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Dr. Washington’s First Rebuttal


I want to say quickly and remind you that Dr. Craig still hasn’t explained to you why we’re here tonight. If he really believes what he says in that quote, no matter what we say tonight, he’s not going to change his views. In fact, he’s encouraging all Christians in this audience to believe likewise. It seems in that case that this is sort of a charade, kind of an academic game. Maybe it’s funny, but I think he owes you an explanation for why he and I are wasting your time, because it looks like that’s what we’re doing.

I want to at least refer to the arguments I gave against God’s existence. I want to say there’s a premise in my argument from abstract objects that I didn’t mention. And this is the idea that there are basically only two types of things in the world: material and abstract objects. And that’s assumed by all practicing philosophers.[1] If Dr. Craig thinks there’s a third realm out there, he’s got to explain to us what it is. What is this third realm that God occupies? Is there anything else there? And the best way to do this is to show us other things that occupy it. But I don’t think he can probably do that short of God’s existence, so it’s hard to see how arguments for that can be anything but circular.

The argument looks something like this. God is either a material object or an abstract object. God is clearly not material because God is timeless. God therefore has to be abstract. If He is abstract, He has no causal properties. But this contradicts the assumption that he is interventionist. Hence we have to reject the assumption that God exists.

Now let’s return back to the argument from harm. I gave a sort of quick version of that argument, knowing Dr. Craig’s reply.[2] It’s a simple version that I gave. The claim is there’s basically no evil if God’s omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. The theist always comes back with a response here. The theist says God is good and God doesn’t want to see any more harm than necessary in the world. If we agree that God put more harm in the world than is necessary, we have to assume that God couldn’t be morally perfect. But God has greater designs. There are overriding considerations when it comes to creating the world. In particular, one of the things that God wants to do is give us free will. And giving us free will necessarily brings in the possibility of harm. Now somehow Dr. Craig said there’d be something wrong with a world in which we could drive as fast as we wanted, drink as much as we wanted, and no one be harmed. Doesn’t sound like anything is wrong with that world. It sounds like fun to me.

But let’s go back to Craig’s argument. And I’m going to give you a new version of the argument from harm. I sort of had this version in the wings. Here’s a new version of the argument from harm. The point is we recognize that maybe there are greater goods to be had. Maybe God has to allow some evil in the world in order to allow us to have free will. But this kind of evil comes from what humans do to one another. It doesn’t quite explain a lot of other evils we find in the world, in particular natural evils, the kind of viruses we find in the world. The kind of earthquakes, hurricanes, bad storms. It doesn’t explain these things. These things hurt people for reasons that having nothing to do with their free will. They’re just standing by and they get crushed. Or they get sick, and things like that. It’s not their doing. So it’s not in the sense you can bring in evil to temper people’s behavior, or teach them not to do something.[3]

So if we’re going to take the claims seriously, and I think it’s very important, we’ve got to hold theists to what they say. If they say God is omniscient, God is omniscient; if they say God is omnibenevolent, God is omnibenevolent; if they say God is omnipotent, God is omnipotent. We can’t let theists to sort of play with these words. They mean what they mean.[4] And if God is omnibenevolent, God will not have any more harm in this world than is necessary for accomplishing these greater goods. So we have to believe is that, what we find in the world today is that there is just as much as harm as there has to be, not a little bit less.[5] If there is any, if there could be any less evil in this world, God would not be omnibenevolent. Now I want to read you something. What I’m going to read you is fairly disturbing. If any of you are faint of heart, I’d kind of plug your ears or something.

I don’t know if you know this, but there are viruses in the world that make AIDS look just like a picnic. They’re called hot viruses, and these things are nasty. There was a story on them that ran in the Seattle Post Intelligencer on December 26th, 1994. I’m going to read from it. This is the description of someone coming down with this virus:[6]

The headache begins typically on the seventh day after exposure to the viral agent. On the seventh day after his visit to Kittiam Cave in January 1980, Monet felt a throbbing pain behind his eyeballs. The pain begin to circle around the inside of his head. It would not go away with Aspirin. And then he got a severe backache.

On the third day after his headeache started, he became nauseated, spiked a fever and began to vomit. At the same time he became strangely passive. His face lost all appearance of life. and set itself into a motionless mass, with the eyeballs fixed, paralytically staring. The eyelids were slightly droopy, and the eyeballs seemed almost frozen in their sockets where they turned bright red. The skin of his face turned yellowish, with brilliant starlike red speckles. He began to look like a zombie. His personality changed and became sullen, resentful, angry. His memory seemed to be blown away.

When a hot virus multiplies in its host, it can center the body of the virus particles from the brain to the skin. Experts then say the virus undergoes, extreme amplification. By the time extreme amplification peaks out, an eyedropper of the victim’s blood may contain a hundred million particles of virus.

In a waiting area at the Casualty Department, Nairobi Hospital, Monet appeared to hold himself rigid, as if any movement would rupture something inside him. His blood was clotting up, and the clots were lodging everywhere: his liver, kidneys, lungs, hands feet, and head. In effect, he was having a stroke throughout his whole body.

Clots were accumulating in his intestinal muscles, cutting up the blood supply to his intestines. The intestinal muscles were beginning to die. The intestines were starting to go slack.

His personality was being wiped away by brain damage. Monet sat silently, waiting to receive attention. Suddenly, it went into the last phase. The human virus bomb exploded. Military biohazard specialists say that the victim is crashed and bled.

Monet became dizzy and uttely weak, and his spine went limp. He is going into shock. He leaned over, head on his knees, and brought up an incredible quantity of blood from his stomach. and spilled it onto the floor, with a gasping moan. He lost consciousness, and pitched forward. When he pitched foreward onto the floor, the only sound was the choking in his throat, as he continued to vomit while unconscious. Then came a sound like a bed sheet being torn in half, the sound of his bowels opening and venting blood from his anus, those mixed with intestinal lining, he sloffed his gut, Monet had crashed was bleeding out.

Having destroyed its host, the virus was now coming out of every orafice, trying to find a new host.

Now, I ask you, isn’t is possible that God could have made this guy suffer just a little bit less? Maybe just bled out of his nose? Of course, he could have. This means that there could be less harm in the world than there actually is. But this should not be possible if God were omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omniponent. So, he must lack at least one of these characteristics. However, all of these characteristics are essential to God. A being is not God if it lacks one of them. Hence, God does not exist.

So I want to move fairly quickly go to this argument from abstract objects. I’m not going to go into it because it’s pretty technical, and it’s also pretty boring. But the fact is, you don’t have to do much to get abstract objects, once you’ve got material objects. If I’ve got that glass over there, and that pitcher, and that microphone, we don’t need to create a new thing, a set.[7]

As far as numbers go, you can read any number of mathematical constructions of these objects, none of them appeal to God. And they’re all pretty straightforward. You begin by getting the number zero, maybe by defining cardinality of the set consisting of all objects which are not identical with themselves.[8]

Induction allows you to go from a certain number to anything above that. Sort of get the whole series for free, once you’ve got the base, and you’ve got the principle of moving on. This is elementary to anybody who’s gone through second year college math. There’s no appeal to God in any of this stuff. A simple set, the cardinality function, and the principle of induction.

Now one of the arguments of course I don’t have to reply to is the argument from personal experience from God. I assume that we all grant that that’s out of limits here. We’re going to be arguing for things that we can have evidence for, so that we can actually show other people. We can’t argue from inner feelings. No unobservable stuff is going down. It’s all got to be kind of out in the open. So that’s an argument that I really think is really admissable in this setting.

The next argument is the argument from objective morality. Dr. Craig claims that God is necessary to explain the existence of objective moral truths.

We’re all agreed that what Hitler did was wrong. It’s just wrong to kill six million Jews, and to kill millions of other people. Everyone grants that. So what that objective moral truth is saying is that there’s some sort of objective standard out there, and that act didn’t fit it. Now Dr. Craig is essentially giving us an argument to the best explanation. He’s going to say God is the best explanation for moral truths. The problem is he doesn’t actually say how God actually carries out this explanation.[9] And I think, if you think for a minute, you’ll see the reply to this argument is pretty obvious. In fact, it’s obvious to anyone who’s read Plato.

You have to figure out exactly what God’s relationship to these objective truths are, and there seems to be two options. On the one hand, you can say that something is good because God wills or commands it. For example, giving to the poor is good because God commanded that. Well the problem with this view is anything is good if God commanded it. So if God commanded Hitler to kill six million Jews, that’s good. And if God told Jeffrey Dahmer to kill all those people, that’s good too. I think that raises some doubts about this argument.[10]

Now the other problem is, and this is a little more subtle. The claim that something is good because God says its good, makes the statement that God is omnibenevolent absolutely empty, because we have defined good as anything that God wills or commands. If anything God wills or commands is good, it makes no sense to say that God is inifinitely good, it’s true by definition. Presumably that’s not what Christians had in mind. They clearly thought they were complimenting God when they say God is infinitely good. On this view, they’re just sort of expressing a truth about language.[11]

The other option is that God commands what he does because it’s good. But what you see here then is something is good before God commands it. It’s it being good that makes God command it. So God doesn’t account for its existence. Here objective moral truth exists indepedently of God. God plays no role in the explanation at all.



[1] The term “practicing” here should have been glossed. Basically I meant “contemporary maintstream” philosophers, philosophers who operate from the perspective of contemporary science and who reject dualism. Nearly all these philosophers reject dualism. There are other philosophers who think there is a “third” realm. Descartes is perhaps the paradigm example. Descarte held that, in addition to material and abstract objects, there was a third category of objects which included souls (embodied minds, while the being is living) and god (a disembodied mind). (The term “dualism” refers to the dichotomy between material and non-material, soul-like, objects. It leaves out abstract objects, which are non-material and non-soul-like. Counting the latter in, philosophers like Descartes would be described at “triists” (an awful word and probably why this terminology never caught on) and the rest of us would be “dualists”.)

[2] I meant to say that I had planned to give the shortest version of the argument, knowing it wasn’t air-tight. I expected Craig to give the reply he did. His reply set the stage for the more elaborate argument to follow.

[3] The point is that the “free will defense” of harm only justifies harmful things that people do or things which happen to people in the course of performing actions that may be morally objectionable. It doesn’t justify harmful things that are done to innocent bystanders by non-human forces.

[4] What I am implying, but did not state explicitly, is that in trying to escape from this argument, Craig is not using language terminology and argumentation consistently. He applies one set of standards to people and another to God. The case is clearest when one tries to maintain the claim that god is infinitely good in the face of the fact that he lets people suffer greatly. If we observed a person inflicting harm on another individual, say crippling a classroom of kindergardners in San Paulo Brazil, by detonating a bomb that cause the room of the school to collapse, we would very quickly label the person evil. However, if the school were to collapse as a result of an earth quake, which Christians hold that God caused (or at least had the power to stop), they would not draw the parallel conclusion. They would say something about the fact that God has greater plans, that the suffering of these people might serve some greater good, etc. However, they would never accept such an explanation if a person did these things. Even if he argued that his action would draw the governments attention to the flimsy construction of the schools (perhaps the bomb was very weak) or the need to increase security around schools, etc. They would probably argue that the ends do not justify the means. This type of explanation is acceptable for God, but it is not acceptable for people. This is inconsistent argumentation.

The connection to the meaning of words comes when one look at the criterion for the goodness of an act as encapsulating the meaning of the word. The fact that goodness is judged on one set of grounds for God’s actions, but on another for humans action, suggests that they are using the word with two different meanings. Needless to say, this is not acceptable.

[5] This is garbled. I meant that, on the theistic point of view, there can be no more harm than there absolutely has to be. This second version of the argument gives this much concession to the “free-will” defense. It grants that maybe God had to allow some harm in order to acheive a greater good, but it holds the theist to his word: this much harm and no more.

[6] This passage comes from “The Hot Zone” which was published just before the debate. The book and other accounts of plauges-in-waiting introduced the reading public to number of viruses, virus which, to say the least, it is not good to mess with. My choice, Ebola, is the most well known example.

[7] The set comes for free, once you’ve got its members.

[8] This set has no members and hence has cardinality 0. This construction is due to Gottlob Frege and occurs in his book The Foundations of Arithmetik. Russell, Zermelo and Frankel and VonNeuman use other methods.

[9]I didn’t mean to say “how God carries out the explanation,” but how the assumption that God exists helps to explain how morality can be objective.

[10] I.e., this option cannot be correct, since it leads to an absurd conclusion.

[11] I.e., This is another absurd consequence of the view.

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