reasonable faith tour

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William Lane Craig vs. Stephen Law- Thoughts and Links

Recently, William Lane Craig debated Stephen Law on the topic “Does God exist?” Remember the topic as I review the debate.

Craig 1

William Lane Craig presented a different set of arguments from his normal 5. This time, he argued the cosmological and moral arguments along with the argument from the resurrection. My guess is that the short time allowed was the reason for this change of strategy. Craig argued that actual infinites cannot exist in reality. He pointed out that transfinite math simply does not allow addition or subtraction of infinity, because it is absurd, but in the real world, if an infinite did exist, nothing could prevent it from having things added or taken away. Thus, Craig concluded, there cannot be an infinite past.

He then briefly outlined the empirical case for a finite past, citing Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin’s paper which shows that every model of the universe’s past must account for entropy, and therefore must be finite. I don’t want to get sidetracked from my review of the debate here, but so many people seem to either ignore or miss the point of this argument. It’s not that entropy only disallows an infinite universe that is one state, rather, entropy disallows an infinite past for oscillating universe models, bubble universes, and any other types of strategies people have tried to raise in order to rebut cosmological arguments. I recently got an e-mail in which someone said I’m being dishonest by only referencing the Big Bang as evidence for a finite universe, when there may have been previous universes. Well that’s simply wrong, even if there were previous universes, they would have to take entropy into account. If the past is infinite, all the energy available for the generation of universes would have been used up.

Anyway, Craig went on to argue the moral argument: If objective moral values exist, then God exists. They do, so God does. A great point Craig made is that any argument against the existence of objective moral values must rely upon premises which aren’t as plausible as the objective morals themselves. That’s an excellent point that many tend to ignore.

As far as the resurrection is concerned, Craig presented the “three facts” argument. He pointed out that three facts are agreed upon throughout scholarship on the topic: that the tomb was found empty, different individuals saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death, the disciples’ belief in Jesus resurrection despite having every predisposition to the contrary. These facts, argued Craig, are best explained by Jesus’ resurrection.

Law 1

Law began by arguing about animal suffering. He said that the extraordinary amount of suffering which is experienced by animals every day is such that it can weigh against the existence of God. He noted that some people dismiss this as “merely animals” but argued, “I wonder if they’d say the same thing if I took a red hot poker to their… cat.” Note how Law distorted his original argument, however. Certainly, I’d be extraordinarily angry with Stephen Law if he took a hot poker to my cat (I don’t have one any more but I used to). But the reason would be because Law is a moral agent. He is capable of knowing what he’s doing, and would clearly have to be sadistic in order to do such an action. If, however, an eagle came and carried my cat away, I would be extremely upset, but I would not accuse the eagle of having done a morally wrong action, because the eagle is not a moral agent. Yet Law used that very emotional image of himself–a moral agent–as an analogy for animal suffering. There’s clearly a major issue with such an argument.

Law went on to argue that there’s no reason to think that the God whose existence Craig is arguing for is not an evil god. Here I think Law had some decent points… for arguing against bare theism, but not against Christianity (see “Analysis” below). He argued that for certain theodicies, there can be parallel arguments constructed for an evil god. He also noted that Craig’s arguments could work just as well for an evil god (a notable exception would be the moral argument, more on that later… and it’s pretty hard to see how the resurrection would fit into his ‘evil god’ scenario). Law also argued that if the good in the world refutes an evil god, the evil in the world should refute a good God. Law didn’t do anything to rebut Craig’s arguments for the existence of God.

Craig 2

Craig quickly attacked Law’s appeal to emotion with animal suffering. He noted that it was very much anthropopathism to assume that animals had the same response to suffering as humans. In fact, he went on to note three hierarchies of suffering, and pointed out that animals do not have the capacity to be aware of the fact that they are suffering. So despite the suffering of animals, they are not even aware of that fact–something which Craig credited to God’s mercy. Animal suffering, he argued, is also necessary for a number of reasons, one of which is the stability of ecosystems. Without predation, all life on earth would be wiped out. Thus, it is fair to say that animal suffering fits into the divine plan.

Craig countered Law’s argument about the ‘evil god’ by noting that the moral argument specifically rebuts Law’s assertions. Not only that, but Law was arguing against a kind of theism which does not exist. Christians don’t survey the world and conclude God is good, rather, they believe God is good because that’s the type of being God is, necessarily.

Craig presented a number of reasons for thinking a good God would allow evil, which would therefore discount the rebutting evidence of evil. He also agreed with Law that looking at the world alone would lead to a draw, but that, as already noted, the moral argument and the type of being God is would defeat an ‘evil god’ scenario.

Law 2

Law argued that Craig had made a straw man of his position by saying that theism is not inductive. Then he went on to argue that the moral argument is the only one Craig can rely on to establish the goodness of God. He cited Swinburne as a Christian who did not believe objective morality relies on God. He ended his second segment by arguing that surely there is enough evil in the world to make the existence of God improbable.

Craig 3

Craig noted that Law has a strange kind of atheism which grants the existence of God but attacks the character. He pointed out that Law had still not rebutted any of his arguments, but focused merely on the character of God. He also pointed out that appealing to Swinburne was a mere appeal to authority and that he could cite a number of atheistic philosophers who agreed with his premises.

Law 3

Law argued that there are no objective moral values (curious, considering the citations Craig read in the debate). He then attempted to rebut the argument from the resurrection by citing an instance where a number of people believed they saw a UFO when it was really the planet Venus.

Craig Conclusion

Craig once more noted that Law had yet to rebut any of his arguments and that Law persisted in maintaining a strange atheism in which God exists, but may or may not be good. He noted that Law’s attempt to rebut the resurrection did not take into account the religio-historical context of that event and that all claims of experience must be measured by objective criteria, which the resurrection passes. He concluded that because his arguments stood undefeated, God exists.

Law Conclusion

Law basically said “why not believe in an evil god?” and argued that Craig still did not justify objective morals.


Law came in with a pretty interesting argument which was unfortunately not the topic of the debate. I think it would be really interesting to see Law vs. Craig on a topic like “Is God good?” His arguments had some weight, but I think Craig did an excellent job rebutting them while remaining on track. Law essentially ignored the cosmological argument and put the topic of the debate aside in favor of arguing about whether God is good. As far as the topic of the debate goes, it’s clear that Craig established the existence of God. In fact, Law was essentially granting that point (in the Q&A he argued that it is not the case that because he didn’t rebut the arguments, he agrees God exists… but it is important to note that he did not rebut the arguments so, on the face of it, it seems that the arguments stand unchallenged). As far as Law’s good points go, I think he had the best points I’ve seen an atheist raise in a debate with Craig so far, but Craig was able to adequately rebut them while sustaining his primary argument: that God exists.

Finally, on the “evil god” hypothesis: Law failed to realize that the concept of “greatest possible being” is central to Christian theism and did not take that into account. Craig perfectly illustrated this when he acknowledged that a “creator” on its own cannot be shown to be good or evil, but went on to point out that that doesn’t affect Christian theism, which holds that God is the greatest possible being. Law was, in a sense, arguing against “bare theism,” which is, as he points out, incoherent. Yet Craig was arguing to establish the Christian God–the greatest conceivable being. Law’s arguments therefore seem to only underscore the coherence of Christian theism, by demonstrating that only with a correct concept of God can theism be coherent.

[The following section in brackets added after the post was up and had several comments.]

[I’d like to point out more explicitly why Law’s argument doesn’t work. The reason is  because his concept of ‘god’ is incoherent. Theism claims that God is the greatest possible being. But Law is arguing that this being could be evil. Each of his arguments about the evil god were designed to argue that God ‘could be’ evil. But then Law would have to assert that evil is a property such that it makes beings great. I don’t see how he could argue this. He’d have to first argue the ontological reality of evil–which would establish the existence of objective morality and thus back up Craig’s moral argument. Then he’d have to argue that evil is, in fact, a property. Finally, he’d have to establish that evil is a great-making property. I don’t see any way he could possibly do this, and the burden of proof is definitely upon him to show these concepts are coherent. Unless and until he does that, his arguments are simply incoherent.]


Stephen Law, his evil god, and radical skepticism– I analyze Stephen Law’s evil god challenge further and conclude that it entails radical skepticism.– follow the rest of Craig’s tour through England.

Download the debate at Apologetics 315.

Check out more analysis of the debate at Thinking Matters.

Was Stephen Law Guilty of a Bait and Switch? 

An analysis of Law’s argument for an “evil god.”

Doug Geivett writes about “The Missing Ontological Argument” and Law’s misunderstanding of theism.



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