The Best of William Lane Craig

I’ll be attending an apologetics conference with William Lane Craig later this year. To mark the occasion, I want to share a few of my favorite WLC lectures and debates available on Youtube.

The “Ten Worst Objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument”:

Craig’s 2009 debate with Christopher Hitchens:

Craig’s 2011 debate with Sam Harris:

Free Will and Uncaused Causes

Given the overwhelming consensus that our universe at some point began to exist, there would seem to be three explanations for its existence:

1. The universe had no cause.
2. The universe had a cause, which was impersonal.
3. The universe had a cause, which was personal.

Although there are some who may disagree (and I welcome your disagreements in the comment section), I believe the first explanation can be convincingly ruled out using the Kalam cosmological argument. This argument is widely employed by followers of the major monotheistic religions. It can be presented as follows:

– Whatever begins to exist has a cause
– The universe began to exist
– Therefore, the universe has a cause

In order to serve as a valid explanation, this cause must itself be uncaused (or at least trace its origins to a cause that was uncaused). Hence, we have the definition of God as the Prime Mover. The first domino in the chain. And this is where religious and non-religious individuals often reach an impasse. “If God caused the universe to exist,” the skeptic asks, “then what caused God to exist?” To the non-religious, defining God as a Prime Mover seems like special pleading – an attempt to dodge the implications of turtles all the way down.

As I was thinking about this issue the other day, I realized that much of this debate might actually stem from one’s views on free will.

DISCLAIMER: I’m a scientist, not a philosopher. The following is my own amateurish speculation, so I welcome your feedback and criticism. I’ll update the post if I learn something new.

Anyway, it would seem that the belief in free will actually entails the belief in uncaused causes. Those of us who accept the idea of free will believe that human consciousness stems from an interaction between the brain (a physical entity) and the soul (a non-physical entity). Our thoughts and actions are not simply the inevitable byproduct of physical events in the brain. When I decide to purchase chocolate ice cream, this decision is influenced by a variety of tangible factors (it’s 90°F outside; my parents served me ice cream as a child; etc.). Yet the decision is ultimately a byproduct of my free will, which generates the decision in a non-physical manner. This can be (clumsily) described as an “uncaused cause”, which would be unique to creatures possessing a will.

Given a belief in free will, we have grounds for believing that a timeless and spaceless Entity, possessing will, could indeed fill the role of Prime Mover. This Entity – God – provides the ontologically prior “cause” for the universe. This leads us to conclude option 3: “the universe had a cause, which was personal”.

For the determinist, free will is an illusion. All of our thoughts and actions are the inevitable result of physical events. Given this view, it makes sense to ask the question, “If God caused the universe to exist, then what caused God to exist?” The entire concept of a Prime Mover seems preposterous, because the determinist has no precedent for believing in uncaused causes.

The Paradox of Moral Intuition

In this blog’s inaugural post – Origins of the Moral Law – I made a case for the well-known Argument from Morality. I argued that Theism (specifically, the Christian narrative) provides the best account for our innate sense of right and wrong.

Although I stand behind what I wrote in that post, there’s an important issue that I failed to account for. If the Moral Law is ingrained in each of us, then why do people seem to have genuine disagreements over specific moral questions? Or put another way, why is it that some people regard certain behaviors as immoral, and others don’t?

The answer, I believe, is that humans are masterful at redefining right and wrong within the context of their own desires. These desires actually become integrated into one’s “moral intuition” – perhaps as a consequence of original sin. Right is replaced by “what feels right” and wrong is replaced by “what feels wrong”.

I say this from personal experience. If it were entirely up to me, there are plenty of biblically sinful behaviors that I wouldn’t have chosen to consider sinful (pride, gluttony, etc.). Of course, that’s really the entire point. What kind of relationship can we have with a personal God if we’re unwilling to let Him contradict our own desires and opinions?

So on the one hand, morality often seems intuitive and clear (a reflection of objective morality). On the other hand, we can’t necessarily rely on our own moral intuition being correct all the time. In other words, there exists a need for guidance, obedience, and a willingness to conform one’s conscience to some kind of external moral standard.

This is obviously very controversial, even among professing Christians. It directly clashes with the modern humanist’s advice to “follow your heart” – a maxim based on an optimistic (but incorrect) belief in mankind’s innate goodness.

The major branches of Christianity may disagree over whether this “moral standard” consists of Scripture alone, or includes Sacred Tradition. The important point – at least as it pertains to this discussion – is that there must be an external source of moral authority to take precedence over our flawed moral intuition.

Are Science and Faith Compatible?

Many who are critical of religion seek to justify their stance by presenting a contrast between science and religious faith. To illustrate the kind of argument I’m talking about, consider the following excerpt:

“Science often traffics in doubt and readily welcomes revision. And these are precisely the attributes that make it deserving of our confidence. This may seem contradictory, but give it a second thought. It is just those systems of thought that would have us believe that they know the answers with certainty because they have been received from an unerring supreme being and interpreted by a chosen priesthood, that should give us pause. Creation myths from the ancient Greeks to the Old Testament give complete descriptions of how the universe was created. No doubt there. Alternatively, science – cosmology, geology, archaeology, biology – give incomplete descriptions filled with open questions…Revision is a victory in science, and that is precisely what makes it so powerful.” (continue reading)

Or this succinct quote from atheist comedian-musician Tim Minchin:

“Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed. Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved.”

This argument asserts that science is superior to religion precisely because it is self-correcting. Science is constantly evolving to reflect our growing understanding of the universe, whereas religion is stubbornly committed to its ancient truth-claims.

If one accepts that faith requires the denial of observation (hint: it doesn’t), then this argument might seem entirely sensible. Science is, indeed, a powerful tool for understanding the universe and improving the quality of human life. And religion does, by its nature, hinge upon the accuracy of its truth-claims.

Yet there’s a glaring problem. This argument presupposes that every religious system of thought is entirely man-made. The entire force of the argument rests on this presupposition.

If, however, such a system of thought is actually received from an inerrant Supreme Being, then it would be far more worthy of our confidence than any truth derived scientifically. Science may be self-correcting, but Truth revealed directly by a perfect God wouldn’t have any need for correction in the first place. The criticism that religious systems lack science’s capacity for change assumes that there is (and will always be) a need for change.

I say this as someone who deeply values both science AND my religious faith. I spend most of my waking hours absorbed in either one or the other, and I find it perplexing when people seek to portray them as conflicting and mutually exclusive domains.

If anything, I would attest that my Christian faith provides an even more exciting framework for my scientific pursuits. Rather than seeing the universe through the objectively meaningless lens of materialism, I recognize it as a meaningful and beautiful (yet fallen) work of creation. To quote the Irish theologian (and former molecular biophysicist) Alister McGrath:

“If you do believe in God, it gives a new intellectual depth to your science…The more I appreciate the beauty of nature, the more I appreciate the beauty of God, so studying nature is all about gaining a deeper appreciation of God.”

There’s a sense of mystery and humility that comes with studying God’s creation, and applying that knowledge toward the relief of human suffering. In my view, science and faith are more than just compatible. They’re synergistic.

See Also: The Science News Cycle