REVISED: What my own "Opening Statement" would be if I debated Dr. William Lane Craig today

If Alvin Plantinga is correct about possible worlds, there's got to be a strange one out there in the almost-Multiverse where I'm due to debate my friend William Lane Craig on the existence of God tomorrow morning or whenever. Since my area of scholarship is unrelated to religion in the actual world, however, my chances of debating Bill are about the same as my chances of dating Anne Hathaway, so in lieu of winning the cosmic lottery, I will post my opening statement here.

I've known Bill Craig personally since November, and have been extremely fortunate to meet with him twice - once in a basement packed with other solid theologians like Dr. Paul Copan and Dr. Gary Habermas, all of whom challenged John and I in person very effectively, and once over breakfast for a one-on-one on his Kalam Cosmological Argument. I regard Bill as both a rigorous and challenging opponent and as a warm, friendly person independent of any compulsion to "convert me for a notch on the belt."

The topic "Does God Exist?" is pretty constant in its presentation through the years; thus, I will (somewhat randomly) take the "pretend" opening statement to be the one he gave to Pigliucci here. I will also answer his points on agnosticism given here.

I would like to reiterate my thanks to my friend John as I go as deep as the limits of my mind allows during my critical but open exploration of Christianity.


Good evening! I would like to thank the host of this debate and all of you in attendance for your participation. Bill and I have personally met and spoken at length about diverse topics, and it is an honor - albeit a frightening one - to be able to subject my own worldview to his critical and scholarly eye. I look forward to a debate that continues Bill's kindness and dedication to truth.

First, we need to define at the outset what we mean by "God." I should use my opponent's case to pin an exact definition on the otherwise fuzzy question "Does God exist?" Specifically, the term "God" that my opponent defines in his opening statement points toward the God granted by Christianity, leaving us with a debate over the veracity of Christian Theism. Other Gods, including the ones underlying Islam, Hinduism, Baha'i, general Deism, and even Orthodox Judaism are not included in Bill's case, by process of elimination. Bill's case specifies the exact nature of God, and my job as an agnostic this evening is to examine the evidence Bill presents for this definition and to posit possible arguments against such a God.

In [the linked video on Agnosticism], Bill begins by addressing several types of agnosticism and examining their veracity. He may be surprised that I join him in such considerations - but, unfortunately, Bill has left my own view of agnosticism out of his analysis.

Man's knowledge - everything his mind has digested and conceptualized - depends upon the context of what he or she is presented. In my case, I have declared myself an agnostic because I realize that I have not reflected adequately on the arguments both for or against the veracity of Christian theism. Many classic atheist arguments have been addressed well by Bill and by other intelligent theologians, and equally intelligent nonbelievers have addressed the Christian apologist in turn. In many cases, such as the case of the Kalam Cosmological Argument between Dr. Wes Morriston and Bill himself, have moved into the deep end of the philosophical pool, thus entailing a very careful and detailed analysis on my part which I have currently found inconclusive. Another example is the wealth of scholarship both for and against the Resurrection of Jesus, requiring much study and analysis of challenging issues like the plausibility of miracles and the context of the New Testament culture.

My agnosticism isn't an assertion that such facts cannot be proven, nor is it a belief that one side is more probable than the other side. To study the crucially important question of God's existence and the truth of Christian theism, one ought to spend a sufficient amount of time analyzing all arguments from both sides of the fence to the best of his or her own intellectual ability. Since I have not done so as of today, I must declare that I am agnostic to the question of Christian theism. So we see that Bill's arguments against my position. while sound, do not address my current intellectual position properly.

Bill states that without God, there is no absolute right and wrong that imposes itself on our conscience. Indeed, his first premise restated implies that objective moral values necessitate the existence of a Divine grounder of these values. Nietzsche's meandering notwithstanding, this statement is fallacious – it either begs the question in favor of Theism in its notion of “objective,” or it remains an invalid inference, as there is nothing about “objective moral values” that logically lead to a Creator. Bill and I agree that morality is objective, but how can the notion of objective moral values be rationally resolved for the agnostic?

Morality is a guide to man's actions within the realm of society. If we only allow a basis in God (or allow no basis, as subjectivists posit), we forget the meaning of morality - namely, that it explains what men ought to do within the context of other men, which presupposes a careful analysis of what man is in a social context.

I will illustrate this method with Bill's question on the objective morality of raping a young child without its basis in God. How does the nonbeliever ascertain that one ought not to rape a young child objectively? Looking at the nature of a young child, we realize he or she is incapable of choosing a proper course of action in the context of the mature and delicate subject of sex. This implies that one ought not to choose to rape a child – as objectively as the nature of a tornado implies the destructive effect of a human choosing to stand in his yard and let it roll over him, when he ought to be seeking shelter.

This neither affirms nor denies the possibility of a God who created men with this identity. But if we agree with Bill's first premise, we drop any reference to the individual within our moral question, leaving the idea of horrors such as rape to essentially stating, “it ultimately doesn't matter at all what a young child is, only that God said it was wrong.”This is dangerous, dangerous thinking! Men in society must act in accordance with the nature of his fellow-men, and his reason for doing so is his recognition that he is himself possessing human nature, as well.

Recalling the words of Christ, "Do unto others - as you would have them do unto you." Whether we do this because we are made in the image of God or because this is simply the most succinct statement describing both how men are and how men ought to act in a social context is a separate question. Bill's question about why we should not live solely in self-indulgence and irrational selfishness thus fails to recognize that those who choose to live in society must act according to how other men are!

Therefore, the fact of the objectivity of moral values is rooted in man, and the precedent question of whether or not man was created by God does not take away from the fact that man has a nature, and that we all may know how we ought to act from the way that man is.

Bill then continues to argue that my position leaves important questions about the meaning of life unaddressed. But his conclusion - that agnosticism is therefore untenable - doesn't follow from his points. As we have seen, there is a grounding of objectivity for moral values that is independent of whether or not God exists. Furthermore, if atheism is true, Bill's depressing existential remarks drop important essentials from the debate.

For instance, he defines man as "a briefly existent species of primate lost on an infinitesimal speck of solar dust, and destined only for inevitable destruction in the heat death of the universe." So much for Aristotle's definition that man is a rational social animal. Why completely drop the context of how men live their lives? Why focus on our relation to the Universe? He asserts that there is no "ultimate meaning" to the Universe in general and to mankind in specific. Remember, folks, meaning presupposes someone who can assess value, and if God does not exist, the question becomes "ultimately meaningless" to whom? If atheism is true, none of us are going to awaken billions of years from now and say, "Woah! How terrible it is that everything is in heat death!" It would be similar to my saying, "to Bill, man is nothing more than a creation of God who compared with His eternality is nothing but a grain of sand, and who compared with His Omnipotence, is as powerful and useful as a mere rat in a cage." Bill and I would probably agree that this is not the essential Christian view of mankind, even though the statements I made are true. His existential charge thus not only has no referent, but also defines men in an improper way, and therefore fails to establish his upsetting presentation of a nonbelieving worldview.

Bill argues that God is perhaps a basic belief, and illustrates some other examples of basic beliefs that we all hold. Curiously, I can establish such things as the existence of an external world through establishing axioms, or statements that must be used in any attempt to refute them. The classical Greek laws of logic and their application to reality are other examples of axioms in knowledge. So the question of whether God is a basic belief or not reduces to the question of either the existence of a rational proof for God or the question of whether or not God's existence is an axiom.

Therefore, I have seen no reason to believe that my agnostic self-evaluation is untenable to hold, nor can I see how the Moral Argument that Dr. Craig presents establishes the existence of God. With this discussion out of the way, we will move to Dr. Craig's other arguments.

Another argument Bill has proposed this evening is the Kalam Cosmological Argument. While logically sound, both of Bill's premises face troubles.

His first premise, "everything that begins to exist has a cause," is stated by Bill in his book "Reasonable Faith" to be "rooted in metaphysical intuition." Bill often uses the example of the silliness of tigers springing into existence uncaused out of nothing in our living rooms to illustrate this intuition.

But is this intuition really an intuition? Unfortunately, it is not. When we witness empirically something beginning to exist, what we witness is the result of two or more things interacting and producing what begins to exist. This is what we mean by an "action," or a "cause." The cause is interaction of things in reality (the mating of an adult male and adult female and the resulting pregnancy, for instance) and the effect is what begins to exist by virtue of the natures of what participated (the sperm from the male and the egg in the female leading to a baby tiger beginning to exist). We see, then, that Bill's intuition is perhaps based on our empirical evidence for what a cause is in reality.

Bill may appeal to intuition to avoid this very point - if something begins to exist, its cause is the rearrangement of previous things in a way entailed by their respective natures, and that brings into question the unique case of how God could have caused the Universe to begin to exist.

If we bank on how causes work within the universe that we witness, then the question of where God obtained the material for His creation is immediately raised. If it was external to Himself, something existed apart from God and thus the Universe did not begin to exist. If it was part of Himself, then this entails pantheism, a type of theism incompatible with how Craig defined God in this debate. And if Bill wishes to argue that this cause is different in nature than the one I illustrated, then, as Dr. Wes Morriston correctly points out, examining the cause for the Universe is a unique question fundamentally different than examining the causes for things beginning to exist within the Universe. This leaves Bill with a charge of the fallacy of Special Pleading, unless a rational explanation of this unique cause of creation out of nothing can be established. Even in this case, it is Bill - and not the nonbeliever - that ought to worry about things popping to existence out of nothing, since in his worldview a God always exists around the corner who can do just that!

In defense of his second premise, Bill offers the absurdity of an actual infinite as his philosophical justification and the evidence of cosmology for an absolute beginning as scientific justification. But regarding an actual infinite, Bill's own theory of time destroys his example. Bill is an A-time theorist, which, in his own words, asserts that “the future does not yet exist and the past no longer exists; only things which are present are real.” Therefore, even if we presuppose an actual infinite history of events in the universe, that history cannot be actually infinite in metaphysics, since his theory of time states that historical events are not real. Thus, we do not have any infinite set of customers to give us the troubles Bill raises with Hilbert's Hotel - there is only the finite set of action that exists presently. And if Bill asserts that it is true that an actual infinite set of events has happened, under his theory of time it is no different than the actual infinite set of events that will happen. All we have is the present, and, metaphysically speaking, the past no longer exists anywhere but in our memories.

What about the notion that the present is formed by the series of past events? Bill may very well argue tonight (as he does similarly in Reasonable Faith) that even though the past no longer is real, the present still depends upon it. How can we form this infinitely sized history that led up to this point? The question is simply mistaken - to "form" is to begin with an empty set and add elements one by one, the same way as one forms a bucket of apples by bringing an empty container and picking them one by one from an orchard. However, this presupposes that we start with nothing at all and add events one by one - which assumes a beginning point in time and begs the question in favor of his premise. Starting with the "event just before now" and attempting to back-build an infinite past is wrong-headed, since it goes against the stream of order of how those events precede. Thus, the present is simply preceded by the past as it is proceeded by the future, and the present is a brute fact; nothing in Bill's counterexamples either tonight or in his literature invalidate this hypothesis.

What about the scientific evidence for a beginning? If we reverse the arrow of time and consider the very early states of the Universe, we will see a system that is much smaller, denser, and hotter than our current state of affairs, as the Second Law implies. These quantities sharpen indefinitely the further we march backward. Even before the formation of matter as we know it, energy transfers between separate areas of the universe were occurring at a much higher rate than today. This means that events were occurring at a much quicker rate in the distant past than the rate at which they occur now. It is possible, then, that even under the assumption of an infinite event history, we may reach the illusion that the universe began to exist if we apply a constant rate of time to it. After all, in the early state, a second in our universe describes a monumental amount of important events that fundamentally changed the universe, whereas a second today would mark relatively little change in the nature of the universe. Under this assumption, we can even concretely demonstrate - using everyone's favorite nightmare, Calculus - that summing up these infinite events in relation to their vastly different rates throughout history can lead to a finite number that we know as the "age" of the universe. But since our units of time do not adequately describe the different state of affairs back then, such an analysis may be wrongheaded.

Bill then illustrates the fine-tuning of the Universe as a product of a designer. But even though Bill's statements demonstrate an apparently miniature value for these constants, he has not demonstrated the range that these constants could have been. Perhaps the rate of expansion could have only differed by a range of values in which life could have arisen in each possible case - the numbers may be small, but without justification for what the values could have been. Bill has not demonstrated these ranges tonight, and his analysis may end up being nothing more than a misapplication of the physical units involved in the constants. As the philosopher Neil Manson says (as quoted by Dr. Stenger in God: The Failed Hypothesis), "if he had been one part in 10^16 of a light year shorter, Michael Jordan wouldn't have been the world's greatest basketball player."

We have granted that God can do this tweaking of constants in the first place - but if, as Bill says, the constants are independent of the physical content of the universe, then in any possible universe they are the same - making them as immutable as 1+1=2! Changing the constants would be as logically impossible as drawing a square circle in this consideration. To paraphrase Stephen Hawking, even if God exists and Created, he may have not had much choice in how His creation turned out.

Having answered his Moral Argument in my case for agnosticism above, let's turn to his arguments for the Resurrection.

Now, I admit that I have not yet properly analyzed the vast scholarship surrounding the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, so my words on the Resurrection will not do the argument justice. But the most powerful stance against the Resurrection at this point is based on both my counterarguments for Bill's previous arguments and for my own case for agnosticism. If atheism is true, then without God, there can be no Resurrection!

But suppose Bill was correct and an empty tomb was discovered by women followers. Certainly, Christ would have been buried due to Jewish beliefs about the unburied victims otherwise defiling the land, but since the Sanhedrin feverishly regarded Jesus as heretical, they would have preferred a burial more dishonorable than that provided by Joseph's own fresh, unused tomb. Perhaps the Sanhedrin moved the body to a common grave after Joseph took Christ to his tomb, and when they finally caught wind that his followers assumed Jesus resurrected from the dead, it was far too late to point them toward a corpse that could be discerned in the common grave.

After this removal, the disciples, being bereaved of the loss of their leader, had dreams of Him and perhaps even saw His likeness in others they encountered and only recognized it later, as Luke 24:16 implies (and as many bereaved people do). Saul, a deeply religious and broadly educated Jew from Tarsus - the Beverly Hills, 90210 of the ancient New Testament world - would have likely known about this belief in the Resurrection among the small Christian cult he was instructed to persecute. Perhaps due to his psychological troubles arising from brutal treatment of this small sect, Saul had a vision of Christ on the way to Damascus and, as Paul, greatly aided the spread of Early Christianity due to his prominence as an educated man from Tarsus.

To address Bill's next fact, would His disciples have every predisposition to believe against a Resurrection according to their Jewish beliefs? Perhaps the average Jew at the time would, but these men follow Him – one who was judged a heretic by the leading Jews at the time - so perhaps their beliefs weren't as airtight as the rest of the Jewish community after all.

Many other naturalistic explanations could explain what Bill has given us, and even keep the integrity of the early believers and the grain of history in the New Testament stories respectfully intact. Christ may or may not be Risen, but Bill and I can agree on the need for at least honoring the historical basis of a great figure that ultimately received the shortest - and worst - end of the stick.

Bill's final argument is, as he stated, not necessarily an argument in and of itself. Since this relates to Bill's own personal testimony in his faith, and not to the debate at hand, I won't dedicate too long of a speech against it out of respect for the spirit (no pun intended!) of the statements he's made here. Bill is stating that if one opens up to the question of God's existence, then one will feel the drawing of God. But if one assumes one has what they call such an experience, then without other independent evidence, one would commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent in concluding that God thus necessarily exists.

In conclusion, I have justified the tenability of my agnosticism, presented refutations to Bill's five-point case for Christian theism, and have recognized places in Bill's case that entail further deep study. Wherever I fall from my current perch on the fence, I will always remain thankful to Bill for sticking to the arguments and I wish him well in his own intellectual growth as he defends his faith.