I am not planning on doing a full review of Feb. 1’s William Lane Craig-Alex Rosenberg debate. I will say, however, that I was very disappointed in Rosenberg’s performance—and not simply because he was obviously uncomfortable with the debate format (then why do it?). His arguments ranged from outdated (in the sense that there have been easy answers to the problems he raised for decades of which he seemed totally unaware) to contradictory. Below are simply my observations. Feel free to add yours in the comments section!
1. Dr. Rosenberg had a poor attitude.
Literally the first words out of his mouth were something like, “Wow! I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Hopefully you didn’t have to pay for this,” implying that Craig’s speech was so terrible (or precisely the same as always, which wasn’t, strictly speaking, true, as Craig added new arguments I’ve not heard from him before) that no one should have incurred any expense. He continued most of the first half of his speech essentially insulting Craig/theism and/or explaining why he didn’t like debates (not a good sign in the opening). Often seeming annoyed or even angry, he once claimed he found Craig’s argument(s) “morally offensive.” I found it sophomoric and uncharitable, a kind of ploy more than anything else.
2. Dr. Rosenberg was confused about what constitutes the Logical Problem of Evil.
He introduced what he called the “logical problem of evil” by saying that he couldn’t believe all of the evil in the universe was absolutely necessary in order to make the kind of world goodness demanded (and alternatively that a good God would never permit evil). That is not, strictly speaking, the logical problem of evil. The LPoE is that there two statements or states of affairs, namely, “God exists” and “evil exists” that are strictly incompatible, in a logical sense. Dr. Rosenberg said (paraphrasing), “Well I gave a logical argument against God using evil.” Insert forehead smack.
3. Dr. Rosenberg contradicted his own views on objective morality.
While Dr. Rosenberg never explicitly stated there were no objective moral values during the debate, he did explicitly state such during the Q&A (and moreover affirmed the conclusions of his book, aka the conclusions of science, whatever that means). Curiously, he said, on more than one occasion, that certain of Craig’s arguments, objections, and defenses were “morally offensive” to Rosenberg. What? I thought there are no objective moral truths? If there are not any, it’s just a dressed-up way to say “I don’t like it.” But what relevance is that? Furthermore, the whole point in Rosenberg’s bringing up that it was morally offensive is that he was hoping we would think so too. So either Rosenberg was hoping we’d all just opinionate Craig’s views away, which is foolish, or he was thinking that there are at least some objective moral truths, after all. It occurs to me perhaps Rosenberg was speaking counterfactually (e.g., “if there were to be objective moral truths, then Craig’s arguments offend those sensibilities as I see them”), but again, I don’t see the point (especially since he neither mentioned nor alluded to this). Rosenberg seemed to be absolutely unaware of the third option in the Euthyphro dilemma, stating at several points, “We all know that God only chooses his commands based on what is good.” No, no we do not all know that.
4. Dr. Rosenberg was confused about the Principle of Sufficient Reason.
Rosenberg’s view of the PSR was that it was “everything that is an effect has a cause,” and moreover conflated the kalam and this argument from contingency. The PSR has to do with explanations, which is different than the strict causal principle. As such, defeating the causal principle (which he did not) doesn’t do anything to the PSR.
5. Dr. Rosenberg, hence, was confused about the kalam.
He seemed to vacillate between criticizing the kalam and the argument from contingency, and only bothered to bring up quantum indeterminacy as a possibility. Craig’s main principle used in these arguments is the so-called “something/nothing principle.” It is the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” and the statement, “something cannot come from nothing.” Rosenberg treated all of these as pretty much identical, which is a mistake.
6. Dr. Rosenberg was confused about the aim of the arguments.
Rosenberg seemed to take the deductive nature of the arguments to proclaim that he was justified in rejecting the major premise if it was even epistemically possible to reject. First, that is quite a heavy burden for any argument to bear. Second, it reveals that Rosenberg literally will not believe freely (at least as it stands now). Third, it misses the aim of the arguments, stated by Craig and displayed on the big screen. “God is the best explanation of . . .” which essentially weakens the major premise. Effectively, it’s not good enough to sit back and demand the premise’s denial be logically or metaphysically impossible (in some arguments, it’s still true that the major premise needs to be airtight [like in the argument from design]). By refusing to offer alternatives or even criticize the arguments in some cases, Rosenberg effectively conceded each one.
7. Dr. Rosenberg was completely unprepared for the debate.
Let me be clear and honest: Dr. Rosenberg is an intelligent man. He is the chair of a world-renowned philosophy department at Duke. He’s no slouch, intellectually. So why the poor performance? It can’t be mere debate. He did poorly from his opening speech (for which he had weeks or even months to prepare). My only conclusion is that he is simply not a philosopher of religion. It’s not his main specialty by his own admission, and his objections betrayed the fact that he had not seemingly read anything from current theistic arguments and discussions from the last 40-50 years. When Craig took down metaphysical naturalism from quotes from Rosenberg’s own work, all he could do was insist these were conclusions drawn from science. Charitably assuming the best, I can only speculate that philosophy of science is not Rosenberg’s specialty either (since his defense against Craig’s arguments that metaphysical naturalism is wrong was essentially to insist that metaphysical naturalism was not, in fact, wrong). It was a shame.