Atheist philosopher Dr. Alex Rosenberg told Christian theologian Dr. William Lane Craig, and those attending a debate on the existence of God, both at Purdue University and online during a live webcast Friday evening, that he would "turn Christian" if Craig could explain why God would allow evil.
"In all honesty, if Dr. Craig could provide me with any kind of a logical, coherent account that could reconcile the evident fact of the horrors of human and infer human life on this planet over the last 3.5 billion years with the existence of a benevolent, omnipotent agent then I will turn Christian," Rosenberg said at the conclusion of his first allotted rebuttal.
Rosenberg prefaced his promise by saying that evil and suffering "needs to be desperately explained." He asked why a benevolent, omnipotent God would allow such human tragedies as the Holocaust, World War I, and the bubonic plague. He said he found the question perplexing.
"Nobody has been able to provide a satisfactory explanation," Rosenberg said.
Craig opened his next timed debate rebuttal by saying, "I'm really excited about that last statement that Dr. Rosenberg made." To which a seemingly large part of the audience responded with loud applause.
"The problem here is that we are assuming that God's purpose is just to make us happy in this life, but on the Christian view that's false," Craig went on to say. "The purpose of life is not worldly happiness as such, but rather the knowledge of God. There may be many evils that occur in this lifetime that are utterly pointless with respect to producing worldly happiness, but they may not be pointless with respect to producing the knowledge of God and salvation and eternal life.
"It's possible that only in a world that is suffused with natural and moral evil that the optimal number of people would come to know God freely, find salvation, and eternal life," he continued. "So, the atheist would have to prove that there is another possible world that has this much knowledge of God and His salvation in it, but which is produced with less evils. How could He possibly prove that? It's pure conjecture. It's impossible to prove those things."
The debate between the two scholars titled, "Is Faith in God Reasonable?", was hosted and sponsored by Symposia Christi at Purdue University, Biola University, and Craig's apologetics ministry group called Reasonable Faith. During the live 90-minute debate, followed by a question and answer period, streamed online from the East Coast, and then replayed shortly after for the West Coast, #GODdebate trended at the top on Twitter for more than a few hours.
The formal debate panel at the event awarded Craig a 4-2 victory. In a vote by those in attendance, Craig also won with 1,390 votes to 303 votes for Rosenberg. Craig was victoriouis online as well, garnering 734 votes to 59.
Renowned author and apologist Lee Strobel told The Christian Post via email after the debate that he viewed Craig as the clear winner.
"By any fair assessment, Bill Craig decisively won this debate – and he did so with characteristic gentleness and respect, as First Peter 3:15 instructs. The result wasn't even close," Strobel stated. "Alex Rosenberg had only shallow and unconvincing responses to Craig's eight affirmative points, and Craig was able to effectively defuse the argument from pain and suffering that Rosenberg raised.
"Once again, this debate reminded me that Christians have an unfair advantage in the marketplace of ideas – we have truth on our side. I'm thankful for scholars like Bill Craig who responsibly and powerfully wield the evidence that shows persuasively that God exists and that Christianity is true."
Strobel, who himself is a former atheist whose research about the life of Jesus for his book, The Case for Christ, led to his acceptance of Jesus as his savior, added, "I'm praying that Dr. Rosenberg will ultimately realize the bankruptcy of atheism and embrace the God who loves him deeply. Debates like this illustrate why so many atheists like myself have turned to Christ."
Apologist Mark Mittelberg was also asked for a response to the debate. He said it was one of amazement.
"Not that I was surprised that William Lane Craig won. Rather, I was amazed that after so many years of Dr. Craig doing so many high profile debates with atheists – including his first major U.S. event that I had the honor of hosting in Chicago twenty years ago – that there aren't stronger challenges coming from the skeptical community," Mittelberg wrote in an email to CP. "It reminded me of what I thought after that first one; when it comes to debates, truth is a great advantage!"
He added, "It really did seem obvious tonight that Dr. Craig was forthrightly presenting and defending truth, and that his opponent was attempting, as the apostle Paul puts it in Romans 1:18, to 'suppress the truth.'"
Mittelberg was also happy to see that the majority of the debate panel and viewers had a similar reaction, based on the votes that came in afterwards.
"My sincere hope is that many who voted will now go beyond merely acknowledging who won the debate, to personally acknowledging the One who the debate was all about," he stated.
On-demand rebroadcasts of the debate can be found online at http://live.biola.edu/.