Atheism vs. Christianity - Where does the evidence point?

Notes on the Debate between Dr William Craig and Dr Peter Slezak (Sydney Town Hall, 2002)

Is there a God?
Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
Is Christianity true?

These are some of the most important questions anyone can ever ask.

In this debate, two fine speakers address these issues as they debate the topic “Atheism versus Christianity – where does the evidence point?”

Dr William Craig is one of the foremost contemporary defenders of the Christian faith. He is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, California.

Dr Peter Slezak is a Senior Lecturer in the School of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of New South Wales. He teaches and speaks widely in the media of philosophy, science and religion.

Presented by St Barnabas Anglican Church Broadway, the debate was held in August 2002 in front of more than 2000 people in the Sydney Town Hall.

William Craig (For Christianity) - 20 mins

Two necessary questions in this debate need to be answered:
  1. What good evidence is there that God exists?
  2. What good evidence is there that God does not exist; that atheism is true?
The second question is left to the opposition in this debate.
Five points of evidence are given for the first question:

1. The origin of the universe:
    • Premise 1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause
    • Premise 2: The universe began to exist
    • Therefore the universe has a cause.
    • By necessity: The cause is a timeless, uncaused, personal agent who freely chooses to cause the universe.
2. The complex order of the universe.
There are only three possible explanations for the complexity in the universe:
    • Natural law
    • Chance.
    • Design.
Scientifically the first is not plausible (the universe could have been otherwise and still exist). The second is not probable (the chance of this complexity arising randomly is unthinkable). The third is possible and likely.

  • Premise 1: there are only three possibilities
  • Premise 2: Design is the only possible and likely explanation
  • Therefore the universe had a designer.
3. Objective moral values

Our argument is not must we believe in God to live moral lives. We’re not claiming we must. Nor, is our questions ‘can we recognise moral values without believing in God’. I think we can.

But our argument is, if God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist. On this point atheists agree.

But objective moral values do exist. The evidence for this is given.

Therefore, since objective moral values do exist, then God also exists.

4. The historical facts concerning the life, death and resurrection of Jesus

His life: Jesus showed divine authority to speak in God’s place.
His ministry of miracles and exorcisms support his claim.
His resurrection is a divine miracle that shows us that God exists.

There are three established historical facts that are best explained by the resurrection.
    • Jesus’ tomb was found empty
    • Appearances of Jesus as being alive after his death
    • The disciples came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus and came to willingness unto death for this belief.
Attempts to explain these facts away have been universally rejected. This therefore entails that God exists.

5. Immediate experience of God.

This is not an argument. Rather it is the claim that you can know God wholly apart from argument.

Dr Peter Slezak (For Atheism) - 20 mins

Dr Craig has not followed the logic of proof and disproof. ‘Evidence’ must be understood as scientists understand it. Therefore his question is misleading: There can be no proof or disproof of God’s existence, because God is not a mathematical theorem. The best you can do is point out the lack of evidence and conclude that the existence of God is not supported by what we observe scientifically.

This is the nature of all universal claims. No one has ever proved or disproved the existence of UFOs. But it is precisely the lack of evidence that makes us believe that they don’t exist.

1. Cosmological argument

    • Dr Craig’s argument relies on ones own ability to see common sense, though many of the established facts of the universe are not common sense, though they are true nonetheless (eg. Physics laws such as wave-particle duality of light)
    • Physics prevents a ‘cause’ for the universe because before the beginning of the universe there was nothing. That is, there was no before. Therefore there can be nothing before to cause the cause.
    • Dr Craig’s is rather talking about a ‘metaphysical’ cause, which is another way of saying there just must be something even though there can’t be something.
2. Design argument

Improbability is not always a good argument for design. In analogies such as the watch, it works. But you can’t use an analogy within the universe and apply it to the way the whole universe works. Nor can you trust your brain to infer anything simply from the unlikeliness of an event, unless you know something more in the background. The mere fact of the improbability is not enough. For that is the nature of improbability is not enough to conclude that it was not an accident.

E.g. A hand of total spades: It is just as probable as your usual mixed up hand. It’s just that the first is interesting. But so what?

The ones who survived in the war are the ones who get to tell the story. It is still luck, but the only reason they are there telling you their story is that someone was always going to win.

    • It is the imperfections that are the best evidence for evolution, not the perfections.
    • Why would an omnipotent God design imperfections?
3. The historicity of Jesus:
    • Human testimony is very unreliable.
It would be pretty perverse of God to give us rational skeptical minds and then expect us not to use them.

Dr William Craig (Christianity) - 12 mins

Question: what is the evidence for atheism?

Dr Slezak says the only evidence against God’s existence is the lack of evidence for God’s existence.

This is highly significant. It means he agrees that all of the traditional arguments for atheism fail (such as problem of evil etc). Therefore he claims that the only evidence for atheism is lack of evidence for God.

But absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence.

E.g. There is no positive evidence yet that no gold exists on Pluto – but this doesn’t mean that there is no gold on Pluto.

So when does lack of evidence mean evidence against something?

Lack of evidence for x, counts as positive evidence against x, only if in the case that x did exist then we should expect to see more evidence of x.

E.g. Absence of evidence for planet between earth and Venus. We would expect to  see evidence, of course for this.

But if God exists, should we expect to see more evidence than the 5 things we’ve pointed out?
    • Obviously not.
He has to prove that it is highly probable that if God exists we should have more evidence that what we do. But this would be pure speculation.

Thus in the case of God the absence of evidence is not an argument against the existence of God.

What about the second question:

    • Origin of universe.
He agrees with the second premise.
Therefore he is forced to deny the first premise, that whatever begins to exist has a cause. By cause we mean whatever produces or brings into being it’s effect.

He doesn't refute this premise. He just asks, what reasons should we think this premise is true.
    • Being does not come from non-being
    • Something does not come from nothing.
The causal premise is universally accepted. The only reason to deny it is because this would lead you to a conclusion you don’t want to accept.

    • Big bang: yes it can’t have a natural cause.
    • But this doesn’t prohibit a supernatural cause.
Dr Peter Slezak (For Atheism) - 12 mins

Atheist doesn't say God does not exist categorically. Therefore proof is not necessarily.

What are the rules for metaphysics? How do we define ‘cause’? Physics causes cannot be metaphysically. Science is the only ground we have for assessing things. What’s the rational for going beyond science?

Now to the issue of:
    • Objective moral values

‘If you escape the social consequences, there is nothing really wrong with you raping somebody?’ in the absence of God.

The point is that we can share his intuition. But his appeal is simply to ‘what you think’. This shows that ‘yes’ we do all think that morals do exist. Yes we all do have strong moral convictions. But this doesn’t mean that they really do exist, just because we all feel they do.

They don’t have a cosmic status, as the Aztecs show, which cut out the hearts of others to please their gods!

In the Andromeda galaxy, our morals don’t exist.

Now to more on:
    • Jesus and miracles
Arguments for biblical miracles haven’t got any better. We don’t have to doubt the historicity. It’s not the facts that are in dispute. It’s the interpretation that is in dispute. Eg. Our interpretation might be ‘He was not dead’, ‘the disciples stole the body’.

It is not just the miraculous interpretation that is possible. And actually any other interpretation other than miraculous is more probable.

Dr William Craig (For Christianity) - 8 mins

Back to:
    • Objective moral values
Which premise does Dr Slezak deny?

Without God there is no basis for existence of morals, even though we feel they exist. He seems to agree with this!

If Martians came from Andromeda would we accept their other morality, even if they wanted to rape our women in order to reproduce?

He has no answer. ‘We humans feel it’s wrong, but so what?’ he says. We agree that the moral values don’t exist in the absence of God.

But we maintain that they really do exist. We are justified then to believe in the existence of God, in the same way we are justified to believe that physical objects exist.

Now more on:
    • Life, death, resurrection of Jesus.
Notice that he doesn't deny any of the actual historical facts.
What he tries to do is offer an alternative explanation of the facts, such as ‘The old apparent death theory’. It is universally rejected. Why?

    • Roman method of execution
    • Spear
    • Bleeding in tomb.
    • Even if he’d revived, tomb was sealed.
    • Even if he’d gotten out, his appearance wouldn’t have caused his disciples to worship him as the conqueror of death etc.
He says it’s a better argument of miracles. Any natural explanation is of course more probable than a natural resurrection. But that says nothing of a supernatural resurrection. It doesn’t make it improbable for a supernatural resurrection.

And he has not yet answered the question:
    • Why cannot we trust our experience of God as evidence for the existence of God?
Notice his huge shift in this debate:

He now admits the absence of evidence is not positive evidence that God doesn’t exist. He just says that ‘I don’t believe…’

That is not atheism. That is agnosticism.

So even if all my arguments are rejected we still end up on neutral ground, because the debate is about atheism.

Dr Peter Slezak (For Atheism) - 8 mins

Distinction: being agnostic is about not being sure which way to go. Atheism is being sure that there is no better way than to be sceptical; to be in confirmed disbelieve.

On the matter of
    • Personal experience
I don’t deny these. But they are not grounds for belief.

On the matter of:
    • Jesus
It is inconceivable that you cannot think of more naturalistic explanations than the miraculous one.

On the argument of:
    • Ethics
Dr Craig insists there’s nothing objective if God doesn't exist. But he want’s to call absolute values the objective ones. To do this first of all you need to have independent grounds first for the existence of God.

Now to more on the matter of
    • Logic (the logic of belief)
Dr Craig is himself skeptical about the existence of intelligent life being elsewhere. And this is the exact reason why we are skeptical about the existence of God.

The Christian and Alcohol

Or 5 biblical principles that should control our use of alcohol

The Preacher says “In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness. Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise--why destroy yourself? Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool-- why die before your time? It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.” (Ecclesiastes 7:15-18)

The subject of ‘the Christian and alcohol’ has been a controversial one in the church, a subject with extremes of opinion. The only way to gain wisdom on this subject is to take seriously what is written in the entirety of God’s Word concerning it, and to heed the warning of the Apostle Paul: "Do not go beyond what is written." (1 Corinthians 4:6).

This is a brief topical overview of the Bible’s teaching on the subject of alcohol, with a particular focus on the New Testament’s ethic for its use and applications for Christians (Point 5).

1. The Bible actually teaches that alcohol is from God.

E.g. Psalm 104:14; Ecclesiastes 9:7, 10:19; Proverbs 31:6. The Book of John gives an account of where Jesus turned water into wine in order to meet needs and bless a newly married couple on their week long wedding party (John 2:9-10). On one occasion the Apostle Paul needed to tell Timothy to stop abstaining from the properties of wine which could be helpful/good (1 Timothy 5:23).

2. As with anything in this world, the love of alcohol and the indulgence in it is sinful.

E.g. Just to focus on Proverbs alone, see 23:20-21, 20:1, 21:17, 23:39-35.

Because even a small amount of alcohol can be intoxicating , even more wisdom and self control is needed than with other things of this world that we use. Christians are told in scripture to take particular and serious care, not to ‘cross the line’ by drinking to intoxication: Ephesians 5:15 -18.

3. The evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in a Christian is the continuing death of their sinful nature, and the outworking of the new nature of Christ that is in them. Part of this nature is self control, and so the Christian way to treat alcohol is with self control: Galatians 5: 16 – 24.

Accordingly, the world should be able to see the nature of Christ in us by our action (self control displayed whenever we drink or partake of anything in this world that is from God) that they may take seriously God’s message that we preach, and turn to Him: Titus 2:2-13.

4. This lifestyle of self control with alcohol is even more important for leaders of God’s people.

E.g. 1 Timothy 3:1-3, 8; Titus 1:7.

5. Every Christian, as part of the body of Christ, is to building others up and restrict themselves to what leads to the good of others. And so it is sinful to do anything that causes other Christians to stumble, even if you know you’re theologically free to do that thing in Christ. This is a very important principle of God’s Word that applies to alcohol consumption.

It may be that the Christian, who sees you drinking alcohol, even though they know the Biblical perspective on it, doesn’t have the character that you have. Then, when they follow your example, they don’t have the self control that you have, and so really they are unable to follow your example in the first place. They fall into sin, but you have contributed to it. If this is at all a possibility with somebody then don’t set that example until they’re ready for it, so that they won’t stumble.

It may be that a non-Christian who sees you drinking, or a Christian for that matter, doesn’t understand the Biblical perspective on it as you do. They may judge you for it, thinking you’re a hypocrite. How then can you share the gospel with them, since they will discredit everything you say? And so you’re drinking in that case hinders the work of the gospel, which is more important than you’re freedom to drink. And it’s more important that they understand the truth of the gospel than they understand the Bible’s teaching on drinking. So in circumstances where drinking might destroy the work of God in somebody’s life, it is of course better not to drink.

However it may be that in certain situations you could use your consumption of alcohol as an aid to point out the true nature of sin and the difference between religious living (bondage because of the law) and Christianity (freedom because of grace in Christ), and so share the gospel in explanation of their wrong thinking on this issue.

And what about another Christian if their conviction is that it is sinful to drink alcohol? For them drinking is sin, because they would be rebelling against God in their hearts if they were to drink (anything that does not come from faith is sin: Rom 14:23). The apostle Paul describes this as a ‘weak conscience’, meaning, an over sensitive conscience; and also as ‘weak faith’, because a strong faith knows that through the cross we are free to live and enjoy all things from God in this life as the Spirit bears the fruit of faith in us. However, we are still responsible to make sure we don’t sin ourselves by causing those with a weak conscience to stumble. The entire chapter of Romans 14 explains this principle in depth: Romans 14:19-23.

This is a general principle of the New Testament, and applies to all areas of our freedom in Christ. We should cease doing anything that hinders the gospel, or causes our weaker family members (in faith/character) to stumble; whether smoking or drinking, or our choice of language/vocabulary, or dress or cultural etiquette: 1Corinthians 8:9 -13; 10:23-11:1

Therein lies the heart of the matter: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God--even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1)

It’s the grace of God shown us in the cross of Christ that teaches us to live this way: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:11-13).

The Bible in 7 points

The story of God's journey in reconciling the world back to Himself has been summarised by Dan Armstrong and others as a 7 stage mission. The narrative of the Bible is complex and rich, but it can be understood on a basic level too. The simplicity of the elemental structure below may be helpful for those who are new to Christianity or struggling to understand the flow of the Old Testament into the New:

1. God ‘with’ People (Genesis 2)
Relationship (between God and his people) which is good: God gives man a lease of the earth with dominion over it, but they need to trust God’s word.

2. God ‘and’ People (Genesis 3-11)
Separation (fall into sin): The relationship of trust is destroyed. God now begins the journey of reconciling the world to himself. And he must do it through ‘man’.

3. God ‘to’ People (Genesis 12 - 50)
God appears to Abraham, and he enters into a covenant with God: he becomes a people under promise by God.

4. God ‘among’ People (Exodus - Deuteronomy)
God reveals Himself in Israel’s midst, through Moses and through the tabernacle, who become a people belonging to God.

5. God ‘through’ People (Joshua - Malachi)
God gives Israel prophets, from Joshua to John the Baptist: He leads them and appeals to them through his chosen anointed ones, to live rightly as his people.

6. God ‘as’ a Person (Gospels)
God gives Jesus who completes God’s work of salvation for people, making them right with God through trust in his death.

7. God ‘within’ People (Acts - Revelation)
Jesus lives in his people: The restored relationship of God with people is fulfilled and perfected through God’s Spirit who Christ gives to his church.

Jesus and Muhammad: Persecution, the sword, and their kingdoms

There are many parallels between the lives of Jesus and Muhammad. Both were persecuted, both had the opportunity to use the sword, and both established kingdoms. The Bible and Koran record how these two men responded to the different situations.

When they were persecuted:

Jesus said: "turn the other cheek ... love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you". (Matthew 5:39, 44)

Muhammad said, "fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is all for Allah (Qur'an 8:39)".

When they had the opportunity to use the sword:

Jesus said: "put back your sword in its place ... for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." (Matthew 26:52)

Muhammad said: "Believers (Muslims), why is it that when you are told: "March in the
cause of Allah," you linger slothfully in the land? Are you content with this life in preference to the life to come? Few indeed are the blessings of this life, compared with those of the life to come. If you do not go to war, He (Allah) will punish you sternly ... Whether unarmed or well-equipped, march on and fight for the cause of Allah, with your wealth and with your persons." (Qur'an 9:38-41)

When they had established their kingdoms:

Jesus said: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations ... teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). "This is what is written (in the prophets): The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name" (Luke 24:46-47).

Muhammad said: "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that
forbidden(1) which has been forbidden by Allah and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the
religion of Truth(2), (even if they are) of the People of the Book(3), until they pay the
Jizya(4) with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued." (Qur'an 9:29)

Are all religions the same?

“Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place."”
(BEFORE PILATE, John 18:11, 36)

Muhammad said,
“He it is who has sent forth His Apostle with the [task of spreading] guidance and the religion of truth, to the end that He may cause it to prevail over all [false] religion – however hateful this may be to those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God.

“Go forth to war, whether it be easy or difficult [for you], and strive hard in God's cause with your possessions and your lives: this is for your own good – if you but knew it!”
(MEDINA PERIOD, Qu'ran 9:33, 41)


(1) E.g. pork
(2) Islam
(3) Jews and Christians
(4) An additional tax on non-Muslims who are conquered by Muslims

(NB. Not all Korans have the same verse numbering system).

Three tests of being a Christian

- By James Brinkhoff -

Obeying God, loving others and holding to the truth; to the Apostle John these are the three tests of being a Christian and the main themes of his first epistle, 1 John.

It’s likely from the data in 1 John that false teachers had entered into the church of his recipients of this letter (2:26). They brought dualistic teachings that stressed that matter (specifically ‘flesh’) was evil; and ‘spiritual things’ were good (4:2). They also seemed to teach that salvation could only be found in dependence on certain teachers and special knowledge (2:20-22). Accordingly, John’s recipients were unsure that they had eternal life (5:13).

Into this situation, John aimed to give these believers confidence that they had been forgiven; they did know God and were in fellowship with his people; they had received eternal life (1:3, 2:12-14, 5:13). And in order to convince them, he gave three tests of being a child of God: obeying God, loving others and holding to the truth. This post hopes to give an explanation of these themes, along with the undercurrent themes through the letter on the nature of God and his Son.

The overriding message through 1 John is that those who know God will be like him (4:17). God is light, and so those who are followers of God will walk in the light; meaning they will walk in righteousness and love (1:5-2:11). Similarly, God is pure so his children purify themselves (3:3). He is righteous, so too is everyone who is born of him (2:29). God is love, and has shown his love by propitiating our sins in Jesus; so too we should love each other sacrificially (4:7-11).

The first of the specific proofs of being a child of God is righteousness. No one can claim sinlessness (1:8), but our sin has been dealt with (3:5). Consequently, a mark of a true Christian is that they do not continue in sin (3:7-8). Of course, as John makes clear, no one is perfect and we still do sin. But the Christian life is marked by not making a practice of sin. So John can say that we can have confidence that we know him if we keep his commands (2:3).

Another proof of true faith is love. Love has been initiated by God. He loved us by judging our sin in Jesus (4:10). John argues that since Jesus has laid down his life for us, we should do the same for each other (3:16). He stresses that this is to be an active love, which cares for physical as well as spiritual needs (3:17-18). This was in contrast to the false teacher who asserted that matter is evil. We will know that we have true life if we love God's people (3:14). 

Finally, we can know that he is in us and we are in him if we have the Spirit who testifies to the truth. This intimate link between the Spirit and truth comes across very clearly in 1 John (5:6). The truth that the Spirit and those who have the Spirit testify to is that Jesus has come in the flesh as the Savior of the world (4:2-3, 13-14). Therefore, if this truth remains in us we can have confidence that we will remain in God (2:24). In addition, we should test to make sure our teachers are holding to this testimony of the Spirit (4:1).

These are the Apostle John’s three tests of being God’s child: If we are like God in this world, if we are obeying his commands, loving each other and holding to the truth, we can have absolute confidence that we are children of God.