Is There Evidence for God? William Lane Craig and Kevin Scharp

This past February, Veritas Forum hosted a debate called  Is There Evidence for God? William Lane Craig and Kevin Scharp at The Ohio State University. I was in the second row  got to watch the debate. Scharp is a philosophy professor at OSU. I was at the debate and have decided to provide a short review. Please note that this is by no means an exhaustive review. 

1. WLC gave his 6 arguments for God’s existence (kalam, contingency, fine tuning, moral argument,God and the applicability of mathematics, and religious experience). Notice he didn’t say anything about the resurrection of Jesus.

2. Scharp had a very interesting approach. He first presented an overview of 21st century atheism. He did clarify he is not in favor of non-reductionist naturalism and he is not saying miracles are impossible. Also, he is not saying theists are stupid. How wonderful! He also commended Craig for beating nearly every atheist in every debate.

3. Scharp then spent a long time discussing confidence levels of beliefs. He said Craig says in many of his arguments they are “probably” true. So to Sharpe, with all of Craig’s DEDUCTIVE arguments that he presented, we can only arrive to a 51% confidence level which means that is not high enough. He said we need to be able to get to 80%.

But as Craig pointed out, how do you get to this number, let alone a higher number? Assigning numbers/percentages is highly subjective. Granted, Scharp knows quite a bit about epistemology. I have also seen Craig use Bayes Theorem in his debate with Bart Ehrman. But that had to do with historical evidence and the resurrection which wasn’t mentioned in his six points. I do commend Scharp for doing some epistemology in the debate. But the confidence levels issue came across as quite vague and subjective.  Also, I was getting the idea that Scharp was trying to say Craig doesn’t have genuine “knowledge” of God’s existence. But he didn’t every say the word ‘knowledge.’ Instead, he kept using the word ‘belief.’ But I got the feeling the debate could of gone off into the realm as to what constitutes knowledge which happens to be something that is still debated in epistemology. In the end, I think that the audience probably didn’t have much background in this area (I really don’t know for sure). It seemed Scharp tried to do something that was unique. But given time constraints and his inability to clearly articulate what he meant, I don’t think it worked.

4. Scharp also used what he calls a “divine psychology” argument in that even if God did create the universe or is the responsible for the fine tuning, since we can’t know why God would do such a thing, this creates a problem. I guess I don’t understand this at all. So unless we know “why” or the motivations behind why God created the universe, God doesn’t exist? If we can’t know the mind of God, this is a huge defeater? Maybe I am missing something. Is there some sort of relationship between divine psychology and the principle of sufficient reason? I don’t know if Scharp believes in the principle of sufficient reason or not.

5. Scharp also seemed to harp on how Craig knows it is the Christian God. But Craig said any of his arguments were compatible with Islam, Judaism, etc. The debate wasn’t whether the Christian God exists. The debate was about whether God exists. That’s why Craig gave no argument for the resurrection. So I wonder if it wasn’t even clear what the debate was about. Was Scharp confused? Sadly, when Craig then mentioned the resurrection in the question period, Sharpe said given what we know about our latest scientific theories, aliens are a better explanation for the resurrection than the resurrection itself.  Granted, this drew some laughter from the crowd and to the average person knew this came across as quite a stretch. Scharp also scolded Craig for using Intelligent Design arguments. He implored him to stop doing that. Scharp also said our latest scientific findings should inspire confidence in our belief in God. But they don’t. This didn’t make much sense because science is restricted by looking for natural causes alone. Even so, there has been plenty written on scientific findings and God’s existence. I assume he has either dismissed these resources or is unaware of them. Once again, who gets to define what science is? Once we do that and set the goal posts, what qualifies as scientific evidence for God? Modern science says intelligent causation is not allowed!

6. At the end of Scharp’s presentation and rebuttal to Craig, he said one of the reasons these issues matters is because Craig has spoken out publicly against same sex marriage. This had nothing to do with Craig’s arguments at all and was a total red herring.  This was a low point of his presentation.

7. I appreciated Scharp admitting the issue of bias on both sides. That is unavoidable.

8. Scharp had very negative things to say about apologetics/apologists. But he is all for critical thinking and being open to change beliefs. But he doesn’t seem to realize apologetics is one of the few fields that allows for critical thinking.

9. Scharp said Christianity is something from the Iron Ages and Christians shouldn’t be Christians just because their parents teach them these things. The latter point is a genetic fallacy.

10. Scharp thinks Christians should stay out of social issues. No shock here. In other words, let’s have secular values out in the public square. Christians need to keep their beliefs private. As long as “secular” values are allowed in the public square and we legislate their morality, everything will be fine! Remember, all laws legislate morality! The question is who’s laws will be legislated.

11. Scharp says we have had several ethical theories that allow for objective morality. Furthermore, ethicists are working on these systems. The good news is that Scharp did admit science can’t ground ethics. Good for him! He didn’t follow Sam Harris on this one. Craig said he knows about many of these ethical systems.  However, just because you can make a laundry list of ethical theories,  you need to be able to provide good reasons for how they provide grounding for moral duties.

12. In the end, it was an interesting and lively discussion. But it seems Scharp needed to do a better job on what he means by confidence levels and beliefs. he probably lost a large majority of his audience on that issue alone. After all, the average person in the audience doesn’t think much about percentages and confidence levels. The issue of not being able to get into the mind of God was problematic. Scharp really didn’t rebut any of Craig’s specific arguments. Even at the Q&A, a student  asked why Scharp didn’t actually provide “evidence” against any of Craig’s specific arguments. I think that for a guy who was not trying to ridicule religion, he did come across that way several times during the debate.

The best thing that comes out of this are the discussions afterwards! I have run into several people that went to this event and it has led to fruitful discussions.  Thanks to Veritas for putting this on!