that there very well may be a cause that current limitations of science do not allow us to recognize?

      About the relationship to “something from nothing” and “without a cause”. More accurately it is “something from nothing” and ‘beginning to exist without a cause’ (and this “without a cause” included direct and indirect causes). How are they related you ask? If something begins to exist without a direct or indirect cause, it ultimately comes into being from nothing. Thus you if you have something beginning to exist without a direct or indirect cause, you have something coming from nothing.

      Why do you assume:

      a) Things begin to exist without a cause
      b) The Universe/Multiverse/Other than inflation physics/etc. are such things that begin to exist without a cause

      rather than applying the thought process that current science has limitations and these things may have causes that we do not yet know about?

      Posted by Polonius (psuedonym) | February 26, 2013, 12:19 PM
  7. “Rather, he argued that if a method leads to variant beliefs, then it should discredit the method.”

    This is an untrue argument, premise, or heuristic. Most all methodologies lead to multiple ways of viewing the world, but just narrow the field.

    Arguments are additive. The argument for higher education includes a generic argument that education is good, which is a broad claim, not a narrow one. [lots of other examples could echo this example]

    Moreover, this sets up a double-bind–atheism and its methods narrows the field to one and its a fundamentalism or it succumbs to the problems he points out.

    Also, it still seems to be a genetic fallacy in drag.

    Posted by compassioninpolitics | September 6, 2015, 1:32 PM


  1. Pingback: Audio, summary and review of the Wiliam Lane Craig vs Peter Millican debate « Wintery Knight - October 28, 2011

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