Saturday, June 16, 2012

Poke #6 - Dr. Craigs argument from the immediate experience of God

This the fifth and final opening argument that Dr. William Lane Craig presents in the 1995 debate with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on "Does God Exist?" I discuss other segments at: Dr. Craig's opening words, "The origin of the universe", "The complex order in the universe", "The existence of objective moral values" and "The historical facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus".

Remember that I'm a firm non-believer - so I have that going for me. I've watched enough of Dr. Craig's debates on YouTube to be already skeptical.

It is interesting to look at the written transcript line-by-line, because I can take the time and attempt to understand what the words mean and whether the argument is valid and true. So far, the written words are not compelling. Dr. Craig will, I believe, win because of his knowledge of the material, the very nature of debate as opposed to the establishment of facts, and his command of the debate format and useful techniques within that format.

Here's the whole final argument:

Fifth Argument

5. The immediate experience of God. 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. If you're sincerely seeking God, God will make His existence evident to you. The Bible promises, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."{18}We mustn't so concentrate on the proofs that we fail to hear the inner voice of God to our heart. For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives.

In conclusion, then, we've yet to see any arguments to show that God does not exist, and we have seen five reasons to think that God does exist. Together these reasons constitute a powerful cumulative case for the existence of God.

This is brief & easy to rebut. The trap lies in - when debating a believer - not wanting to offend or otherwise elicit negative feelings that will turn an opponent or the audience off to the simple reasoning and evidence otherwise available to them

Dr. Craig states that "the immediate experience of God" is not really an argument - so what he may be doing in these closing lines is signaling to the audience that "it's ok to believe". I won't dissect this in detail because it seems trite - but look at each sentence in the first paragraph and observe that there is no argument nor evidence. It's simply exhortation to the believer.

His final paragraph - a summation - starts out by declaring "we've yet to see any arguments to show that God does not exist". I'm sure Dr. Craig knows that the responsibility of arguing for a proposition falls to the party asserting the proposition. He intentionally discards this very fundamental principle of discourse in order to make it seem like all non-believers everywhere have failed to disprove the existence of God, therefore God Exists. This little spin is effective - it detracts from the absence of evidence or sound argument that might otherwise support the contention that God exists.

His final sentence "Together these reasons constitute a powerful cumulative case...", is just marketing hype. We didn't see powerful evidence. We didn't even see powerful argument. As you'd expect, I don't see anything in his five opening arguments that made me pause in the slightest.

I think it's fair at this point to say that in the 17 years that have passed since this debate, Dr. Craig's arguments have no doubt gotten better. They are not bad to begin with - trust me, I would never survive 20 minutes with him, even at this 1995 standard. As a complete layman, non-debater, non-philosopher, non-scientist, I just look for "does the argument make me pause, does it lead me to rethink my position, does it show me where I'm wrong?" In this case, it did none of those things.

My final thoughts on Dr. Craig's Opening Statement:

Before we ever start listening to the debate, we must have asked ourselves a fundamental question: "Why are we debating this topic?" The answer is that the topic is worth questioning - i.e. it is not established fact. We assume that people have differing opinions that they wish to convince others are a superior view of the topic. If God existed and cared to manifest itself, the topic of this debate would be established fact, and no debate would be necessary. It hasn't manifested itself, however, so we can debate God's existence.

Similarly foundational is the fact that - as I just stated earlier in the post - It is always the responsibility of the party asserting a claim to justify it if they wish it to be taken seriously. Otherwise, any outlandish claim could be made, and humanity would slog to a halt in a quagmire of nonsense. I can assert that the universe is the creamy filling of a tasty golden brown snack cake, but I need to provide argument and/or evidence before my view begins to be taken seriously. The question "Does God Exist?" implies that someone, somewhere, once asserted that there was a "God", that this God has some characteristics and behaviors, that overall this God was worthy of worship, and then the idea that "God Exists" took hold in the minds of mankind sufficiently to be considered plausible, thus worthy of debate. Dr. Craig is, by proxy, asserting that proposition.

Dr. William Lane Craig's four arguments, plus his fifth, self confessed non-argument, fail in these ways:

  1. Claiming that God is the best answer for the origin of the universe suffers from at least two fatal flaws:
    • it presupposes an entity that itself has to have a "somewhere" as a platform in which to exist and from which to cause the universe's existence. This raises the question of where did God and his "somewhere" come from - a classic infinite regress problem. If you claim he doesn't need to be created, then that's special pleading - the universe does need creating, and God does not;
    • it postulates more than is needed to explain existence. Assuming the extra added term "God" is a violation of Occam's razor. It does not clarify or simplify the solution.
  2. The apparent complex order in the universe is a misunderstanding of physics, chemistry and biology. The universe looks the way we would expect it if it were not designed by an intelligent agent. What we observe to be our universe appears to have emerged from a small, hot, dense mass 13.7 billion years ago. The formation of elements, stars, galaxies, planets, complex molecules and life itself follow predictable patterns. We don't know where the universe came from with certainty, and we don't know how complex molecules came together to result in the simplest living things, but all signs are that this is within our reach. These gaps in our knowledge are not wide enough that they require shoe-horning a conjectural super being into the picture to explain things. We exist in a universe like this precisely because we can exist here. That is not a miracle. It would be a miracle if the "fine-tuning" indicated that we could not exist. Then you'd have something!.
  3. Objective moral values in the world ... is a non-argument, an appeal to emotions. We feel joy and repulsion, and they indicate to us individually that something must be inherently good or bad. Dr. Craig never indicates what the standard of objectivity is, nor how we could determine how that objective standard applied in all cases in the timeframe in which it might be in force.
  4. The historical facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus ... is one of the weakest "real" arguments that he makes, but is one that has a lot of emotional appeal to believers - it's the basis for Christianity. Without it, Christianity is a philosophical framework, not an inerrant record of miraculous & existential importance. No record of Jesus first 30 years exists, nor is implied to have ever existed. His life, works, death and resurrection were not important enough to warrant mention for at least twenty years after his death, and then were mentioned first by a man - Paul - who had a track record of using and misusing influence. Paul made the claims he did based on revelation, not on oral legend or personal observation. Not compelling at all. Mark, Matthew, Luke, John and the other John all followed suit years and decades after Paul's personal revelations about a subject he wasn't personally privy to. This is an extraordinarily weak association between the final product (the New Testament) and the purported events it is based on.
  5. Dr. Craig himself notes that his "personal experience of God" argument is not an argument at all, so it's not worth rebutting. Nice feint!

I'll look over Dr. Pigliucci's Opening statement next.

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