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.

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