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Physicist Lawrence Krauss and Christian philosopher William Lane Craig held a three-part public conversation in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne during August 2013. The series was promoted by the City Bible Forum under the title "Life, the Universe and Nothing". I attended the Sydney talk, promoted as "Why is there something rather than nothing?", and interviewed the speakers before the event.
Both have well-known public profiles so I didn't expect any surprises from either side, and this is very much what I found. In fact, in the interviews each was able to accurately predict what the other would later say on stage and the arguments that they would use to address the question.
Skeptics are supposed to look for evidence so I put the following question to both speakers: "What is the best evidence there is no God, and what's the best evidence there is a God?".
From Dr Craig: "Well, I would say that the best evidence that there is a God is that the hypothesis that God exists explains a wide range of the data of human experience that's very diverse. So it's an extremely powerful hypothesis. It gives you things like an explanation of the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, of intelligent life. But also the presence of mind in the cosmos, an objective foundation for moral values and duties, and things of that sort - it's a wide range of data that makes sense on a theistic worldview.
"In terms of the atheistic argument, I think probably the argument on the hiddenness of God would be the best. That God seems so absent sometimes when we need him most. And I think that one response to that hiddenness is to say, well he's not there. And so that would be, I think, perhaps the best argument that the atheist might offer".
From Professor Krauss: "There is no evidence of God. There absolutely is none. I mean, if there were, I'm a scientist! In fact, I was asked what would cause you to change your mind, and I said the slightest bit of empirical evidence. Just one piece. That's what convinces me of things. And so, to me that's the best evidence that there isn't a God. You'd think that someone who created the universe would somehow make themselves known in a clear way. So the fact that there's no evidence of purpose, design or any need for anything beyond the law of nature is to me the best evidence that there isn't any. It's just highly unlikely.
"I don't believe things. I don't like the word 'belief'. I form what convinces me not by what I think is good, or what I think it should be, but by what the universe tells me that it is. So I try to have my views governed by that. And if there was any significant evidence, I'd like to think I'm open-minded enough to change my mind, because I certainly have been about other aspects of the universe. The minute I'm not willing enough to change my mind (which is, by the way a property of science, and not religion), then I'll become a theologian".
Thank you to Kaley Payne from the Christian magazine Eternity for the transcript of the interviews. Her recorder was better placed than mine to catch the conversations.
As I said above, there were few surprises and both responses were as expected. In my discussion with Professor Krauss I made a comment about scientists trying to disprove the existence of God. He made the categorical statement that no scientist had ever attempted that. I gave him the name of a prominent physicist who had written two books on the subject and he replied "Well, except for him", therefore proving that he can fall into logical fallacy traps just like anybody. I also liked the way that Dr Craig laughed at the idea of young earth creationism.
And the conversation on stage?
Dr Craig presented Gottfried Leibniz's syllogism (often called the Cosmological Argument):
People much cleverer than me have written about the flaws in this, some at great length, but I will just point to the second premise and refer people to any textbook on formal logic.
Professor Kraus summarised the first few chapters of his book .
I was in danger of a hayfever attack from the strawmen used by both sides. Unfortunately this seems to be a characteristic of all debates and discussions about religion and science, where each side misrepresents the other's position (usually through ignorance rather than malice) and then attacks the misrepresentation. I've probably done it myself.
Did anyone in the capacity audience at the Town Hall change their opinion or belief as a result of the dialogue? Probably not. Did anyone learn anything new? I did, so I hope others did too. Were we entertained? Very much so. Are dialogues like this useful? Definitely, because science and religion are going to continue to overlap and interact, and both sides can and must learn from the other.