Sunday, June 24, 2012

Dr. Pigliucci's Opening Statement

Today we start a review of Dr. Massimo Pigliucci's opening statement from the 1995 debate with Dr. William Lane Craig on "Does God Exist?" I've previously discussed Dr. Craig's opening statement starting here through here.

As always, my "analyses" are that of an amateur, biased skeptic. Also as always, I recognize that this debate is 17 years old, but I wanted this precise topic, and I wanted a written transcript. This one provides both.

Dr. Pigliucci:

Thank you. First of all, let me thank a few people: the Issues Committee for inviting me here to carry out this enviable task, and the Rationalists of East Tennessee which are scattered around the room and over there at one of the tables, providing me with great support, and, of course, Dr. Craig, who has offered very valuable arguments on his count, and to all of you for coming. I realize that this is a minority position that I will explain in the next few minutes. I hope that my statements tonight and my suggestions will help you in your personal intellectual journey a little as they helped me in the past.

Let me start first of all with a disclaimer of some sort. This is a disclaimer by a philosopher named Baruch Spinoza; he used to say: "I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." This is my position tonight. I'm not here to make fun of anybody. I'm not here to ridicule anybody. I'm simply here to state what I think is a logically self-consistent and incredibly enlightening position. I would like also to make clear tonight that my positions are actually provisional. I'm not married to any particular faith. I'm going to be married in a couple of months to a wonderful woman, but that's a different matter!

Nice opening - non-controversial - conversational - the reference to his personal life is a nice touch. Dr. Pigliucci is in front of an audience that is largely Christian, so the personal, conversational tone is probably an effective strategy. You'll notice that I'm commenting on style as well as substance. That's really the point here, since Dr. Craig's substance is non-existent, he wins debates by rhetorical tricks and, as far as I can tell, playing pretty loose with citations of scientific facts and by scientists.

Clarification of the Term "God"

So let me start by clarifying what is it that we are actually talking about tonight and what my position is, and therefore we need to talk about the ways of science and its limits. About the limits of science: science cannot investigate negative statements, and you cannot prove negative statements, so no matter what whoever will tell you. There is no way you can prove the inexistence of something, unless you define that something by positive statements. So, for example, you can't ask me to come up with a proof of the inexistence of God without clarifying what you mean by God--it's completely impossible. That is why the atheistic position is not a position--the extreme atheistic position if you want--it's not the position that I am supporting . If you read the program, I'm defined here as a non-theistic naturalist, which, I hope , it will be clear in a minute what that means.

Here's my first criticism - he didn't address Dr. Craig's "2nd Question" by name, even though that's exactly what he's doing. I wish he would have said something like "Dr. Craig says 'What evidence is there that serves to falsify this hypothesis?'. That's a nice rhetorical question, but not a substantive one. Science doesn't answer rhetorical questions, it answers questions that are anchored in reality by observation". That would have made the connection unmistakeable.

He continues:

So what kind of God can we talk about? First of all, there are three kinds of Gods I can think of. There is a metaphysical kind of God. That's the kind of God that doesn't have any attributes, that doesn't interfere with the regular everyday life of the world. He may have created the world, but then after that he retired. That kind of God is completely unfalsifiable; science doesn't have anything to do with it, and rationalism doesn't have anything to do with it. There is no way to deny that kind of God. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that not many people here actually believe in that kind God because it's not particularly satisfying. It doesn't do anything for us.
A second kind of God is called the imperfect anthropomorphic God. He is a God that has human attributes, or human-like attributes, but is he imperfect; he makes mistakes. The ancient Greeks were the first ones to describe this kind of God, and they even didn't believe that much about this kind of entity, simply because again if he is fallible, then he is not much better than a human being. You can think of him as a very powerful human being, but he is still a person. So we will set aside that kind of God also.

What we are talking about tonight is what we call a perfect anthropomorphic God, that is, a God that does have something to do with the everyday working of the universe, but he is perfect, he doesn't make mistakes, he's always good, he's all over the place. That is the kind of God that I think can in fact be falsified to some extent. In other words, if you believe in that kind of God, you are making positive statements about what should happen in the universe; and if you make positive statements about what could happen in the universe, then science and rational thinking can have something say about it.

This was a little chatty - he could have stuck to specifying the third kind of god only, and made the point. It might have been useful in pointing out how man has these different conceptions over the millennia, but he didn't do that. I'd look for something like "Dr. Craig claims that there is a supernatural omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, omnibenevolent creator of the universe and observer or supervisor of all events here and in the afterlife for all eternity, and that this being is the Christian God. Not the Jewish God Yahweh, but the Christian God Yahweh as seen through Dr. Craig's own belief in Jesus". That would have: put him in clear juxtaposition with Dr. Craig, implied the implausibility of Dr. Craig's formulation; and left him free to focus on that implausible formulation.

Overall, Dr. Pigliucci's first few opening paragraphs begin well. He's on solid, if unspectacular ground so far. If I can get a video or audio of this, I'll have to listen, because I'd love to compare his verbal and physical presentation to Dr. Craig's .

Next time, Dr. Pigliucci takes on Dr. Craig's Argument from Design.

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