Monday, December 31, 2012

You don't HAVE to have Faith

You may hear religious person say something like "you just have to have faith" when discussing religious topics, God, etc.

You know, as do I, that you don't HAVE to have Faith. Most of us - beliebers* included - instinctively understand this and operate accordingly. We use faith as a last resort, like when we jump off a cliff into a creek. We don't KNOW that there're no rocks immediately beneath the water's surface forty feet below, but we hope there aren't. Faith, in this instance, still isn't as good as knowing, but sometimes an epistemic shortcut is what we use, practical or not.

* don't ask me why Justin Bieber is relevant here. I just don't know.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Reality Hypothesis

Deacon Duncan just completed a series of ten posts discussing The Gospel Hypothesis:

"documenting the fact that it takes many more rationalizations to reconcile reality and theism than it does to reconcile reality and atheism"

He prefaced them with three posts that introduced the series - so I consider them to be part of the overall thesis. I think this can be generalized somewhat to
"it takes many more rationalizations to reconcile reality and propositions that are not observed in reality, than it does to reconcile reality and propositions that are observed in reality".
I offer this generalization in order to include anything supernatural, conspiracy-based, cultish, etc. including magic, prophecy, ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, the "9/11 was an inside job" meme and the like.

In its simplest form, you can state the comparison just as a programmer would structure a conditional logic statement:
   If Proposition A is true
Then some facts about Proposition A will be observed in the world
Else If Reality is true
Then some facts about Reality will be observed in the world
Spoiler alert: this is dead simple!

You can then compare the facts listed in the "If" and "Else If" clauses and adjudge the more plausible conclusion.

You can use this approach on any topic you care to - with the caveat that you have to be honest, make sound arguments, and just say "I don't know" when you don't know the answer to something. And always remember that concluding that your preferred result pertains will only work if concluding so is logically valid, and its premises and warrants are valid and true.

DD could have extended his series to many topics within the Bible - creation of the universe, creation of life, Noah's Ark, Jesus' resurrection - but that wasn't necessary to make his point. The result of any comparison that concludes that goddidit remains that Bible stories do not explain what we observe in the world, hence can be assumed to be myth until evidence is provided that could change that conclusion.

Links to the prefatory posts:

Links to individual Gospel Hypothesis posts:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What good is prayer?

What good is prayer? It makes you feel good. If that's what you're after, then prayer works.

I use meditation, in a non-Transcendental Meditation sort of way. I'll say silent affirmations or aspirations to put myself in the right frame of mind - calm, clear, refreshed, whatever. I know that directing prayers outwardly to others is, realistically, futile nonsense - but I can't help wanting to "want" the same things for others as I am silently aspiring to for myself. So, I do it. It's more generally expressing to the universe - space, time, matter and energy - the positive things that I hope for my loved ones.

I don't expect it to work, but I do it anyway.

Call it prayer, if you want. It doesn't bother me.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Don't worry

Don’t worry.

Most of what we worry about will never come to pass.

Take Christianity, for example …

That 1st generation after Jesus died lived their lives waiting for him to return - in vain.

That 2nd generation after Jesus died lived their lives waiting for him to return - in vain.

That 3rd generation after Jesus died lived their lives waiting for him to return - in vain.

That 4th generation after Jesus died lived their lives waiting for him to return - in vain.

Nearly 100 generations have been born, lived and died waiting for him to return - in vain.

Some day, Christians waiting for him to return will wise up and stop waiting.

Don’t worry.

All the generations that wasted their lives waiting for Jesus to return - what positive things they could have done!

generations passed, waiting for Jesus…

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Do you understand me...

...when I ask the question: "Do you understand me?"

Monday, December 10, 2012

Impenetrable Quasi-philosophical Wankery

Presuppositionalist apologetics asserts that "the acceptance of the proposition 'God exists' and the truth of the Christian Bible is necessary in order for the world to be intelligible". We were treated to a public example of presuppositionalism in the online "discussion" between Pastor Stephen Feinstein & Russell Glasser this summer and fall. I've made some passing references to the discussion previously: here, here, here and here.

I took my sweet time reading all ten of the "official" posts - plus an eleventh parting shot from PSF - mainly because the Pastor's first two posts had all the literary charm of a grocery list. He didn't seem anxious to make his argument(s). Instead, he wanted to reject the idea of self-evident truths (axioms in Russell's parlance, "preconditions" in the Pastor's), and argue that Russell's axioms needed explaining or justifying, while his own preconditions (God) did not. It was grade-school stuff.

The prior paragraph is worth emphasizing.

Feinstein assumes that the existence of God to make the world intelligible requires no proof or justification, whereas he demands proof or justification for natural axioms that make the world intelligible as declared by Russell. That double standard really prevents establishing common ground on which the two parties can communicate.

The rest of us amateur counter-apologists might do well to point out that hypocrisy at the beginning of any street debate with a presuppositionalist, and terminate the discussion if he isn't willing or able to present objective evidence or a sound argument for God before proceeding.

Or suggest the following:

Returning to the written discussion:

While the presuppositionalist axiom "God exists" remains a matter of conjecture in the reality-based community, its corollary that "the truth of the Christian Bible is necessary in order for the world to be intelligible" relies wholly on God's existence - without which it is meaningless. In Feinstein's posts, we are offered no justification for these claims, which renders anything based on them irrelevant. He could have just stayed home, for all the meaning he was able to impart.

Let me turn to what I think PSF's core argument was supposed to be - the Transcendental Argument for God ("TAG"). Here's the short form:
  1. If there is no god (most often the entity God, defined as the god of the Christian bible), knowledge is not possible.
  2. Knowledge is possible (or some other statement pertaining to logic or morality).
  3. Therefore a god exists.
We never saw the argument in this canonical form anywhere in PSF's posts, although he refers to a "Transcendental Argument" in round four, implying that he'd either presented it earlier, or that Russell was expected to understand it without the Pastor having to articulate it. By rereading his first three posts, we can guess, in retrospect, that he recognizes the TAG syllogism in his thinking, but he never expresses it in writing. Regardless, TAG is refuted easily because the first premise relies on the conclusion - a classic circular argument. He wasted thousands of words on this.

In PSF's first post, he establishes his position:

"I plan to debate the issues, and why I believe atheism is untenable, irrational, and ultimately impossible."
"I affirm that the Christian worldview is the only worldview that is possible given the preconditions of intelligibility."

Immediately I'm struck by the "atheism as a world view" perspective. Since atheism is lack of belief in a personal deity - and only that - we'll see him construct a more elaborate and hypothetical "atheist world view" that he will then tear down - an obvious straw man. This seems like a common theme used by theists - "atheism is a world view" or "atheism is a religion", yet atheism is (say it with me, people!) an intellectual stance on only one topic. I think this might be worth the atheist community re-emphasizing: It's. Just. One. Topic. It's. Not. A. Religion.

You'll note that the Pastor, besides skipping merrily past an argument for the existence of God (any god, let alone a Christian one), also fails to demonstrate that lack of belief in a deity - atheism - is "untenable, irrational, and ultimately impossible". At this rate, I'm betting that it will be decades before PSF is able to stake out a claim as a middle-tier apologist.

PSF further asserts:

"All science, all theories of cosmology, all viewpoints of anthropology, and just about everything else falls under the scope of philosophy and specifically epistemology. As a result, I am going to push all of our arguments into this realm, because it is where they belong by logical necessity."

This claim is a good case of "making shit up" - very philosophical sounding. What reason do we have to accept his claim? The actual practices and products of cosmology and the other "-ologies" belong in the real world where they presently exist, and where their hypotheses can continue to be tested, evaluated, discarded, or modified. The strategy of making this a philosophical discussion just screams "THIS IS NOT ABOUT REALITY".

Okay then ...

I won't go through each post individually. PSF's are a train wreck (although they inspired a morbid fascination) - and Russell shows obvious irritation in his third and fourth posts as the train wreck tumbles into the ravine. I'll still recommend them, however, because they illustrate the magical world view that assumes that the supernatural exists and has some influence on our lives. In general, this series was mostly mud-wrestling about how we can know things, none of which addresses the question of whether a god could exist and be responsible for "intelligibility".

Some other general comments:

One, a shortcoming in the debate format may have been the lack of more formal rules. Neither PSF nor RG state the proposition that they're discussing prior to beginning their theses. Readers can assume it's "Does God exist?", but the discourse would probably would have benefitted from some debating conventions to help the participants "flow".

Two, PSF is the poster child for circumlocution. He apparently thinks he has a knock-down argument to make, he starts talking and he just can't stop. It's almost as if he didn't know what the point of each of his posts was. He just circled for a while and stopped after he was tired of circling. He filibusters for two or three posts - promising in the first two to make his arguments soon - before RG "gives him something he can work with". We might suppose the Pastor's strategy was to rope-a-dope until Russell blurted out something that he could attack. Since I expected PSF to be making an "Affirmative Construction", this stood out like a sore thumb.

In fairness, the Pastor's first two posts were a decent length, had they contained his positive arguments. The following three were way too long. To illustrate, here's a (reasonably accurate) word count of all five - plus his sixth, unsolicited parting shot:
  1. 1822
  2. 2879
  3. 5480
  4. 5478
  5. 7813
  6. 2780 (PSF's self-solicited bonus post)
Let me contrast them to an imaginary 20 minute "First Negative Construction" that I wrote in October - it was 3489 words, including section headers and salutation. My post requires verbal delivery at a pretty good clip, because of its length. I've timed it twice - just to be sure it conformed to a twenty minute limit. If you followed the 20-12-8-5 minute debate format that you often see Dr. William Lane Craig engage in, then my word count should have diminished to 2091, 1396 and 872 over a four round debate. Feinstein's grew by a hilarious amount. His Round Five effort would have taken 45 minutes to deliver if given at a similarly brisk pace.

Three, another peeve: PSF was whiny. In round three, PSF uses "disappointed", "feared", "condescending" and other personal or emotionally-tinged words that just rub me the wrong way. Toughen up Pastor! Have Faith - or something. :-D

All said, there wasn't anything in PSF's lengthy circumlocutions that would persuade a non-believer that god exists. You might not have the patience to sit through it all, even if there was something there.

In contrast (yes, I'm biased), I appreciate the way that RG conducts his end of the discussion. He's much more concise, he didn't have to construct an elaborate straw edifice to knock down, and he didn't have to maneuver the discussion out of the real world into the world of epistemology and philosophy where anything can be rationalized. He was able to pretty much say, "here's what exists, here are axioms that are self evident, and here's how we apply observation and reason to build a knowledge base."

Russell sums it all up this way:

"Presuppositionalists don’t present evidence. They balk at the notion that they should attempt to persuade. They delight in impenetrable quasi-philosophical wankery. They toss in little jibes like “You know in your heart of hearts that I am right.” And then they go for the big finish with the “On your knees, sinner!” speech.

When all is said and done, we might as well be trying to convince people in the modern world that Ra is still necessary to explain the movement of the sun."

"Impenetrable quasi-philosophical wankery" ... Yeah, we saw that!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Why explain two things?

... When one will do.

That's Occam's razor in a nutshell.

Any time someone uses "you can't explain that" as a preface to declaring "thus God exists", the obvious, economical reply is "Now you have two things to explain - we're worse off than we were when we started."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

An Even More Insane Lottery Fantasy

Back in July I let my mind wander through the fantasy of "what would I do if I won the lottery?"

Since I mentioned that I would come back and elaborate on this, I figured a year-end flight of fancy might be in order.

When I entertained this pipe dream before, I touched on whether I could retire immediately with any of a one-, two-, or four million dollar after-tax payout. I concluded that I could do it for sure at four million, but might be strapped at two million. This was based on the idea that my take-home pay is less than $2000 every two weeks, and I'd have to pay for health insurance, a roughly $12,000 per year expense that I don't currently have.

Truth be told, $3 million is really the right number, given that (hypothetically) I have no assets and no debts.

Today's insanity is this: "how would I distribute charity and gifts from a large lottery jackpot?" Since I mention $3M as a "starting point", let's begin.

With a $3M cash sum, I could plan on $75K per year for 40 years. That takes me to the age of 95, and allows for inflation via the growth of the invested portion of the sum. What could I give away?

My instinct is to start with a 10% charitable gift right off the top, but let's see if that's wise. We can always give charitably year-by-year based on net cash flow within a given year, thus preventing a gross miscalculation at the outset of our 40 year retirement. I said that around $66K per year was roughly equivalent to a replacement income, so that is a $9,000 surplus per year, or $360,000 over the 40 year retirement. Very close to 10% after all! What I would probably do is work out a split between truly charitable giving and gifts to family members that would keep the siblings happy. Since I'm married, I'd also have to split the "gift portion" in two, one part for my wife's family, one part for mine. Therefore, if we do a 70-30 split, charity to family gifts, then $252K goes to charity, and $108K goes to family, or $54K to my family alone. It's not much, but it beats a sharp stick in the eye. As I mentioned previously, I can always give away more during any given year in which cash flow allows.

What's the next increment to consider? Well, this is purely fantasy, so let's say $30 million dollars! Now, this amount would make ANY sane person happy, so I can see splitting this three ways, self-charity-family, so that each bucket is $10M. That allows my wife and I $250K per year, and my siblings a $5M pot! Now, depending on how many family members and how much you can give away before you're taxed for estate purposes, you might give them a large lump sum (a third of it?) and the remainder over ten or twenty years to reduce the additional tax burden on you.

Finally, what would you do with ten times THAT - or $300 million dollars? This is not impossible - last summer's MegaMillions payout was around $308M - but a single winner of that much money is extremely extremely improbable. It's my fantasy, though, so play along.

With a lump sum of $300M, the distribution - in my mind, at least - gets skewed heavily in favor of charity. After all, how much money do I personally need? So... My new split is 50-25-25 charity-gifts-self. That's still $75 million dollars for my wife and I, $37.5M for my side of the family, and $150M to charity. $75M for personal use is probably still too much, but I don't have to act responsibly when I'm dreaming.

If I had $75 million, I'd probably tier the money so that year one would be a 5 or 10 million dollar blow-out, and the next 39 years would be split evenly. Imagine having a $1.5M - $1.75M dollar yearly after-tax income even after spending 5 or 10 million that first year! For the family members, the wealth will be scaled down, but still beyond any reasonable need. Imagine that I had 4 family members to give to. That would be over 9 million bucks a piece before taxes. I would probably structure their gifts so that they're front-loaded, say $1M a year for three years, then a diminishing annuity over the rest of their lives. That would still be over $100K a year after the original big payout.

What a fantasy!

Do Aliens Visit Planet Earth?

I used to hope that we were being visited by aliens. I remember lying in the front yard at night, and seeing little orange specs in the sky that traced geometric patterns, and wondering if they were UFOs. They weren't of course, they were hard-earned figments of my imagination.

A couple of decades later, I met a guy, an educated financial analyst for an aerospace company that I worked for, who claimed a UFO experience. He said a bright red one rose out of a lake and zoomed into the sky. Of course we can't know if he was in his right mind, so that can never count as evidence.

More decades have passed, I have never seen evidence of UFO's.

I think if you reflect on the Drake equation - you'll conclude that the probability of aliens that we could come in contact with is very very very low. Without calculating the odds formally, let's start with a bold assertion: "Intelligent life will arise 100 billion times in the universe". Sounds like a lot, but there are at least that many galaxies in the universe. Then we have no idea what the odds are that an intelligent species can develop the means to contact other intelligent species, nor how long they might survive (10 thousand, a hundred thousand years as a technologically advanced civilization?). Then we add the duration of this observable universe that ANY intelligent species might be able to arise and thrive. Just guessing, say the window of opportunity starts 5 billion years ago, and extends for 100 billion years. Your common sense will tell you that the chances of even existing in the same galaxy at the same time as another intelligent species is very remote.

That's why it's not a good bet to claim we are being visited by aliens.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Presupposing that a Christian God exists

Before I stumbled across Deacon Duncan's review of the debate between Russell Glasser and Pastor Stephen Feinstein, I'd started reading the debate (my prior comments are here and here), and was planning a more elaborate review. Since Duncan is doing this already, I'm relieved of that motivation, and can record my take-away for handy recall, should I ever need it. To re-establish the context of the Glasser-Feinstein debate, Glasser is an atheist, Feinstein is a presuppositionalist apologist, and the topic - which I never saw declared, but which I infer from Feinstein's opening post - is that a Christian worldview is correct.

Pastor Stephen Feinstein asserts that without the Christian God, intelligibility is not possible, thus atheism is impossible. By this last phrase, I believe he means that the lack of belief in a personal god - atheism - cannot be true. His words:

I affirm that the Christian worldview is the only worldview that is possible given the preconditions of intelligibility

In a nutshell, Feinstein's argument reduces to an unsupported assertion that the Christian God exists.

My summary - which draws on my own thoughts as well as Duncan's - is this:

Reality must present itself in a way that's capable of being comprehended by hypothetical observers if it is to be understood - it must be "self-consistent". Its features, their attributes, behaviors and relationships must be repeatable under repeatable conditions in order to be understood. From observations that we actual observers make, we can then make inferences about their attributes, behaviors and relationships that might pertain under varying conditions. From those inferences, we then can derive fundamental conventions ("laws" or "axioms") upon which other knowledge items are constructed. Introducing unobserved features into this framework makes the framework inconsistent and thus unintelligible. A god is just such an unobserved feature.

A god or other unobservable feature is not logically ruled out in this scheme, but is instead made unnecessary due to the principle of parsimony ("Occam's Razor"). All other things being equal, the simpler scheme is to be preferred.

It's that simple.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Read the Bible from start to finish

Read the Bible from start to finish.

I mean it.

Start at Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1 "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." and slog your way verse-by-verse through the Hebrew Bible to Malachi 4:6 "And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.", and on through Matthew in the New Testament "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." to Revelations 22:21 "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with you all. Amen."

If you're feeling studious, write a note or two on each chapter. Regardless, you will probably not get far before you say to yourself "there's something wrong with this".

You might even stop at Gen 1:1 and ask yourself "who is this 'God' and where does he get this heaven and earth-creating power?". It's conceivable that you could get a bit pickier and ask "what beginning, what heaven?". Then, you'll write a note to yourself to see if this God guy is explained, where he came from, how he got his powers. Maybe a few clearer definitions will be offered, so that you get a sense of whether this guy is worthy of further attention.

By the end of Genesis 1, you'll no doubt have noticed how backward God works ... Or how backwards the author got it. He's creating earth and grass before he creates the sun and moon; he creates man "in our image" - even tho' no one can explain why God needs a peepee or a vajayjay ... Let alone why man and woman would be in their (or his) image in the first place. Extra credit: look for the chapter in the Bible that explains why he refers to himself as "in our image" - as if he's a group. Alternatively, how do male and female both come from his image? Did he have male and female junk?

Then he makes man (and woman) again in Chapter 2.

My favorite stuff is in chapters 6 through 9 - Noah's Ark. Try to figure out how that worked ... You'll have fun.

It goes on and on and on like this.

I dare you to read it.

Is God as magnificent as Reality?

It occurred to me that folks that assert the existence of God - specifically the Christian God - without providing evidence or sound rational justification, may be playing to a pretty uncritical audience.

If the consumer of this proclamation is uncritical or ambivalent, then the assertion that "God is real" may simply satisfy the general feeling that there is something greater than we are at work in the universe. This general story, that there's a personal agent spinning the dials of existence, has been passed down for millennia to this very day. Depending on when and where you were born, the story is slightly different.

These stories are obsolete. They ignore the observable and magnificent reality that we live in - that each of us is unique, that all of us together are alone (so far as we can tell) in an enormous universe, that we humans have a duty to cherish each other and preserve each other for as long as we can so that we can explore this life, this universe, and someday travel to the stars and insure the survival of our descendants until the stars no longer shine.

Metaphysics or nonsense?

I mentioned this in my last post, that Deacon Duncan at Evangelical Realism is reviewing the Pastor Stephen Feinstein-Russell Glasser web debate. I'm fascinated at the mental gymnastics that Feinstein employs to make "some point" that supports his conception of God. I have to admit to being stopped dead in my tracks at the things that Feinstein says. Not to be rude or anything, but this is utter nonsense. Here's a snippet that he uses to explain (or make excuses for) the Trinity. He says:

God is a Trinity. God, as presented in the Bible, is one God who exists as three persons. As great of a mystery as this is, it is the only conception of God that A) solves the one and many problem of philosophy and B) avoids the self-defeating contradiction inherent in all views of a unitarian God.


Case in point, an attribute is defined as a characteristic of God intrinsic to His nature, to where it is impossible for God to be God, and yet not have that characteristic. Thus, an attribute of God is “personality” as I have already said. Personality requires relational existence. Therefore, if God were not a Trinity, who then did God have a personal relationship with prior to creation? He would not be a person until He made other persons, which would make Him dependent upon creation, thereby removing His distinction from it and His sovereignty, thus causing the whole concept of God to drown in contradiction. If God did not have the attribute of personality until the start of creation, then He existed without a characteristic that is necessary to Him by definition. I think you get the point. The triune God solves this problem since for all eternity the one God had a personal relationship among the three persons of the Trinity.

If this is "sophisticated theology", I can imagine the prominent counter-apologists dismissing it as irrelevant gobbledygook.

You'll notice in that second paragraph that it relies on bare assertion and argument from ignorance - no evidence or sound argument is provided.

A friend once commented that, in general, philosophy is a black hole. If this style of gobbledygook is what a philosopher has to do when they don't have evidence or a straightforward explanation, then I can see why so many laypeople think philosophy is crap.

Be sure to visit Evangelical Realism to get the in-depth analysis.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Objective and subjective existence

I was going to post a few entries on the Pastor Stephen Feinstein-Russell Glasser web debate on the existence of God, but Deacon Duncan at Evangelical Realism is WAY AHEAD of me, and does a way better job. I may still make a few small comments - it's my first serious look at "presuppositional apologetics" - but only to add anything that I think is missing, or to reinterpret some of the lengthier passages into smaller units that work for me. Links to all rounds of the debate can be found on this post at the Atheist Experience website.

Jumping forward into Duncan's second post on the debate, he summarizes the ideas of objective and subjective existence nicely in the following two paragraphs.

This “real” reality is what we could and should call material reality—not in the sense that it’s made of atoms (because atoms are real, and what are they made of, eh?), but in the sense that it exists in and of itself, as the necessary being. Fictional realities are not material realities, because their whole existence is contingent on the subjective perceptions and thoughts of some observer who is thinking about them. Santa Claus, for example, “exists” only in a fictional “reality” whose existence depends on people thinking about him and telling kids about him and so on. If we could wave a magic wand that would make everyone forget about him, and make every reference disappear from our art and literature and so on, then his “existence” would likewise cease, because it’s contingent on the perceptions of at least one observer.

Gravity, on the other hand, is an aspect of material reality, even though it’s not made of atoms. Wave the same magic wand, make people forget about gravity, delete every reference to gravity from literature and art, even render every sentient being in the universe unconscious so they can’t think about anything, and planets will still orbit their stars and rain will still fall down. Material reality does not depend on the perceptions of any third party, it exists in and of itself.

There are two implications raised here. One - that a proposition considered to "objectively exist" does, in fact, objectively exist if it can be discovered (or rediscovered) whether or not humans have knowledge of it, or have written of it. For instance, there is gravity on Mars as well as in the Eta Carinae star system. We can say gravity exists because it is consistent in all contexts that we laypeople care about. Two - and more relevant to me today - is that the concept of objective existence leads us to the logical conclusion that "gods" do not exist. In other words, the concepts of Yahweh, Allah, Zeus, Odin, Krishna, Horus would not exist here, or across the universe, without humans to supply them. An alien life form, if it exists, might have a concept of a higher power, but it would be nothing like the stories we have been telling ourselves for thousands of years.

I think that, as much as any thought experiment you can perform about a god, is sufficient to demonstrate the absurdity of the claim that a personal god exists.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Yes Songs

I like Yes.
Yes logo
I first heard their second album "Time and a Word" sometime during my senior year of high school, and have been hooked ever since. Obviously, after decades, and decreasing frequency of new albums, and decreasing surprises in their newer music, I no longer am the unabashed fanboy that I was for several decades. I still, however, go on a "Yes jag" every year or two, when I'm overcome with nostalgia by songs that span four decades.

The opening song on "Time and a Word" - a cover of Richie Havens' "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed" - included a full orchestra and a frenetic, soaring string section introduction that still gets my heart going to this day. Yes' third album - "The Yes Album" - was possibly their best endeavor, although there's heavy voting for "Fragile", "Close to the Edge" and the poppy "90125".

Over the years, the one song that has grown on me, so much so that I consider it to be one of my favorites, is "The Gates of Delirium" from their 1974 album "Relayer". It occupies an entire album side - nearly 22 minutes for those of you that have never handled a vinyl LP. It is an epic reimagining of Tolstoy's War and Peace - an alternatively mellow, driving, cacophonous, driving and finally mellow journey through war. I remember hearing it soon after the start of the 1991 invasion of Iraq, and being deeply moved. Again, in 2003, I purposely spun it while coming home after work the day that the U.S. invaded Iraq a second time (for a far less noble cause).
A few days ago, I stumbled upon the "Yes Symphonic" video of it, and was completely captivated. This is incredible. If you like Yes, then you HAVE to watch this!

Why don't the religious have their own LHC project?

I'm just starting to read Sean Carroll's much-anticipated book "The Particle at the End of the Universe" (I just realized that the title was a nod to Douglass Adams!) In the prologue, Carroll notes the thousands of theorists, engineers, experimenters, the billions of dollars and the decades spent to find what appears to be the Higgs Boson - that "goddamn particle".

I wonder why the religious, the theologists and the apologists for God don't mount a similar effort if they are so sure of God's existence.

Any ideas why?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Atheism is impossible

I'm getting ready to read the debate between Russell Glasser and Pastor Stephen, but in the first few paragraphs by Pastor Stephen, I was struck by the statement "...I believe atheism is untenable, irrational, and ultimately impossible."

This is worth a quick comment before getting back to my reading:

The idea that "atheism is ... impossible" stands out like the sun on a clear day. Atheism - the lack of belief in a personal deity, is by all measures, MORE likely to be a correct belief than theism, because a universe that does not include the complications of a parallel supernatural system to provide a basis for supernatural beings such as God, is inherently simpler and more likely per Occam's razor.

This ought to be interesting hearing the arguments on how it isn't!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Another imaginary debate

I'm doing this again.

A year ago, I fabricated an imaginary opening statement for an imaginary debate against Dr. Wm. Lane Craig on the topic "Does God Exist?"

As before, the debate that I chose as a template was the 1995 contest between Dr. Craig and Massimo Pigliucci, held at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. It will probably be useful to read Dr. Craig's opening statement there in order to understand the context in which my statement is made.

The differences between my efforts then and now are 1) I've spent more time studying the debate transcript; 2) I've (hopefully) become more proficient at organizing and articulating my arguments; and 3) I "present" my opening statement second, after Dr. Craig has (hypothetically) already spoken first.

Finally, I've timed it, and the whole thing can be spoken within 20 minutes, just like the debates you see Dr. Craig most commonly participating in.

Here it is:


Thank you for being here tonight, and thank you for allowing me to spend the next couple of hours with you. Let me especially extend my thanks to Dr. William Lane Craig, who, once again, serves as my imaginary opponent in this imaginary debate.

The question before us here tonight is "Does God Exist?"

Dr. Craig has just given his five arguments that there is a God. I will now show how Dr. Craig's arguments fail, and that belief in the proposition that there is a God is not justified.

First, I'd like to make a few general comments about what we're doing.

The Purpose of Debate and the Burden of Proof

Debates like this one are the presentation of arguments. They're more public, more organized arguments than you have around the kitchen table, but they are arguments, none the less. The purpose of our debate here tonight is primarily trying to persuade you - the audience - that one of us has presented the more compelling case in support of their position. Debates do not, however, result in the establishment of fact, and we will not do so tonight, unless Dr. Craig produces the subject in contention - God - before we leave the auditorium.

With that in mind, let me point out one notably relevant error - among the many that I'll be addressing later - that Dr. Craig made in his opening statement. He says that "atheists have tried to disprove the existence of God for years without success". That may be his interpretation of discourse between believers and non-believers, but reasonable people do not go around trying to disprove every unsupported assertion that is thrown into the air. We'd never have time to live our lives, if that were the case. Tonight, Dr. Craig must make a persuasive case that God exists. I must make a persuasive case that Dr. Craig's arguments fail.

That's all we have to do.

There's no value in attempting to disprove God, because he, she or it is so far ahead of us in that endeavor - having done such a superb job through its own inaction and absence.

That's a long way around saying "You can ignore Dr. Craigs admonishment that 'atheists have tried to disprove the existence of God for years without success' ". That claim is just a straw man being used to falsely give the impression that the failure to disprove God's existence makes God's existence somehow more probable.

Definition of God

In this debate, I am assuming that the God we are talking about is the creator of the universe, in the manner that Dr. Craig implied when he stated that the cause of the universe "must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power [...and...] it must also be personal." It is, at the end of the day, the Christian God that Dr. Craig is arguing for. I assume that his arguments are for a real-world instance of this God, that can physically interact with the world in unlimited ways.


Belief and Knowledge

I'd like to comment on belief, knowledge and certainty as well.

It is important to distinguish between what we believe and what we know, so when I say I believe something tonight, I mean that I accept with some degree of certainty that the proposition that I claim to believe is true, but without having any evidence or rational justification. For instance, I believe this audience is of good character without having an ounce of evidence. Please don't let me down!

When I say I know something, in contrast, I am expressing an attitude about a topic, in a way similar to belief, but "knowing" implies that I have evidence and/or sound rational justification for that attitude, and that I am extremely certain of the topic's truth.


Now, since absolute knowledge is probably unobtainable, I will adopt that term - certainty - in a way that I hope will be useful in indicating to you my confidence that whatever I am discussing at that moment is true. Rather than saying "I know", I am better served in using a scale to define how certain I am of the topic's truth. For example, I could adopt some rules of thumb such as: saying that I'm "somewhat certain" means that I'm 60% confident that a proposition is true; "extremely certain" means 99% confidence, and "virtually certain" means 99.9999% confidence. That's useful because it stresses that I don't ever know things with absolute certainty, but that I can indicate my relative degree of certainty. If I say "I know" something, forgive me, I really mean I'm "virtually certain".

Why General Arguments for the Existence of God fail

Lack of evidence

Let me say a few words about the general arguments for God. The most glaring omission in ANY case for God is the absence of evidence. An appearance by God to the people of the world in this day and age would settle the matter for all of human history. The God being claimed should certainly be powerful enough to give us an unambiguous sign, but she never does. Is this God not capable, does she not care, or is she too busy? Are there other distractions or constraints that prevent her from this admittedly simple task? If she does exist, we don't know. That's why we're left to debate her.

God is unnecessary

Another general error is the thought that God is necessary in explaining the world. Ancient gods were originally fabricated to explain why there is thunder. But we know where thunder comes from now. Over and over those phenomena that required God as an explanation have been subsequently explained by science. Not once has a scientific explanation for a phenomenon been subsequently replaced by an explanation from God. Not once.

God is incoherent

There are other troubling problems raised when you invoke God as an explanation for something that you can't presently explain. These include the questions "who designed the designer" and "who created the creator?" That way lies an infinite regress - the question repeats itself forever. If the explanation is that "God is eternal" - implying that he didn't require creation - then why is he exempt from being created, and the universe is not? That way lies special pleading, and we are owed an explanation of why one thing can be eternal and another can't

Why Dr. Craig's arguments fail

The Cosmological Argument

Dr. Craig's usual debate arguments are equally unhelpful in establishing the existence of God.

His Cosmological argument is a more elaborate and more fragile version of the argument from first cause. He states that "Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause". He's simply saying because we can imagine the universe being another way - that it's not necessary that the universe exist or be the way it is - we must then conclude that the cause is external. But he doesn't explain why one must arrive at this conclusion, how the external cause can itself exist, or how it can bring this universe into existence while remaining external, yet retaining its ability to interact with the allegedly separate universe it created.

Another notable gap - a figurative canyon - in his reasoning about this hypothetical "first cause" is how the supernatural thing that he describes refers to the Christian God depicted in the Old and New Testaments. The entity he argues for could be applicable to ANY supernatural scheme that you can devise, not just Christianity.

The Fine-Tuning Argument

Dr. Craig's second argument - that the "chances that the universe should be life-permitting are so infinitesimal as to be incomprehensible and incalculable", thus leading us to conclude that God is responsible, is also false.

The fact that it is not impossible the we are here is the first clue we have that the probability claimed by Dr. Craig is not relevant. If it were impossible that life exist, and yet we do exist, then THAT would be evidence of something extraordinary. But it IS possible for the universe to have the physical constants that it does, the universe DOES have those physical constants, and we ARE here. This is wonderful, awesome, majestic - every superlative imaginable! But it isn't evidence of God.

Stated a different way, if God existed, then there is no need for the at least 410 million trillion trillion cubic light years of space, at least one hundred billion trillion stars, at least 13.7 billion years of time in order to produce what, by every measure, appears purely natural. If God existed, only one patch of space and time is required to contain his creation. No stars or planets are needed because the God we're talking about is so powerful that it can create beings that don't need warmth, air or nourishment. Only a single lifetime is needed to allow judgement and consignment of the created beings to reward or punishment at his whim. The universe can be discarded after one lifetime is over. The excess space, time, matter and energy are not needed.

What we have instead is a universe that looks as you would expect if there were no God. It was once densely packed, high-temperature matter and energy. Hydrogen, helium and a trace of few other elements soon appeared. Stars formed, then galaxies and planets, and soon Snooki was having a baby.

It may be a blow to our egos that we are the result of natural processes and not God's carefully crafted creation, but it is the only conclusion we can make. That doesn't preclude the awe and wonder we have about the universe, and it similarly does not diminish the profound sense of love, purpose and duty that we can feel about each other and our fellow creatures.

That we feel overwhelmed at the grandeur of the universe and immensely grateful for our existence is still not a reason to conclude that there is a God. We are misdirecting our emotions if we do that.

Again, just to be consistent, Dr. Craig fails here to link this hypothetical supernatural fine-tuner to the Christian God depicted in the Old and New Testaments.

Objective morals

Dr. Craig observes that "If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. Many theists and atheists alike concur on this point".

I couldn't agree more.

What we have - and you may have detected this in my counter-arguments up to this point - is a universe that evolves from simpler to more complex. The same holds true for life itself: polymers form amino acids, which form proteins, all in natural processes. Similarly, the behaviors that animals exhibit range from simple - in simpler, less social animals - to complex in the more social species.

That brings me to morals and ethics. Living things cooperate. Species tend to adopt behaviors that help propagate them. They tend to pass on those behaviors that were beneficial to their descendants. The behaviors that result in failure to compete against other lifeforms don't get passed on, because those individuals, on average, die before they produce as many offspring as those practicing the more beneficial behaviors.

When a species is sufficiently advanced to recognize individuals and to form social groups, they develop shared behaviors that strengthen the family and group, and defend against outsiders. Inter-group cooperation is another, higher and more difficult behavior, but is is performed daily. We know how to do that due to hundreds of millennia of practice.

So when Dr. Craig says "objective values do exist, and deep down we all know it" and "Actions like rape, cruelty, and child abuse aren't just socially unacceptable behavior--they're moral abominations", he's just confirming those millennia of beneficial personal and in-group behavior.

Dr. Craig goes on to claim that without a supernatural basis "any deeper meaning is illusory". He's trying to convince you that deeper meaning and purpose in your life are not possible without God. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you take responsibility for your own life, as most adults do, and assert authority over your own thoughts and actions, then you know how your words and actions in the world can have a positive effect on your family, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, your community, your society, and the world as a whole. Your loyalty, respect, compassion and love for your wife or husband, and for your children, is of utmost importance. You have fulfilled the greatest purpose the majority of us will ever have. You intuitively recognize this framework of purpose in other humans, and you treat them largely in the same ways that you treat your kin and kith. It is this way, regardless of what real or imagined concepts you hold internally. If your concept of the world includes God and you remain a good person, then there is no conflict - but belief in God and the actual existence of God are not related. Belief is not dependent on the existence of thing being believed.

The Resurrection of Jesus

Dr. Craig's fourth argument claims that the resurrection of Jesus is powerful evidence that God exists.

Unfortunately for people that make this claim, the only place that the resurrection story is told is in the New Testament. Nowhere else.

The Gospels claim that he was put in a tomb that was sealed with a stone, and that the tomb was then found empty. But no moment of resurrection is recorded - so the only link between the existence of an actual resurrection and what the gospels record is that Jesus predicted that he would be crucified and resurrected, and that subsequent to his burial, others claimed they had seen and interacted with him, and then claimed the miracle of his resurrection.

There are no reports outside the bible that any of this happened.

More disturbing to the believer is that Jesus appears in no contemporaneous reports. The Romans apparently didn't take notice, the people of Jerusalem apparently didn't take notice. The people supposedly touched by his ministry apparently didn't take notice. No one cared enough to write down their observations of what, according to the New Testament, was probably the most important occurrence in the history of the world.

There are vague references decades after the fact, but these come at a time - after the first Epistles and some of the Gospels had already been written - when belief in Jesus was already growing into the pervasive religion it is today, and believers started to become notable to historians. But it was apparently unknown prior to then - unknown to the civil authorities and historians that lived at the same time Jesus did.

The argument that the resurrection of Jesus is powerful evidence that God exists is based on hearsay, and would never be admissible in a court of law. It should not be admissible as an argument here.

The immediate experience of God

Dr. Craig's fifth argument - citing "The immediate experience of God" - is promptly abandoned by the Doctor himself when he says "This isn't really an argument for God's existence; rather it's the claim that you can know God exists wholly apart from arguments simply by immediately experiencing Him."

As I pointed out initially, we can never know anything with absolute certainty, but having evidence or sound rational arguments help you to be confident that your belief is justified. Here Dr. Craig dispenses with that and claims that your internal sensations are good enough.

I agree with Dr. Craig that this isn't really an argument, but I'll add one comment to drive the point home. People claimed that unicorns exist, but never produced any evidence, thus we conclude that unicorns are a myth. The same with giants, dragons and leviathan - all similarly appearing in the Bible, all now considered myths. As cold as it sounds, you can believe what you want to believe, but if you can't find an instance of it in the real world, that belief is simply not justified. How you feel tells you only about your mental and physical state, and how whatever you're contemplating affects you. The universe, on the other hand, is the way that it is, whether or not you believe it.

My case for naturalism

The alternative viewpoint to the idea that God is turning the dials and pulling the levers behind the curtain is that there are naturalistic explanations for the same features and phenomena that used to be explained by the existence of God. A cleaner way to demarcate the two world views is that there is, on the one hand, the belief that God exists, and that his existence can be invoked to explain anything the individual finds inexplicable; and on the other hand, the belief that there are no supernatural agents at work in the world, and the lack of explanations for phenomena that we don't understand is a temporary condition, but not a reason to panic.

The positive case I make tonight as an alternative to the supernaturalistic worldview is this second, naturalistic world view.

I've already given you a sneak preview earlier in this statement, but I'll tie it all up with a bow right here.

Naturalism explains things. Those things that are presently unexplained are just harder questions than the easier ones that have been answered over time. We know where thunder comes from. No need to invoke a storm god. We know why eclipses happen. No need to invoke a sun-devouring dragon. We know where earthquakes come from. No need to claim that Atlas shrugged. We know how stars form, how planets form, how the elements and molecules that are needed to create simple life formed.

Every time naturalistic methods are applied to understanding an unknown feature or phenomenon in the universe, the mystery is eventually solved. Never has a supernatural explanation done that and survived a thorough examination. Never has a supernatural explanation replaced a natural explanation.

That leaves us with lots to yet discover about our universe, but we have centuries of evidence that convince us that the naturalistic approach to understanding the world will be eventually successful wherever it is applied. Conversely, we have millennia of evidence that a supernaturalistic approach to understanding the world does not result in explanations that are either worthwhile or accurate.

The remaining big questions appear to be within our reach, although we must always admit that some things are not physically testable - the creation of the observable universe, for instance - unless we discover the mechanisms and means to create our own universes. The same holds true for the creation of life, and of consciousness. They are difficult, but not impossible.

Invoking the supernatural is just broadcasting to the world that we don't know something, we feel compelled to provide an explanation, we don't want to try to figure it out, and we don't care who knows.

As we know more and more, we need to invoke the supernatural less and less, so that the gaps between the way the world is, and the way we understand it, grow smaller every day.

That is the most powerful indication that the supernatural - and a claim for the existence of God - are ideas that are consistently ineffective in discovering the way reality works. The idea that God exists is not supported by any evidence that you can find on your own, has no supporting evidence found by the greatest minds this world has produced, and has no arguments that support its existence - here tonight - or anywhere, at any time.

Thank you!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Reality Wins!

I felt strongly, after reading the Old testament in the 1970's, that the God described in the Bible did not exist.

Years went by. I flew past the edges of New-Agey stuff - universal spirit, animal spirit guides, ancestor spirit guides, past lives. None of this took. I flew by calmly and without getting too far inside the periphery, close enough to see and feel it, not so close that I lost sight of reality.

Within the last ten or twelve years my interest in truing up my understanding of reality with actual reality has increased. Examination of mass media and how they market to us, the use of language for good and bad, politics, political theory, ideology and government. Finally, I spent some time with self-paced courses in philosophy of religion and science.

Finally, I've spent my own time examining the arguments for God, evaluating the truth and validity of the various arguments. A light review of how the Old and New Testaments were written was also beneficial, as was some reading on the creation and growth of Christianity, through the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformation.

I've done my due diligence. I won't get sucked in to "sophisticated theology" or other dodges that have been stood up as arguments for God.

There are no good arguments for the existence of God.

Dealing with the world as it manifests itself remains the only reliable way to navigate through life. Living as if this is the only life we have is the only rational way to live.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Why is the world the way it is?

The universe could have been any way, as opposed to the way it is, which looks just like a universe that was created by natural processes.

If there was a God, the universe COULD have existed solely of a 12 x 12 x 9 foot room, a pool liner, a 42 gallon barrel of Wesson Oil, my sister and Brad Pitt. But it didn't.

I think that even my sister would agree that that is proof there is no God.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Certainty about God

It's often said that we're all born atheist.

Imagine - you're 3 or 4 years old, and the concept of God has never occurred to you. You are without a belief in God - the classic definition of atheist.

Then someone tells you about God, and you, being an obedient child, adopt the concept as an operative description of the world. Your belief in God might be 50, 90, 99 percent or more certain. (For the sake of realism, let's assume that absolute certainty is impossible, but that you will have some non-zero, non-one-hundred percent certainty in any proposition being true.)

As you grow up, your education about God ebbs and flows. If you have a devoutly religious family, and travel in devoutly religious social circles, you may tend to become more certain that God is a true proposition. The opposite may also pertain, that your family is not devout, even agnostic or atheist, and based on your own experiences and personal make-up, you will become more or less certain that God is a true proposition.

I've followed that second path, although the journey was not a straight line from 90 percent certainty that the concept of God is real to 99.999999 percent certainty that the concept of God is not real.

One aspect to our perception of reality is also how we define things. For instance, I am virtually certain (99.999...%) that Yahweh doesn't exist. He never appears, he never affects the world in a notable way, in fact, he's described in the one holy book that asserts his existence as incompetent, inconsistent, ill-tempered, petty, violent, and arguably the biggest murderer in history (Genesis chapters 6 thru 9). If he exists, he sounds like someone that we should terminate with extreme prejudice.

I'm less certain that a pantheistic concept of God does not exist. But. A pantheistic God, a God that we are part of, has different implications for my life than does a theistic entity such as Yahweh. One, I cannot discern the difference between "Pantheo" (or whatever we'd call this thing) and nature as it's been manifest to me throughout my life. Two, there's no doctrine, rituals, narratives or other trappings of typical religions that might have an affect on me. It really has no impact on the world.

Given these two conceptions of God (of many possible propositions about the world) it still makes sense to behave as if there's no God.

Pascal was a pussy!

Why faith is unreliable

Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance has an excellent post on faith that includes this explanation on how faith can be misleading:

...Here, as I see it, is the problem. Any time we have beliefs of any sort, we need to admit the possibility that they are incorrect. Even if we have think that some result has been reached by nothing but the application of pristine mathematical logic (e.g. the ABC conjecture), it’s always possible that we simply made a mistake — have you ever multiplied two numbers together and gotten the wrong answer? Certainly in an empirical endeavor like science, we recognize that our theoretical understanding is necessarily contingent, and are constantly trying to do better, via more precise and far-reaching experimental tests. These are methods of reaching knowledge that have built-in methods of self-correction.

So what about faith? Even if your faith is extremely strong in some particular proposition, e.g. that God loves you, it’s important to recognize that there’s a chance you are mistaken. That should be an important part of any respectable road to knowledge. So you are faced with (at least) two alternative ideas: first, that God exists and really does love you and has put that belief into your mind via the road of faith, and second, that God doesn’t exist and that you have just made a mistake.

The problem is that you haven’t given yourself any way to legitimately decide between these two alternatives. Once you say that you have faith, and that it comes directly from God, there is no self-correction mechanism. You can justify essentially any belief at all by claiming that God gave it to you directly, despite any logical or evidence-based arguments to the contrary. This isn’t just nit-picking; it’s precisely what you see in many religious believers. An evidence-based person might reason, “I am becoming skeptical that there exists an all-powerful and all-loving deity, given how much random suffering exists in the world.” But a faith-based person can always think, “I have faith that God exists, so when I see suffering, I need to think of a reason why God would let it happen.”

This general line of thought is certainly worth including in any discussion with folks that promote magical thinking.

Update 1 - Cosmic Variance commenter Neal J. King had this little gem to contribute:

Scientific knowledge has to be self-consistent.
Faith-based knowledge has to be emotionally satisfying to the individual.
As long as the faith-based knowledge is not inconsistent with (has no intersection with) the scientific knowledge, who, aside from the individual, has to care about it?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Everybody knows what God is!

"...everybody knows that God is a deranged shapeshifting hunchback with a unicorn fetish."

Iain Walker, in a reply to P.Z. Myers on Pharyngula -
October 22, 2007, 10:55 am

Sunday, August 26, 2012

About Writing About Text

A second, somewhat different, takeaway comes to me as a result of the months I spent reading and analysizing the Craig-Pigliucci debate. It has largely to do with analyzing text and writing.

First, the effort was probably 3 or more hours each weekend, from late May until now. That's a minimum of forty hours, maybe as much as eighty, all for what took about 90 minutes to occur in real life. So I assume that my first read-through of each debate segment took about the same duration that it took for the participant to deliver it. In a 20-12-8-5 debate format, which I assume this was, that's 45 minutes per participant.

After reading each segment completely, I returned and wrote comments on each paragraph, then made a third pass to address particular phrases or sentences of interest - plus looked up stuff on the inter tubes when it was necessary or interesting. As the debate proceeded, the participants attempted to rebut previous segments by the opponent, so I had to refer back frequently. Finally, I took my notes, drafted a blog post or several, and edited.

The editing part is where I struggled, because I lost sight of my stated mission, which was to understand how Dr. Craig wins debates. This requires less (but still some) focus on the truth, validity and soundness of the arguments, and (according to my stated mission) more focus on how Dr. Craig framed the debate, presented his arguments, attacked his opponent's arguments, and painted an overall picture that the audience could apprehend and ultimately accept or reject.

What I needed to do, from a writing standpoint, was to separate the concerns - debate effectiveness, argument truth, validity and soundness, other discourse techniques - into separate subsections in each post, so that their focus was unambiguous. I won't go back and correct that now, because I'm not delivering a thesis for work or school, it was purely for my own interest. It is, however, a lesson learned.

I achieved my goal - I now can discern how someone with poor and even vacuous arguments can make it sound like he's speaking indisputable facts. It looks like a handy skill for a purveyor of hogwash to have. Still, it's dishonest, and does the people of the world a huge disservice to perpetuate a world view like Dr. Craig's that includes imaginary entities and schemes that people are expected to revere and live by.

Debate Post-Mortem 1 - What have we learned?

I've been done with the Craig-Pigliucci debate on "Does God Exist" for over a week now.

My initial goal was just to get a general sense of how Dr. Craig orchestrates his debate performance.


I wasn't originally out to rebut Dr. Craig's arguments for the existence of God - most of them are well-known, and have long been rebutted. What I did want to do was to really get a feel for the offensive and defensive tactics that an allegedly top-notch theist would take during an organized debate - and prepare myself for the same at an informal, street-level setting. What I was able to discern about his performance is obvious to most observers: He carries himself well, he appears serious, knowledgeable, and occasionally light-hearted; he speaks clearly and confidently, he's organized and economical with his arguments, he's well-rehearsed and sticks to his talking points, he is familiar with the opponent's objections and with the opponent's own positive case; he frames the debate effectively.

I also noticed that he does a lot of other shit, as well.

Prior to reading this debate transcript, I had watched his debates against Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Lawrence Krauss on YouTube. From those, I got the impression that he was masterful at controlling the flow of the debate and assertion-bombing the opponent in order to diffuse the opponent's effectiveness, and obscuring the weak arguments he (Craig) has to give. Several blog posts from Luke Muehlhauser at Common Sense Atheism* and Andrew at Evaluating Christianity* lead me to believe that the guy was an unstoppable debating machine. That may well be, but now I see why. Beyond having a solid debating style, he's really reprehensible in his tactics and rhetoric. It's hard to tell if he's being dishonest, but it comes off that way. You can't make all these factual and logical mistakes and not be accused of being incompetent, dishonest, or well-paid. Maybe all three.

The following sections provide a sampling of errors in reasoning that he employs. Note that all these examples are from his twenty minute opening statement alone. That's as far as I had to look. Note also that in some cases, the examples shown demonstrate more than one fallacy or misuse of words and ideas. It would be hard for you and I to cram so many errors into such a short talk, but Dr. Craig does it with "style".

He misleads the audience by asserting that the proposition being defended ("Does God Exist?") must be falsified by his opponent (this is also called shifting the burden of proof):

...we need to ask ourselves two questions with respect to this hypothesis [the hypothesis that God exists]: (1) What evidence is there that serves to verify this hypothesis? and (2) What evidence is there that serves to falsify this hypothesis?

This is wrong - the affirmative must present the positive case. Period. Craig uses this tactic of shifting the burden of proof to claim that the opponent has failed to make the case against the proposition - and we saw that he came back to this again and again.

He misleads the audience into thinking his arguments will follow the rules of logic (this is also called lying)

If our goal is to determine rationally whether or not this hypothesis is true, we must conduct our inquiry according to the basic rules of logic

Of course, we see just in this brief listing, how frequently his logic fails. It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham. It's a travashammockery.

He makes use of bare assertions

...this cause must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power which created the universe

This always cracks me up, because it's such hogwash. By the way, we could say that this phrase is also a false choice (the possible cause is not limited to Craig's preferred explanation)and possibly, an appeal to ignorance (I don't know what did it, therefore God). You can't get this kind of entertainment just anywhere!

He appeals to authority - often using authorities that are not qualified for the subject matter, or of unknown quality

For as Anthony Kenny of Oxford University urges, "A proponent of the big bang theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the . . . universe came from nothing and by nothing."

The World's Foremost Authority

Anthony Kenny is a nobody to most of the world, so this is curious use of an authority. Dr. Craig chose a philosopher to provide a quote about what an atheist "must believe" if he believes the big bang theory. What research supports this? Of course, we're not treated to any! There's not a shred of evidence that an atheist "must believe" any specific thing, let alone something that somehow supports the point that Dr. Craig is attempting to make.

He uses circular arguments

His whole Argument from the Existence of Objective Moral Values is circular.

He cherry picks quotes and quotes out of context.

Friedrich Nietzsche, the great atheist of the last century who proclaimed the death of God, understood that the death of God meant the destruction of all meaning and value in life.

What Nietzsche said, in context, was

"I praise, I do not reproach, [nihilism's] arrival. I believe it is one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength!"

He misrepresents the opponents position.

Atheists have tried for centuries to disprove the existence of God, but no one has ever been able to come up with a successful argument.

Technically, atheism is just a lack of belief in a theistic deity - so there's no inherent stance about hypotheticals such as God. And **technically**, Craig could be correct if he's just referring to two or more atheists - but he makes it sound as if it's **many** atheists trying to do the falsifying. I suspect using atheism as the foil here - as opposed to other forms of non-belief - is convenient in order to gin up the tribal "wagon-circling" that will help believers defend their cherished views against those who don't share them.

He misrepresents current scientific and mathematical thinking

...mathematicians recognize that the idea of an actually infinite number of things leads to self-contradictions

For a correction of Dr. Craig's erroneous thinking, see the Wikipedia page on infinity for an overview. I'm sure you've noticed that he makes an unsupported generalization - claiming "...mathematicians recognize..." as if the broad class of professionals identified as mathematicians say such a thing. Again, we are shared no data that supports this. It's fascinating, his ability to make two or more errors in one phrase!

He uses false choice

The fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe is due to either law, chance, or design

Here, we see Dr. Craig confine the choices, which he's not qualified to do, nor are his cited authorities. The initial conditions are the result of something that we're not near to discovering, so Dr. Craig has fabricated talking points that have no meaning to the scientific world.

Unwinding this one further, we see that it is WE that have adapted to the universe. So the false choice, in a sense, masks a more fundamental error in reasoning.

He uses appeals to ignorance

The answer is that the chances that the universe should be life-permitting are so infinitesimal as to be incomprehensible and incalculable

Actually, this also demonstrates a misunderstanding (or purposeful misuse) of probabilistic-like terms. If he takes into account the evidence that we do, in fact, exist, then prior probability is useless to his argument.

He uses appeals to emotion

For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives

In fact, his whole "Fifth Argument - The immediate experience of God" - is a non argument, which he acknowledges while delivering it.

All-in-all, he's really reprehensible.

I can't take away much positive to say about Dr. Craig as a person, nor his arguments for the existence of God, after poring over this debate rather closely.

Although I may have missed other errors of language, reasoning and what we often refer to as facts, I feel completely justified in dismissing Dr. Craig as a credible commenter on the spiritual, the supernatural or the natural world, such as they may be.

*Sadly, both sites are not being actively updated, although you can still get to the links I provide below:

More recently, Chris Hallquist has written a series of posts at The Uncredible Hallq that give WLC a good working-over:

...and Deacon Duncan at Evangelical Realism and Alethian WorldView did a lengthy review of Craig's book On Guard that is well worth reading! It's many installments, so be patient - start here and read through the end here.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Dr. Pigliucci's Closing Statement

The final closing statement for the 1995 Dr. William Lane Craig - Dr. Massimo Pigliucci debate on "Does God Exist?" comes from Dr. Massimo Pigliucci:

Second Question

First of all, Dr. Craig said that I'm asking for the burden of proof on his side but that at the same time I'm suggesting I can falsify God. Let's be more precise here. I did say two different things: I said that the burden of proof for entities, energies, or kinds of events that we have no idea and no visible proof they exist is on the side of the person that suggests that these things are actually real. At the same time, I was referring to falsifiability and the possibility to deny some specific arguments. I referred to specific descriptions of God's interference with the universe. If you tell me God did this, like Noah's flood, which Dr. Craig conceded must have been either non-existent or a local event, well, then, I can falsify that. So the two things are very distinct.

I get what he's saying, but he could have been clearer. Maybe something like:

Dr. Craig claims I said "x". What I said was "y".
Dr. P appears to mix falsifiability into the burden of proof question. A clearer definition is required. I'm guilty of this as well ... I can read the concept, and it makes sense, but conveying it to someone else extemporaneously is not something I do well.
First Question

First Argument

Dr. Craig said that it follows from his premises that the ultimate cause of the universe must be timeless and personal, and he claims that this is a logical statement that follows with irrefutability. Why? Have you ever stopped and thought why is it that the cause of the universe should be timeless and personal? Just because a philosopher tells you that that is the case? What do we know about the ultimate cause of the universe? Well, I can conceive of causes of the universe that are not timeless or are not personal. I have no problem whatsoever with that! So you have to be careful in distinguishing what is actually, really, totally logically consistent and what in fact is an assumption.

Makes sense ... I have no quibble with this last paragraph.

And speaking of internal consistency, Dr. Craig said that his positions are internally consistent. They probably are. You can come up with a lot of internally consistent logical systems that nevertheless have nothing to do with reality. You do it all the time when you play a computer game. You create an entire universe that is logically consistent, that has rules, and has behaviors that are predictable, and you can play with it­but it doesn't exist in the physical world. So the fact that something is logically consistent does not mean that it is real. The two are completely different things. "That something that is logical must, therefore, exist" is a fallacious argument.

I think this is very well said. We amateur counter-apologists should make note of the phrases: "the fact that something is logically consistent does not mean that it is real. The two are completely different things. That something that is logical must, therefore, exist is a fallacious argument."

Third Argument

We keep going on this thing of morality; is it objective or is it not objective? Dr. Craig says that I'm waffling and I'm going back and forth on my positions. I'm not going back and forth on anything. All I'm saying is that morality can change, and, in fact, I'm arguing that morality better change because human beings, the needs of human beings, and what we must decide, do change. So why would you want a system that is completely fixed and is impossible to change? Why would you follow the morality or the rules that were laid down by people that lived 2,000 years or 3,000 years ago? Let me give you a simple example that doesn't have anything to do with Christianity. As you know, most strict Muslim people don't eat pork meat. The reason not to eat pork meat is very good; indeed, before the invention of refrigeration it was a really bad idea to eat meat in the desert, which is where Mohammed was preaching. Today that's no longer true because of things called refrigerators, freezers, and things of that sort. Of course, occasionally you still have E. coli which is going to get you, but most of the time that doesn't happen. That rule doesn't make any sense anymore. So people that are following that rule do it out of tradition, which is a perfectly respectable reason to do it, of course; you can follow all the traditions you like. But it is not an objective value, an invariant way of constructing a morality.

Again, I agree. I think Dr. P's example is good, but for me, the argument that "without God there can be no objective moral values" as an argument in the cumulative case for God is circular on it's face. It assumes that which your attempting to prove. Since I've been reading this transcript, I realize that it can be rejected because of its circularity, and it can be neutralized with the observation that objective moral values do not exist - only the "feeling" that they exist is an actor in the world.

Fifth Argument

We touched briefly on the personal experience thing. Well, of course, personal experiences are very important. We do a lot of things by personal experience. All of the daily decisions in our lives are personal experiences. We fall in love; that's a personal experience. There's no logic behind it most of the times. The problem is, we are talking here about admissible evidence. Well, I'm sorry, but admissible evidence doesn't include personal experiences because personal experience can be good for you, but it's hardly communicable to everybody else. People that are on drugs have all sorts of personal experiences which I'm sure you wouldn't confuse for reality.

Although I agree that this is true, and should be points for Dr. P from a technical standpoint, if the goal is to persuade audience members, I can see where this might put some people off.

Let me close by saying that I hope that tonight we have all really learned something. I certainly have learned a lot from Dr. Craig, and I want to thank you and thank him for this. I hope that there is going to be some more understanding and some more thinking among all of us on this very important question we have addressed tonight.

Conclusion for this speech:
I knew in advance that the First Cause and Fine Tuning /Design arguments for the existence of God were full of holes. Several years ago, I picked up the Philosophy of Religion CD from The Teaching Company. Prof. James Hall laid out there how each is said to fail. This debate did not change my understanding of the fundamental arguments, but aided me in identifying the sophistry and smoke-blowing that someone like WLC can slather on top to make it look like a cake.

The argument to Objective Moral Values is one that I was less familiar with. It suffers from the two main defects already mentioned - It is "circular on it's face", and that objective moral values don't exist. Makes it hard to take seriously.

Craig's last two arguments are the weakest, but maybe the two that most believers identify with. Jesus' resurrection is still just hearsay at best, utter fabrication at worst. I tend to think that it's a legend that was constructed to give Jesus - a great local teacher - the same status as other recent - and competing - deities. Personal experience is, as mentioned, extraordinarily weak as support for the cumulative case for God.

Pigliucci's arguments for naturalism are in the right ballpark - let me see if I can summarize. He makes a case for naturalism - fair enough. He cites problems of evil, in theism (believing that something beyond matter and energy exist); of morality and of Christianity in general; as well as rebuts Design and Fine Tuning.

Comparing the two styles, by reviewing the written transcripts only, it seems like Craig's five arguments are neatly arranged and well rehearsed. Pigliucci's positive arguments for a naturalistic world view were not neatly organized or ordered, making the first couple of segments indirect and less effective. I thought his second rebuttal and his closing remarks were both good. This may have been due to necessity, but it was more effective.

I still don't think this was a blowout for Dr. Craig. If I were scoring it like a boxing match, then the first two rounds go to Craig, and the last two go to Pigliucci. Now, the first two rounds contain the vast majority of the content, and they were first, so there are extra points for overall quality and first impression. Make this a 38-36 win for Craig.

Dr. Craig's Closing Statements - an exemplar of organization

I've finally arrived at the closing statements for the 1995 Dr. William Lane Craig - Dr. Massimo Pigliucci debate on "Does God Exist?"

Now, Dr. Craig's's closing statement:

I certainly hope you've enjoyed the debate as much as I have this evening! It's been a very stimulating exchange, I think.

Second Question

Argument from Imperfections

First, what arguments have we seen that falsify the hypothesis that God exists? Well, in the last speech we basically heard again the so called "imperfection argument." But, here, I think, it became evident from Dr. Pigliucci's comments that his arguments are based on the false assumption that according to theism the world is perfect. Frankly, I can't imagine where he got that idea. As Christians, we believe God is perfect, but not that the world is perfect. Look at Genesis, as God saw that the creation was "good."24 And I think it certainly is good! But the idea that it is a perfectly functioning machine is no part of Christian theology or theism. And without that assumption his whole argument evaporates.
Dr. C still keeps hammering with "what arguments have we seen that falsify the hypothesis that God exists?". This is at least the third time he's said this. I wonder if a debate opponent has ever thrown up their arms and exclaimed "Are you stoopid? How many times do we have to tell you that we have no responsibility for falsifying your delusional claims?!?"

As for Craig's claim that "God is perfect, but the universe doesn't have to be" - yes, I get that. God works in mysterious ways, he created a universe that looks exactly as if he doesn't exist. Crafty fucker, ain't he? Looks like he's almost as big a trickster as Loki is.

God - apparently
As for the argument concerning evolution, he misquoted me. He said there is no consensus that human beings would not have evolved by chance. My argument from Barrow and Tipler said that there is a consensus among every evolutionary biologists that sentient life which is comparable to homo sapiens in information-processing ability is so improbable that it's unlikely to have evolved anywhere else in the visible universe. And, therefore, you cannot use evolution as an argument against theism. On the contrary, evolution is actually an argument for theism because it is so improbable that it's unlikely to have occurred in the absence of a supervising Designer.
This is nonsense. If Barrow and Tipler had said something that changed the general understanding of the world, we'd all be singing the praises of Barrow and Tipler and shaking our heads at how wrong everyone else was. That's clearly not the case.

It sounds as if he's retreated to a deist conception of God. How does he defend this?

Pragmatic Argument for Naturalism

Finally, he argued that naturalism is tested everyday, and it works. I would say that it only tests that there are natural laws. But that's consistent with the idea that there is a Creator who has made a universe that functions normally according to natural laws.
I guess we should start calling this "The Argument From Loki".

The idea of a creator - as articulated in this debate by Dr. Craig - is not resolved at all. On the theistic view, God could have created the universe any way it pleased, yet chose to create it so that it looks as if it had absolutely nothing to do with it. Why does it hide behind a framework that gives every indication that no intervention by any entity was ever involved? Why does nature never give any indication that anything supernatural, no matter how un-omni-anything, is going on? Oh, I forgot - It must be part of God's plan.

So none of these arguments provide good grounds for thinking that the God hypothesis is false. In fact what has emerged from this aspect of the debate are two arguments for the existence of God in addition to the five I gave, namely, (1) the argument from evolution and (2) the argument from the existence of evil. So I thank Dr. Pigliucci for giving me two additional arguments on my side of the debate for the existence of God tonight!
For the umpteenth time, Craig swings this "none of these arguments provide good grounds for thinking that the God hypothesis is false" tack hammer to drive a bridge piling. As long as human beings think that any mythical nonsense is valid until proven false, delusional nonsense of this sort is free to propagate throughout the world. This may be the single most compelling reason to reject belief in the supernatural - the crippling effect it has on the human intellect.

First Question

Now what about reasons that verify the God hypothesis?

First Argument

First, I argued that God is required by the origin of the universe. We saw that whatever begins to exist has a cause; the universe began to exist; and, therefore, there must be a transcendent, personal cause of the universe.
We saw that this is wrong.

Refer to the following:

...or Google it!
Second Argument

Secondly, I argued that complex order of the initial conditions of the universe points to God as a Designer over the universe. And here Dr. Pigliucci now says that "This is such a waste of space! The universe is so large!" Not at all! These stellar spaces are necessary in order for the stars to cook up the heavy elements which are necessary for the existence of life on Earth; and in order to be that old the universe would have expand 15 billion years. So the size of the universe is related to the age of the stars, which is related to the furnaces necessary to make the elements requisite for intelligent life. And, frankly, as a theist I may argue that there may be life elsewhere in the universe that God has created. How do we know that it is wasted space? Perhaps God has created life elsewhere. But wherever life exists, it all depends upon that fine-tuning present in the Big Bang itself, which no one has been able to explain by chance.
Audacious of Dr. Craig to claim that this universe, that looks exactly as if it came from a small hot dense mass of quarks and gluons 13.7 billion years ago, somehow needed "an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power which created the universe. Moreover, I would argue, it must also be personal.".
The refutations of fine-tuning and the design arguments are many:
...or Google It!
Third Argument

Thirdly, objective moral values exist. Again, we saw that in the absence of God we are left with moral nihilism: there is no right and wrong. If you do believe that there are objective moral values, then, I think, you will agree with me that God exists.
A shining example of appealing to emotions. We were never treated to any demonstration of, or proof that objective moral values exist. He just appeals to the very common attitude that some things are just plain wrong, and that everyone shares that exact same set of attitudes.
...or Google the mother!!!
Fourth Argument

Finally, with respect to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, I think I showed that the resurrection is the best explanation of those three facts recognized by the majority of New Testament scholars today.
Lack of evidence, anyone? Just to get your mind warmed up, visit the Wikipedia page on The Historicity and origin of the Resurrection of Jesus. Since the Resurrection is really a claim to fact, the discussion is less about sound arguments, and more about the existence of cold hard, undeniable evidence. Since there is none, this is a less persuasive argument in my eyes.

I noted earlier in the series, and even the tepidly curious can independently verify, that Paul (Saul of Tarsus) is the earliest writer of Christian literature, circa 49-51 AD, or about 20 years after Jesus' passing. Another twenty years pass before we see Gospels written in the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and (later) John. No contemporary civil records exist - the facts of his childhood as related in the Synoptic Gospels do not match each other and the historical record - the historical references to Jesus come late in the First Century, and none have independent verification associated with them. For all anyone knows, it's a complete fabrication, although considering it a local legend is the most charitable interpretation I can give it.
Fifth Argument

Finally, the immediate experience of God. Let me just say this: I wasn't raised in a Christian home or a church-going family. But when I became a teenager, I began to ask the big questions in life--about the meaning of life and death--,and in the search for answers I began to read the New Testament. And I discovered in the person of Jesus a figure that just arrested and captivated me. His words had the ring truth about them. And after a period of about six months of the most intense soul-searching--to make a long story short--, I just gave my life to God, and I experienced a sort of inner rebirth. God became an immediate living reality in my life, a reality that has never left me. And I would just challenge you: if you would like to know God in that sort of way yourself, begin to do what I did. Read the New Testament. I believe it could change your life in the same way that it changed mine.
Dr. Craig has dispensed with debating and is simply preaching here.

I'm glad that Dr. Craig is not the mass-murderer that I can only assume he would be without an abiding belief in a supernatural sky-daddy, but this is unquestionably his weakest argument.

The universe is indifferent, incapable of caring about what we think. Dr. Craig's personal feelings, no matter how broadly people sympathize with them, are irrelevant, thus useless as an argument.