• Tooley vs William Lane Craig – a short review

    So I came across this debate between Dr Michael Tooley, a philosopher, and William Lane Craig, which can be seen here:

    This was a cracking debate based on the fact that Tooley was a philosopher, and prepared. Let me say that again. He was prepared. He had done his homework.

    OK, what I like about Tooley’s approach:

    • It is philosophical in the same way that Craig appeals to philosophy
    • His philosophical approach was complex enough to be more robust than some debaters previously (particularly non-philosophers)
    • He calls out Craig on EVERY SINGLE one of Craig’s arguments
    • As such, he rattles through a plethora of points using the same technique that Craig uses. He fights fire with fire.
    • He rightfully claims, for example in the moral argument (that without God you cannot have objective moral values), that (in listing a bunch of atheological moral philosophers) Craig would need to lay out all of these philosophies and show where they go wrong. He has not done that in any of his debates (or writing).
    • He jibes at Craig for not understanding stuff, which is great because Craig has done that to many of his opponents, and it makes the audience realise that Craig is not a master of all, and that there ARE philosophers who know more about disciplines of philosophy than he does. Eg, on morality “[explaining naturalistic moral philosophy] …so that’s the natural reading of it, right. And what happens is Bill rejects that natural reading, describes it as abstract and so on since he doesn’t understand it right. You know, philosophers working in that area have no difficulty understanding the notion, right… What he substitutes is very unclear…. He gives no account in any of his articles or his work of how that works [God as the basis of truth-making moral claims].”

    Where Craig does well:

    One point that Craig nailed which niggled me in Tooley’s approach was the application of probability values to unknowns. Eg that God could be good, indifferent to morality, or bad each have equal probability (and even more so in Tooley’s earlier talk about reasons for allowing different actions). One simply cannot apply a probability to such an option since it would effectively be arbitrary given our lack of knowledge about such claims. As Craig says, if I have a closed bag of 10 marbles, then what it the probability of picking out a red one? Well, we cannot say 1/10 since this would not be true if there was no red marbles, or any other value than 1. Such that the probability should be 0-1, meaning a range, since we just do not know.

    What annoys me about Craig:

    Well, where do I start?? Something Craig often states which annoys me is that any argument against the Old Testament (OT) as being problematic is not an argument against the Judeo-Christian God but against the inerrancy of the Bible. But Craig sidesteps the issues. if one starts unravelling the OT, the NT and Jesus comes tumbling with it. If one can call into doubt certain aspects of the OT, then how do we know the unproblematic claims are equally true? Craig himself has a worldview built upon the edifice of the Bible. Craig does nothing to refute these OT claims, saying they are irrelevant. This is not good enough. Is he conceding they are problematic? If so, then the rest of the Bible must surely suffer from conceding this.

    Secondly, Craig did nothing to dispel the idea that possibility means probability. So when offering reasons for evil and suffering (or not) he needs to appeal to probability over possibility, when all he ever does is retreat to logical possibility. But Tooley was using the evidential problem of evil argument.

    Thirdly, he claims that much of the OT/NT divine commands are only relevant to a theocracy and that we don’t live in one so they are not relevant to us. This is a grave acceptance of moral relativism! Covenantal Moral Relativism means that, suddenly, overnight, with the new covenant, things that were wrong and punishable by death suddenly become not so. Hundreds of rules are made defunct overnight. Even on Divine Command Theory where God’s commands are moral reflections of his character, this is problematic.

    Fourthly, God and foreknowledge. Yes, we get that God knowing it doesn’t causally make it happen. But by knowing it will happen will mean that it cannot happen otherwise. But more, it prompts more questions about God creating most people on earth in the full knowledge that will end up in hell. This is the issue with foreknowledge. Yes, it appears to me to invalidate free will (which I wrote about in my first book available in the sidebar), but it also raises nightmares for God’s reasons for actualising worlds in which people suffer AND go to hell.

    Something I learnt / found interesting about Craig:

    In the Q and A someone asked Craig why he had recently dropped the ‘fact’ of Jesus being buried by Joseph of Arimathea. I have been thinking for some time that he thought it was now a poor point, that it was easily debunked, but Craig claimed he cut it out for time purposes. This has answered a question that I have been wondering about for some time. However, that he chose to drop that point from his old 4 fact approach (now usually the 3 fact approach) shows that it was the weakest point of the lot. I concur. The arguments against this can be seen in my Joseph of Arimathea videos:

    All told, Tooley offered a myriad of strong and robust points against Craig and showed that every argument that Craig relies on is riddled with issue. Well worth a close listen. Sorry I haven’t had time to explain all of Tooley’s points.

    Category: ApologeticsAtheismDebates


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

    • Nice analysis. I also watched this the other day. One thing that stood out to me is that Craig’s desk was absolutely covered in books and papers. His desk is his office, and his debates are his day at work. Tooley was absolutely brilliant, but he only had maybe one notepad on his desk – he just knew what he was talking about. The 1/3 split of probabilities annoyed me too, but I guess he could have said it like this: we have three mutually exclusive options. If we are to assign them any prior probability, then in the absence of any reason to favour any over the other, we should assign them equal priors. I still think this would be problematic.

      • Nice stuff. Craig also has a team of people working for him who research his opponents, afaik.

        • What Craig does is he has every counter argument already prepared for, and when his opponent makes them he just pulls up the paper that has that rebuttal to the counter argument on it, and he deploys it robotically. Unfortunately, his debate opponents don’t do the same thing to him.

        • weknow

          really, craig has a literal time?

    • NAL

      I’m not buying the time reasoning by Craig for dropping the Joseph of Arimethea “fact.” In Rebuttal to Tomb Burial, Richard Carrier is quoted regarding the word Arimethea:

      Is the word a pun on ‘best disciple,’ ari[stos] mathe[tes]? Matheia means ‘disciple town’ in Greek; Ari- is a common prefix for superiority.

      This makes Joseph a fictional character. That’s the reason WLC dropped it.

      • Indeed. I have also personally spoken to Carrier on this when my theologian friend asked his (then) Greek tutor about an issue with the Greek, which turned out to be a non-issue (Carrier had the better of a Greek scholar!).

    • A month ago when I wrote a post refuting Craig’s four “facts” when he said, “Joseph of Arimathea, as a member of the Jewish high court that condemned Jesus, is unlikely to be a Christian invention” I responded:

      We don’t have any records of the members of the Jewish high court at the time of Jesus from any sources. It is entirely possible that Joseph or Arimathea could have been an invention in Mark’s gospel in order to place Jesus in a grand tomb as opposed to a common burial. The gospels aren’t even congruent about whether Joseph was a member of the high court as Matthew’s account states Joseph is simply a “rich man” from Arimathea. (Mat 27:57) Outside of the gospels we have no independent evidence that Joseph of Arimathea existed.

    • IndySteve

      > He rightfully claims, for example in the moral argument (that without
      > God you cannot have objective moral values), that (in listing a bunch
      > of atheological moral philosophers) Craig would need to lay out all of
      > these philosophies and show where they go wrong. He has not done that
      > in any of his debates (or writing).

      I skimmed through the transcript of this debate I found here:


      and the only atheological moral philosopher I saw Tooley mention was
      G. E. Moore. Did they debate more than once? Or did I miss something?


      • Hi IndySteve

        In the Q and A, for example, Tooley talks about ‘other philosophers’ and moral philosophers, saying that Craig does not give a case deconstructing their theories in any of his writings. Tooley does mention Mike Huemer, but you are right, other than Huemer and Moore, he does not mention any others by name (though in a connected answer, he mentions a few others wrt naturalism).

        He doesn’t really need to list names since his point is that there are heaps of philosophers (almost all, it seems) who develop moral theories, none of which necessitate God. It is a point I lay out in an upcoming book by John Loftus called “Christianity is not Great”.

        Thanks for the comment.

        • IndySteve

          Thanks for the info. The Q&A wasn’t part of the transcript, so I missed that bit.

          Looking forward to Loftus’ new compendium. The first two were very good.