Over at his blog, Professor Larry Moran is shocked, shocked, that the arguments of Professor William Lane Craig for the existence of God are treated with respect by Craig’s philosophical colleagues. “Is it true that philosophy departments have sunk to this level?” he asks.
A few days earlier, Craig had written an article for The Washington Post entitled, Humanism for Children, in which he pointed to “a resurgence of interest in arguments for God’s existence based on reason and evidence alone” among philosophers, and added:
All of the traditional arguments for God’s existence, such as the cosmological, teleological, moral, and ontological arguments, not to mention creative, new arguments, find intelligent and articulate defenders on the contemporary philosophical scene.
Professor Moran found Craig’s claims rather difficult to swallow, so he posed the following question to his readers:
So, here’s a question for you philosophers out there. Is Craig correct? Is it true that most philosophers defend arguments for god’s existence based on “reason and evidence alone”? Is it true that philosophy departments have sunk to this level?
… Remember, the question I’m asking isn’t whether his conclusion is correct (it isn’t). It isn’t whether his arguments are bad (they are remarkably bad). It’s whether most philosophers respect his arguments and grant that they are legitimate and sound philosophical arguments.
Now, Professor Moran is a biochemist, not a philosopher, so I’m not going to make fun of him in this post. However, I will point out that if Moran had wanted to find out whether Craig’s arguments were respected or not, there were several easy avenues of investigation open to him. He could have consulted Google Scholar and typed in “William Lane Craig” which yields 2,480 hits, including citations. That’s a very respectable figure, although not quite as impressive as the 4,200 hits for “Richard Swinburne” and 6,810 hits for “Alvin Plantinga”. By comparison, the renowned Canadian atheist philosopher Michael Tooley gets about 2,200 hits, while Quentin Smith (Craig’s atheist opponent in “Theism, atheism, and big bang cosmology” (OUP, 1993) gets fewer than 2,000 hits.
Larry Moran could have also checked the online list of Professor Craig’s publications, which includes 30 books, as well as over 100 articles. Craig has published articles in prestigious journals such as Astrophysics and Space Science, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, The Journal of Philosophy, The International Philosophical Quarterly, The American Philosophical Quarterly, The Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Philosophia, Synthese, Erkenntnis and International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, among many others.
If Moran had wanted to know whether Professor William Lane Craig’s arguments for God’s existence were still taken seriously by scholars, he could have consulted the article on the Cosmological Argument in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. He would have found an entire section devoted to the Kalam cosmological argument, which Craig defends. He would also have found that Craig is cited no less than 51 times in the entire article – more than any other philosopher. (By comparison, Aquinas is cited 24 times, Leibniz six times, Kant 10 times, Hume 12 times, Plantinga five times and Swinburne 27 times.) In the bibliography, Craig is the most-cited author, on a par with Graham Oppy, a leading critic of the cosmological argument.
Here’s what the American atheist philosopher Quentin Smith, author (or co-author) of twelve books and over 140 articles, had to say about Professor Craig on page 183 of his essay, “Kalam Cosmological Arguments for Atheism” (in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, Cambridge University Press, 2006, ISBN 9780521842709):
… [A] count of the articles in the philosophy journals shows that more articles have been published about Craig’s defense of the Kalam [cosmological] argument than have been published about any other philosopher’s contemporary formulation of an argument for God’s existence…. The fact that theists and atheists alike “cannot leave Craig’s Kalam argument alone” suggests that it may be an article of unusual philosophical interest or else has an attractive core of plausibility that keeps philosophers turning back to it and examining it once again.
If people write a lot about your arguments, that’s a pretty reliable sign that you’re highly respected in your field. I think we can safely assume, then, that Professor Craig’s arguments for the existence of God are taken seriously by philosophers, whether or not they agree with Craig.
And in the interests of fairness, I should point out that most contemporary English-speaking philosophers don’t agree with Professor Craig’s views on the arguments for the existence of God. The PhilPapers study, commissioned by David Chalmers of the Australian National University and David Bourget of London University, surveyed 931 academics at 99 leading philosophy departments around the globe, over 90% of them in the English-speaking world and nearly two-thirds in America. Here is the breakdown of the responses to the question: “God: Theism or Atheism?”
Accept: atheism ____________________________ 576 / 931 (61.9%)
Lean toward: atheism _______________________ 102 / 931 (11.0%)
Accept: theism ______________________________ 99 / 931 (10.6%)
Agnostic/undecided __________________________ 51 / 931 (5.5%)
Lean toward: theism _________________________ 37 / 931 (4.0%)
The question is too unclear to answer ___________ 16 / 931 (1.7%)
Reject both ________________________________ 16 / 931 (1.7%)
Skip _______________________________________ 9 / 931 (1.0%)
Accept another alternative _____________________ 8 / 931 (0.9%)
Accept an intermediate view ____________________ 7 / 931 (0.8%)
There is no fact of the matter ___________________ 5 / 931 (0.5%)
Other ______________________________________ 5 / 931 (0.5%)
So about 15% of the philosophers surveyed accept or lean towards theism, while 73% accept or lean towards atheism. On the other hand, the question: “Metaphilosophy: Naturalism or Non-naturalism?” yielded a different result: only 49.8% (less than half) accept or lean towards naturalism. Regarding the question, “Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?”, only 56.5% accept or lean towards physicalism. Make of that what you will.
In answer to Professor Moran’s question, while most contemporary philosophers don’t regard Craig’s arguments for the existence of God as sound philosophical arguments, they do treat Craig’s arguments with genuine respect.
By the way, here is a list of notable atheists who have debated Professor William Lane Craig on the topic of “Does God exist?” or “Atheism vs. Christianity” in the past: Frank Zindler, Keith Parsons, Eddie Tabash, Paul Draper, Peter Atkins, Garrett Hardin, Antony Flew, Theodore Drange, Quentin Smith, Michael Tooley, Douglas Jesseph, Corey Washington, Massimo Pigliucci, Edwin Curley, Ron Barrier, Victor Stenger, Brian Edwards, Peter Slezak, Austin Dacey, Bill Cook and John Shook. Craig has also had a debate of sorts with Daniel Dennett, which makes for interesting viewing. Professor Moran will be interested to note that Dennett, while disagreeing with Craig’s argument for the existence of God, was nevertheless clearly impressed with his presentation of it.
Surprisingly, Professor Moran appears astonished that there should still exist philosophers who “defend arguments for god’s existence based on ‘reason and evidence alone.'” A quick question for Professor Moran: if you were making a philosophical case for God’s existence, what else would you appeal to, if not reason and evidence?
Finally, is Professor Moran aware of recent research in the field of cosmology, showing that not only the universe, but even the multiverse, had a beginning. I blogged about this earlier this year, in my article, Vilenkin’s verdict: “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.” If the multiverse had a beginning (or a temporal boundary, if you prefer to call it that), then at least some of its properties are contingent: namely, the parameters describing its initial conditions. And if the multiverse has contingent properties, then it’s reasonable to ask for an explanation of the fact that it has those properties, and not some other properties instead. If someone showed me a red circle, obviously it wouldn’t make sense to ask, “Why is the circle round instead of square?” but it would make perfect sense to ask: “Why is the circle red instead of blue?”
The multiverse can therefore no longer be treated as self-explanatory. Something is required to explain its being the way it is. That doesn’t prove God made it, of course. But it does suggest that something did, and that whatever that “something” is, it’s not bound by any laws of physics – for if it were, it would be part of the multiverse, too. What’s more, this “something” must either be everlasting or outside time altogether. I present more evidence for a personal Creator in my online article, Vilenkin’s verdict: “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.”
Finally, I would urge Professor Moran to read Dr. Robin Collins’ mathematically rigorous online paper, The Teleological Argument: An Exploration of the Fine-Tuning of the Universe. It is about the best defense of the fine-tuning argument I have ever seen. And I would remind Professor Moran that Craig’s version of the cosmological argument isn’t the only one: Professor Paul Herrick presents an excellent defense of the modal cosmological argument in his 2009 article, Job Opening: Creator of the Universe—A Reply to Keith Parsons.
To sum up: contemporary theistic philosophers are focusing with renewed vigor and determination on presenting the arguments for the existence of a personal Creator of the cosmos in a manner which is intellectually rigorous and at the same time accessible to a broad public audience. For its part, the Intelligent Design movement makes no claim to be able to establish the existence of any Deity; nevertheless, it continues to find compelling evidence that animal body plans, molecular machines, the first living cell and the cosmos itself were the products of some Intelligence far greater than our own. (I discussed some new evidence in my last post, where I wrote about Dr. Paul Nelson’s recent video presentation, Darwin or Design?”) The ID movement also continues to maintain that the search for empirical evidence of such an Intelligence forms a legitimate part of the scientific endeavor. Meanwhile, we will keep working until the day when the search for design in Nature is finally recognized as science.