William Lane Craig v Lawrence Krauss: Sydney

It's a sell-out!

In the blue corner, weighing in as a finalist (yet again!) in the World Christian Apologetics Team is William Lane Craig. In the red corner, weighing in as the rooky on the 'New Atheist’s' team is Lawrence Krauss

The referee for the match is Rachael Kohn wearing a distinctive coat of many colours. The venue is the regal Sydney Town Hall. The crowd's seeming allegiance to both boxers? I’d guess 50/50.

The final verdict? Depends on which ‘50’ you belong to. Does it really matter? Christians were already committed to creatio ex nihilo before they entered the doors. We just happen to know that God is the Agent of all-that- there-is.

As many of you are aware, William Lane Craig is visiting our shores for a series of meetings. The most relevant public meetings for Craig are his series of dialogues with Lawrence Krauss; a popular science commentator, physicist and populariser of the ‘universe-began-from-nothing’ model which Richard Dawkins seems to have become enamoured with, having previously rejecting it.

After the Brisbane talk, William Lane Craig tweeted "Last night's "dialogue" with Krauss was like gladitorial combat! He even had a buzzer which he was pushing at various times during my speech to register his disapproval and try to disrupt my speaking!" 

Hence, my boxing analogy above!

I attended the Sydney dialogue which was devoted to the topic ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’

The following thoughts are my personal recollections of the night as well as some other opinions from social media. Should you wish to add anything to my observations please present them for publishing via our CONTACTS page.

So, here goes ... please read on...


Allow me to expand (so to speak) my boxing metaphor.

If Craig is a purist pugilist then Krauss is a ‘scrapper’. In some ways the night was frustrating. Why? William Lane Craig (WLC) attempted to deal with the main topic along classic logic paradigms (too much in my view), but Krauss (at times) was simply spoiling the dialogue with constant interruptions and diversions. In other words, he chose not to fight fair and intentionally landed some low blows. But more of that later.

Krauss began well – really well.

He thanked the hard working team from the City Bible Forum warmly and sincerely. He was impressed by them as people and honoured them by naming them individually. I was impressed by this; character (not just advanced education) matters to me.

After that he gave us a useful dumbed-down materialist version of how the universe came into existence from 'nothing' and attacked Craig’s model for a transcendent beginning to the universe(s). An odd analogy (a reference to homosexuality) was used to counter Craig’s Kalaam cosmological argument but his 15 minutes were, overall, engaging, well-paced and entertaining. His personal style of humour was critical to his presentation as he freely admits that scientists within his own discipline of physics are often regarded as 'obnoxious' (his word, not mine).

In short, Krauss was confident, engaging, cocky and unconvincing re: the actual topic - ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’

Craig’s 15 minutes were a direct contrast to Krauss's.

Craig relied on his written notes far more heavily than the free flowing style of Krauss and he presented his views on the topic with intense logic and refined public speaking skills. His constant reference to the Leibnizian cosmological argument firmly imprinted in my mind that Craig was firmly committed to the central topic and he did his expert best to convince us of it. For example, Krauss's various concepts of 'nothing' has been the subject of much derision by some (not just theists) and Craig deliberately exposed Krauss's inconsistencies by quoting Krauss himself! For example:

  • "There are a variety of forms of nothing, they all have various definitions."
  • "The laws of quantum mechanics tells us that nothing is unstable."
  • "Nothing weighs something."
  • "Nothing is almost everything."

And this is where Krauss's biggest problem lay. It's his definition, ultimately, of 'nothing'. Craig exposed the issue in just one slide and even Krauss looked uncomfortable in his chair as the quotes above were read out.

Which brings me to the next point, which for some of you will seem quite trivial.

I was seated close to the stage and had a great view of Krauss the man. I watched him closely as Craig presented his views and was very disappointed to see some of his reactions that I would describe as just plain rude. Without a buzzer this time, Krauss was constantly either rolling his eyes in disapproval at some of Craig’s statements or even raising his hands at times to publicly announce his disapproval.

Why do this? One can only interpret this as arrogance and rudeness. I could not imagine Craig himself or Ravi Zacharias or John Lennox adopting these negative (look-at-me-folks) non-verbal gestures.

Krauss complains about Craig’s certainty but his public display of certainty was there for all to see in terms of - attitude. How much certainty exists in the discipline of cosmology? References to 'string theory' and 'multiverses' are not certainties (as conceded by Krauss); they are speculative at best. Even Krauss admits that the universe could be eternal; so much for the 'standard model'. Luke Barnes' comments on the night (see below) are most helpful. 

Then followed a dialogue between the two men with the moderator Rachael Kohn at the helm. At times it was engaging, at other times it was frustrating as Krauss constantly interrupted and introduced red herrings to fluster Craig. I was surprised to see even Craig’s level of frustration as Kohn handed out some ‘yellow cards’ to Krauss as well as his own bewilderment at some of Kohn’s left-field questions which were clearly off topic.

It must be said that both men dealt with Kohn’s momentary difficulties with grace. At one time, it seemed that she was totally lost as to what questions should be asked of whom. Not all her questions were welcomed by the speakers. I would be surprised to learn that Krauss reads the 'Upanishads' or the 'Gita' before he turns off his night light.

At the conclusion of the evening Kohn looked most uncomfortable and I noted a shake of the head which I could only interpret as a measure of disappointed at her own performance on the night. For a brief moment she looked very lonely. (I have invited Rachael Kohn to share her thoughts of the night with us; please watch this space. EDITOR: Rachael has responded to our request and we will be publishing her candid impressions very, very soon).

Be that as it may, her question levelled to Krauss that we, as 'physics lay people', must take Krauss’s complex justifications for a non-divine-birth-of-the-universe-from-nothing-model with a large degree of faith in his research seemed lost on Krauss. Good point Rachael! Some of us that night were lost in certain aspects of the science. How many of us can articulate the complex physics behind a flat universe?! Or how many of us can understand the concept that the universe can be 'weighed'?

At one stage, the discussion became theologicaI and personal as Craig shared his road to faith in 'Jesus of Nazareth' from a non-Christian background. Krauss feigned interest but I couldn’t take his question(s) to Craig as genuine at all. It was more like, “Tell me what you mean by this theological statement because I really want to know. But what I actually will do with your statements is use them to publically ridicule you!”

Various questions from the audience were delivered to both men via Twitter or SMS. A public line-up of questioners would’ve been better ensuring that questions would not be vetted (which they were).

The engagement between both men, at times, was very animated and, frankly, often welcomed. As mentioned above Craig was able to briefly share his personal testimony in Jesus Christ to which Krauss seemingly posed a question to Craig about the existence of the 'soul'. It was here that Krauss, as a 'scrapper', was dominant. He demanded proof (scientific evidence) for the existence of a ‘soul’ but the answers were not as forthcoming from Craig; at least to my satisfaction. WLC chose to stay away from any references to general and special revelation arguing, instead, along more philosophical lines.

However, there was a huge moment throughout the course of the night for some of us. Krauss had initially stated that he was uncomfortable with the term 'atheist' and later on admitted that God was an actual possibility. Now to be fair to Krauss, ‘God’ seems an extremely remote possibility to him but one nevertheless. This makes Krauss an 'agnostic' – not an 'atheist'! After all, he is on record prior to this as saying that he CANNOT prove that God does not actually exist.

At least we know that there are various denominations of 'a-theists' (see video below).

After the moderator had called it an evening, we all rose from our seats. I made my way to ask Luke Barnes for his opinion. I later found this on his excellent blog:

"It went alright, I think. A little too much interruption, and some red-herrings from the moderator, but reasonably civil and on-topic.
The most interesting bit came when Craig was trying to justify premise 2 of his argument:
“If the universe has an explanation, then that explanation is God.”
Krauss disputed this premise in the opening speech, saying that it just assumed God did it. Craig’s argument for premise 2 went something like this:
A. Definition: the universe is the totality of physical reality. (Call it the multiverse if you like, if there is one.)
B. Then, if the universe has an explanation, it cannot be in terms of physical things.
C. Since the universe includes all matter, energy, space and time, the explanation must then be a transcendent, immaterial, spaceless and timeless entity.
D. The only thing that Craig can think of that can be a cause whilst being immaterial is an unembodied mind.
E. Thus, if the universe has an explanation, then that explanation is a transcendent, immaterial, spaceless and timeless mind. That being deserves the title “God”.
Krauss responded by questioning the definition. He tried to get Craig to say that physical reality was just everything in spacetime, since then he could say that science can talk about spacetime foams and other postulated physical things more fundamental than spacetime. I think, given more time to clarify, Craig would have said that spacetime foam is a physical thing (since it can appear in physical theories) so its part of the universe.
Krauss also responded that D merely states the limit of the human mind, and says nothing about reality. Craig could have responded by asking for an alternative, or rephrased the argument as an inference to the best explanation. I think that “the only hypotheses I can think of” type assumptions are lurking behind almost all inferences. (Maybe I can show that from Bayes theorem. I’ll have a think about that.).
This was the most relevant bit of the debate, but then things got sidetracked (I think because of the moderator)". Luke Barnes from 'Letters to Nature')


In conclusion, the night highlighted the very distinctive role that our own worldviews play in how we understand 'reality' and 'truth'. Krauss claims to be a non-theist (a-theist). That is, within his reality there is no room for God; only a remote mathematical possibility. Anything that even looks like 'God' (eg design) will be automatically eradicated from his mind and re-interpreted in classic materialistic paradigms. Craig is a theist. He filters the evidence as a theist. Both men have access to the same evidence but it's their worldviews that will determine their particular outcomes. Both men, it can be said, are equally religious - not just Craig. 

The evidence for Krauss being 'religious' is, I grant, contingent on how one defines 'religion' (there is NO universally accepted definition of the term) but I would remind you that much of Buddhism is atheistic. As I reflect on the night, I recall so many statements from Krauss that were 'faith' revealing. His allegiance (worship?) to science is so dominant that he interprets his world/cosmos extremely narrowly. Even if the evidence leads to divinity (which it most certainly does) Krauss can never accept it. He is certainly no Antony Flew. 'General revelation' evidence led the 'guru' atheist Flew to theism. Krauss will never allow Krauss to follow the same path. I'm very pleased that Craig reminded Krauss that theology is the Queen of the Sciences - not cosmology!

Overall, it was a very good night in old Sydney Town.

The sell-out audience was most civil; the venue was tremendous; the arguments were delivered with great convictions and passion and the book signings were well organised and well attended.

Personally, it was great to meet William Lane Craig. He sincerely thanked me for this website’s support of his Australian tour of which we have been happy to be a part of; albeit unofficially. Thanks also to the organiser, Paddy Benn, and his team for the many hours they have devoted to these meetings and thanks to Luke Barnes for warmly greeting his old high-school teacher.


John Dickson has made various comments of the dialogue on social media but the following is very telling:

My 16 year old daughter came to hear the debate last night between William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss, Why is There Something Rather than Nothing?. She loved it, even though she was annoyed at all the butting-in and talking-over-the-top. As we left the venue she came out with, "I think Prof Krauss tried to blind us with that little science lesson as a way of hiding the fact that he didn't have any arguments against God's existence." I couldn't agree more. (John Dickson)

 I would say a slight win to Craig in pure argumentation. A major win to Krauss in humour. A serious win to Rachel Kohn for bringing Krauss to order twice. A loss to anyone who imagined atheism necessarily made you kinder. (John Dickson FACEBOOK)

Finally, the verdict from William Lane Craig himself about the Sydney dialogue (via Facebook).

The dialogue last night with Krauss went really well! We largely avoided the personal attacks and finally focused on the philosophical issues. Krauss did not mount much of a defense of his claim that physics can offer plausible explanations of why something exists rather than nothing and did not seem to understand Leibniz's argument, taking it to be about the temporal origin of he universe. Now on to Melbourne, where the dialogue will be moderated by none other than Graham Oppy!






Reasonable Faith (Facebook)

Life, the Universe and Nothing (Facebook)

A clash of science and philosophy: our chat with Lawrence Krauss and William Lane Craig (Eternity Newspaper)

William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss. Why is there something rather than nothing? A critique of the Sydney 'debate'.

A universe from nothing? What you should know before you hear the Krauss-Craig debate by Luke Barnes (ABC Religion and Ethics)

On the Origin of Everything ‘A Universe From Nothing,’ by Lawrence M. Krauss. A critique by David Albert - professor of philosophy at Columbia and the author of “Quantum Mechanics and Experience.” (NY Times)

'Why science cannot explain why anything at all exists' by Luke Barnes (Sydney University)


 A Universe From Something: Against Lawrence Krauss by Peter Williams (BeThinking)