William Lane Craig vs. Stephen Law: Another Case of One Man’s Modus Ponens is Another Man’s Modus Tollens

In October of 2011, William Lane Craig squared off with Stephen Law about the existence of God (video above). Law advanced the hypothesis of an evil god, arguing that just as theodicies aimed at reconciling a good God with evil could be offered, so could “theodicies” aimed at reconciling a evil god with good be offered. This possibility is supposed to discredit theodicies for a good God. Craig accepts that the evil god theodicies are possible, and that is not unreasonable to accept the possibility of an evil god.

During the rebuttals, it seemed that both Law and Craig were talking past each other. Here’s my attempt to clarify. I think it’s yet another case of “one man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens.” (Hereafter MPMT) In this case I’ll start with  modus tollens first. According to Law:

(1) If theodicies for an evil god can be reasonable, then it’s reasonable to accept the possibility of an evil god.

(2) It’s not reasonable to accept the possibility of an evil god.

(3) Therefore, theodicies for an evil god cannot be reasonable.

Then he continues:

(4) If theodicies for an evil God cannot be reasonable, theodicies for a good God cannot be reasonable.

(5) Therefore, theodicies for a good God cannot be reasonable.

(6) Therefore, it is unreasonable to believe in God.

Most of this is pretty self-explanatory, except (4). One would have to argue that the theodices for a good an evil god are similar enough to support this premise.

Craig’s modus ponens:

(1) If theodicies for an evil god can be reasonable, then it’s reasonable to accept the possibility of an evil god.

(2′) Theodicies for an evil god can be reasonable.

(3′) Therefore, it is reasonable to accept the possibility of an evil god.

And, of course, if Craig’s counter goes through, then (4-6) of Law’s argument breaks down.

Law seemed pretty frustrated with this reply, but didn’t really clearly attempt to refute it. He merely insisted that this wasn’t the way to interpret his argument.

That sort of reply isn’t acceptable. Craig offered a counter argument (on my interpretation), one that needs to be answered. And, as in any case of MPMT, it is a contest between (2) and (2′). Law assumed, and insisted on, (2), but provided no real argument for it. Craig didn’t really argue for (2′) either.

Yet, because Law was on the offence here, I think he needs to support (2). Right now it’s merely an assertion, one that carries a lot of weight in his argument. Craig doesn’t have to accept it. Unless Law supports the idea that the possibility of an evil God is unreasonable (good luck with that — even Descartes struggled with that one), there is no real force behind his argument as a whole.

Perhaps Law is thinking that belief in God in general, whether good or bad, is ridiculous. He’d be in the company of most atheists: they believe God is inherently (apart from any evidence) implausible, (note the many comparisons of God with the Flying Spaghetti Monster). But that’s just an atheist thing. You can’t just assume this in a debate about God without begging the question.

 

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