Summary and Assessment of the Craig-Draper Debate on the Existence of God (1998)

(Redated post originally published on 15 October 2011)

This is a another very old debate summary, which I wrote back in 1998. I have made some minor changes.



United States Military Academy at West Point

Note: the audio of this debate may be heard here.

Craig’s Opening Statement

Craig’s presentation was his standard, cumulative case for Christian theism.

T1. The kalam cosmological argument

(1) Anything which begins to exist must have a cause

(2) The universe began to exist

(3) Therefore, the universe must have a cause

– the cause must be a personal agent who transcends the universe

T2. The fine-tuning argument

– Life-permitting universes are vastly more improbable than life-prohibitng universes. There are about 50 physical constants which, had they been different, life would not have been possible. Moreover, there is no physical reason why the constants must have the values they do. The odds of a life-permitting universe like ours coming into existence by chance are so remote that our universe must be the result of intelligent design.

T3. The moral argument

(1) If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

(2) But objective moral values exist.

(3) Therefore, God exists.

– Craig freely admits that nontheists can live moral lives and that nontheists can recognize moral values.

T4. The resurrection of Jesus

– The Resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for 3 historical facts:

(1) The empty tomb

(2) The post-resurrection appearances

(3) The very origin of the Christian faith

– This entails a divine miracle and the existence of God.

– Quotes Luke Timothy Johnson and N.T. Wright: can’t explain the rise of Christianity apart from the Resurrection.

T5. The argument from religious experience

– This isn’t an argument for God’s existence; rather, it’s the claim that you can know God exists wholly apart from arguments

Draper’s Opening Statement

Naturalism is the view that the physical universe is a closed system; nothing outside of the universe affects it. Draper does not believe there are any deductive arguments for or against the existence of God, but he does believe that certain facts are more probable on the hypothesis of naturalism and that other facts are more probable on the hypothesis of theism. The facts which Draper believes confirm naturalism are:

N1. The Meager Moral Fruits of Theism

The moral fruits of theism are meager at best: theists do not seem to live more moral lives than naturalists. Neither church history nor Draper’s personal experience support the claim that theists are morally superior to naturalists. On the assumption that theism is true, one has reason to believe that theistic belief has significant moral fruits, that worshipping God is a source of moral strength. Thus, on the assumption of theism, the fact that theists do not seem to live more moral lives than naturalists is surprising. On the assumption that naturalism is true, however, this is not surprising. On naturalism, believing in God would not make people morally better.

N2. Mind-Brain Dependence

Consciousness and personality are highly dependent on the brain. Nothing mental happens without something physical happening. All neural scientists deny that we have souls. The non-existence of souls is what we would expect if naturalism is true. Theism presupposes at least one non-physical mind (God’s mind). Theism presupposes a radical metaphysical dualism. Thus, evidence for the non-existence of souls is evidence against theism.

N3. Evolution

Complex living things are the gradually modified descendants of relatively simple living things. If naturalism is true, evolution pretty much has to be true. If theism is true, however, evolution may or may not be true. Evolution is compatible with theism, but God could have used many other methods than evolution, methods which are ruled out by naturalism. Thus, evolution is far less likely on theism.

N4. Biological Role of Pain and Pleasure

Pain and pleasure are systematically connected to the biological goal of reproductive success. If naturalism is true, this is unsurprising. If theism is true, God would not produce pain or pleasure without a morally justifying reason for doing so. If theism is true, the chances that such a reason would coincide with biological goals are pretty slim.

N5. Tragedies

No apparent outweighing good seems to come out of tragedies (gratuitous evils). The abundance of tragedies is much more likely on naturalism than theism.

N6. Divine Silence during Tragedies

Victims of tragedies often do not feel God’s comforting presence. In response to N5, theists often state the Unknown Purpose Defense (UPD). That is to say, many theists claim that God has morally justifying reasons for allowing gratuitous evils, but that God’s reasons are unknown to humans. Yet if the UPD were true, then the victims of tragedies should feel God’s comforting presence. Some victims do claim to feel God’s comforting presence, but many others don’t. This is much more likely on naturalism than theism.

N7. Religious Confusion

God does not clearly reveal the religious paths he wants theists to take. This is unsurprising on naturalism, but surprising on theism.

According to Draper, these seven facts form a cumulative case for naturalism. Draper considers himself an agnostic instead of an atheist because he believes that some (but not all) of the facts which Craig cited are more likely on theism than naturalism. Draper will have more to say about this later in the debate.

Craig’s First Rebuttal

Draper’s seven facts are not improbable given Christian theism and therefore do not confirm naturalism:

N1 is not surprising on the theistic hypothesis. Mere intellectual assent to generic theism doesn’t change lives. (According to the Bible, even demons believe that God exists.) Christians experience transformations in their lives. For example, Craig believes that he is a better person than he would have been, had he remained a non-Christian. Moreover, historically Christianity has been a transformative and positive effect. As Kenneth Scott Latourette has documented, Christianity has had a positive effect on education, music, painting, poetry, democracy, abolition of slavery, protection of Native Americans from exploitation, abolition of war, nursing, and the elevation of the status of women. Also, there are no atheist leprechauns. Most of the hospitals that have been founded in the world were founded by people who had a relationship with Christ.

N2 is not surprising on Christian theism. Not all theists are dualists (e.g., Peter van Inwagen); those who are are dualist-interactionists. On the hypothesis of dualism-interactionism, the fact that consciousness and personality are highly dependent on the brain is not at all surprising, and therefore is not more likely on naturalism than theism.

Concerning N3, naturalism is improbable on the evolutionary hypothesis. It simply isn’t true that the evolution of sentient life is more likely given naturalism than given theism. First, the known mechanisms operate too slowly to produce sentient life unaided. According to Barrow and Tipler in their book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, there are ten crucial steps that had to occur for humans to evolve. The probability of all ten of these steps occurring is (4^364)^110,000.[1] Second, according to Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box, random mutation and natural selection cannot account for irreducible complexity in biological systems like blod clotting or cilia.[2] Naturalism has zero explanatory power for irreducibly complex biological structures. Intelligent design, however, can account for irreducibly complex biological structures. Therefore, evolution is evidence for the existence of God. If naturalism were true, there wouldn’t be any sentient beings because they wouldn’t have evolved by now.

N4 is not improbable on theism. God wants the biological world to continue and the ecosystem to be self-perpetuating. Also, we are not in a position to say that N4 is improbable given theism. There may be reasons here beyond human comprehension. It may be the case that only in a world involving great moral and natural suffering would the maximal number of people come to know God personally and his salvation. The same point applies to N5. N5 is not improbable on theism. We are not in a position to say that N5 is improbable given theism.

Moreover, certain Christian doctrines increase the probability of Christian theism given N5. First, purpose of life on the Christian hypothesis is not happiness in this life; it is the knowledge of God. Second, people are in rebellion against God. Third, God’s purpose spills over into the afterlife. People in heaven would say that their happiness was worth any suffering they endured in this life. The afterlife puts the sufferings in this life into the proper perspective.

As for N6, comfort is available to those who seek God. Those who give mere intellectual assent to general theism will not experience God’s comforting presence.

Finally, contrary to N7, God has clearly established the Christian revelation as true. The empty tomb, Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith clearly establish the Resurrection as a historical fact.

Draper’s First Rebuttal

Draper’s defense of his 7 facts:

N1. People who worship God are not noticeably morally superior to those who do not. In Draper’s experience, most of theists he has known go beyond mere intellectual assent to generic theism. They worship God and go to church.

N2. This is unlikely on theism. On the theistic hypothesis, there exists at least one being (God) who has a completely non-physical mind. Therefore, if God were to create other minds, we would expect them to be immaterial like God’s mind. The fact that our minds are physical is improbable given theism.

As for N3, evolutionary theory has been able to explain a wide range of data once thought inexplicable.

Concerning N4 and N5, Craig has only shown that it is possible that there are unknown greater goods which might justify God in allowing evil. But it’s also possible that there are unknown reasons for God to prevent evils, in addition to all of the reasons we can think of for God to prevent evils. For example, if a little girl is about to get in a car accident and you could prevent that, would you hesitate in order to consider the long-term possible benefits of her suffering? Also, God is omnipotent; he is therefore not limited by causal laws. Eternal life doesn’t provide a solution to the problem of evil. Suppose I smash your car. You confront me. I offer you $1 million to compensate you for smashing your car. You might be very happy since your car was worth nowhere near $1 million, but that doesn’t mean I had a morally sufficient reason for smashing your car.

In response to N6, Craig seems to blame people for not seeking God. Does anyone really find this an adequate defense?

Draper dropped N7.

Draper noted that he believes there are some good arguments for the existence of God. For that reason, Draper explained, he is an agnostic rather than an atheist. Draper then addressed Craig’s arguments:

T1: We don’t know what was going on around the Big Bang during the Planck era. Moreover, time began with the big bang. It’s not clear that time had a timeless cause, or that the notion of a timeless cause even makes sense. The universe began with time, not in time. The universe has existed for all of time, so why does it need a cause? Draper agrees with Craig that the beginning of the universe is more probable on theism than naturalism, but does not consider the beginning of the universe to be the “killer” theistic argument that Craig makes it out to be.

T2: Draper agrees that the conscious life is more probable on theism than naturalism, but, like T1, thinks that Craig has again overstated his case, citing the possibility that the Many Worlds interpretation could be true.

T3: Like Craig, Draper believes there are objective moral values. But he also agrees with Richard Swinburne who says that certain things are true regardless of what God commands. Therefore, theism is not necessary to account for objective moral values. Indeed, God does not even explain objective moral values. Theists build objective moral values into the concept of God in order to avoid the Euthyphro dilemma, but that is not much of an explanation for objective moral values.

T4: Craig’s historical evidence is poor. The only evidence we have comes from Christians. Concerning the alleged empty tomb of Jesus, if the tomb was empty, this would not be the first time in history that a body disappeared. Jesus was executed as a criminal; maybe the Romans weren’t very careful with his body. Also, if the tomb was empty, it’s not surprising we would have Jesus sightings. We know where Elvis’ body is, but we still have Elvis sightings!

T5: Draper grants that religious experience does slightly confirm theism.

Lowder’s Assessment of the Debate

What made this debate so satisfying to me was that both Craig and Draper presented cumulative cases for opposing worldviews. On balance, I found  Draper’s case vastly superior to that of Craig’s. To explain why, I’d  like to consider each of Craig’s and Draper’s arguments in turn.

Craig’s Theistic Arguments

T1 (kalam cosmological argument): Draper

As Christian philosopher Wes Morriston has pointed out in a scathing criticism of Craig’s kalam cosmological argument[3], much of the intuitive appeal of Craig’s argument goes away when we carefully examine its hidden assumptions and rhetorical nuances. According to Big Bang cosmology (which Craig accepts), time “began” with the universe. This fact has enormous implications for the relevance of our metaphysical intuitions which Craig does not seem to acknowledge. In our daily lives, the only effects we experience are effects which occur in space and time. But if time “began” with the universe, then the beginning of the universe is not an effect in space and time; rather, it is the very origin of space and time itself. Therefore, if time began with the universe, our metaphysical intuitions do not even apply to the beginning of the universe. A person could consistently believe that all events in space and time have a cause and that the universe is uncaused. The upshot is that I find myself in perfect agreement with Draper’s objection that it is unclear why, on Big Bang

cosmology, the universe needs a cause.

Draper stated that the beginning of the universe is unlikely given naturalism, although Draper does not believe it is nearly as unlikely given naturalism as Craig believes. However, in light of the preceding discussion, it is unclear why the beginning of the universe is even slightly unlikely given naturalism.

T2 (fine-tuning argument): Draw

Since Draper agreed with Craig that the existence of conscious life is surprising given naturalism, there was no disagreement between them.

T3 (metaphysical moral argument): Draper

As Draper pointed out, objective moral values are compatible with naturalism; moreover, God is not even an explanation for objective moral values.

T4 (resurrection of Jesus): Draper

As Draper pointed out, the proximity of eyewitnesses to the alleged events they report does not even guarantee the factuality of their own enthusiastic reports. In addition to Draper’s humorous example about Elvis sightings, Robert M. Price has documented that legends about Sabbatai Sevi, Jehudah the Said, Simon Kimbangu, William Marrion Branham, and even Charles Manson all developed in spite of the presence of critical eyewitnesses.[4] Thus, even if we accept Craig’s argument that the first Christians claimed (in the presence of eyewitnesses) that Jesus’ tomb was empty, there seems to be no good reason for believing the empty tomb story is historical.

T5 (religious experience): Draw

Draper stated that religious experiences are surprising if naturalism is true, whereas they are not surprising if theism is true. Like T2, there was no disagreement between Draper and Craig during the debate.

Draper’s Arguments for Naturalism

N1 (“meager moral fruits”): Draper

Is it really the case that if theism were true, theistic belief would have significant moral fruits and worshipping God would be a source of moral strength? I’m inclined to agree with Draper.

In response, Craig pointed out that he believes that he is a better person than he would have been, had he remained a non-Christian. That may be the case, but I don’t think that really defeats Draper’s argument. If, as Craig agrees, Christianity is a morally transformative religion, why aren’t Christians on average morally superior to non-Christians? It seems to me that unless one presupposes that only really bad people become Christians (thus their moral improvement makes them just as good or just as bad as everyone else), the “meager moral fruits” of theists are indeed more likely on naturalism than theism.

N2 (consciousness): Draper

Consider Craig’s claim that not all theists are dualists (e.g., Peter van Inwagen); some theists are dualist-interactionists. Dualist-interactionists believe that:

(1) there are material things as well as mental things,

(2) mental things are completely different kinds of things from material things,

(3) mental and material things causally interact, and

(4) (on one common interpretation), a person is a composite being consisting of a mental object (a spirit-like immaterial mind  joined with a material body).[5]

As Craig rightly points out, dualist interactionism is perfectly compatible with theism. However, I don’t think that was Draper’s point. Rather, if I understand Draper correctly, his point was that on the theistic hypothesis, dualist interactionism is just one of many possible theistic solutions to the mind-body problem, and therefore the dependency of the mind on the body is less likely on theism than naturalism.

Besides, dualistic interactionism has some well-known problems. For example, if dualistic interactionism is true, where does the interaction between the mind and the brain occur? Dualistic interactionism seems to require that mental events be located in the brain, but dualistic interactionism denies that mental events occur


In fairness to Craig, I should note that Craig has ready answers for the objections I have listed here.[7] But in fairness to Draper, I must also note that Draper, in turn, has ready responses to Craig’s answers. This suggests a rather serious deficiency in the format of this particular debate, and I shall have more to say about this later.

N3 (evolution): Draper

I am entirely persuaded by Draper’s claim that the probability of (macro)evolution on naturalism is high. Clearly, as Draper acknowledged, evolution is compatible with theism. But evolution is not at all what one would expect on the theistic hypothesis. As Draper explained, there are all sorts of methods God could have used in order to create humans; evolution is just one possibility. On the theistic hypothesis, there is no reason why one would expect evolution to be true. Therefore, evolution is more surprising on theism than naturalism.

Moreover, I think there are at least two reasons why evolution is surprising on theism. First, when evolution is considered within the context of the argument from evil, the suffering caused by natural selection is very surprising. Although theists can (and do) suggest that God used evolution for reasons beyond human understanding, I tend to agree with the other theists who flatly reject such a notion. If God’s purpose was to create human beings who would love and worship Him, evolution is less likely on theism than naturalism. (Why would God use a slow and wasteful process like evolution to accomplish his goal, when He

could have specially created human beings instantly and without relying on the extinction of other animals?)

Second, if evolution were not surprising on theism, then why didn’t theists predict evolution prior to the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species? Although many theists have attempted to harmonize evolution with theism, especially Christian theism, to my knowledge all such attempts were made only after the evidence for evolution was overwhelming. This turn of events is more likely on naturalism than  theism.

Nonetheless, I am inclined to agree with Craig that, on the hypothesis of naturalistic evolution, the probability of humans evolving is indeed low. (After all, naturalistic evolution is an unguided process, so why should we expect human beings to evolve in a naturalistic universe?) However, that does not constitute an additional line of evidence for theism. On naturalism, the probability of any particular species evolving — including Homo Sapiens — is low.

In order for evolution to count as evidence for theism, Craig would first have to introduce some sort of evidence that evolution has occurred in such a way as to be improbable on naturalism. And Craig argued that there at least two features of natural history which are surprising if naturalism is true. First, Craig stated that “the known mechanisms operate too slowly to produce sentient life unaided.” However, as Richard Carrier has pointed out, Barrow and Tipler’s probability calculations assume that all ten steps crucial to human evolution occurred simultaneously. According to Carrier, “Barrow and Tipler completely ignore the fact of evolution and the role of natural selection in their calculation, and consequently their statistic … has absolutely no relevance to the real question of whether man evolving is improbable.”[8] And, I might add, their statistic has absolutely no relevance to how much time is  required for human evolution.

Second, citing Michael Behe, Craig argued that random mutation and natural selection cannot account for many biological structures, including cilia and blod clotting mechanisms. Behe calls such structures “irreducibly complex”. Yet, as Keith Robison points out, Behe begs the question by assuming that a system is “irreducibly complex” if Behe “cannot postulate a workable simpler form of the system”.[9] Contrary to Behe, there is simply no reason to believe that biological structures are irreducibly complex.

N4 (pain and pleasure): Draper

On the theistic hypothesis, is the probability of N4 something that humans can know? Craig’s two responses to N4 suggest an inconsistent answer. On the one hand, Craig wants us to believe that N4 is not improbable on theism; on the other hand, Craig wants us to believe that we are not in a position to assess the probability of N4 on theism.

At any rate, I think Craig is mistaken on both counts. The probability of N4 given theism is something we can know; moreover, that probability is low. As Craig rightfully points out, an omnipotent and omniscient being might have moral reasons unknown to us for allowing N4. But it is also the case that an omnipotent and omniscient being might have moral reasons unknown to us for preventing N4. Naturalism gives us more reason than theism to expect N4; therefore, N4 is unlikely on theism.

N5 (tragedies occur): Draper

N5 is basically Draper’s version of the evidential argument from evil; one of the major differences between Draper’s version and other versions is that Draper’s version argues for naturalism rather than atheism.[10] In response, Craig offered the UPD. Draper’s response to the UPD was N6, which I shall comment on later.

Here I want to suggest an additional, independent line of attack against the UPD, one developed by Ted Drange. Let us adopt Drange’s terminology and call this line of attack the “Ignorance Objection”. According to the Ignorance Objection,

If God were to exist and were to have a purpose for permitting all the suffering that occurs in our world, then for him to have revealed it, or at least revealed there is such a purpose, or at least revealed something about a need for secrecy regarding these matters, would have helped to remove an obstacle to [people loving Him].[11]

As Drange points out, the advantage of the Ignorance Objection lies in its appeal to God’s desires, not to humanity’s cognitive abilities (p. 208). Like Drange, I find the argument to be very forceful.[12]

N6 (lack of God’s presence during tragedies): Draper

Recall that, in response to N6, Craig suggested that comfort is available to those who seek God; those who do not believe in God and those who give intellectual assent to general theism but who do not worship God, cannot expect God’s comfort during tragedies. Draper replied by pointing out the absurdity of blaming people for not seeking God. Although I am inclined to agree with Draper, I think the Ignorance Objection would have been stronger here: if God were to exist and really were to desire that everyone love Him, it would be implausible that God would remain hidden to those who had not already sought Him.

N7 (lack of clear revelation by God to theists): Craig

Regrettably, Draper dropped this argument, forcing me to flow this argument to Craig. Yet I consider this argument to be a powerful argument for naturalism. If there were a god, given his supposed desire that everyone believe in and love him, it is indeed surprising that there seems to be so much confusion among theists concerning which revelation is correct. In response, Craig pointed to his historical defense of the Resurrection. But, with all due respect to Craig, I find that suggestion laughable. Would Craig really have us believe that some obscure historical evidence for a miraculous event which allegedly occurred almost 2,000 years ago is the best that God could do to provide a clear revelation to humankind? Why did Craig’s god wait so long to present His revelation? And why would He use a revelation that had such a limited audience? Not only did the Resurrection allegedly take place in a pretty sparsely populated area, but his post-Resurrection appearances were limited to a very small group of people in that sparsely populated area. It seems totally implausible to believe that the Resurrection was the best that an omniscient being could have done to provide a clear revelation to humankind.

Of course, Craig maintains that Christians can know the truth of the Resurrection through their religious experience, wholly apart from historical arguments. But religious experience does not seem to provide a clear revelation. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Hindus all have religious experiences, but these experiences are widely contradictory. Again, there seems to be no good reason for accepting Christian experiences as veridical while rejecting the veridicality of non-Christian experiences. And the contradictory nature of religious experiences within different religious traditions is surprising on theism, but not at all surprising on naturalism. Therefore, I agree with Draper that the lack of a clear revelation from God is more likely on naturalism than theism.

One unfortunate feature of this debate was that each speaker was only allowed to make one rebuttal. This seems woefully inadequate. Ideally, each speaker should be allowed to make several rebuttals and each rebuttal should be of equal length. I have never agreed with the debate tradition which forces speakers to cover less ground each speech they give.


[1] John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (New York: Oxford, 1988), pp. 564-566.

[2] Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box (New York: The Free Press, 1996). For links to several reviews of Behe’s book, see URL:

[3] Wes Morriston, “Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause?”

(URL:, 1998), spotted 12 September 1998.

[4] Cornman, James W., Keith Lehrer, and George S. Pappas, Philosophical Problems and Arguments(Fourth ed, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992), pp. 143-44.

[5] Robert M. Price, Beyond Born Again

(URL:, 1993), spotted 12 September 1998.

[6] Corman, Lehrer, and Pappas, p. 149.

[7] See, for example, Craig’s response to Tooley on this point in William Lane Craig and Michael Tooley, The Craig-Tooley Debate (URL:, 1994), spotted on 18 Sep 98.

[8] Richard C. Carrier, “Evolution from Space and Other Books” (URL:, 1998), spotted 30 Sep 98.

[9]Keith Robison, “Darwin’s Black Box: Irreducible Complexity or Irreproducible Irreducibility?” (URL:, 1996), spotted 18 Sep 98. For a critical response to Behe’s asserion that blood clotting is irreducibly complex, see George Acton, “Behe and the Blood Clotting Cascade”, (URL:, 1997), and Russell F. Doolittle, “A Delicate Balance” (URL:, 1996), both spotted 30 Sep 98. For links to several reviews of Behe’s book, see URL:

[10] See Paul Draper, “Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists” The Evidential Argument from Evil (Ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder,Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996), pp. 12-29.

[11] Theodore M. Drange, Nonbelief and Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1998), p. 209.

[12] Drange, p. 208.