Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

William Lane Craig debates Austin Dacey: Does God Exist?

Here is the video and summary of a debate between Christian theist William Lane Craig and Austin Dacey at Purdue University in 2004 about the existence of God.

The debaters:

The video: (2 hours)

The video shows the speakers and powerpoint slides of their arguments. Austin Dacey is one of the top atheist debaters, and I would put him second to Peter Millican alone, with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong in third place. This is the debate to show people who are new to apologetics. The debate with Peter Millican is better for advanced students, and that’s no surprise since he teaches at Oxford University and is familiar with all of Dr. Craig’s work. The Craig-Dacey debate is the one that I give to my co-workers.

By the way, you can get the DVDs and CDs for the first Craig-Dacey debate and the second Craig-Dacey debate and the second Craig-Sinnott-Armstrong debate. The Peter Millican debate is not available on DVD, but the link above (Peter Millican) has the video and my summary.

Dr. Dacey’s 5 arguments below are all good arguments that you find in the academic literature. He is also an effective and engaging speaker, This is a great debate to watch!

SUMMARY of the opening speeches:

Dr. Craig’s opening statement:

Dr. Craig will present six reasons why God exists:

  1. (Contingency argument) God is the best explanation of why something exists rather than nothing
  2. (Cosmological argument)  God’s existence is implied by the origin of the universe
  3. (Fine-tuning argument) The fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life points to a designer of the cosmos
  4. (Moral argument) God is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and objective moral duties
  5. (Miracles argument) The historical facts surrounding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus
  6. (Religious experience) God’s existence is directly knowable even apart from arguments

Dr. Dacey’s opening argument:

There are two ways to disprove God’s existence, by showing that the concept of God is self-contradictory, or by showing that certain facts about ourselves and the world are incompatible with what we would expect to be true if God did exist. Dr. Dacey will focus on the second kind of argument.

  1. The hiddenness of God
  2. The success of science in explaining nature without needing a supernatural agency
  3. The dependence of mind on physical processes in the brain
  4. Naturalistic evolution
  5. The existence of gratuitous / pointless evil and suffering

One final point:

One thing that I have to point out is that Dr. Dacey quotes Brian Greene during the debate to counter Dr. Craig’s cosmological argument. Dr. Craig could not respond because he can’t see the context of the quote. However, Dr. Craig had a rematch with Dr. Dacey where was able to read the context of the quote and defuse Dr. Dacey’s objection. This is what he wrote in his August 2005 newsletter after the re-match:

The following week, I was off an another three-day trip, this time to California State University at Fresno. As part of a week of campus outreach the Veritas Forum scheduled a debate on the existence of God between me and Austin Dacey, whom I had debated last spring at Purdue University. In preparation for the rematch I adopted two strategies: (1) Since Dacey had come to the Purdue debate with prepared speeches, I decided to throw him for a loop by offering a different set of arguments for God, so that his canned objections wouldn’t apply. I chose to focus on the cosmological argument, giving four separate arguments for the beginning of the universe, and on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. (2) I reviewed our previous debate carefully, preparing critiques of his five atheistic arguments. In the process I found that he had seriously misunderstood or misrepresented a statement by a scientist on the Big Bang; so I brought along the book itself in case Dacey quoted this source again. I figured he might change his arguments just as I was doing; but I wanted to be ready in case he used his old arguments again.

[...]The auditorium was packed that night for the debate, and I later learned that there were overflow rooms, too. To my surprise Dr. Dacey gave the very same case he had presented at Purdue; so he really got clobbered on those arguments. Because he wasn’t prepared for my new arguments, he didn’t even respond to two of my arguments for the beginning of the universe, though he did a credible job responding to the others. I was pleased when he attacked the Big Bang by quoting the same scientist as before, because I then held up the book, specified the page number, and proceeded to quote the context to show what the scientist really meant.

If you want to hear Dr. Craig correct Dr. Dacey on the misquote during their second debate, you can click here for the audio.

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4 Responses

  1. Mathetes says:

    This is a great debate, but you really have to watch the rematch at Fresno State in conjunction with this. In the Purdue debate, Dacey gets what seems like a few points when he quotes a book by Brian Greene, which appears to state that the universe had no beginning, and this undercuts the 2nd premise of the Kalam argument. Craig didn’t have the book in front of him in the first debate so he had difficulty responding.

    In the second debate, Craig quotes the same passage from the same book and notes that Dacey took the quote out of context, and the whole objection disappears.

  2. Mathetes says:

    I guess I should have read later in your post! I didn’t think you would already have noted the point I was going to make. Feel free to delete this post and my previous one, or allow this to be a second recommendation for watching the second debate!

    The second debate is also interesting because it’s one of the only times that Craig spends a large portion of time on just the Kalam argument. He even talked about the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which was pretty exciting.

  3. Paradox says:

    Maybe my views are simplistic on this, but the arguments Dacey gave in this first debate amaze me for one reason: they are popular arguments in the literature, even though they can be easily answered by religion.

    1. The hiddenness of God
    The quality of belief is more important than the quantity of belief, so inspiring MORE belief is irrelevant. Inspiring a particular quality is more important. Furthermore, God is only ‘hidden’ in our secularized culture, where (poorly made) refutations of theism abound.

    2. The success of science in explaining nature without needing a supernatural agency
    It seems to me that an argument like this is upside down. Think about it, science is supposed to study nature, right? Why should we expect to find something outside of what can be observed? The argument reminds me of the fable of the Fisherman. He used a net with three inch holes in it, and concluded that, because there were no two inch fish in his net, that two inch fish do not exist!
    Furthermore, the question makes a poor consideration of the philosophy of science. We have a foundation (the source of natural laws); Dacey’s argument examines the tower, rather than what it’s resting on, then concludes that the foundation is both unnecessary, and that it therefore does not exist. Each part of the tower may support the parts above it, but the tower does not hold itself up! I have an explanation for the tower, he can only say, “It just is, Deal With It.
    Finally, wouldn’t we expect a designed universe to be able to function without God tinkering in it? The argument excludes this possibility a priori and without warrant. The Bible says that God designed the universe, after all….

    3. The dependence of mind on physical processes in the brain
    Forgive me if I’m mistaken, but doesn’t Thomistic Dualism give an elegant solution to this fact?

    4. Naturalistic evolution
    I like this argument. *Smirks* It’s amusing. I’m not going to bother with the belief that common descent is true, arguing against that is both long-winded, and pointless. Instead, I have the following syllogism:

    1. Anything that has an intended purpose is intelligently designed.
    2. Organs have an intended purpose.
    3. Therefore, organs are intelligently designed.

    The argument does not demand that common descent be false. As long as everything we know the ultimate origin of, given that it has an intended purpose, is intelligently designed, the argument stands. To say we know that these organs are not designed is to beg the question; it must be proven. The argument doesn’t care about the “poor designs” found in nature, and it doesn’t care about whether some organs have lost their intended functions.

    5. The existence of gratuitous / pointless evil and suffering
    This is definitely an interesting one.
    Naturally, I doubt the `fact` of needless evil. God created everything good, the “curse” I believe, is actually the presence of evil intentions –Only the Calvinists can believe that Hell is based on GOOD intentions! So evil is only `needless` in the sense that people can go on without it (more on that later). Natural disasters are not evil, as they are not based on evil intentions. These disasters are the by-products of processes that allow life on Earth to thrive (see http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/natural_evil_theodicity.html).
    So why doesn’t God stop evil people from carrying out their evil, since this is the true problem? This answer is just my preferred answer out of many possible ones: these people, if they do not repent, are storing up their judgement. If they do repent, it is because God gave them a chance to repent (which includes non-interference). I doubt this is a satisfying answer, but it is at least worth considering.

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