Wednesday, July 2, 2008
The following is an interview with Dr. William Lane Craig. It focuses primarily on the book God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist (Oxford University Press), but also touches on related topics. This is part one. Also see Craig's recent Christianity Today article, "God is Not Dead Yet."
RV. You open the debate with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong by presenting five reasons to believe God exists. You argue that 1) "God makes sense of the origin of the universe"; 2) "God makes sense of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life"; 3) "God makes sense of objective moral values in the world"; 4) "God makes sense of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus"; and 5) "God can be immediately known and experienced." Why did you choose these arguments?
WLC. Simply because these are the arguments that I have worked on and can speak about most confidently. They're also some of the most persuasive arguments to me personally.
RV. Do you use other approaches depending on the person you are debating?
WLC. I have used other arguments. Recently I've been adding an argument from contingency and at least once in the past I've used an argument from abstract objects. But these five that I typically present are the tried and true ones so to speak that I pretty much stick with.
RV. Do you find your five arguments resonate more with those who attend your debates?
WLC. I find that the moral argument connects most with people and I think that's because it really hits them where they live. You can ignore the scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe or the fine-tuning of the universe. But every day you're confronted with the question, "How shall I then live?" By our moral choices and actions we reveal whether or not we believe in God and the existence of the realm of objective moral values and duties. So that argument I think connects most with people.
RV. In the debate Sinnott-Armstrong accuses you of using a "shotgun strategy" (p. 31). He claims you shoot "lots of arguments hoping that one will hit" your target. You reply that "far from being a 'shotgun approach,'" your arguments "constitute a progressive, systematic case for Christian theism" (53). Could you explain how he may have misconstrued the intent of your arguments and how your arguments constitute a progressive case?
WLC. I think it's important to realize these chapters were originally orally delivered speeches in a debate. When you have five arguments coming at you in a 20-minute period of time I think it strikes the atheist as a little bit overwhelming. Perhaps for that reason he thought this was a shotgun approach. Rather than developing one argument at length, I developed five arguments in the space of 20-minutes and he probably found that a little overpowering. I think that it does present a systematic cumulative case for Christian theism.
RV. How so?
WLC. The first argument gives us the personal, transcendent, creator of the universe. The second argument gives us an intelligent designer of the cosmos. The third argument gives us a locus of absolute moral value and goodness. The fourth argument says that this God has revealed himself specially in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and is, therefore, the God of the Bible--the God of Israel. And the last argument says that this is a God who can be personally known and experienced. So it starts with a very broad concept of God that would be acceptable to any sort of monotheist and then narrows to the specifically Christian God revealed by Jesus.
RV. You wrote a chapter on the ontological argument for the book To Everyone An Answer (IVP). In the chapter you present Anselm's version, but move on to address advances made to the argument by Alvin Plantinga. Could you briefly explain the argument, Plantinga's contributions to it and its apologetic value?
WLC. The argument begins with the definition of God as the greatest conceivable being. If you could conceive of anything that was greater than God, then that thing would be God. By definition, God is the greatest conceivable being. Now, the greatest conceivable being, Plantinga says, is a being which exists in every possible world with all of these superlative powers like omniscience, omnipotence and moral perfection. Since the actual world is a possible world and the greatest conceivable being exists in all possible worlds, it follows that if such a being is possible then he must exist in this world. Therefore, if God's existence is possible, God must exist. Since it does seem that God's existence is possible, it therefore follows that God exists.
Plantinga's contribution to the argument is that he frames the argument in terms of the contemporary semantics of "possible worlds," which makes the argument very easy to visualize and to grasp. I do see a place for the argument in apologetics. But I don't think it's probably going to be of much use in evangelism. I have never tried to use the argument in the context of evangelism. Nevertheless, in terms of the cumulative case for theism, the ontological argument has a proper place.
A lot of times arguments from natural theology resonate with pre-philosophical intuitions that we have. For me, the cosmological argument just resonated with me because I had always sensed that the universe had to come from somewhere, that it couldn't just be there. There had to be a cause. That's a sort of pre-philosophical intuition of the cosmological argument, just as some people have a pre-philosophical intuition of the ontological argument.