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"Origin of the Universe" Debate Packs Chambers Gallery


January 30, 2001
Contact: Bill Giduz 704/894-2244 or bigiduz@davidson.edu

By Jimmy Swansbrough '03

Craig and Smith
Philosophers Willian Lane Criag (left) and Quentin Smith debated God's relationship to the universe.

The Chambers Building Gallery Room normally seats no more than 200 people. But on Thursday evening, January 25, the Gallery made a can of sardines look comfortable! It was standing room only as students, faculty, and community members packed the room to hear Professors Quentin Smith and William Lane Craig engage in a formal debate about whether or not God created the universe.

The two philosophers literally wrote the book on the subject, co-authoring the 1993 book, Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology. Craig is a research professor at the Talbot School of Theology, and Smith is a professor of philosophy at Western Michigan University who serves as the editor-in-chief of The Journal of the Society of Humanist Philosophers.

Robert Maydole, professor of philosophy at Davidson, introduced the two philosophers and explained the format for the debate.

In his 20 minutes of opening remarks, Smith stated, "the belief that God created the universe is unsatisfactory." He referred to the "Cosmological Argument," a three-step process verifying a cause to the existence of the universe. Everything that begins to exist, according to Smith, has a cause, and since the universe began to exist, there must be a cause to its existence. Smith claimed the cause to the universe is just the universe itself. "Every thing has a cause," Smith said. "The universe is not a thing; it's a conjunction of things that come together to form the existing universe."

Quentin Smith
Quentin Smith presented the "cosmological argument."

Smith then accused Craig of altering his arguments over the course of their past debates. He referred the audience to a simple-looking diagram in A-yields-B-yields-C format. According to Smith, the diagram proved that God had no chance to create the universe because there was no place for God in the beginning.

Craig began his 20-minute opening remarks by attacking Smith's interpretation of the Cosmological Argument. He claimed that the universe is indeed a thing, citing its expanding properties, elements, and matter as examples. He said the universe is not self-explained, but called it a physical being that comes into being at the Big Bang.

Craig explained the "Fallacy of Composition," a theory stating that the creation of one thing by another does not negate the possibility of a pre-existing state. Presenting his "Teleological Argument," Craig said that the fine-tuning of the universe is due to either law, chance, or design. Since law or chance can play no role, then this "fine-tuning" must be due to design.

After each debater challenged the other in a 10-minute rebuttal, Smith concluded, "God is supposed to know the universe but can't be in touch with or observe a universe he can't hear or affect...He has no place in our existence in this world." Conversely, Craig said, "the universe is an object; it evolves over time...It requires a cause." To Craig, God is that cause.

Student Panelists
A panel of students presented questions to the philosophers after their debate.

After concluding, the philosophers responded to several questions by a three-student panel composed of Elizabeth Barnes '04, Daniel Gibson '02, and Michael Newnam '01.

Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson recently launched "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.

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