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Dr. Washington’s Second Rebuttal


Let’s try to slow it down a little bit. We have limited time here, and a lot of things on the table. I assure Dr. Craig that if there’s time, I’ll answer every single one of his arguments to his satisfaction. But I don’t want to run through this, trying to hop from objection to objection, because I think that detracts from the quality of the discussion.

So what I want to say first is, I want to address at least a couple of his objections. One was the lottery case. He said that suppose someone with Mafia connections kept winning the lottery, three or four times in a row. You certainly would suppose it was rigged, and rightly so. But here, you already know somebody is running the lottery. You know someone is out there, you know pulling these numbers already. You don’t know that in the case of the universe. You don’t know there’s some being who’s out there trying to arrange this universe to be what it is. So crucially, this argument begs the question. In the case of the lottery, someone is running the lottery who could conceivably have rigged it that way. But you can’t get a conclusion that you know that somebody rigged it, unless you already know that somebody is out there pulling the strings, or at least could potentially pull the strings. That argument begs the question.[1]

Not to get over-riled, but probably my point about a world without harm where you could drink and drive as fast as you could was a joke, but note the real claim here. There’s no real harm in this world. Drinking doesn’t hurt you and you don’t hurt other people. Nothing really bad happens in this world. Drinking doesn’t detract from your life. It doesn’t have any negative effects on anything at all. I think a world without harm really wouldn’t be that bad at all.

But Dr. Craig has a response to this. And what Dr. Craig says is in a sense, “We don’t know. We don’t know what God’s plans are for us. God might have designs in mind for us that we can never conceive of. And who are we to try to judge God in this way?” I think this is, essentially, a capitulatory position. It’s an argument from the “we don’t know.” You can’t respond to an argument like that. It sort of says, “I refuse to enter this debate at all. I’m not even going to try to give you really good reasons for it.”[2]

But I think there is a kind of response you can give to this. And I think you can ask yourself whether it’s completely compatible with being completely moral to allow certain kinds of harm for the greater good.[3]

I want you to imagine something. Imagine you’re back in the South, and it’s 1955. A small African-American boy, fourteen years old, whistles at a white woman. This causes a furor. There’s a mob. People want blood. Unless you lynch this kid, there’s going to be a riot, and a lot of people are going to die. Would you lynch him, for the greater good?[4]

I think this point is put very eloquently by Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov, and I’d like to read you a small passage. The question is, “Would you allow harm of innocents for some greater good?” I think most of us reject utilitarianism on those grounds. It’s just wrong to harm an innocent person because it serves some greater good. Here’s what Doestoevsky said:

Tell me yourself. Imagine that you’re creating a fabric of human destiny, with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last. But it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature, that baby beating its breath with its fists, for instance…. edifice, on its unavenged tears.

Would you consent to be the architect, on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth. I want all of you to think about that for a moment.

Now I want to move a little bit to one of Dr. Craig’s other arguments, and this is the argument from the resurrection. I have a lot to say on this, but I just want to begin with a few comments, and we can go on into the question period. Dr. Craig argued that there is conclusive evidence for the resurrection and that people who deny the resurrection do so on ideological or philosophical grounds. Anybody’s who’s reasonable and unbiased would come to the conclusion that the resurrection occurred. I want to begin to make a point, and it’s a point I think anybody will have if they’ve read a little bit of Hume, but let me give you a few scenarios.

Suppose I meet somebody who tells me they saw President Gerberding walking across the quad, humming what sounded strangely like the melody of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” You’d think it’s a little weird. It would probably be a little weird. But maybe I’d buy it. If I thought this person was credible, I’d probably buy it. Maybe he’d just turned on MTV one time and wants to be hip.

[The Moderator: “That’s why we’re being cut!”]

[Audience laughter, then applause]

Well suppose someone told me they saw President Gerberding skipping across the Quad doing cartwheels, all the while screaming “Curt Cobain will never die!” in between bars of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” [laughter] I’m not sure I’d believe this, but if five or ten people came together and they all said the story was right, I might buy it. I might think he’s practicing for some April Fool’s joke. And I might find out later he’s a gymnast. [laughter]

Well, let’s suppose that someone comes and tells me that President Gerberding was flying 30 feet in the air across the quad, doing cartwheels, screaming, “Curt will never die, and I will die for him if necessary.” [laughter] And then he vanished, [laughter] as soon as he hit the center [laughter]. Now I wouldn’t believe this if just one person told me. Nor would I believe this if two or three people told me. If 400 or 500 people told me with lots of video footage, [laughter] I might come to think it’s some sort of trick somebody’s pulled. I wouldn’t think he’s disappeared, but I’d think it’s probably a trick with mirrors or something like that.

But let’s pull someone through this same scenario.

President Gerberding flying through the air. And then suddenly, in the middle of the quad, he is dragged across and pulled to heaven. Disappeared. Taken up to the kingdom of God. What sort of evidence would I have to have to believe that? I’m not even sure I can imagine what would count as evidence for that. Maybe we saw he disappeared. Maybe we saw him fly. But what could possibly be evidence for such a bizarre event? Certainly nothing like ordinary testimony. It’s much more likely that these people were delusive somehow. Or that there was some clever trick being played. All that’s much more likely than that this event actually happened.

Hume was the first person seriously to discuss these issues. And what Hume taught us is that, in short, extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence. Now the resurrection of Jesus Christ, if it happened, was no doubt an extraordinary event. We’re going to have a chance to discuss this later on; we’re going to ask if the evidence in support of it is also extraordinary. I think if we discuss this for a while we’ll see the answer is clearly no. [5]



[1] This is painful to read. The point is that Craig has added nothing new to his argument. There is no difference between a single very unlikely event occuring (winning one lottery) and a series of merely unlikely events occuring (winning a series of less extreme lotteries) if the probability of the first event is equivalent to the probability of the series. Craig is simply playing a rhetorical trick on the audience by emphasizing the multiplicity of the unlikely occurrences. If we had no reason to believe that a creator was involved in the first case, we have no reason to believe that one is involved in the second case.

The charge of circularity draws attention to another rhetorical trick. Surely if a person with connections won a lottery on repeated occassions we would begin to suspect a fix, but that is because how the fix might occur and that it is more likely that it did occur then that the persons’ numbers came up repeatedly and by chance. But this inclination is due entirely to the assumptions that someone is running the lottery and that the person who won has connections to this person, assumptions which cannot be made in the present case without begging the question at issue.

The argument that Craig is giving is a modern and more sophisticated sounding version of the argument from design. The traditional argument from design starts with the premises that there are many different ways in which the universe could have been arranged and that only a small number of these are compatible with the existence of life. Given that the conditions in the universe are able to support life, it is exteremely unlikely that the universe would have turned out as it did. It is so unlikely, the argument goes, that someone must have designed it so that it would come out this way. Craig’s argument differs from this only in that it is couched in the language of modern physics. It talks about the different values that the fundamental physical constants which determine physical properties of the universe might have. It points out that, while there is a wide range of values the constants might have had, only a very small number of these are compatible with life as we know it. Craig claims that it is so unlikely, in fact, that God must have arranged it this way. Craig’s mention of repeated winnings of the lottery refer to events in which one constant after another comes out with a value in the right range.

There are two responses to this argument that I did not mention. The first response is the one I gave earlier, in which I quoted my friend Stephen Hsu (who teaches theoretical physics at Yale). This is a naked appeal to authority (and thus given my earlier remarks makes me a hypocrite), but it has been confirmed by my discussions with other theoretical physicists. this response is to deny the premise, which cites the great odds against the universe turning out as it did, since we have no idea what the actual odds are, whether they are night or low. The second response is that it does not even matter what the odds are. Even supposing that the odds are incredibly unlikely, there is nothing suprising about the fact that they came out they way they did. After all, if they didn’t, we wouldn’t be here to talk about it.

[2] In this debate we can only judge things by common sense. On the principle that a world minus obvious evils is, prima facie, preferable to a world with those evils, a world in which drinking does not lead to the bad things it does in this world is, prima facia, preferable to this world. If Dr. Craig wishes to take issue with this, he must explain how things like spousal abuse, child abuse, family disintigration, wrecked careers, early death by liver disease, and deaths of random innocents actually improve our world–why, contrary to all apprearances, we are lucky to have them. The claim that they might be serving some unknown good purpose is not compelling given their high salient negatives.

[3] My point here is that Craig is claiming that God is a utilitarian. He is supposing that God is willing to inflict harm on some if it will serve a greater good. He is suggesting, in fact, that almost any evil can be tolerated if it leads to a greater good.

[4] There are a variety of reasons for thinking that unrestricted utilitiarianism is unacceptable as a moral policy. Here I mentioned one of the standard counterexamples. If utilitarianism is right, then it should be morally acceptable to kill an innocent person if it will forestall a greater evil. I am refering to the true story of the Emmit Till. Many people find this kind of consequence unacceptable and, for this reason reject unrestricted utilitarianism.

[5] The general principle here is that, if certain evidence is to convince us of the truth of a claim, then the evidence must be strong enough to support the claim. The less likely the claim is to be true the more compelling the evidence has to be. Events counts as evidence for claims that other events occur. In order to accept a claim on the basis of a evidence, the truth of the claim must provide the best account of the event offered as evidence. Suppose 10 people who I believe don’t know each other tell me that they saw Gerberding dancing across the quad. Then the event of these 10 people telling me this is the evidence. If I accept this evidence, then I am accepting that the best explanation for why these people are telling me this is that Gerberding actually was dancing across the quad and that they saw him do this. I am supposing that it is more likely that this occurred than that these people are all separetely lying to me, or are all separetely deluded, or know each other and are collectively lying or deluded.

There is simply no evidence that would be strong enough to support the claim of Jesus’ resurrection. Any other explanation of the evidence would be more plausible. It is more plausible that people are lying or are deluded. Since the resurrection is the most extraordinary of events, nothing is less likely. Nothing would justify rational belief in it. (This is not to say that it could not happen, but only that nothing would justify rational belief in the supposition that it happened.)

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