Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dr. Craig concludes his First Rebuttal

I'm whizzing through Dr. William Lane Craig's first rebuttal in the 1995 Dr. William Lane Craig - Dr. Massimo Pigliucci debate on "Does God Exist?". I happened to have a couple of unpublished posts backed up, so let's flush 'em out of our system!

Previous reviews of this same debate can be found starting here through Dr. Craig continues his first rebuttal

Dr. Craig:

First Question

Now what about my arguments to show that God does exist? Dr. Pigliucci uses a general argument against this to say that God is not explanatory. But notice he fails to understand the structure of my arguments. My arguments are deductive arguments, that is to say, if the premises are true, then by the laws of logic the conclusion follows inescapably. Whether you like the conclusion, whether you think it's explanatory, is irrelevant: as long as the premises are true, it follows by deductive logic that the conclusion is true.

Craig's rebuttal that Dr. P does not understand the structure of Dr. C's arguments is some technical mumbo-jumbo that only debate practitioners, logicians and philosophers will "get" easily. The rest of us will drool.

Via The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "A deductive argument is an argument in which it is thought that the premises provide a guarantee of the truth of the conclusion." This is as Craig says it is. What Craig is slipping by the unsuspecting audience is that his premisses are not necessarily true. In the next paragraph, Dr. Craig concludes that "A transcendent cause of the universe exists." . He keeps asserting that transcendent cause without an ounce of evidence or rational support. It would be correct to say that if premisses 1 & 2 are true, then "A cause of the universe exists", but he does not say this. I can even quibble over whether either premiss 1 or premiss 2 is true, but that would divert us too much from the structure and style of this debate. You may refer back to my discussion of Uncredible Hallq commenter MNbo's criticisms of my article on Craig's cosmological argument - or see the Wikipedia page on The Big Bang - the section Speculative Physics Beyond the Big Bang to see other ideas related to the Big Bang that make the idea of "a beginning" irrelevant.

More Dr. Craig:

First Argument

So what he is going to deny? In my first argument I argued: (1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause. Will he deny that? (2) The universe began to exist.According to Steven Hawking in his book The Nature of Space and Time (1996), "Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang."{2} Will he deny that, the paradigm held by most cosmologists today? If he will not deny either of those two premises, then he cannot deny the conclusion, that A transcendent cause of the universe exists.

He says, but where did God come from? Very easily I can answer this question. The argument proves that there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. Therefore, there must be a first cause which never came into being. Whatever begins to exist has to have a cause; but a being which exists timelessly, spacelessly, and necessarily is uncaused. This is what the atheist has always said the universe is. But that is now untenable in light of the philosophical arguments I gave and the cosmological evidence for the beginning of the universe.

In other words, neither of my two premises of my first argument were refuted by Dr. Pigliucci, and therefore I think we have good grounds for thinking a transcendent Creator exists.

Notice that Craig cites Stephen Hawking saying "Almost everyone now believes ..." as a warrant for his assertion that the universe began at the Big Bang. At the risk of being really really really repetitive, the Big Bang Model holds that the universe was once in an incredibly small hot dense state - and nothing else. Hawking is saying "(people) believe", and Craig weaves the two together in (probably) his usual authoritative fashion. But Hawking saying "Almost everyone now believes ..." is not the same as "It is established that ...". And since the Big Bang does not posit a beginning in the literal sense, then Craig's argument is entirely empty.

Second Argument

My second argument was based on the complex order of the universe. And here he had three objections.

(1) You cannot look for a Creator from what we don't know. I am not arguing on the basis of what we don't know. What I'm suggesting is that we do know that the initial conditions of the universe cannot be explained by law because they are initial conditions. They cannot be explained by chance because it is just too fantastically improbable. And therefore being neither explicable by chance nor by law, design is the only alternative. What is his answer? I would like to know.

(2) He says, "Well, your argument doesn't work because there's only one universe." Let me explain the theory of probability behind this. Imagine a blue dot on a piece of a paper, and let that be our universe. Slightly alter some of these constants and quantities. That makes a new universe. If it's life-permitting, make another blue dot. If it's life- prohibiting, make a red dot. Then do it again, and then again, and again, and again. What you wind up with is a sea of red with only a few pinpoints of blue here and there. That's what I mean when I say that life-permitting universes are incalculably improbable.

(3) He says, "But the probability of all these people being here tonight, these specific people, is highly improbable, and yet we are here!" That's a failure to understand the argument. Any universe you pick is equally probable, yes, but it is highly, highly improbable that the universe you pick will be life-permitting. That's the point. It's like a lottery in which there's a billion, billion, billion black marbles and one white marble. Any marble you pick is equally improbable, but the probability that the marble you do pick will be black is vastly more probable than that it will be white. Similarly, given the improbability of the initial conditions of the universe, the universe ought to be dead; there shouldn't be any life in the universe. The fact that it cannot be explained on the basis of chance or law leaves us with design as the best explanation for why the universe is finely tuned for our existence.

In point (1), Dr. Craig says that the parameters of the universe are too fantastically improbable to believe they are that way by chance. This is 1) a bare assertion, an argument from ignorance, a false choice, and privileging the hypothesis.

In point (2), Dr. Craig constructs a vague probability argument, while ignoring the overwhelming fact that we are here. The a priori probability is now irrelevant because it is now a fact (probability 1) that we are here.

In point (3), he doubles down on the probability chip, continuing to ignore that we are in fact here.

Third Argument

What about objective moral values? He agrees there are no objective moral values, but he says values are things that work or society will collapse. That is not at all true. Look at Nazi Germany. In his book,Morality after Auschwitz, Peter Haas asks how an entire society who have existed in which the mass extermination of Jews and Gypsies went on for a decade with hardly a protest being offered. He says the reason is because a new ethic was in place in Germany which did not define the holocaust as evil, but as good. And he points out that that ethic cannot be criticized from within because it was internally consistent. It can only be criticized if you have a transcendent vantage point and anchor for moral values. On Dr. Pigliucci's view rape, child abuse, torture, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, the killing fields of Cambodia are all morally indifferent because there is no objective right and wrong. And I submit that is simply untenable. Objective moral values do exist, from which it follows logically that God exists.

I hoped to get my other arguments on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in the rebuttal; but I'm out of time, so I shall quit.

Dr. Craig takes one of his weaker arguments and bolsters it with appeals to emotion. Yes, we all abhor "rape, child abuse, torture, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, the killing fields of Cambodia". What we object to is the warrant that this sense of abhorrence signals Objective Morals, and that this somehow is proof of God. Dr. Craig didn't make his case in his opening statement, and continues to not make the case here.

All in all, this is becoming tiresome. I started out as a grudging admirer of his, and am now convinced that he's an unscrupulous douche hydrant.

Dr. Craig continues his first rebuttal

Continuing Dr. William Lane Craig's first rebuttal in the 1995 Dr. William Lane Craig - Dr. Massimo Pigliucci debate on "Does God Exist?".

Previous reviews of this same debate can be found starting here through Dr. Craig's first rebuttal

Dr. Craig:

The Regression Argument

(2) What about the regression argument, that the more we know the less we think God intervenes in the universe? Well, notice that that argument doesn't prove that God doesn't exist. It doesn't even prove that God doesn't often intervene in the universe. All that follows from that argument is the sociological factor that we don't think God often intervenes in the universe. And that conclusion is perfectly compatible with the idea that God often in fact does intervene in the universe. But, moreover, even if it were true that God doesn't often intervene in the universe in miraculous ways, that's not incompatible with Christianity. After all, miracles by their nature are relatively rare, and I don't think that God does frequently go around intervening in the universe in miraculous ways. So the argument is simply inconclusive.

Dr. Craig serves up a world-class vacuity: "notice that that argument doesn't prove that God doesn't exist". Ummm ... haven't we established a number of times that the burden of proof is on the claimant, and Dr. Craig - taking the affirmative position on the question "Does God Exist" - has that burden? And aren't we still waiting to hear rational argument that the affirmative position is superior to the negative one? And shouldn't we expect that the negative position won't waste any time on trying to prove a negative? The answers are yes, yes, yes and yes. Dr. Craig is not living up to his responsibility in the debate so far.

Pragmatic Argument for Naturalism

(3) What about the argument that naturalism works? Not at all! What works are scientific hypotheses. But those do not test naturalism because on the hypothesis that there is a Creator God who has designed the universe to operate according to certain natural laws, that could also work. So the fact that scientific theories work is in no sense a proof of naturalism.

What would you call this - a "Me Too" argument? Dr. Craig makes it sound as if naturalism is unproven, except if it is, couldn't it also be that God made it that way, thus proving the existence of God.

If Dr. Craig were interested in proving the existence of God, he would come up with at least one hypothesis that can be tested and whose only explanation would be the existence of God. Throughout human history, such a thing has never been done. It ***could*** be done, but isn't. The universe of possible answers to the question "why hasn't an attempt to prove the existence of God been made" ever been performed has many possible alternatives, including "it can't be done", "there's too much money to be made" and "we need to keep the unwashed masses guessing so that we can retain power". Other answers are possible as well, but these come to mind at the drop of a hat.

By the way, I don't know what tactic Dr. Craig is pursuing in his Me Too argument, but it speaks to believers because they already assume that God is behind it all. Never mind that the point of the debate is "Does God Exist?", and that using God as a term in a premiss is circular, thus invalid. Oh well.

Problem of Evil

(4) He says, "What about the problem of evil?" Well, let me make two responses here.
First, no atheist has ever been able to show a logical inconsistency between the propositions "God exists" and "Evil exists." They tried, but no one has ever been able to show that those two are contradictory. In fact, you can actually show that they are consistent by adding a third proposition, namely, "God has morally sufficient reasons to permit evil." As long as that third proposition is even possibly true, it shows that God's existence and evil's existence are logically compatible. The atheist seems to assume that if God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil, we have to be privy to them. But there's absolutely no reason to think that that is true.
In fact, secondly, evil is actually proof that God exists. My argument would go like this:
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. (Dr. Pigliucci agrees.)
2. Evil exists.
3. Therefore, objective values exist. (Some things are really evil.)
4. Therefore, God exists.
And thus evil only calls into question God's existence on a superficial level. On a deeper philosophical level evil actually demonstrates the existence of God because evil as such could not exist without God.

Dr. Craigs first "refutation" of the argument from evil puts him in the position of arguing for a God that permits evil. This is strange, since Christianity makes a big deal about God's goodness. Maybe God can't do anything about it. Maybe he doesn't want to. Maybe he's evil. Maybe he doesn't exist. The possibilities are endless. If God exists and evil exists, why worship the fucker?

Notwithstanding my bad attitude about religion, arguing that the coexistence of God and Evil is not inconsistent is no argument for a Christian God. The negative position should press this, as all we get out of this particular argument is a God that humans would be distrustful of.

Noah's Ark

(5) The fifth argument he raised was the problem of Noah's Ark. I would simply just dismiss this by saying: First, it doesn't disprove the existence of God. Secondly, I would take Noah's flood to be a local flood, not a universal flood, in any case.
So all of these arguments, I think, are either invalid or based on false premises and hardly present any good reason to think that atheism is true.

Noah's Ark is a physical impossibility, and Dr. Craig knows it - he squirms his way out of the discussion without providing a rejoinder. A strong point for the non-theist position.

These rebuttals reviewed today are pretty shallow. Both the Problem of Evil and the Noah's Ark interlude raise the question of Bible inerrancy. Obviously Noah's Ark is easy to attack, but so are Yahweh's incompetence, petulance and immoral behavior. Add to that the inconsistencies that abound, and a Christian God becomes an obvious implausibility.

Dr. Craig's First Rebuttal

Today, I'll start on Dr. william Lane Craig's first rebuttal in the 1995 Dr. William Lane Craig - Dr. Massimo Pigliucci debate on "Does God Exist?". The first thing I noticed is - as others have pointed out - Dr. Craig is frequently dishonest. That he continues this dishonesty, and is revered for it in the fundamentalist community, drives non-believers crazy. Incidentally, Luke Muehlhauser at the now-inactive website Common Sense Atheism ranked this debate as "ugly" - meaning that Dr. C's opponent got hammered. So I'll bet Dr. Pigliucci doesn't call him out on this.

Previous reviews of this same debate can be found starting here through Dr. P concludes his opening remarks

Dr. Craig begins his first rebuttal:

Second Question
Now Dr. Pigliucci presents in my count about five arguments that he thinks would falsify the hypothesis that God exists. Let's look at each of these and see if they're persuasive arguments.

I have to stop right here and point out that immediately Dr. Craig says something that is not true. He says "Dr. Pigliucci presents in my count about five arguments that he thinks would falsify the hypothesis that God exists". Dr. Pigliucci clearly stated that he would not and can not falsify the existence of God - so he's explicitly not refuting it.

It's worth reiterating here that in both organized debate and in science, the burden of proof falls to the claimant. Dr. Craig, in claimimg that atheists have not been able to falsify the existence of God, is ignoring conventions that are fundamental to intellectual and scientific progress. It is wholly unproductive to allow charlatans to make unsubstantiated claims and waste the time of the public, but this is one of Dr. Craig's favorite tactics.

In everyday life, You would call this "a lie".

Argument from Imperfections
(1) He says the universe is not perfect. For example, squids have better eyes than human beings. I don't think that this argument in any way disproves God's existence. Let me mention three reasons.

First, that objection assumes a static theory of creation--that God created each individual creature, which never changes. But even creationists typically hold to a dynamic theory of creation which allows micro-evolutionary change within certain types, so that God could create a certain primal type of being and then there would be micro-evolutionary change within that type, and you might look at these sorts of imperfections (as he calls them) as by-products of micro-evolutionary pressures which gradually emerge.

"Dynamic theory of creation"? Really? Google this, and you get a bunch of creationist references. Citing fringe theories that the claimants have never lifted a finger to test is hardly compelling.

At this stage of the debate, we can't know what Dr. P will say in response, or whether he even cares to address this. Regardless, Dr. Pigliucci is not creationist. He clearly asserted principles of evolution, which don't require "static" or "dynamic" theories of creation - it doesn't require "creation" (in Dr. Craig's sense) at all. Dr. Craig is thus putting words into Pigliucci's mouth - lying.

Secondly, the objection presumes to know what God would do if He were to design something, that we know that God would create the eye in a certain way if He existed or He would create the digestive system in this way if He existed. And I personally think that's simply presumptuous. We have no idea how to speculate about what God would create if He were to exist. Maybe it's not important to God that we be able to have eyes to see in exactly a certain way, maybe there are other off-setting reasons why God permits systems designed in this way to exist. In other words, the argument is enormously presumptuous in thinking that we know what God would create if He were to exist.

This argument is enormously vacuous, to turn a phrase. Dr. Craig is defending a so-far-imaginary being by attacking Dr. P's observation that the human eye is less capable than other eyes. If this debate is about whether God exists, then neither participant can really make claims based on what God might prefer, because the question of God isn't resolved. So Dr. P's criticism is warranted, and Dr. C's defense is not..

And thirdly, perfection is a relative term, after all. These supposedly imperfect organs like the human eye function extraordinarily well. I mean, think of what the human eye has done in terms of art, literature, architecture, and so forth! This is hardly persuasive evidence, I think, that it could not be the product of an intelligent designer.

...sigh... Dr. Craig is making a blatant argument for intelligent design. ...sigh... Teleological arguments rely on the claimant being unwilling or unable to 1) reason about other possible explanations; 2)reason about the plausibility of their preferred explanation. There are several logical errors here: 1) it's a false choice; 2) it privileges the hypothesis (after Chris Hallquist); 3) it's argumentum ad ignorantium

Do I need to mention that Dr. Craig attributes art, literature and architecture to the eye? Did he leave anything out? A brain, maybe. And hands, we need hands!

In fact, that leads me to his other argument, concerning biological evolution. And I'm going to suggest that the idea that evolution could have occurred without an intelligent Designer is so improbable as to be fantastic. This has been demonstrated by Barrowand Tipler in their book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. In this book, they list ten steps in the course of human evolution, each of which is so improbable that before it would have occurred the sun would have ceased to be a main sequence star and would have burned up the earth. They estimate the odds of the evolution of the human genome by chance to be on the order of 4-360 (110,000), a number which is so huge that to call it astronomical would be a wild understatement. In other words, if evolution did occur, it would have been a miracle, so that evolution is actually evidence for the existence of God! And here the Christian can be much more open to where the evidence leads. He could say, "Well, God could have used evolution; He could have used special creation. I'm open to the evidence." But, you see, for the naturalist evolution is the only game in town! No matter how fantastic the odds, no matter how improbable the evidence, he's stuck with it because he hasn't got an intelligent Designer. So it seems to me that the Christian can be far more objective on this point. After all, if you were to find watch lying on the ground, and, say, it didn't function exactly perfectly, it lost one minute per hour, would you therefore conclude that the watch was not designed properly?

The Barrow and Tippler book has been around since the mid-eighties, and made a splash in the Intelligent Design community, but that appears to be it. A blanket rejection of general Anthropic Principle variations is "we must fit the universe, the universe doesn't care". There are many objections to the many anthropic principle variations - see the Anthropic Principle Wikipedia page for a survey of them. A concise one-line summary from that page is: "According to Jürgen Schmidhuber, the anthropic principle essentially just says that the conditional probability of finding yourself in a universe compatible with your existence is always 1."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Criticisms and corrections

Criticisms and corrections

I'm enjoying Chris Hallquist's more concise criticism's of WIlliam Lane Craig's 5 standard arguments for the existence of God. In the comments section to Two more revealingly bad cosmological arguments from Craig's debates, I invited criticisms of my own "dissection" of the same. Hallquist commenter MNBO replied:

I don't think a good article. You give Craig too much credit. Like him you don't specify which Big Bang Theory you're talking about. You don't contradict his lie that "Atheists have tried for centuries to disprove the existence of God." Even Dawkins has made clear that he can't. Finally Craig doesn't "use current science". "Out of nothing, nothing comes." Ehhh, why? That’s exactly what current science suggests.


As for Craig "winning debates", that has everything to do with his rhetorical skills and his theist audiences willing to buy everything he says.

Okay - I asked for it, so no need to sulk. Let's learn from this!

First, I advertised to Uncredible Hallq readers that I was "dissecting" Craig's arguments, which is not really what I am doing in any of these "review" articles. I misrepresented the review articles as something that they are not. What I said I planned on doing (in a post previous to the one MNBO criticizes) was to "critique Dr. Craig's performance ... in order to identify where the weak spots are." Since Hallquist's articles are primarily counter-apologetics, and my articles are analysis of the debate performances to gain insight on how Dr. Craig is effective in these god debates, I may have set myself up to be ripped. That was bad on my part.

Let me take MNBO's criticisms seriously, though. They are:

MNBO's criticism #1: You give Craig too much credit

My reply: Yes I do. I started this series as a grudging admirer of Craig. A (what now looks to be inevitable) result of this debate analysis may be a dimming of this admiration. You'll see the first indication of that after I detect blatant dishonesty in Dr. Craig's First Rebuttal - my next post.

MNBO's criticism #2: don't specify which Big Bang Theory you're talking about

My reply: Let me address this at the end ... because it's not clear what he's talking about, but we can learn something from a little research.

MNBO's criticism #3: You don't contradict his lie that "Atheists have tried for centuries to disprove the existence of God."

My reply: No, I don't contradict his statement - but I do address it, which is the spirit of this series of posts. I say:

The "you can't disprove that God exists" gambit above is a common tactic you may have encountered if you've ever discussed theology. I mentioned last time that "falsifiability" is an intended characteristic of any hypothesis that seeks to be accepted as an explanation for a phenomenon. Dr. Craig surely knows this, and even more surely knows that most people don't know that this is the case, so it will sound to the audience as if the non-believer has failed to make the case for non-belief if they fail to address this.

I think the spirit of MNBO's criticism here is right - I should be clear and unambiguous wherever I make an attempt to address a particular argument, tactic, misstatement or outright lie. I didn't reiterate or expand on my first post in the Craig debate series, where I contend that falsifiability is part of the hypothesis testing. I could have been more complete in my criticism here.

MNBO's criticism #4: Craig doesn't "use current science".

My reply: MNBO is referring to my statement that I loved when Dr. Craig uses "current science" in his arguments, when in this debate he really doesn't. This is also a correct criticism. I shouldn't say that, because it implies Dr. Craig has some real-world basis for a subsequent claim. Instead, at the very most, I should say "sciency" or something implying that the scientific-sounding claim isn't really sound.

MNBO's criticism #5: As for Craig "winning debates", that has everything to do with "his rhetorical skills and his theist audiences willing to buy everything he says.

My reply: MNBO is correct regarding this post, however, I do make a similar point elsewhere in subsequent posts:

Back to MNBO's criticism #2 - that I don't specify which Big Bang Theory I'm talking about.

When I go back to the post in question, I only see one place that I personally speak of a Big Bang Theory, and it's as a parody of Dr. Craig:

It may be that non-believers hold that the Big Bang Theory ("BBT") really implies that space-time began at that moment. It may be that they believe there is a cyclic universe (still uncaused, but naturally generated as "everything" cycles between matter and antimatter over quadrillions of years. It could be some "many worlds" conception. It may be one of Buddha's belches that brought the world into existence. It may be any other supreme non-yahweh figure.

I don't understand why that's worth criticizing.

Second, I'm only aware of one "Big Bang Theory". Here's what you see when you google "Big Bang Cosmology"

To be sure, there are some variations ... I immediately ran across an article by a grad assistant from 1997 that claimed the universe arose from nothing - a claim that Big Bang models do not make. Ignoring the distinct possibility that this person is not an expert and should not be cited, he states:

The big bang theory states that at some time in the distant past there was nothing. A process known as vacuum fluctuation created what astrophysicists call a singularity. From that singularity, which was about the size of a dime, our Universe was born.

Technically, there's nothing wrong with that, as vacuum fluctuations are behind the "universe from nothing" assertions from Krauss, Hawking et. al.

It looks - from this brief and incomplete survey, that the phrase "the universe was once incredibly small, hot and dense - and it expanded to its present size and configuration over time" would be a common presentation of the current thinking. Given that, in response to MNBO's question "which Big Bang Theory am I talking about?" - my response is that I'm talking about this one - the only one that seems to be presented.

There are other considerations, however. In the Wikipedia section Speculative Physics Beyond the Big Bang there are speculations about what appears to be The Big Bang could, in fact be:

  • the Hartle-Hawking no-boundary condition in which the whole of space-time is finite; the Big Bang does represent the limit of time, but without the need for a singularity
  • the Big Bang lattice model states that the Universe at the moment of the Big Bang consists of an infinite lattice of fermions which is smeared over the fundamental domain so it has both rotational, translational and gauge symmetry. The symmetry is the largest symmetry possible and hence the lowest entropy of any state.
  • the brane cosmology models in which inflation is due to the movement of branes in string theory;
    • the pre-Big Bang model; (also see this article that essentially concludes a big bounce)
    • the ekpyrotic model, in which the Big Bang is the result of a collision between branes; and
    • the cyclic model, a variant of the ekpyrotic model in which collisions occur periodically. In the latter model the Big Bang was preceded by a Big Crunch and the Universe endlessly cycles from one process to the other.
  • eternal inflation, in which universal inflation ends locally here and there in a random fashion, each end-point leading to a bubble universe expanding from its own big bang.

If that's what MNBO is referring to, then, yes, I missed it. But these are not "Big Bang Models" as they are speculative. That's like saying the InfiniTwinkie model is a version of the Big Bang Model. There is no testable hypothesis, it is wholly speculative.

Going back to Craig's presentation of the argument from First Cause, he structures it approximately thus:

  • asks the question "Have you ever asked yourself where the universe came from? Why everything exists instead of just nothing?"
  • preemptively dismisses the "eternal and uncaused" explanation that he claims for atheists. This was both an unsubstantiated charge, and a generalization that I later point out serves to limit focus on attacking his preferred target.
  • quote-mines to "disprove" an actual infinite - again, this is the target he chose to attack, not an accurate representation of state-of-the-art-cosmology. This quote-mining serves to "prove" that an actual cause is essential to explain the universe.
  • Uses the Big Bang to "confirm" his assertion that the universe had a beginning and that there was a cause behind it. This is where the "common" presentation of the Big Bang Theory that I see over and over again comes into play. The "the universe was once incredibly small, hot and dense - and it expanded to its present size and configuration over time" model does not support Dr. Craig's contention that his first cause was confirmed by remarkable discoveries.
  • He then quotes another philosopher to assert "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". Given Krauss and Hawking, this is not a problem for atheists or anyone else, as it seems to be indicated by present research.
  • He restates a formulation of the cosmological argument
  • He then slides in a bunch of specifics for which he provides absolutely no evidentiary support or rational justification.
  • closes his case by saying that the Big Bang Theory says just what theists always believed.

Okay, I give! it's apparent that Craig's argument is dishonest. There are so many misrepresentations and logical fallacies that, if you had time to detect and analyze this in a normal conversation, you'd conclude the person delivering it was trying to sell you snake oil.

Getting back to MNBOs criticism of me or my article personally, well, I brought it on myself. It was, however, valuable because it caused me to do a little more homework and to re-evaluate Craig yet again. As I said earlier, my "admiration" for him is shaded by a realization that you can't put together this tenuous string of fallacy and misrepresentation by accident, so it must be on purpose. That purpose must be to convince uncritical people that an invisible sky-daddy exists, and therefore to buy Craig's books and pay to see his lectures and debates.

A final thought. I'm tooting my own horn here. If I were a theist - say, William Lane Craig - I would not have accepted MNBOs criticism and gone back to reflect and research. I would have probably looked to retrench and solidify my own magical view of the world, and reject outside disconfirmation. I didn't do that. I think I learned something. I should never stop learning.

[Edit 08-04-2012]
I inadvertently overwrote this post the weekend of July 28th - so I'm re-posting here.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Lottery fantasizing

When lottery prize amounts for the Mega Millions go sky-high like it did a few months ago, it brings up a couple or three questions.

First - why would you buy a lottery ticket? You often hear the saying "Lotteries are a tax on people who can't count". All gambling is this way - so I can't argue that this isn't true, given the spirit in which it's said. Taken a different way, it's entertainment - and we all gladly part with our money to see a concert or a movie or a sporting event. These diversions usually make us feel good. Gambling - and lotteries - have the same effect if done in moderation. I, for one, get a Super Lotto or Mega Millions ticket every couple of weeks, on average. A crappy "investment" to be sure, but it's a delightful way to "authorize" myself to daydream about magically becoming a millionaire. Magical thinking at its finest!

Second - lump sum or annuity? I say lump sum ... most "experts say so, as well. The reason not to would be if you desire a steady, predictable income stream, and managing money creeps you out. The annuity would take the place of other annuities that financial advisers typically recommend to insure we have money when we get old.

Third - how much is enough?

Before I get into that question, I wanted to mention that the Mega Millions lump sum payout is presently $34.9M on a $45M prize, or 77.555%. That's a BUNCH - the highest I've ever seen it! That means that the after tax payout would be around 50.4 cents on the dollar - assuming a 35% maximum federal rate and no state tax.

So ... back to the question of "how much is enough?"

Assume, for discussion only, that we have no debt, but no savings - essentially zero net worth. That's just to make it simple. Assume also that you're 55 (I am roughly that age), so that you have 10 or 11 years before traditional retirement age, and that you and your wife (if you have one) will get $2100/month from social security when you retire - about half the total possible. These are just assumptions to keep the discussion simple.

Is $500K after taxes enough? Not for me - here in California. Assuming my house is paid off (it's not in real life, but bear with me) I still need health insurance for 10 years, food, clothing, sanitation, medical, home repair and auto repair and fuel costs. My wife and I might be able to live on 4 to 5 thousand dollars a month until we retire, then our health insurance costs recede and we start getting Social Security. We would have averaged a $54K withdrawal rate for ten straight years, or more than the principal we received when we won the lottery. If our investments were good and the inflation rate is low, then we may have 100, 200K dollars left for retirement, but it could have gone the other way as well, and we would have gone broke after 5 or 6 years.

Now, cost of living in Southern California is high, so you can look at this from the perspective of a cheaper place to live. There are places in the Midwest - Iowa for one, where the COL is about 55% of what it is here. You can verify this by looking at COL calculators online. Alternatively, there are more expensive places as well - San Francisco and New York City come to mind.

Is $1M after taxes enough? Eh ... it's better. Sticking to the 4500 bucks a month rule I fabricated for the first example, then we could conceivably have half a million dollars or more when we finally reach retirement age. It's not a slam dunk, but it's doable on a budget.

Two Million? Yes, I could do that. Again, if I stick to the budget, I can have over $1.5M left over when I reach traditional retirement age, maybe substantially more. Maybe substantially less, however.

Let's discuss the down side. The whole investment landscape can go sour for everyone in a bad way. It did in 2007 and 2008 with the real estate crisis and subsequent global economic meltdown - it did in 2000-2002 when the tech bubble burst. Imagine this. We take our 2 million bucks and put 500K in laddered bonds to get us through the pre-retirement years, and put the remainder in blue chip stocks - which we'll start to convert to bonds a little at a time a few years before retirement. Using the tech bubble burst as a metric, we could have lost about 50% of our net value at some point. Our $1.5M would have dropped to $750K. Now, I could personally live with that, but imagine if that happens in our $1M prize scenario - our $500K investment drops to $250K. You could still live, but it would be a real strain on your emotions. It would have destroyed us in the $500K scenario! The lesson there is to have that 6-8-10 year "cash and bond cushion" built up before retirement.

Sometime in the next few weeks, I might muse about what I'd do if I won 4 million, 8 million or more. Sane!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Dr. Pigliucci concludes his Opening Statement

I've finally made it through Dr. Massimo Pigliucci's opening statement from the 1995 Dr. William Lane Craig - Dr. Massimo Pigliucci debate on "Does God Exist?" - I have a look at Dr. P's cases against Theism and for Naturalism. These are brief, and are coherent. So far, Dr. P's content has been good. I'll summarize positives and negatives for both participants' efforts after Dr. P finishes up.

Previous reviews can be found starting here through Dr. Pigliucci's Positive case for Naturalism.

Dr. Pigliucci begins his final arguments:

Problem of Evil

There also are some serious philosophical problems with the theistic position that I really have a hard time thinking how Dr. Craig can solve them. The main problem that I see is the problem of evil. The philosopher Bertrand Russell put it very nicely, and I can hardly do better than he did , so I'm going to read pretty much verbatim his quote. "If I had ten billion years and this is all I could come up with, the universe as it is, I should be ashamed of myself." Everybody in this room can think of a much better universe with no earthquakes for one thing and no snow storms, no murders, no rapists, and so on and so forth. It's very easy to come up with one. So if this God is supposed to be all powerful and all good, why do we have this mess down here? And please don't answer that question with "The devil did it!" because the devil also was a creation of God, and so it's still his fault anyway. And I really don't see a way out of that one, unless you want to argue that creation has unintended consequences, there are things that happen in the world that God really didn't want; but then we're pulling back into the category of the personal, failing God that nobody here probably believes in.

Dr. Evil

Generally, the Problem of Evil provides current and on-the-fence non-believers sufficient warrant to conclude a "good" God does not exist ... Dr. Pigliucci is smart to include it. His discussion of this is conversational, whereas other formulations are presented as syllogisms. I find these to be more direct and effective. Dr. P did not give this kind of detail, maybe with good reason. We'll have to see how Dr. Craig counters.

Dr. Pigliucci on Problems with Christianity:

Problems with Christianity

There's also some specific problems about Christianity. What I've said up to this point really applies to any positive definition of God. As I said, I'm not here to deny the existence of every single possible God. There are some Gods that are simply beyond any kind of speculative or scientific argument. But, for one thing, can you give me a good reason to believe in the Christian God in particular, as opposed to many other ones of the Gods that have been proposed so far? You've got ample choice there: you can believe in Zeus, you can believe in Baal, you can believe in Zoroaster--there's plenty of them! Well, why one over the other? I really can't see any particular reason for it.

Also Christianity makes some specific statements about the world and about humans. If you believe, for example, literally in the Bible (which I'm guessing Dr. Craig does not), if you really believe in the Bible, of course, you get in a bunch of problems. Science can answer that there wasn't such a thing as Noah's flood and certainly not as a world-wide event. Other things are: well, the sun never stopped anywhere in the sky because the sun doesn't move at all. It's the Earth that rotates around the sun, and so on and so forth. So there's a lot of specific statements in the Bible that simply cannot be taken literally. But even if you don't take it literally and you get some kind of general meaning, well, generally speaking, man is supposed to have fallen from somewhere, from grace supposedly. Well, evolutionary biology tells us that in fact man evolved in a positive way and is one of the most complex creatures in the world today. It's the end product of a very long process of evolution, I really see those two things in direct contradiction.

Finally, as far as Christianity in particular is concerned, there's plenty of archaeological, anthropological, and sociological evidence that Christianity is just one of several mythologies that evolved and changed throughout human history. It is a part of human culture; it can clearly be traced back to Hebrew traditions, to Babylonian traditions in Mesopotamia. A lot of the myths of Christianity are borrowed all over the place, as are other myths that we see today as to religions. Religions rise, they fall, they change, depending on their culture and social background of the populations that adopt them, and eventually they die, and then something will come up and replace them. That is the historical sequence that has happened over and over again, and I can really hardly see how anybody would look at that sequence and say, "Well, this particular sequence over here is an exception. This is not just not like another religion. It's different." Well, why, on what grounds?

Up through now, this appears to be Dr. Pigliucci's best, most concise argument. There is no reason to believe that the technical arguments for the existence of God (First Cause, Design, and others that Dr. Craig did not mention) will conclude with the Christian God. As Chris Hallquist points out, these arguments don't even guarantee a single god, or gods at all.

Dr. Pigliucci concludes:
God Loves You!

The Problem of Morality

Finally, the problem of morality, which I'm sure we'll have more to say about--oh yeah, I agree with Dr. Craig when he cited Dr. Ruse, a philosopher of science. There is no such a thing as objective morality. We got that straightened out. Morality in human cultures has evolved and is still evolving, and what is moral for you might not be moral for the guy next door and certainly is not moral for the guy across the ocean, the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean, and so on. And what makes you think that your personal morality is the one and everybody else is wrong? Now a better way of putting this is that it is not the same as to say that anything goes; it is not at all the same. What goes is anything that works; there are things that work. Morality has to work. For example, one of the very good reasons we don't go around killing each other is because otherwise the entire society as we know it would collapse and we'd become a bunch of simple isolated animals. There are animals like those.

Thank you!

Here Dr. Pigliucci has the same reaction that I did to Dr. Craig's claim that (paraphrasing) "if objective moral values don't exist, then God doesn't exist". We agree.

I think that Dr. Pigliucci closes strongly - his "Problems with Christianity" and "Problem of Morality" being two of his clearer, more concise arguments. Do I think he makes the stronger overall positive case than Dr. Craig? I really can't say - particularly when I can't see an actual video of the contest. Just for fun, let me re-sequence the arguments that Dr. P used - without adding or removing a section, except to add a brief recap of the positive case at the end:

Dr. Pigliucci made his opening statement in this order:

  1. (his intro)
  2. Clarification of the Term "God"
  3. Argument from Design
  4. God and Nature
  5. Argument from Fine-Tuning
  6. Problems with Theism
  7. The Case for Naturalism
  8. Problem of Evil
  9. Problems with Christianity
  10. The Problem of Morality
Given the same material, I can see re-organizing this to fit my proposed intro-positive case-initial rebuttal-recap format thus:
  1. (his intro)
  2. Clarification of the Term "God"
  3. The Case for Naturalism
  4. God and Nature
  5. Problem of Evil
  6. Problems with Christianity
  7. The Problem of Morality
  8. Argument from Design
  9. Argument from Fine-Tuning
  10. Problems with Theism
  11. (a recap of the positive case)
This is a pretty minor reshuffling ... with the exception of his section "God and Nature" - it appears that all Dr. Pigliucci did was offer initial rebuttals to Dr. Craig's Arguments first, then finish with the "positive construction for non-belief". It's kind of a toss-up.

Next time we start on initial rebuttals.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Dr. Pigliucci make a positive case for Naturalism

Continuing my review of Dr. Massimo Pigliucci's opening statement from the 1995 Dr. William Lane Craig - Dr. Massimo Pigliucci debate on "Does God Exist?" - I have a look at Dr. P's cases against Theism and for Naturalism. These are brief, and are coherent. So far, Dr. P's content has been good. I'll summarize positives and negatives for both participants' efforts after Dr. P finishes up.

Previous reviews can be found starting here through Dr. P's argument against Nature & God, and Fine-Tuning.

Dr. Pigliucci resumes:

Problems with Theism

In general what we are discussing here tonight is the difference between theism and naturalism, and I think the theist has a lot of problems which need to be addressed. One of these problems is that theism makes an unfounded and difficult-to-defend assumption: it assumes that something else exists beyond matter and energy. That might be a reasonable assumption to some people in the audience, in fact I'm sure, to most people in the audience, but think about it. You know that matter and energy exist. You don't know that something else exists beyond that, and therefore the burden of proof is not on me to demonstrate that that something does not exist; it's on Dr. Craig to demonstrate that something else exists, because we all know the matter and energy are here. If you need something else, then we need some evidence for that.

Also, answering whatever question about the origin of the universe, the origin of life, or anything else, "God did it" really is not an answer. It doesn't provide any answer whatsoever; it doesn't have any explanatory power whatsoever. Well, how did God do it, how did it work , why does it work one way and not another? Science is about not just giving an answer. I'm not going tell you that humans evolve, period. I'm going to tell you how, in what times, and what sequence of events actually is involved. There's much more detailed explanation; in fact, it is an explanation. It may not be a perfect explanation, but it is an explanation.

Another problem is what I call the infinite regression problem. Let's even assume that we do need a God or some kind of supernatural entity in order to explain the universe; well, then, the obvious following question is: where does God come from? I never could get an answer to that. And if the answer is that he was always there, that is exactly the same as saying that matter and energy were always there. There is no difference there.

Furthermore, we have already talked about the problem of negative evidence. There is a tendency on the theistic side to pick up on anything that science cannot resolve or cannot explain, at the least at the moment, as a positive evidence for the alternative explanation. That is not the way things work in rational thinking and logical thinking. You have to have your own arguments, positive arguments, to come out with an explanation. You can't just pick on anything that the other party is unable to explain, especially since part on the process of the other side is exactly to come up with explanations one at a time, and some of these explanations might fall because they're not good.

Dr. Pigliucci starts this segment by declaring that the theist position "has a lot of problems", which is true. Again, focusing on the way it's delivered, even on paper, this delivery sounds tentative. Now, it may have had the best effect that he could have hoped for given the circumstances, but it still bugs me. The first paragraph in this section states the case well, but just seems too conciliatory.

Dr. P digresses into an examination of the first cause argument again, then infinite regression, then negative evidence. I have no problem with the individual thoughts he's expressing, just the way they're ordered and delivered.

Dr. Pigliucci on Naturalism:

The Case for Naturalism

Furthermore, I'd like to go on to say that there are very good reasons to trust naturalism. That is the positive side of my argument. First, naturalism has predictive power. There are a lot of things that work. For example, you can switch on the lights, and the lights do come on. The reason for that is because electrons move around and exchange energy. All these things physics has explained very well, so it does work. Can you come up with a similar example of predictive power on the other side? I don't think so.

Furthermore, it works in practice. The reason you guys were able to get a car, for example, to get up here tonight is because technology works. And technology is based on naturalism. If the assumptions of naturalism were not consistent, you wouldn't have a car, you wouldn't have a TV, you wouldn't have a VCR, and all these other amenities of life. Now you might argue that we might be better off without that, but that's a different question.

Dr. Pigliucci waits until these two paragraphs to make a positive case for naturalism. Again, I agree with what he says, but...

Here's a brief re-imagining of the six paragraphs we just read: 

"Naturalism relies wholly on things we can examine to describe the world we live in. Space. Time. Matter. Energy. Exactly those things that we can observe, and nothing else. From those real things, we can describe physics, chemistry, biology, all of the sciences, and predict how things behave under certain well-defined conditions. That ability has everyday benefits - it gives us lightbulbs, and delivers electricity to light them up. It allows us to create automobiles and to fuel them with gasoline so they transport you from point A to point B. You are a naturalist. You depend on these things (and many others ure   P that were discovered and refined using naturalist approaches)to live your life. Theism, on the other hand, relies on proposing something not seen to achieve effects that are never observed in the world. No one ever sees a god interacting with people - not in the history of mankind. No one ever sees a god healing an amputee. No one ever sees a god performing a feat in the world that isn't better explained by natural cause and effect. Never. Heaven? Hell? Don't see 'em. God? The Devil? Don't see 'em. Ever. Should we wait all of our lives for these things to magically appear In order to validate our hope or belief that they exist? I can't think of a single good reason to do that - to let your life pass you by completely while you anticipate some event that never happens. To anyone. Ever. The case for naturalism is confirmed every day. The case for theism is never confirmed on any day. Ever."

Then there's Sean Carroll's excellent case for naturalism , which I would prefer over anything I can cough up in isolation. View the YouTube video here.

Next time, we'll wrap up Dr. Pigliucci's opening remarks.

Dr. Pigliucci against Fine Tuning

Today, Dr. Massimo Pigliucci continues his opening statement with two topics that are related to his prior "Argument from Design" segment - "God and Nature" & "Argument from Fine-Tuning". This is from the 1995 Dr. William Lane Craig - Dr. Massimo Pigliucci debate on "Does God Exist?" I've previously discussed other portions of the opening statements starting here through Dr. P's argument against the Argument from Design.

Dr. Pigliucci resumes:

God and Nature

Furthermore, it seems to me that the more we know about the mechanisms of the world, that is, the more we understand the world, the more the realm of God is being pushed back. The reason for that is, if you think about it, that in ancient times people used to evoke God as an explanation for almost everything. There was a thunder or lightning striking--well, that was Zeus that got upset with someone. That's because they didn't know where lightning was coming from. Now we know better, and we don't fault God for that kind of thing. We can now seclude him and confine him to only those things that we don't understand, the big questions that we are still answering in science, like the origin of the universe or the origin of life. But otherwise we understand better and better how things are going. After all, science has been around only a couple of hundred years. Give us some time! The more we understand, the less room there seems to be for God to exist. Now if you extrapolate just a little bit, you'll see that you have no reason for God.

In fact, this argument was presented more than a century ago by the astronomer Laplace, who was the first to present a complete theory for the origin and evolution of the solar system, a theory, by the way, that it is still considered pretty much correct. He presented his theory to the National Academy of France, and Napoleon was there. At the end of his presentation, Napoleon asked Laplace, "Monsieur Laplace, what about God?" And Laplace looked at Napoleon, and he said, "I don't need that hypothesis anymore." And there lies the key. God is a hypothesis that we formulate, that we could come up with, when we don't understand what is really going on.

Dr. Pigliucci points out the God of the Gaps strategy being implicitly employed by Dr. Craig. I can imagine a more economical and well-sequenced presentation of this, which I'll suggest at the end of the post. As I read through this, I can see how my own (irrelevant-but-good-exercise) "Opening Statement" might unfold. I can also see that I'd have to do a little research on whether to stick strictly to my own positive construction, or to present it and a preliminary rebuttal in the opening statement, which raises the question of what order these should be presented for the best effect.

Here, Dr. P addresses the more specific Fine-tuning Argument:

Argument from Fine-Tuning

Now the current frontier of the design argument is, as Dr. Craig mentioned, the idea that the physical universe is highly improbable. The current physical universe, the one that supports life as we know it, is highly improbable. I will get into the specifics of Dr. Craig's argument probably during the my rebuttal because I want to make a few other points; but some of the main points that come to mind in responding to that kind of argument is: first of all, the fact that we don't know how something works, like we don't know how physical constants originated, is by no means a positive evidence for the existence of God. There is a non sequitur here; there is a leap in logic. The fact that we acknowledge that there are some things we don't understand does not imply at all that there was a creator. It just means that we don't know, and that's the position that any honest scientist should actually maintain.

Furthermore, how likely is the universe? Well, we don't know because this is the only universe that we have. We can speculate, it's very hard to come up with numbers--actually, it's very easy to come up with numbers, but it's hard to come up with reasonable numbers. We don't have experiments; we can't experiment with different kinds of universes that easily. So, for example, I made some calculations: I'm assuming that there are a little more than a thousand people here tonight, and I made some calculation on what was the probability that each one of these persons was going to be here tonight. Since there are about five billion people on Earth at this point, the probability is 1 in 10 raised to 1000 raised to 5 billion. That's a humongous number! So by that reasoning either somebody really conspired from the origin of our lives to get us here tonight or this event is so improbable that, I'm sorry, you have the illusion that we're here, but we're not. You see where I'm going with this.

Dr. P resumes attacking the God of the Gaps analogy, and points out the false dilemma inherent in assuming when we don't know something, the only answer is that Goddidit.

I'll admit right here that today's post and the prior one addressing the Argument from Design should have been combined. The section headings in the debate transcript were misleading, even though I'd read Dr. P's opening statement in its entirety prior to breaking it down here. Given that, let me remark that, as a hypothetical audience member, I would appreciate the following outline:

  • A positive construction for Dr. Pigliucci's case
  • A description of the fallacies and rhetorical tricks used by the opponent in his opener (bare assertion, false dilemma, cherry picking, conflation)
  • the beginnings of a point-by-point rebuttal of the opponent's positive construction
  • Close the segment with a recap of the positive case
A from-the-ground-up positive construction, followed by a from-the-ground-up deconstruction of the opponent's style and substance would make it coherent and potentially compelling for me.

It should be noted that a 20 minute opening statement - as is usually allowed in Dr. Craig's debates - gives a speaker 1200 seconds to say his piece. Dr. Pigliucci's opener is about 3600 words, so that's a pretty good clip. Dr. Craig spent 2600 words or so on his opener. That's a good target to use. It will be interesting - and probably humbling - to see what I can come up with in a few weeks.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dr. Pigliucci counters Craig's Argument from Design

Next up in my ongoing review of the 1995 Dr. William Lane Craig - Dr. Massimo Pigliucci debate on "Does God Exist?" is the second installment of Dr. Pigliucci's opening statement. Dr. Pigliucci is speaking second, and will address Dr. Craig's "Argument from Design".

I've previously discussed the opening statements starting here through here.

Note that the debate transcript says that Dr. Pigliucci addresses the "Argument from Design", which may be how Dr. P had it outlined. Dr. Craig's argument is specifically "The complex order in the universe", which - I presume - is a personal formulation Dr. Craig cooked up to address the fine-tuning of the initial conditions that the universe appears to have had. The two concepts address essentially the same broad theological argument - that what we observe has the appearance of design, which implies a designer, therefore God exists.

Reading ahead into other sections of Dr. Pigliucci's opening statement, he follows the "Argument from Design" section with a "God and Nature" and an "Argument from Fine Tuning" section. Since I just declared that the Design and Fine-Tuning arguments are essentially the same, I'll be interested in how he integrates the two. I'll say in advance that I believe that either can be refuted without getting mired in details. The most succinct riposte is capsulized by Douglas Adams:

Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, "This is an interesting world I find myself in - an interesting hole I find myself in - fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!"

Oh Boy - a puddle!

Dr. Pigliucci:

Argument from Design

Let's start with the argument from intelligent design, which Dr. Craig raised at the beginning of his talk. The argument from intelligent design says that the universe is so complex that it must have had a designer; that is, if you find a watch somewhere, you know that there was a watchmaker. What science is telling you is that, well, no, that may be true for the watch, but seeing a design doesn't mean that there is a conscious, intelligent designer. Notice here that I am acknowledging that the world had been "designed." Natural selection, for example, in the case of biological evolution is definitely a designer. But it is an unconscious designer, a designer that works mechanically. It doesn't work pursuing any higher goals. So we do agree that there is a designer. The question is who is the designer or what is the designer.

Dr. Pigliucci does something I think is peculiar here - he acknowledges design in the universe. I wouldn't have done this for several reasons. First, I really can't conceive of anything that genuinely appears "designed" in the natural world. Certainly the behavior of the galaxies and stars and planets follow a predictable pattern, but pattern does not imply an a priori design. Second, "design" is a human concept. We formally design things when they are so complicated that the details of their implementation cannot be reliably and permanently held in our minds, or conveyed to external implementors unambiguously. We commit design when we have a purpose that we want to realize in the world. Third, the fact that we see patterns (a capability of many life forms, not just humans) and infer design is just a side effect of our propensity to assign purpose to external entities. Following Dennett, the increasing abstraction from the physical stance to the design stance to the intentional stance are progressions in understanding that we attempt to make, but we fail to acknowledge that, without actual evidence, design and intent cannot be assigned to anything.

Daniel Dennett

The fourth reason I wouldn't concede that there is design in the universe - having just acknowledged that there is no objective design - is the "atmospherics" of conceding a point to your opponent. There is no reason, in my opinion, to assent to an opponent's point unless you either 1) need it to build your own affirmative construction; 2)want to dismiss it from further discussion. Dr. P appears to want to discuss it further, so 1) is the only possible reason to concede the issue of design, as far as I can tell.

In fairness to Dr. Pigliucci, a lot of material has been written on why the argument from design is bad - but it shouldn't have been a point to concede, even in 1995.

Dr. P trots out Darwin:

One of Darwin's best arguments against the theistic position was that if you really look closely at the universe--and you don't even have to look that closely--, you'll find out that it is not perfect at all, and therefore you can question to what extent it actually reflects a designer. For example, the so called perfection of human beings has been called into question: you might know that human beings have a bizarre structure in their eye. The eye used to be a favorite example of theists. It's the kind of structure that you really cannot explain except by design. Well, it is pretty badly designed because, for example, we have blood vessels right in front of our retina, which means that under certain light conditions especially some among us see these funny little things flying all over the place across the visual field. Well, that's not a good design. Not only that, but there are organisms that are better designed. Squids, for example, have their blood vessels in the back of their eyes, so they actually see much better than we do, even though otherwise the two kinds of eyes are very similar. So my question to you is: are we better designed because God liked squids more than human beings? That seems to be the message.

Dr. P gets back on track somewhat, but I'd prefer not trotting Darwin by name, only because the audience in Tennessee is, I presume, not receptive to the mention of "Darwin". If the point is to change minds, then secularists are receptive, theists are (often) not, and the omission of Darwin's name doesn't detract from the ability to make the case that the universe and life do not appear designed.

Another source of bad design is the fact that most chemical reactions that occur inside everybody's bodies--humans, animals, and plants--are actually pretty inefficient, and if you ask a physicist or a chemist to do some calculations, it's pretty easy, and they will show you that the metabolism of most plants and animals, including humans, is really badly designed. It doesn't work very well, it's wasteful, it produces a lot of waste products. So if there is a designer, he's not a good designer.

Furthermore, there are other questions that a theist that believes in perfect design really has a hard time explaining. Have you ever wondered why people get hemorrhoids? Well, the reason for that is because we have this tendency to walk upright, but we are not very well designed for it, and we paid for that with several consequences, including hemorrhoids and varicose veins. So this ought to lead to the point that if there is a designer it wasn't a good one.

The general point that some scientists at least make, and I agree with them, is that the more we know about nature, the more we realize that in fact the world is the result of two things: chance, which is sometimes called historical contingency, and necessity, which is usually associated with natural selection. Therefore my position is not that we are the result of chance because chance alone, Dr. Craig is right, has no way to create such a complex structure as an ecosystem. But chance and natural selection is a different matter. Natural selection can work very effectively over longer periods of time.

Dr. P returns completely to solid ground in the prior several paragraphs. I probably am being too critical of what he says ("Darwin") previously, since it occurs in the space of a minute, but I can't stress the idea that changing minds (and thus winning the debate, in the absence of a formally trained debate judge) is the goal here.

I would have been more comfortable with avoiding the word "chance" in the prior passage altogether, though. The "chance" trope is anathema to the folks that think they're designed by god for a higher purpose. The phrase "historical contingency, and necessity" could have been made clearer to serve Dr. Pigliucci's purpose as well. Since probability is at work in everything we do, it would be interesting to see if a treatment of chance, without using that word, could be given in the time allotted to the opening statement.

A final nit - Dr. P does not clearly close this portion of his statement by saying something that indicates that he thought he had invalidated Dr. Lane's argument from design (complexity, whatever). A "closer" such as "thus we can see that Dr. Lane's argument from complexity is clearly unproven and illogical" would have fixed the idea that he had met the challenge and defeated it.

One of the reasons Dr. P may not have offered a "closer" is that his next two sections - as I noted at the start of this post - "God and Nature", and the "Argument from Complexity" may still bolster his counter-argument. There is no doubt some bleed-over between the three sections, so I'll chill out and enjoy it.

A final thing to learn from this is that Dr. P doesn't know in advance precisely what Dr. C will present, in what order, and what specific anecdotes and supporting evidence he will weave into his opener. As Dr. Craig has stated before, he's offered the same five arguments for over twenty years (meaning that they were only "stable" for three years before this debate took place). But since the apologia is ever-changing as the gaps in which God might exist continue to shrink, Dr. P could only have used what Dr. Craig previously argued, and could hardly anticipate how Dr. Craig might tailor those arguments further to fit the gaps. The takeaway may be that one's opening statement (also commonly referred to in debate parlance as a "positive construction") should really stick to the positive points that you want to make for your position, and only deviate into rebuttal of the opponent's positive construction if and when time allows. We'll see how Dr. Pigliucci performs this in the coming several posts.

...and a final-final - no shit really final remark: I really owe it to myself to attempt a 20 minute positive construction to oppose the proposition that God exists, followed by a 12 minute "first rebuttal" of Dr. Craig's positive construction and his first rebuttal, in order to walk a mile in Dr. Pigliucci's shoes. Remember that I'm a complete amateur, and have no standing to give either of the participants scholarly criticism of the their debate performances. My criticisms are at street level - I am reflecting on how their statements affect my understanding of the subject.

Next time: Dr. Pigliucci on "God and Nature", and the "Argument from Complexity".