Sunday, May 27, 2012

Poke it with a stick

I've declared on several occasions my admiration for, and fascination with Dr. William Lane Craig - specifically with his debates against atheists and secularists on topics of theology and morality. I even wrote an opening statement to a debate with him - wholly imaginary, of course. In that post, I spoke first, focusing mostly on preempting arguments that I know he employs. It was a good exercise, but, even given the weeks that I took to write the post, I made some egregious errors, and could have done a much better job.

I was going to craft a second imaginary debate - I may still do so - but I thought it would be interesting to first critique Dr. Craig's performance line by line, word by word, in order to identify where the weak spots are. As the equally imminent Doctor Who once said "There's something that doesn't make sense. Let's go and poke it with a stick."

The debate I chose was the 1995 contest between Dr. Craig and Massimo Pigliucci, held at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. It will probably be useful to break this down in different sized chunks, because there's a lot to analyze. In getting through just the first apologetic argument in Dr. Craig's opening statement, I found a whole lot to comment on, so I'll adopt the following pattern: 1) quote an entire paragraph or group of paragraphs; 2) summarize the paragraph(s); 3) If required, critique it sentence by sentence. It won't be possible for me to address all 2600 words in one post, and it wouldn't make for good reading, so this ought to make it manageable

First, some acknowledgements:

The now inactive sites Common Sense Atheism and Evaluating Christianity were inspirational in taking a more debate-centric viewpoint of apologetics - especially since both sites devoted some time to Dr. Craig. Additionally, Andrew at Evaluating Christianity wrote a Summary Case for Atheism, which is worth reading and keeping handy. A personal summary of belief, or non-belief, is always worth-while, and is one of the reasons for my starting this skeptic-themed blog. I also recommend to your attention related blog posts: William Lane Craig on Debating Atheists, advice on debating Dr. Craig, as well as a critique of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

Secondly, PZ at Pharyngula addressed the topic of morality and the Bible early in the week. It's also worth reading and referencing. Although I structure my moral framework differently, the topic of "objective moral values" almost always comes up in Dr. Craig's debates, so is a subject worth reasoning about, and in the event that you argue theology, something to prepare for.

Finally, Deacon Duncan at Evangelical Realism and Alethian WorldView, has done a number of chapter by chapter book reviews that are anywhere from enlightening to priceless. His review of Dr. Craig's On Guard is a real treasure and partially inspiration for this effort. It's many installments, so be patient - start here and read through the end here.

And now ...

Dr. Craig's Opening Speech

Good evening! I want to begin by thanking the Issues Committee for the invitation to take part in tonight's debate, and I hope that it will be a significant step forward in your own spiritual journey.

Now in raising the question of God's existence, we are in effect engaging in the assessment of a hypothesis about the world, namely, the hypothesis that God exists. 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. Arguments based on invalid logic, however emotionally appealing, are worthless in providing any rational warrant for their conclusions.

Accordingly, we need to ask ourselves two questions with respect to this hypothesis: (1) What evidence is there that serves to verify this hypothesis? and (2) What evidence is there that serves to falsify this hypothesis?

Let's look, then, at the first question: What evidence is there that serves to verify God's existence? Tonight I'm going to present five reasons in support of the specific hypothesis that a personal Creator and Designer of the universe exists, who is the locus of absolute value and who has revealed Himself in Christ. Whole books have been written on each one of these, so all I can present here is a brief sketch of each argument and then go into more detail as Dr. Pigliucci responds to them.

Notice how Dr. Craig frames the debate in the second and third paragraphs. He stipulates that the debate participants are addressing a hypothesis, but immediately turns focus on how to "determine rationally whether or not this hypothesis is true", and cites logic as the means to do so. As we may see during the coming posts, he is a master at making unsupported assertions and having them sound perfectly reasonable. The focus on using logic is ironic, and probably used to lull the audience into a sense of comfort that he will, in fact, be assiduously logical throughout the debate.

Additionally, he partitions the debate broadly into "what verifies" the hypothesis" and "what falsifies" it. He has taken the initiative here, and immediately occupies the "what verifies" position which he will develop with skill - trust me, he always does. The opponent may be backed into the unenviable task of seeking to falsify the hypothesis in response to Dr. Craig's challenge, or risk being called out for not fulfilling the requirements that were layed out. What Dr. Craig doesn't say, and what is always the glaring omission when theists assert supernatural goings-on, is that the principle of falsification is part of the scientific method - there must be a hypothesis that explains the phenomenon in question, there must be tests to verify that the hypothesis explains the phenomenon, and there must be tests that will falsify the hypothesis. Since Dr. Craig doesn't supply tests as part of the challenge (why make it easy?), the opponent can't possibly falsify the hypothesis in any way. We'll have a look at Pigliucci's Opening Speech in a few posts, and see whether he "drops" this, or expends some time addressing it.

Next time, we'll complete his introduction and analyze his first real argument - the origin of the universe.

No comments:

Post a Comment