William Lane Craig vs. Ray Bradley (debate review)

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 27, 2011 in Debates,Reviews,William Lane Craig

Redated from 1/3/2010.

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One of my all-time favorite atheism vs. theism debates is the one between Ray Bradley and William Lane Craig on the doctrine of hell. [mp3, transcript] (You’ll also be interested in my four-part series Escaping Hell.)

Craig opens:

“If God really is all loving, then how can He send anybody to hell?” The question is almost an embarrassment for Christians today. On the one hand, the Bible teaches that God is love, and yet, on the other hand, it warns that those who reject God face everlasting punishment.

But there is no explicit contradiction between “God is all-powerful and all-loving” and “Some people go to hell.” Craig assumes the detractor of hell must make two additional assumptions to bring out the contradiction:

First of all, he assumes that if God is all powerful, then God can create a world in which everyone freely chooses to give his life to God and is saved. And second, he assumes that if God is all loving, then God prefers a world in which everyone freely chooses to give his life to God and be saved.

… [But] So as long as there’s even a possibility that one of these assumptions is false, it’s possible that God is all-loving and yet some people go to hell. Thus, the opponent of hell has to shoulder a very heavy burden of proof, indeed. He has to prove that both of these assumptions are necessarily true.

hellCraig presents a Christian explanation for how an all-loving God can allow some people to go to hell?

On the one hand are His justice and holiness, which demand punishment for sin, rightly deserved. On the other hand are God’s love and mercy, which demand reconciliation and forgiveness. Both are essential to His nature; neither can be compromised. What is God to do in this dilemma? The answer is Jesus Christ.

Jesus received God’s justice, his wrath, but also provided the forgiveness and reconciliation that humanity needed. So the problem is not God’s nature, for God has stayed true to both his justice and his mercy. Rather, the problem is with those who reject his mercy:

In order to receive forgiveness, we need to place our trust in Christ as our Savior and the Lord of our lives. But if we reject Christ, then we reject God’s mercy and fall back on His justice. And you know where you stand there. If we reject Jesus’ offer of forgiveness, then there is simply is no one else to pay the penalty for your sin – except yourself.

But if God is all-powerful, why couldn’t he just create a world in which everyone freely chose to be saved?

Suppose that God could create a world in which everyone is freely saved, but there is only one problem: all such worlds have only one person in them! Does God’s being all-loving compel Him to prefer one of these underpopulated worlds over a world in which multitudes are saved, even though some people freely go to hell? I don’t think so. God’s being all-loving implies that in any world He creates, He desires and strives for the salvation of every person in that world. But people who would freely reject God’s every effort to save them shouldn’t be allowed to have some sort of veto power over what worlds God is free to create. Why should the joy and the blessedness of those who would freely accept God’s salvation be precluded because of those who would stubbornly and freely reject it? It seems to me that God’s being all-loving would at the very most require Him to create a world having an optimal balance between saved and lost, a world where as many as possible freely accept salvation and as few as possible freely reject it.

But isn’t it still unjust for God to condemn people to hell forever?

bosch-hellCraig responds that perhaps those who go to hell continue sinning infinitely into the future while in hell, thus continually deserving continued punishment. He also says that perhaps to reject God himself is a sin of “infinite gravity.” Also, he says:

It’s possible that God would permit the damned to leave hell and go to heaven but that they freely refuse to do so. It is possible that persons in hell grow only more implacable in their hatred of God as time goes on. Rather than repent and ask God for forgiveness, they continue to curse Him and reject Him.

But what about those who have never heard of Jesus?

The Bible says that the unreached will be judged on a quite different basis than those who have heard the gospel. God will judge the unreached on the basis of their response to His self-revelation in nature and conscience.

…[This] means that the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice can be applied to them without their conscious knowledge of Christ. They would be like people in the Old Testament before Jesus came who had no conscious knowledge of Christ but who were saved on the basis of his sacrifice through their response to the information that God had revealed to them. And, thus, salvation is truly available to all persons at all times. It all depends upon our free response.

Craig concludes:

I truly wish with all my heart that universal salvation were true. But to pretend that people are not sinful and in need of salvation would be as cruel and deceptive as pretending that somebody was healthy even though you knew that he had a fatal disease for which you knew the cure.

Bradley’s response

Bradley responds:

How should we think of God’s sending people to hell? Not like Stalin sending people to exile in Siberia. It ought not even to be thought of as like Hitler sending people to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. For both of these are tame in comparison with the horror of being sent to hell. At least Auschwitz, Belsen, and the rest were death camps, finite in duration both for those who died and for those who survived. Hell, however, offers no such finality to those of us who are to fill its chambers. None will emerge from its torment, and its tortures will continue forever and ever.

And this hell is no fuzzy “eternal separation from God.” Not according to Jesus, anyway:

On a quick count I found 20 or so passages in the gospel of Matthew alone in which Jesus threatens unbelievers… with eternal punishment, in an eternal fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And contrary to Craig, the Bible does say that those who have never heard the gospel will be sent to eternal torture:

Saint Paul tells us that only those who have been sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved. He was, of course, only echoing Jesus himself, who repeatedly tells us that only those who believe in him will go the heaven… The exclusion of most human beings on the grounds that they don’t believe in Jesus is a simple consequence of the fact that most of them haven’t even heard of him.

hell2So the central problem is this:

If it would be inconsistent to suppose that Hitler was acting lovingly while sending the majority of German Jews to the gas chambers for lacking the right parentage, wouldn’t it be equally inconsistent to claim that God is acting lovingly while sending the majority of the human race to roast in hell for lacking the right belief?

Craig’s way out is to say that God could not have created a world of free beings in which they all freely receive Christ.

But wait a minute, Bradley says. Isn’t that exactly what heaven is supposed to be? Craig believes in heaven, and he believes heaven is a possible world of free beings, all of which freely accept Christ. So Craig’s defense fails.

And there is another problem. The problem is with the fact that

God’s foreknowledge of what the unsaved would do, together with the His perverse determination to create them nevertheless, makes Him what lawyers call an “accessory before the fact,” and therefore responsible at least in part for the outcome. After all, it is up to God whether to create free creatures or not. Just as we must bear responsibility for the consequences our freely chosen actions, so must He.

Bradley concludes with some plausible propositions that are incompatible with the notion that God sends people to hell:

P1. A perfectly good being would not torture anyone for any period whatever, however brief.P2. A just being wouldn’t punish someone eternally for the sins committed during a brief lifetime but would proportion the punishment to the offense.

P3. A righteous being would not punish someone eternally for unavoidable lack of belief.

P4. A merciful being would not be eternally unforgiving to those who have offended it.

P5. A loving being would not bring about and perpetuate the suffering of those that it loves.

Where things really heat up

The next section is cross examination, during which Bradley and Craig ask questions directly of each other. Craig begins:

Isn’t it the case that the Scripture also uses metaphors such as outer darkness, separation from God, that this notion of fire is just one metaphorical image of hell among many others that are found in the New Testament?

Bradley replies:

[But it is] this fiery metaphor which most people have seized upon and which most people have believed… [And] why should I admit it is a metaphor any more than any other doctrine in the New Testament? For example, the doctrine of Christ’s second coming. Is that a metaphor? Is the doctrine of his salvation a metaphor?

Craig tries to take the upper hand:

Isn’t the case that the majority of Christian New Testament scholars interpret these passages as metaphorical for the suffering and the anguish of those who are separated from God, but not necessarily to be taken as literal flames, such as we experience here in this world?

But Bradley slams him:

It is true that the majority of Christian scholars of the New Testament do take a charitable interpretation of it. But just let me remind you that as soon they start taking charitable interpretations of that metaphor, they start looking at the question of whether or not other claims, other doctrines, are purely metaphorical, too. And you get to the position where so many New Testament scholars today, other than those who are evangelicals, claim that the whole of the biblical story needs to be demythologized.

So Craig moves on:

You characterized my position as the condemnation of most people as a result of their not having heard. After listening to my first speech, wouldn’t you like to retract that statement as inaccurate?

…[I said] their condemnation is due to the fact that they have not lived up to the light of nature and conscience which is available to all persons.

Bradley replies:

But, you say [in a Faith and Philosophy article], “On the basis of Scripture” – and I agree with you totally – “we must say that such anonymous Christians are relatively rare.”

So Craig moves on to the point about heaven being a possible world in which all free persons freely choose Christ:

Heaven may not be a possible world when you take it in isolation by itself. It may be that the only way in which God could actualize a heaven of free creatures all worshiping Him and not falling into sin would be by having, so to speak, this run-up to it, this advance life during which there is a veil of decision-making in which some people choose for God and some people against God. Otherwise you don’t know that heaven is an actualizable world. You have no way of knowing that possibility.

Talk about far-fetched! Craig has been reading too much Plantinga.

Conclusions

Bradley was, unlike nearly all of Craig’s opponents, prepared. He had read Craig’s work on the topic. He responded directly to Craig’s points and offered specific rebuttals and counterarguments. All this is nearly unheard of among atheist debaters of Craig. Moreover, Bradley was rhetorically effective and nearly as concise as Craig. Ray Bradley is perhaps the best atheist debater I’ve seen, and it’s a shame he hasn’t done more debates!

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{ 89 comments… read them below or add one }

Torgo January 3, 2010 at 7:38 am

The more I read of Plantinga and Craig, the more it seems that their responses to many atheist attacks amounts to something like the following:

Atheist: Theist claim X and claim Y are prima facie contradictory or inconsistent. Thus, the God of theism does not likely exist.

Plantinga or Craig: There may be a way of resolving the apparent contradiction or inconsistency between X and Y, and unless the atheist can prove with certainty that X and Y are contradictory, theism is still plausible, and the atheist has not made his case.

So, in other words, Plantinga and Craig often simply declare that there may be a solution to the problem, without actually providing one, and thereby claim victory.

Also, it seems that Craig often succeeds in changing the atheist’s premises (as in your opening quotation from Craig) or changing the claim the atheist is arguing for, and thereby shifting the burden of proof. I don’t know if Bradley explicitly states the conclusion he is arguing for, but I’d guess it’s a probabilistic one, but Craig makes it into an absolute one–i.e., Bradley is likely arguing that God probably doesn’t exist given the evidence, but Craig is changing this to “God necessarily does not exist” and making it seem like he’s won if the atheist can’t prove this stronger claim.

Does this sound accurate? Am I being uncharitable to Craig, or have I overlooked some things?

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John D January 3, 2010 at 8:20 am

Torgo,

I would say that is about right. Craig and Plantinga always retreat to possibility-arguments, i.e. they say as long as there is a possible resolution of the inconsistency their belief in God is still rational. They don’t really care about the improbability of what they believe.

I think it stems from their epistemological views. Craig thinks the witness of the holy spirit provides the foundation for his belief in God, and that reason can only serve, never upset or defeat, his belief in God.

Plantinga also thinks God-belief is properly basic (needs no rational justification) but accepts that basic beliefs can be defeated (i.e. they are not incorrigible). However, he seems to set a ridiculously high standard for such defeaters.

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ayer January 3, 2010 at 10:05 am

Torgo: So, in other words, Plantinga and Craig often simply declare that there may be a solution to the problem, without actually providing one, and thereby claim victory.

I don’t think that is the case. In addressing the problem of suffering, e.g., he uses the argument of possibility that you mention to refute the “logical” problem of suffering, but also addresses the claim that even if suffering is logically consistent with God’s existence, it still renders God’s existence improbable. He points out that claiming the ability to show that God’s existence is improbable considering the suffering in the world, the atheist has assumed a massive burden of proof which cannot be met. How could the atheist, short of omniscience, conceivably go about demonstrating such improbability in a world described aptly by chaos theory and the “butterfly effect”?

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Steven Stark January 3, 2010 at 10:55 am

Thanks for the rundown, Luke.

I enjoyed listening to that debate several months ago, but it was difficult to follow all the P1, P2, etc. talk without the visuals. This was easier.

The possibility that a person could continuously choose Hell for an infinite period of time seems quite far-fetched. If God did always leave the door open (Rev. 21:25) to heaven, then why would a person freely choose hell – an option which is utterly at odds with his own self-interest for all eternity? If he did, I see a few possibilities:

1. God created him to choose hell on purpose.
2. He is insane and is therefore incapable of making a free decision.
3. He lacks information and is therefore incapable of making a free decision.

All these options conflict with the idea of an all-loving God.

Also interesting is the idea of whether there is still freedom to reject God in heaven.

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kennethos January 3, 2010 at 11:19 am

“Bradley was, unlike nearly all of Craig’s opponents, prepared. He had read Craig’s work on the topic. He responded directly to Craig’s points and offered specific rebuttals and counterarguments. All this is nearly unheard of among atheist debaters of Craig. Moreover, Bradley was rhetorically effective and nearly as concise as Craig. Ray Bradley is perhaps the best atheist debater I’ve seen, and it’s a shame he hasn’t done more debates!”

{Snark alert!}

Luke…. are you trying to say that most atheists who debate William Lane Craig are unprepared? That they haven’t read a debater’s works previously, and walk right into a debate without doing serious work?!
Wow…what have atheists been doing prior to the incarnation of Ray Bradley? :)

{Snark off….}

Having not studied all this in great detail (hence not debating!), it would be interesting to see if Bradley is able to bear the burden of proof and make a point for his case. Thanks for alerting everyone to this.

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Taranu January 3, 2010 at 11:35 am

“Suppose that God could create a world in which everyone is freely saved, but there is only one problem: all such worlds have only one person in them!”

Can someone please tell me why all such worlds have only one person in them?

Ayer, “claiming the ability to show that God’s existence is improbable considering the suffering in the world, the atheist has assumed a massive burden of proof which cannot be met”.

But even if the atheist doesn’t have omniscience on his side he still has the best tools humanity has developed so far for figuring out what is the most probable answer. Shouldn’t we make use of what we have and see in which direction our conclusions point? We might be wrong, but we can only work with what we have.

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Steven Stark January 3, 2010 at 11:45 am

Taranu,

I was wondering the same thing. Heaven probably has more than one person in it in Craig’s view…..?

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Walter January 3, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Steven Stark: Also interesting is the idea of whether there is still freedom to reject God in heaven.  

Isn’t that what Satan and the fallen angels are supposed to have done?

Christians better hope God doesn’t place another forbidden tree in the middle of heaven or the whole sin/redemption process will need a reboot. You just know somebody is going to pluck that damn apple!

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lukeprog January 3, 2010 at 12:39 pm

kennethos,

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying about Craig’s other debating opponents.

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Justfinethanks January 3, 2010 at 12:41 pm

It was a smart move on God’s part to make all the parts of the Bible that could render Christianity incoherent and/or demonstrably false mere “metaphor” (like Genesis, “burning” in hell, some of the more insane images in Revelation.) Otherwise, Christianity might appear to objective observers like a jumbled mass of absurdities kept aloft by a tangled network of ad hoc rationalizations.

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kennethos January 3, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Aside from the Bahnsen/Tabash debate in the ’80s where Bahnsen mopped the floor with Tabash, I’d have thought most atheists would be better prepped for debates with Christians. How very interesting!

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kennethos January 3, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Justfinethanks,

Are you aware of Rev. being in the “apocalyptic” genre, meaning it’s more subjective, as opposed to other, more coherent, genres? I rarely hear people complaining of misunderstanding the historical books, wisdom, poetic, etc. (That might indicate inability to understand literature, and we don’t want to go there.)
It surprises me how many folks don’t understand an otherwise not-too-difficult to understand book. But, comprehension of literature these days can be challenging!
Thanks for the comment!

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Jeff H January 3, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Oh God, please tell me that the comments here aren’t going to sprout into another argument about Molinism…I can’t handle any more talk about “middle knowledge”, lol…

Taranu: Can someone please tell me why all such worlds have only one person in them?

I think, from what I’ve seen in other things he’s written, that the “one person” part is also under the hypothetical situation he’s describing. In other words, to state it a bit more clearly, “Suppose that it’s the case that the only possible way God could create a world in which everyone is freely saved would be to create the world with only one person in it.” Something like that is what I think he’s saying. However, not having listened to the debate and thus the context, I can’t be sure. Could someone else clarify?

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lukeprog January 3, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I suspect that most atheists don’t think they need to prepare because they think something like, “What, he’s defending the existence of his imaginary friend? I don’t need to prepare for that!” And then they get wasted. Creationists, on the other hand, always lose.

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Justfinethanks January 3, 2010 at 12:59 pm

It surprises me how many folks don’t understand an otherwise not-too-difficult to understand book.

Yes, Revelation is straightforward and easy to understand.

In fact, just ask the full Preterists, the partial preterists, the Futurists, the historicists, the Post-tribunal premillennialists, the dispentional premillennialists, the revival postmillennialists, the reconstructionist postmillennialists, and the amillennialists. They’ll tell you the simple, straightforward, and easy to understand message of revelation: something about the future, or possibly the past, or whatever.

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kennethos January 3, 2010 at 1:02 pm

C’mon, let’s be slightly more honest, Luke. When it comes to actual debates between those defending Darwin, and the more intelligent creationist scientists and ID types, those defending Darwin and everything else refuse to engage, for a variety of reasons. I can’t defend the ICR folks, because I don’t hold to a creation account happening in the midst of already existing civilization. But there’s too many ID folks or old-earth creationists happy to debate an “evolutionist” who’ll never show up. It’s not a case of ignorant creationists, as much as Dawkins not wanting to get shown up. How often to Behe, Dembski, and the like get debated? And these guys (who are not 6-day creationists!) are smart, PhD types, alike Dawkins.
Some debates may favor Christians. Some may favor atheists. Others have yet to be honestly held…

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kennethos January 3, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Justfinethanks:

Actually, I was being sarcastic there, about the entirety of the Bible. I wasn’t saying Rev. was easy (it’s not, just ask Calvin).
What I *am* saying, is that if folks are unable to understand the poetic sections, historical, wisdom, et al., that’s not saying something about the book, as much as the readers.
Sorry if you misunderstood me.

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Justfinethanks January 3, 2010 at 1:08 pm

lukeprog: Creationists, on the other hand, always lose.  

Oh, how I wish that were true. The reason Kent Hovind so gleefully sold tapes of his debates is because he was so often able to catch his debating partners off guard.

But those debates really illustrated that the debate winner goes to those with more rhetorical skills, not the person who is right. So frequently you had this fast talking, fast thinking, charismatic dude up against a meek, socially awkward scientist.

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kennethos January 3, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Justfinethanks:

I think it works both ways. Kent Hovind might not have the brains, but has the rhetorical ability. So, too, does Hitchens, also with acid tongue, and with, IMHO, fewer brains than many of his opponents. (Smart, but not as smart, as them. Just mouthier.)
But that’s also what marks debates: not just what you say, but how you say it.
Sometimes the naturalist/materialist wins. Sometimes the Christian.

Maybe this is a call for more classical learning in our schools, for improving our rhetorical abilities, hmm?

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Hansen January 3, 2010 at 1:21 pm

kennethos: Maybe this is a call for more classical learning in our schools, for improving our rhetorical abilities, hmm?  

I think there are more important things to learn in school, quite frankly. ;)

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Como January 3, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Going to listen to the debate tomorrow but from your review it appears much of Craig’s argument missed the point. It’s not a question of how many people are saved, it’s a question of what you do with the people that aren’t. Eternal torture seems an inappropriate response to someone for not loving you or asking for your forgiveness no matter what they’ve done.

Craig also seems to be arguing for two different positions: 1) people get what they deserve, ie.torture in hell; and 2) maybe hell isn’t really firey torment after all. What’s his actual position?

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kennethos January 3, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Hansen:

Agreed, there are plenty of important things to learn in school. And, given what’s currently being taught in public schools, the ability to read, write, and to speak well should be on that list! (Possibly as opposed to some of the drivel currently being taught…)

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Jake de Backer January 3, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Justfinethanks,

Tell me you have your own blog.

J.

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Silver Bullet January 3, 2010 at 9:33 pm

I don’t understand why this statement appears to be true to Craig:

“Suppose that God could create a world in which everyone is freely saved, but there is only one problem: all such worlds have only one person in them!”

Why only one person in such a world? Can somebody please explain this to me?

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Briang January 3, 2010 at 9:53 pm

lukeprog: I suspect that most atheists don’t think they need to prepare because they think something like, “What, he’s defending the existence of his imaginary friend? I don’t need to prepare for that!” And then they get wasted.   

If that’s true then my respect for atheists would go down a lot. If an academic can be so dismissive of theism that they’re either ignorant of or don’t care about the scholarship done on the topic, why should I expect the average atheist to have put forth any more effort? If anyone one took that attitude with any other topic, they wouldn’t deserve respect.

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thecos January 3, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Silver Bullet: I don’t understand why this statement appears to be true to Craig:“Suppose that God could create a world in which everyone is freely saved, but there is only one problem: all such worlds have only one person in them!”Why only one person in such a world? Can somebody please explain this to me?  

Yeah… this doesn’t really make sense to me either, even after reading the full transcript of his argument. I mean, it seems like he’s admitting that its possible to have a world with a single person in it such that he/she would go to heaven. Is he saying that as soon as you add in a second person one of them necessarily must go to hell? Because that seems kind of ridiculous. But if two people are okay, what about three or four or five or a few billion. Where does he draw the line and why?

Maybe a loving god should have just made it harder for us to reproduce, or at least allow us to use birth control :)

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Rhys Wilkins January 3, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Hey Luke,

Have you considered doing a review for Craig vs Sinnott-Armstrong’s debate in God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist? That was a bitchin’ debate!

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Kiwi Dave January 4, 2010 at 1:13 am

Como’s raised a point, ‘Eternal torture seems an inappropriate response to someone for not loving you or asking for your forgiveness no matter what they’ve done’, which no one’s addressed.

I’d also ask why do God’s justice and holiness demand punishment for sin? I’m all in favour of locking criminals up so they can’t prey on the innocent, but that is irrelevant to hell. Punishment can also act a deterrent if it is certain and more-or-less immediate, but neither is true for hell – believers may claim hell is certain, but the evidence is too weak even to deter believers from sinning.

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Bram January 4, 2010 at 2:19 am

Hey Luke, great review, but you stopped when the most interesting part came, the questions from Dr. Bradley.

“Dr. Craig:

Because there may not be a compossible set of individuals such that if you put all of them together in a world, all of them freely receive God’s salvation and are saved. It may be that individual “S” would only be saved in a world if in that world individual “S’” were lost . . .

So that it’s impossible for God to . . . or infeasible for God to create a world in which all are saved . . . .

Dr. Bradley:

I understand quite well about them having to be compossible. And, let’s just say that out of the set of all possible inhabitants of this world that God is going to choose to create, only some are compossible. So let’s make it a subset. We now have a subset of compossible individuals all of whom would be saved.

Dr. Craig:

But, see, my point is that you don’t know that such a set is not the empty set. It could be the empty set.”

Given the infinite amount of possible individuals, this proper subset shouldn’t be empty. Unless there is a reason for it to be empty. Craig gives no reason, merely responds with:

“Dr. Craig:

You’ve still got three minutes.”

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Oliver January 4, 2010 at 2:44 am

Thanks for this post, Luke.

It’s always been my view that Craig lost this one badly. He seems to fare poorly when the topic for debate is a little more specific such as this one on ‘hell’. Debates like these that are more focused and limited in scope force him to go into the specifics, and that’s when the fallacies in his arguments become more apparent.

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Alex January 4, 2010 at 5:37 am

One thing you could go against Craig is to point out that the doctrine of penal substitution that Craig subscribes to is not held by many Christians – Anselm’s theory is subtly different and this is the one held by mainstream Catholics and protestant, “Christus Victor” theories were more common in the early Church.

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lukeprog January 4, 2010 at 7:09 am

Briang,

Yes, I think a lot of atheists are dismissive of superstition without actually studying it. But likewise, a lot of believers are dismissive of atheist without actually studying it.

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Torgo January 4, 2010 at 7:16 am

Bram,

Good point. I was interested in this part of the debate, too. Especially what Craig means by distinguishing the impossible from the implausible. I’m not sure where this distinction can get him, since an omnipotent God is said to be able to do anything it is possible to do, not anything it is plausible to do. As I recall, Bradley might press him a bit on these terms, but Craig doesn’t really explain himself.

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Mark January 4, 2010 at 7:55 am

“Luke asked: But isn’t it still unjust for God to condemn people to hell forever?”

Where are you getting this idea of “justice”? Please do tell.

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Mark January 4, 2010 at 7:55 am

Where did humans come up with the idea of ‘justice’?

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Tony Hoffman January 4, 2010 at 8:20 am

I think that preparing to debate Craig would be like preparing to debate the “Michael Bolton’s-Music-Is-the-Best” fan club; in order to be totally prepared (Them: Yeah, but have you heard this song?!”), you’d have to subject yourself to extended listening to Michael Bolton’s music, and limited exposure to his music makes that prospect seem gruesome to me.

That, I think, is Craig’s real secret weapon. Like Bolton, his choice of material largely ensures that those compelled to confront him will be less prepared than they should be, just because they find his arguments far less important or interesting than he does. There’s also a point, similar to those who would argue that Bolton’s music is indeed the best, where the fans of Craig can retreat to “Well, the Morality argument just works for me.”

I do ultimately agree, though, that Craig has to be confronted, and confronted better than he usually is. (Unfortunately, we may never be able to stop Michael Bolton.)

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Hermes January 4, 2010 at 8:28 am

“Isn’t that exactly what heaven is supposed to be? Craig believes in heaven, and he believes heaven is a possible world of free beings, all of which freely accept Christ. So Craig’s defense fails.”

I’m about to listen to the whole debate, but did Craig address this one comprehensively? From the summary, it looks like he did not.

To me, it still seems to boil down to ‘turn or burn’ (even if the ‘burn’ part is some kind of ‘lack of Jesus emptiness’), the same thing the Muslims would say though they are more explicit and less likely to draw the metaphor card.

That any place can be like the Christian Heaven makes normal reality seem like a useless pre-step. Why not just snap it all into existence — done and complete? The more I hear about Christian beliefs, the stranger they seem to become.

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Briang January 4, 2010 at 9:17 am

lukeprog: Briang,Yes, I think a lot of atheists are dismissive of superstition without actually studying it. But likewise, a lot of believers are dismissive of atheist without actually studying it.  

Agreed.
However, we’re talking about people who have chosen to do a public debate on a specific topic. I’d expect those people to be informed about what they are debating. I’m certainly dismissive about ideas I think are crazy (I think we all do this to a certain extent.) For example, I’m dismissive of alien abduction stories. I don’t really have the time or inclination to try to seriously study them. Yet, if someone asked me to do a public debate on the topic, I’d have to respectfully decline. Not only would it make me look silly coming to a debate unprepared, but it would not be fair to my debate opponent or to the audience. Both of whom are taking time out of their day to engage in a serious discussion.

Still I wonder if your hypothesis is really correct. Could it be that many atheists are just not good debaters? Debating is a skill that goes beyond just knowing the facts and arguments. A person might think he/she can do a debate because he/she is knowledgeable on a topic, but he/she may in fact be a terrible debater.

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Paul January 4, 2010 at 10:20 am

God is a being that is all good, all powerful and omniscient. At least I think Dr. Craig would claim this. Although I think we need to add another descriptor – a being with the emotional aptitude of an infant”

First question – “if God is all powerful, then God can create a world in which everyone freely chooses”

If what God wants is his creations to worship him why does it really matter if they do so freely or otherwise? Does it give him an extra feeling of specialness if they do so freely?

I will preface the rest of my response by saying that I think original sin (fall of man) is non-sense.

Roughly stated –

(The metaphor)
God creates man, man eats from the forbidden fruit. Thus man is sinful.

The presumption is every single human being that has ever existed and will exist would have eaten from the proverbial fruit (Hmm, I wonder what this means in terms of free will). Otherwise some would not be sinful and hence need no forgiveness. Making Jesus’ death unnecessary for those.

So God creates a particular type of material being that God knows is going to be sinful. Now God want’s his creation to ask for forgiveness for what was an inevitable outcome of having created this type of material being. Really? While this may be the case, is this the behavior of a reasonable being?

Moving on, Why is punishment (into hell) rightfully deserved? Seems to me everyone would be better served if God gave the specific individuals another opportunity via reincarnation or some other means. So a saved individual would gain immediate entrance in heaven and those who are not get another chance to redeem themselves. That seems both just and loving to me. Though I concede that if goodness and justness is part of God’s essence (assuming this is a meaningful statement, but I digress) than justice would be whatever he deemed it to be – not what we conceive it to be. Now I know God can and will do whatever he feels but one solution involves endless suffering the other does not.

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Silver Bullet January 4, 2010 at 10:46 am

What is the purpose of hell in Christian theism if not to provide an eternal outlet for the evil Christian god (who admits he is evil in Isaiah 45:7) to torture “human souls”?

Is it a motivator for people to accept the salvation offered by the Christian god? If so, then one doesn’t really have a free choice, and down Craig’s argument goes. I mean, who that REALLY believes in the metaphysics of heaven and hell is going to do whatever it takes to “freely” choose hell? The Christian god doesn’t really give these people a “free” choice anymore than the mugger who says, “your Rolex or I blow your head off” gives his victim a “free” choice. How “loving” of the Christian god!

Is it a deterrent to sin? Not for those who believe in Christianity, because their scapegoat – Jesus – lets them off the hook anyways. Neither can it be a deterrent to sin for those that do not believe in Christianity for obvious reasons.

Does it provide justice? Only for those “sinners” who can’t bring themselves to believe in the salvation offered by Christ. How “just” is that, especially given the crappy evidence the Christian god has provided to support that belief, rendering it completely indistinguishable from what would otherwise be pure mythology?

Christianity is such a bunch of ridiculous mumbo jumbo – it is amazing that intelligent people like Craig can make all of this make sense to them.

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Keith January 4, 2010 at 11:08 am

I don’t know about this one. I read the debate transcript, and I thought that WLC did a very good job of handling Bradley, ESPECIALLY in the Q&A segment. I think out of the many debates that I have seen or read involving WLC, that Walter Sinnott was his most formidable opponent. And even that wasn’t good enough.

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Tony Hoffman January 4, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Mark: Where did humans come up with the idea of ‘justice’?

The same place we came up with the idea of “run from scary things.” It evolved. Reciprocity is evidenced in social animals (not just humans) and has survival benefits that would aid its development through natural selection. And justice flows from, and enforces, reciprocity.

Or do you think it’s impossible for justice to have evolved from social behavior?

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drj January 4, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Briang: Still I wonder if your hypothesis is really correct. Could it be that many atheists are just not good debaters? Debating is a skill that goes beyond just knowing the facts and arguments. A person might think he/she can do a debate because he/she is knowledgeable on a topic, but he/she may in fact be a terrible debater.  

I chalk most of it up to experience.

Just take a look at how many debates William Lane Craig has done, and how many he continues to do. He belts them out all the time, and has been doing this consistently for years. I wonder how many days it would take to watch them all.

I don’t know of any atheist debaters – heck, any other religious debaters either – that come close to his experience.

Its also apparent that he has tremendous ambition as a public debater. The vast majority of his opponents simply don’t have that same kind of ambition, or so it appears. They may do a few debates in their career for some publicity or whatever, but they don’t seem to care to make it a significant piece of their legacy, like Craig does.

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Jake de Backer January 4, 2010 at 1:50 pm

I would actually like to expand on certain point made in particular by Silver Bullet.

I’ve often drawn on the robber scenario as an analogous depiction of the “choice” we’re given between God and hell. Anyone given any choice with enough competence to be accountable for it is going to examine potential consequences of that choice as far into the future as possible. We do this all the time when determining if we should go up to “atheist girl” (from other thread) in a bar, to whether or not we should take a red light, etc. The problem becomes motives.

I mentioned an argument in a different post several months back which to my knowledge, was left unmolested. To summarize:

If God wants to choose Heavens residents based upon merit, he should have left us to ourselves. I always hear that “God wants a relationship with us”, but surely letting 60-70 years pass where He can make an assessment of someones entire life grounding his decision in the actions and moral conduct of an individual would make more sense. Since God intervened and made his will known, how can he expect people to be good for it’s own sake and not for fear of damnation? Perhaps he should have limited his interaction to, “Hey, I’ll be up here.. you children play amongst yourselves..”. How many times have you competed in something and thought to yourself afterward, “Fuck me.. I usually do way better than that at practice..”, because no one is judging you during practice. In fact, wouldn’t you rather be judged for some of your practice performances than your competition performances? I’m a gymnast so sorry if this analogy seems distanced for some of you. The point is, if God would have kept his existence a secret he would be able to view the behavior of his creation totally as they are, not as His will made them and after dying everyone could be judged fairly with no excuse for doing what they did.

Silver Bullet is exactly right; how much of a choice is it between do what I want or literally go to Hell?

J.

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Tony Hoffman January 4, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Jake: The point is, if God would have kept his existence a secret he would be able to view the behavior of his creation totally as they are, not as His will made them and after dying everyone could be judged fairly with no excuse for doing what they did.

Interesting. One way of looking at is that seeing as how God has kept his existence a secret from me, and since I believe I have acted morally throughout anyway, this God would judge me well. This creates a wonderfully paradoxical (for the theist, anyway) world where only a skeptical atheist like me would see heaven, as this God should judge the theists actions transparently self-serving. In other words, I like it.

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Hermes January 4, 2010 at 4:39 pm

kennethos: “Some debates may favor Christians. Some may favor atheists. Others have yet to be honestly held…”

Yet, some even refuse. Meanwhile, my offer is still open. Even though it is not the season, I promise to be more nice than naughty.

The reason for my request is that it looks like Majestic — a bold and assertive debater — might not be coming back after the debate he had with Kcrady over a Craig-style Kalam debate ended;

http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?topic=11143

I think the debate was handled civilly and professionally by the moderators, and that there was a clear ‘winner’ in that case.

For us, though, I propose something a little less philosophical. A little more concrete. Something where there is a greater possibility of everyone learning something.

Here’s my first shot at a topic;

* Is society (in general) better off with citizens that are mainly theistic or mainly non-theistic?

To cut through some of the baggage, I’ll grant up front that any society governed on a strict ideology — one that ignores the citizens or demands ideological purity — is worse off than societies where ideologies are not enforced by the government. Ideologically strict societies don’t have citizens as much as they have inmates.

What I’m mainly talking about is apples to apples not apple juice to crude oil; free societies. Ones where all citizens in nations that are governed through democratic means (direct and representative) have personal property and commerce rights.

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Jeff H January 4, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Jake de Backer: The point is, if God would have kept his existence a secret he would be able to view the behavior of his creation totally as they are, not as His will made them and after dying everyone could be judged fairly with no excuse for doing what they did.

While I do appreciate the logic of this, with God trying not to “bias” us, I’m not sure about the morality of judging people based on a standard that was never clearly laid out for them. It’s important, especially if you’re talking about eternal-life-and-death consequences, to clearly identify the right and wrong actions so that people are judged fairly. Laying out the consequences would also be important so that people could know how much effort to actually put into following these rules. If the reward is a candy bar, and the punishment is a slap on the wrist, I’d be much less likely to do what I was told than if it were heaven or hell.

Of course, I’d still argue that many of the rules of behaviour are not clearly laid out, especially after 2000 years of Christian reinterpretation. When some people say that the OT law still applies, and others say it doesn’t, and yet others say some of it still applies but not all of it, things could be much better if cleared up by a memo from God.

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kennethos January 4, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Hermes,
I’m glad to see you agree with me that a number of Christian/atheist debated are refused. While I suspect you might not desire a lot of debates featuring ID guys, for example, it’s nice to know that we have at least some things in common!
Meanwhile, I’m taking a page from Luke’s book. He commented (rightly, I think) that there are some atheists who walk into a debate with a Christian (whether Craig, or someone else), unprepared, and get hammered. This actually floored me, since I could not conceive of any atheists foolish enough to be unprepared to face a Christian in open debate! (Unlike a few believers out there, who have demonstrated great folly at time.) So I visited WWGHA, and copied all the pages into PDF format, so as to read what the site says, where its points are valid, and where they aren’t. While I currently enjoy the conversations with civil atheists here at Luke’s forum, I have no guarantees that folks over there will be polite, or enjoyable, let alone civil. When I’m familiar with the arguments, and ready to walk amongst the lions, I may even grace you with my presence! :)

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Hermes January 4, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Kennethos, as I mentioned before, I’m for reality. If you want to go anywhere on WWGHA and have a civil discussion, you’ll have to check for similar comments made by others before posting something you take as a given. They do not — I do not — like to have to beat dead horses. The search function is your friend. Unjustified arrogance will be harshly dealt with. That said, there are Christians that get along there fine. One example that stands out is OldChurchGuy. He can glide in and out of conversations thoughtfully.

OldChurchGuy’s profile and latest posts;
http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?&action=profile;u=1579

That said, the formal discussion or debate areas are moderated with an even hand. That’s what’s on offer from me and if you don’t care for me, there are others.

If you do wander the forums, I strongly recommend that you keep your claims to a minimum and focused on what you think has overwhelming support and (!) you are able to back up with actual overwhelming details not just assertions. I can’t count the number of times theologians came in to ‘inform’ the WWGHA forum members about Christianity and were in turn asked questions and provided details they had no good answers for. (Typical pattern: Starts with logic, reason, and history [ignoring reality] … is corrected on logic, reason, history, and reality … ends with ‘just have faith’ regardless of logic, reason, history, or reality.)

There are some amazingly well informed people there, including former evangelists and theologians as well as professionals in a variety of fields. The ignorance exhibited by some of the folks there doesn’t change that. This is not to snub any other well traveled blog or forum, of course, including this one.

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Hermes January 4, 2010 at 8:20 pm

One more recommendation, keep the following in mind and honor it when others say it;

“I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.” –Mark Twain

To expand on that, in these discussions it is often insisted that the other person must or must not have a specific opinion. Or, that there are only a limited number of potential answers to a specific topic when a short bit of brain storming or (better) investigation outside our own eyelids shows that there are a vast variety of possibilities. A few glaring examples of this are Pascal’s Wager, the ‘liar, lunatic, lord’, and ‘atheists must __________’. I’m sure you can think of a few yourself.

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kennethos January 4, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Hermes:
In my brief wanderings on the site, I saw the civility level was not that high. There were a lot of levels of kindness I was hoping to see that I didn’t. And of course, the preparatory “book” seemed to be inferring that anyone clinging to any type of biblical belief was little better than an idiot or a fool. This does not strike me as a place respecting reality, as much as a clubhouse for exceeding angry atheists and others desiring a bite of unknowing believers zealously striving to defend the faith against those with few, if any, scruples. That, and I’ve seen “logic, reason, and history” used by both sides. Both sides have much to defend, and hate to lose.

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Hermes January 4, 2010 at 9:07 pm

OK. The offer is still extended. I stand by my comments.

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kennethos January 4, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Hermes,
Thanks for striving to be polite. I do appreciate it.
I happily acknowledge my limitations, and vast ignorance in many, MANY places. (Knowing this is shared by the vast majority of the world’s population makes me feel a tad better, of course.)
I apologize to you (and ask your forgiveness) if/when things I said and posted earlier in other places seemed, or even were, arrogant. Not my intention (sarcasm, yes, but we both did that, I think).
But I’ve been looking at the site. Some of the pages are just astonishing at their choices of source materials. Things I’d expect an atheist to cite, aren’t cited. Passages they do cite, I’m left wondering, “Do they know how to even read in context?! Can they truly be that arrogant?”
But that’s left for another day. (In reality, probably a number of days from now.) And I really don’t want to be rude, or overly condescending.
You stand by your comments. So do I. In the word of Sean Connery’s character from “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”: “I’m waiting to be impressed.”
Someday…

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Hermes January 4, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Kennethos, I have no problem with arrogance from you or anyone. It is acceptable and even appreciated — if it is merited. Being blunt and direct also has it’s place as many of these discussions end in people being too polite and not actually getting a point across. After all, the issue is supposed to be important, so why PF around?

If you are looking for WWGHA to be a scholarly philosophical review of the issues, then you don’t understand the audience or the message of the WWGHA site. The target audience is clearly spelled out in multiple places; professional, college educated, Christians. Not philosophers. Not debate specialists. Not theologians or evangelists (though many do show up). The audience is educated but otherwise normal people who have been trained in the skill of critical thinking and require that skill to make a living.

There are plenty of sites for philosophers and theologians already.

As I see it, the whole message of the site can be summarized like this;

* Non-ambiguous prayers are not answered though the Christian Bible states that they will be.

* Thus, the Christan Bible is not a reliable guide to reality.

* That fact argues against it being from a source or from writers that knew enough about the true nature of reality.

* Thus, the core ideas that have no independent support for them in reality — including the Christian deity — are imaginary.

Is that summary philosophically or theologically rigorous? No. Are there more steps I’ve not mentioned? Sure. Once expanded, can a philosopher or a theologian tackle them as philosophical or theological issues? Sure. But the audience isn’t philosophers, it isn’t theologians, and it’s not intended to be a silver bullet.

The audience is educated Christians. The idea is not to get them to go back to the same old arguments that have already been dealt with in the twisty little passages of apologetics, but instead it is for them to crack open a book they probably don’t read, and take a look at what it actually says — then look at reality. The amputees the web site and videos mention are only one example of how the book doesn’t match what we see in reality.

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kennethos January 5, 2010 at 6:50 am

Hermes:
The practical experience of millions of believers around the world might differ from those on WWGHA. Many have experiences certain prayers not answered, and many more have experienced many prayers definitively answered. While the query about amputees may be clever and even imaginative, I also don’t recall God ever promising anything to amputees. In fact, repeatedly in the Bible are places where God states *why* prayers aren’t answered, for a variety of reasons. Most of these reasons, and the fact that God isn’t a cosmic one-armed-bandit, seem to be a rationale for atheist’s skepticism. If I recall, the site even touts stories of the otherwise miraculous, and then denies these accounts, as they don’t satisfy them for whatever reason.
I’ll probably explore the site more fully eventually, and perhaps even talk to people there, but it’s really not a high priority for me now. I have more important things on my plate at the moment. Sorry.

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Hermes January 5, 2010 at 8:44 am

kennethos: Many have experiences certain prayers not answered, and many more have experienced many prayers definitively answered.

On the forums, we’ve been over dozens and dozens and dozens of those ‘definitively answered prayers’. Each one was ambiguous or just not a miracle. If you can name one off hand, login to WWGHA and search for it to see how it has already been addressed and in what detail. I think you will find that the bottom line remains the same;

* The Christian Bible states definitively that prayers will be answered. Not maybe. Not kinda. Definitively.

* Prayers are never answered _unambiguously_. This covers any prayer. For anyone. Amputees or not.

* Thus, the Christian Bible is invalid as a source for understanding reality.

That you are unaware of the first two bullet points only shows you haven’t actually gone over the material at WWGHA or the videos and are dismissing them out of hand. Each briefly covers that information and cites chapter and verse. If you don’t have a Christian Bible handy, you can review a variety of them at biblegateway.com and check the quotes to see if they are used in the proper context.

Bottom line: If there are any deities in reality, the Christian Bible can’t reliably be used to determine anything about those deities.

If you know otherwise, feel free to demonstrate concrete examples where the basic argument falls apart. Maybe in a discussion or a debate? Moderated to keep out the riffraff, of course. Invite whoever you want to join the peanut gallery and observe for themselves. If you don’t want to discuss actual details, feel free to invite someone else you deeply respect to act as your proxy. If you don’t want me, I can recommend a half dozen others that may be suitably rigorous or more polite.

Till you do a review, you are not addressing what is actually being said only a superficial interpretation of it. Is that acceptable?

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Hermes January 5, 2010 at 9:13 am

Addendum: Note that the issue for Christians is not if a prayer seems to be answered or not, but if the Christian Bible is reliable.

From a non-Christian perspective, there seems to be at best no difference between luck and Christian prayer results. Additionally, the same prayer results (identical to luck?) seem to be granted to those who pray to non-Christian deities. Does that mean that miracles are mistaken for luck, and that multiple deities are at work — to lend a hand even if nothing is actually asked for?

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kennethos January 5, 2010 at 9:39 am

Hermes:
Your posts reveal that you’re likely not reading what I’m actually saying. Let me reiterate.
I have visited WWGHA a few times, taken a look at a few things, looked at a few posts. I have pointedly avoided an in-depth examination of it at the moment. I told you this in the last post. I also said (last post) that many prayers have been answered. I take this figure from the church services I’ve participated in, where prayers are said, and other people report answers to prayers. I assume these folks aren’t fools or idiots, and are capable of accurately discerning whether a prayer has or hasn’t been answered. Now, prayer can be subjective (at the very least) when God can use a variety of means and methods to answer prayer (other people, bank accounts, “luck”, etc.) In all the Christian (and non-Christian) circles I’ve been in, this is taken for granted. Perhaps your standards and definitions for answers to prayer are different, I don’t know. I also assume that the growing church movements in Africa and Asia are presumably growing because they see God working, and answering prayer. I’m not foolish enough to dismiss all of them out of hand, out of ignorance or whatnot. If you choose differently, that’s up to you.
If I recall, the Bible does speak of answered prayer! And God also speaks of differing conditions, and reasons for prayer not being answered. It seems as if these details might be the ones that folks at WWGHA don’t like. Again, I have no control over that, and have no desire for folks there to blame me for things in life they’re upset about.
In conclusion, you state accurately that I haven’t examined the site in detail. This confirms what I’ve said to you in my last few responses to you, that I haven’t. So thank you for agreeing with me that I’m ignorant of it! (And why you’re repeating to me what I’ve already said is the subject for another discussion, sometime, I suppose….)
I’ve also stated (very generically) some truths about prayers being answered. You’re using unanswered prayers as a springboard for attacking the Bible (nothing new here, of course). You are free to do this, and I suppose I’ll have to get used to some very disjointed attacks. But I’m not going along with this. (It’s astonishing to me that atheists would use this line of attack, but whatever floats their boat…) You continually taunt me and provoke me in this, instead of a civil, polite “C’mon by whenever you want, love to chat!” I’m trying to be polite in responding to you gently. Perhaps this was not the wisest course for me. Ah, well…This will be my last response to you. Good day.

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ildi January 5, 2010 at 10:02 am

I take this figure from the church services I’ve participated in, where prayers are said, and other people report answers to prayers. I assume these folks aren’t fools or idiots, and are capable of accurately discerning whether a prayer has or hasn’t been answered.

I recommend reading up on cognitive biases.

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Tony Hoffman January 5, 2010 at 10:25 am

kennethos: I have pointedly avoided an in-depth examination of it at the moment. I told you this in the last post. I also said (last post) that many prayers have been answered.

So, the bottom line is that you prefer to have your contestable assertions accepted without the inconvenience of having them tested? Yes, that’s good work if you can get it.

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Hermes January 5, 2010 at 10:58 am

Kennethos, sorry for not being clear myself and adding to any confusion or frustration on your end. I was attempting to skip ahead past issues already covered and did not mean it to become a distraction. I will be modestly more verbose in the future.

I did understand that you gave the WWGHA site a cursory look and that you were considering an additional look.

My comments on that track were that your intentionally acknowledged superficial investigation (one I do not criticize; we can’t be instant experts on any topic except for the simplest observations) has lead you to some conclusions that are demonstratively invalid.

My explanation of what the WWGHA site/videos/… covers was meant to address those conclusions by providing a summary and some context for parts of the WWGHA site/videos/… that you currently are not aware of due to your currently reasonable superficial investigation.

As for the standards for what qualifies as a miracle, I am looking at what is asserted in the Christian Bible then comparing that to reality. The chapter and verse references are provided by the WWGHA videos and the web site book (not so much the forums unless that is the specific topic being discussed). I left those details out of my replies here since I have already imposed quite a bit on Luke’s blog comment area already. The proper place to discuss WWGHA arguments is on WWGHA.

To keep it simple;

* For the sake of this discussion, I do not dismiss all miracle claims out of hand.

If they are part of reality, I’d like to know that so that I have a better understanding of what reality actually is and not my current flawed assessment of it.

* I do say that based on reality the contents of the Christian Bible (see chapter and verse references from WWGHA) show it not to be a reliable guide to reality.

If it were, unambiguous miracles would be as plentiful as confetti on a sidewalk after a parade.

* I understand your objection to the above — there are criteria for prayers to be answered — but it is not valid unless you ignore the Christian Bible in part or in whole, or make up your own context that differs from what is in that religious text.

At that point, if the Christian Bible is not that important and can be overridden by extra-Biblical issues, we can have a conversation on how you know what you know about Christianity and how anyone else could as well.

Back on topic. Looking at reality, if miracles do occur, then they seem to be universal regardless of someone’s religious beliefs or lack there of and are also quite inconsistent and arbitrary.

To me, Christian claimed miracles are indistinguishable from luck or miracles claimed by non-Christian religious people, or by anyone who has uttered a phrase such as “that was pure luck”. You can call such comments an ‘attack’ if you want, but really I just want to learn about reality and if my assessment is fairly accurate, for you to learn about reality even if you remain some kind of Christian. What I don’t understand is why these issues don’t seem to concern you. If I was wrong, I’d like to know it so that I can stop being wrong and as quickly as possible be right.

If the dismissiveness you express is temporary, then I take that as both logical and practical and can hope that you may get around to the actual issues the WWGHA site covers. The substance not the style. If it is an expression that you have reached a firm conclusion and see no need to investigate at any point, then I do not see that as a noble position to take. I’m going on the assumption that the former is the case not the latter.

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danielg January 6, 2010 at 1:53 pm

1. I agree w/ Bradley that the free will argument is weak, precisely because heaven lacks evil, and is a ‘world’ – does it lack free will, then?

2. I agree w/ Bradley that this is, in a sense, not the best of all worlds. This does not invalidate the idea that a loving God and hell exist, it really only applies to that one argument of Craigs.

3. Bradley is wrong in his assumption that ‘a loving God would not do the same thing as an evil person,’ specifically torture.

Bradley is ignoring the issues of motive and justice. Just punishment for the impenitent IS loving for the victims, and fair for the perpetrators, even if it is torture. This type of pain infliction is not the same as the wanton torture of innocents by Hitler.

And as Craig rightly says, the question is not merely “do I like it,” but “is it logically possible?”, and I would add an even better question – is it true?

Bradley makes many other poor arguments against Christianity:
- the evils done by Christians in history

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danielg January 6, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I also think it is interesting that Bradley appeals to the injustice of eternal torment, not the logical possibility. That seems to be an emotional argument.

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lukeprog January 6, 2010 at 3:50 pm

danielg,

The logical problem with that is that God is supposedly perfectly just and all-powerful and all-knowing.

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Hermes January 6, 2010 at 9:45 pm

lukeprog: The logical problem with that is that God is supposedly perfectly just and all-powerful and all-knowing.

I always grin when Christians use a omnimax deity wrapper to describe the Christian deity. A review of the Bible shows that without a serious set of distortion lenses, the GOB is not any of those things. Yet, if they want to claim they follow an omnimax, and that the GOB is an omnimax, they can knock themselves out. It makes the discussions that much simpler. (Those who claim that their deity has a better understanding of morality then have to address Euthyphro — and have to do so from a very small patch of ground.)

That said, I have encountered a few Christians that don’t claim their deity is an omnimax. Because of that, I try and make sure to ask up front so I know how to address their claims and if they have a chance at being credible. Too many flip flop on these issues, so getting them to say what their deity is can be a bit time consuming.

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Abdullah Reed June 18, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Peace be upon the peaceful ones among the Christians, and those who debate for the sake of discovery, not enmity.

Craig vs. Bradley.

Both are wrong, because Christians believe that God has a son, and they believe that making himself into a man could actually glorify God, when actually, God is far from such an association with creation and it belittles God to be associated with being human.

God is so far from being human that to become a man and do miracles would not even touch the tip of the iceberg. God has demonstrated his greatness to us in small doses, with miracles at the hands of prophets, only so we would listen to them, yet He teaches us through other ways.

The Koran, chapters 68, and 96, mention that God taught man by the pen. Through language, God shows us even more than through the miracles performed at the hands of the prophets. The miracles are just to get credentials.

God knows best.
Muhammad is his messenger. I bear witness of this and also that Heaven and Hell are real, and Resurrection is real. Please email me to debate about God or Islam is you want to.

Abdullah Reed

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Madeleine August 12, 2010 at 2:36 am

Given that this is your favourite debate and your contention that Bradley should do more debates with Christian scholars, I would value your thoughts on last week’s debate at the University of Auckland between Raymond Bradley and Matthew Flannagan.
I was one of the organisers – if you click the link next to my name you’ll see where my biases lie ;) Nevertheless I found the debate to be very scintillating and I think you would too.
The audio of the debate is here, there are links to an almost-transcript at the same page (the video will be online soon)
I particularly enjoyed it, despite it wandering off topic a bit, because Ray Bradley opened strongly with his moral argument for atheism, Matt responded very well laying down a defence of divine command theory, Bradley came back claiming to have caught Matt out in an error of logic and offered a lot of evidence against God being good, Matt slammed him into the wall, Bradley fell apart in his closing, Matt finished him off.
Have a listen or a read – you may disagree with how I call it, either way you should enjoy it and like I said, I would be interested in your thoughts.

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lukeprog August 12, 2010 at 9:51 am

Hi Madeline,

I’m just listening to it now; thanks for organizing it! I recall a while back you or Matt linked to some of my stuff.

I just got to the introductory remarks where someone says Antony Flew had a late-life conversion from atheism to religion, which is false, and was explicitly denied by Flew. Oh well…

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dgsinclair August 12, 2010 at 10:06 am

I listened to the whole painful thing – well, at least the main presentations. I could not bear to go on to the rebuttals.

Not only is Flew inaccurately reported as having converted to religion (he just became an agnostic), I found both speakers obnoxious. The atheist, because he was just grandstanding with this courtroom drama presentation. He had a host of poor assumptions which the Christian speaker misdiagnosed, and acted more like a polemecist in the form of Dawkins or Dennett than a serious debater. I don’t think he engaged the real philosophic problems clearly, if at all.

The Christian was ameteurish in many ways, and his presentation was not well honed – his accusations that the atheist was circular was a little silly, and poorly explained.

I’d skip this debate – it’s only interesting in that such a well credentialed atheist can give such a poor presentation – it shows that these old ‘angry atheists’ grow crotchety and illogical as they age – I think their sour anger just makes them bitter and ugly. I guess I better work on my own anger and bitterness before i get old, eh? ;)

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Madeleine August 13, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Professor Robert Nola made the Flew comment.

I enjoyed the debate, I thought the replies were particularly good.

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Madeleine August 14, 2010 at 2:28 am

dgsinclair wrote:

“the Christian was ameteurish in many ways, and his presentation was not well honed – his accusations that the atheist was circular was a little silly, and poorly explained.”

I find it interesting that you single this particular feature of Matthew Flannagan’s talk out as amateurish, silly and poorly presented. This is what Mayy said in response to Raymond Bradley,

“Second, Ray’s argument is circular, [3b] assumes that God has duties; however, on my view the wrongness of an action consists in its being forbidden by God. Given that God does not issue commands to himself it follows that he has no duties. To propose [3b] Ray has to assume that my view is unjustified, which is what he is supposed to be proving. He is reasoning in a circle.”

Compare Matt’s statement in the debate with that of William Lane Craig in his recent debate with Michael Tooley:

“On my view the wrongness of an action is determined by its being forbidden by God. An action is morally permissible if it is not forbidden by God. Now obviously, God didn’t forbid permitting the Lisbon earthquake. So it has the right-making property of being permitted by God. Dr. Tooley has to assume that my view is unjustified, which is what he’s supposed to be proving. His argument turns out to be reasoning in a circle.”

So the amateurish, silly argument, which was poorly presented, was actually presented by William Lane Craig in a very similar way against Michael Tooley. Whatever you may say about Craig its hardly sensible to say he is silly, an amateur debater or that he does not present arguments well.

Perhaps you’ll claim that this means Matt is just a plagariser who copies others arguments?

In his April 2010 Reasonable Faith newsletter, where Craig describes his debate with Tooley he writes:

“In preparation for the debate I worked through his [Tooley’s] argument carefully and prepared a four-point response. To read my critique of his argument click here. (I’m indebted to Timothy McGrew and Matt Flanagan for very helpful interaction!)”

Craig got his argument that he used against Tooley from Matt. So William Lane Craig seems to have a different criteria of what constitutes silly amateur arguments to use in debates compared to you.

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lukeprog August 15, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Hi Madeleine,

I listened to Matt’s debate with Ray Bradley.

Matt responded directly and clearly to Ray’s arguments and showed why they didn’t work. Ray did indeed misrepresent Matt’s position, and made vague statements that are difficult not to describe as sophistry. Toward the end, Ray was left to babble about irrelevant issues.

I suspect there are many Biblical passages that Ray could have used that cannot be shown to be plausibly figurative like the genocide of the Canaanites or the Noachian flood. But as Matt showed, Ray’s particular argument was already flawed for other reasons. In the end, Ray has to “sum up” by arguing against Young Earth Creationism! WTF?

And as matter of style, Ray is rather melodramatic and Matt more analytic. In philosophy, I happen to prefer the latter, though good arguments can be presented with both styles.

I was a bit unclear, though… does Matt hold that all the talk of stoning in the Bible is figurative? I would be curious to read the research behind that claim.

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Matt August 17, 2010 at 4:20 pm
lukeprog August 17, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Thanks, Matt!

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Abdullah Reed August 23, 2010 at 11:59 pm

O People of The Book!

Thanks be to God for the chance to learn something online. Thanks be to God for life, and for eyesight, for arms and legs. Thanks be to God for teaching us about Hell so we know its there and how to avoid it.

If you are searching for certainty, I hope you find it. I did. Praise be to God. I love Him a lot. If you love God, follow me. God will love you and forgive you your sins.

The Qur’an confirms and clarifies what came before it (pevious revelations). Using the former scriptures makes only limited sense. Its like using Windows 98 when its already 2010. Update! Get the Quran!

The Qur’an is a miracle of writing. Read the Quran for yourself and you’ll see what I mean, God willing.

It has challenged mankind to better it. It has not yet been bettered, and it will not. And God said: if you can match it or better it, you’ll know its not from God.

A follower of Jesus must confirm Muhammad as his co-worker, another messenger of God, and must heed Muhammad’s reminder, including all details of the revelation that he received. Its all within the Abrahamic covenant.

Praise be to God, Abraham’s god, the One True God. He will forgive you, me, and all of us, but only if we seek forgiveness. So who is perfect? Who doesn’t need God’s forgiveness. Who is all-wise? Who doesn’t need God’s guidance? Who is all-knowing? Who doesn’t need more knowledge from God?

God promised He will guide the “muttaqeen” (Arabic for godfearing people) from among the Christians. That is, the Godfearing Ones from among them. So ask Him. He has guaranteed this promise for Godfearing Christians.

Praise be to God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate. What is his compassion? He understands where we’re at. He guides who needs it, and in just the right way. What is his mercy? He forgives when forgiveness is not deserved. Praise be to God forever, and Glory. High is He. Glory be to Him on the Throne.

Abdullah Reed
Bogor Indonesia

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Garren April 27, 2011 at 8:06 am

Meanwhile, if anyone wants to see what a skeptic sounds like who has no clue whatsoever about Christian apologetics, try the Paul Kurtz vs. Norman Geisler debate from Luke’s collection:

http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=50

I listened to this last night while washing dishes and wanted to break something.

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cl April 27, 2011 at 9:36 am

And contrary to Craig, the Bible does say that those who have never heard the gospel will be sent to eternal torture:

That’s false.

If it would be inconsistent to suppose that Hitler was acting lovingly while sending the majority of German Jews to the gas chambers for lacking the right parentage, wouldn’t it be equally inconsistent to claim that God is acting lovingly while sending the majority of the human race to roast in hell for lacking the right belief?

It is not simply a matter of belief. According to the Bible, people go to hell for unrepentant sin, sin that–if not repented of and relinquished–would make the eternal life God wants to give us impossible.

But wait a minute, Bradley says. Isn’t that exactly what heaven is supposed to be? Craig believes in heaven, and he believes heaven is a possible world of free beings, all of which freely accept Christ. So Craig’s defense fails.

This, I think, alludes to Bradley’s best response, but you jump the gun. You haven’t shown how Craig’s defense fails, you’ve simply asserted it. As such, I can’t really rebut it.

Lastly, none of this even touches the doctrine of annihilation, against which many–perhaps even most–of Bradley’s arguments vanish.

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Reginald Selkirk April 27, 2011 at 11:18 am

Craig: Suppose that God could create a world in which everyone is freely saved, but there is only one problem: all such worlds have only one person in them!

WTF? Where did that come from?

Bradley: Saint Paul tells us that only those who have been sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved.

Note here that Bradley is leaving behind the vague abstractions of philosophy to zero in on specific claims about the Christian notions of God, Hell, etc. Those are tougher to defend because they are less slippery.

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Sean Santos April 27, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Bradley certainly acquit himself well. I suppose the two things I found lacking in this debate were these:

By the very nature of the debate, it had to be conducted in Christian territory. Hell is only a concept which arises within theology, and so almost the whole debate is over the question “If there was a certain type of God, how would he create the world?” The inaccessibility of God makes the question maximally hypothetical, since Craig can retreat behind unfalsifiable propositions (such as that every “feasible” world in which everyone is saved has some kind of deficiency which can only be fixed by the creation of hell and damnation).

This is a general problem that I have with the God debates. They are always arguing over some pre-existing, at best partially shared conception of a deity, which is linked with a very large and interconnected theological structure. But I think that this question of “Is there a God?” can only be contingent upon explaining what the concept of God is and what it is supposed to explain in the first place. The proper way to justify this is by plunking God down as a single, indivisible concept, but to build the concept of God from the ground up, justifying each feature of such a being as you go. Unfortunately, this isn’t a process which debate formats are generally amenable to.

The other point that I don’t usually see made in debates about hell, is that the criteria involved make little sense. Even accepting that it is in principle possible for some non-Christians to be saved, it has been made very clear that some sort of reconciliation with God is necessary. Craig side-steps around this by claiming that knowledge of God is somehow accessible to everyone. But this doesn’t clear up why God allows any uncertainty about his existence in the first place. God apparently is said to be offering a “free choice” between salvation (which is essentially a form of rehabilitation for sinners) and damnation (which is essentially permanent incarceration or punishment, under a conception of justice which seems to claim that punishment of sinners is somehow an inherent good in itself, apart from having any deterrent or precautionary value).

To maximize the exercise of free responsibility behind this choice, one would expect God to show up and pose the question clearly to each person. There’s something baffling about the idea that he finds it acceptable to let people make such a decision while misinformed, uninformed, or even apparently unaware that they are making a decision at all.

Unfortunately, this is more of a contingent rather than logical objection. I’m sure that Craig could invent some reason why, if God showed up, that would violate free will, or have a negative moral effect on humanity, or something. I rather doubt that he could substantiate this, but it would prop open the possibility of his god and hell existing, which is all he would likely ask for. Craig’s success seems to be partly due to inconsistent standards, where he demands of himself only to show the possibility of being right, while demanding of others that they show it to be impossible that they are wrong. On a theistic audience, of course, this is often sufficient, since they are predisposed to agree with him unless he is proven definitively wrong.

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Sean Santos April 27, 2011 at 3:10 pm

*”is not by plunking down”

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Teapot April 27, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Luke, are you familiar with any atheist writers who press the objection that defenses that rest on free will are too attached to the deeply troubled premise that free will is worth the infinite amount of suffering it (on Craig’s defense, necessarily) causes or “allows to be caused” in free creatures? If the suffering in hell is infinite, how could free will ever possibly be a greater good? Especially given that, on Craig’s kind of Christianity, *most* free creatures go to hell and therein suffer eternally.

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Sean Santos April 27, 2011 at 5:05 pm

I suppose I can put a footnote after having thought about hell a bit more. Certainly my aforementioned objection holds up, with whatever its full force is, against annihilationism and traditional hell-as-fiery-punishment beliefs. It seems unjust to punish someone who did not understand (or worse, had no way of understanding) that what they were doing was wrong and could potentially have such dire consequences. It seems an even worse perversion of justice to allow a loophole that, for totally arbitrary reasons, is drastically more accessible to some people than others (unlike the atheists Craig criticizes, I’ve long acknowledged that this concept of “heaven” would be totally unethical if everyone by nature deserves eternal punishment).

A similar argument can be leveraged against the “issuant” conception of hell. If God were truly the source of all things in which human beings find positive value, than wanting to live apart from him would be simply an error in judgment, a decision made due to faulty information. The “loving” thing for God to do would then be to teach people about his nature. Just leaving them alone would be like letting a toddler play with a loaded handgun. The only way that one of the damned could be considered to decide her fate rationally, would be if her overriding motivation was self-loathing.

I’m not sure about other hells, such as the universalist or escapist ones, but I don’t see how the temporary vs. eternal nature of a hell could make a difference. But I can see purgatory being exempt from this objection, since it is primarily about rehabilitation, not punishment.

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Jake de Backer April 27, 2011 at 10:38 pm

It was a smart move on God’s part to make all the parts of the Bible that could render Christianity incoherent and/or demonstrably false mere “metaphor” (like Genesis, “burning” in hell, some of the more insane images in Revelation.) Otherwise, Christianity might appear to objective observers like a jumbled mass of absurdities kept aloft by a tangled network of ad hoc rationalizations.

This is still my favorite comment ever made on the site.

J.

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mister k April 28, 2011 at 1:55 am

I feel like there were a couple of other points Craig could be called out on here. Throughout he insists that people need to be saved by Jesus to go to heaven, and forcing people to do this would be wrong. But why make it a requirement in the first place? God makes all the rules, so if he wants everyone to go to heaven, he really can. The notion is perhaps that when they get to heaven they might wreck it for everyone else?(!) But that doesn’t really jibe with the nature of heaven (a question I’m not clear on is whether free will exists in heaven, as it seems like paradise would be difficult to maintain under such circumstances)

Basically, why does God need us to worship him before sending us to heaven, and why is his response to not doing so to torture us forever?

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salbannach April 28, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Listening to it now, I don’t here the Bradley “slam.” It is refreshing, particularly after the Harris debate, to finally hear someone prepared against Craig, but Craig holds his own, even in the possible world discourse — fairly complicated philosophical terrain, and yet Craig presents it in digestible fashion.

Craig is really wonderful. I’m still an atheist, but it doesn’t keep me from admiring the man’s clarity of presentation, mastery of the subject matter, and debating skill. I always know exactly where I disagree with Craig, so crystalline is his presentation of his argument.

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aaron April 29, 2011 at 8:04 pm

I just wrote a paper on the problem of evil in a response to “The New Mormon Challenge.” A Evangelical Christian book against certain Mormon beliefs they believe incoherent. I am a Mormon but really enjoy watching Craig’s debates and reading a little atheist philosophy. I find that Mormon scripture really makes good sense of the problem of evil and hell more so than creedal Christianity. I am in a fun position because while I agree that there is a knowable God and encourage all to seek him, I don’t believe that the creedal Christian God makes sense.

First, I think it is a valid argument that if God literally willed everything and everyone into existence out of nothing, the creedal god is responsible for evil. He created Satan and Us as incredible morally fallible beings. Craig would have to show why an all-powerful being is willed us from nothing would have to create such morally hideous creatures. Surely in an Evangelical world view, God could have created genuinely free being that were given the choice to do evil, but were morally superior enough to choose otherwise.

This problem is evaded in the Mormon world-view because we don’t believe that God creates from nothing, and therefore don’t believe that Man is an entirely created being: rather, there is a part of us (an intelligence) that is just as eternal as God. D:C 93:29 “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.” In this sense, God has organized this world to present us with genuine challenges and opportunities for growth. One big element of the physical world being that we receive a physical body through which we can interact fully with the physical world. (there’s more to be said about this)

Second, Hell is explained much more clearly in Mormon scripture:
DC 19:10-12 “For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—
11Eternal punishment is God’s punishment.
12Endless punishment is God’s punishment.”
God does not send anyone to and endless hell for eternity, except for the sons of perdition: those who gain a perfect knowledge of God, and reject him- like Satan. Very few people gain a perfect knowledge of God in life and completely reject him. we mostly do so in ignorance.
There is a hell for those will eventually be saved, but it is temporary hell. It is for those who completely reject Christ and live wicked lives. They must suffer for their own sins, but will eventually receive salvation and confess that Christ is Lord. However, Mormon heaven is divided into different Kingdoms with different laws that the members must abide. Those who are most obedient and desired to keep the highest of God’s laws will receive salvation in his Kingdom. Those who don’t want to abide by such a law live ina lower kingdom. That was a long post, but still to short to explain it all. This link explains it more: http://lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/76.44?lang=eng#43

Thanks for letting me post,
Aaron

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Sean April 29, 2011 at 8:43 pm

@Aaron

Yes, from my very (very) limited understanding, the Mormon view of God does evade a lot of these arguments about the quintuple-omni-infinite-eternal-unchanging-personal-creator-basis-for-everything-God (and the temporary hell you describe is an “escapist” hell, or possibly more like what other religions call “purgatory” if rehabilitation of sinners is one of the actual goals of the place).

I’m startled by this idea of “perfect knowledge”, however, which I wasn’t aware of. Certainly this isn’t what’s meant in the most straightforward sense? I can’t remotely imagine how hard it would be to have a “perfect” knowledge about anyone, even (perhaps especially) myself, or even my dog (What is it that goes on in her brain sometimes?). Is the Mormon God simpler than these things, or by “perfect knowledge of God” do you actually mean perfect knowledge about some particular aspect of God’s nature, or something?

I don’t feel that the text you linked to clears it up either. The naive or straightforward interpretation would be that it is apostates who are eternally damned, being those people who “knew” the truth and then denied it. Of course it is possible that this the standard for “knowledge” here is very high, even “perfect knowledge”, whatever that means. But that’s not stated.

It’s also ambiguous at 103 about “liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie.” They get “eternal fire[...] until the fulness of times”. You must admit that to fresh eyes this seems ambiguous. Technically, an eternal damnation would include until the end times, even if it also continued forever past that point. Or it could mean that the fire itself is eternal, but the liars get to be rescued from it in “the fulness of times” even though it will continue to burn without them. (Or, as an atheist, I’m free to say that there is no answer, and the text was either intentionally ambiguous because someone couldn’t make up their mind, or a simple mistake, because it’s hard to keep such a long story completely consistent.)

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Scott August 8, 2011 at 12:30 pm

I don’t understand your fondness for this debate. Yes, Bradley was more prepared than most, and yes, his opening statement was very good. Yet he loses in the cross-examination, which is forgivable, but rather than fight back he goes on a wild ride with all his remaining time, touching on the Crusades, on the nastiest depictions of hell, on and on, all points completely independent of the topic of the debate and the truth of his and Craig’s propositions. Theologians that believe children burn like candles in hell are of course a powerful image, but it’s irrelevant to anything Craig (or he) is saying. Craig calls it a metaphor, and that’s that (Craig than goes on to point out Bradley’s quoting out of context, just as kick in the teeth), but Bradley won’t let it go.

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andrewk October 21, 2011 at 6:48 pm

“Suppose that God could create a world in which everyone is freely saved, but there is only one problem: all such worlds have only one person in them!”
Can someone please tell me why all such worlds have only one person in them?”

My interpretation of what Craig meant here is as follows, inserting parentheses to make it clear:

“Suppose that: (God could create a world in which everyone is freely saved, but there is only one problem: all such worlds have only one person in them!)”

ie I interpreted Craig as saying ‘what if it were the case that any world satisfying this criterion would only have one person in it?’.

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