Sunday, August 26, 2012

About Writing About Text

A second, somewhat different, takeaway comes to me as a result of the months I spent reading and analysizing the Craig-Pigliucci debate. It has largely to do with analyzing text and writing.

First, the effort was probably 3 or more hours each weekend, from late May until now. That's a minimum of forty hours, maybe as much as eighty, all for what took about 90 minutes to occur in real life. So I assume that my first read-through of each debate segment took about the same duration that it took for the participant to deliver it. In a 20-12-8-5 debate format, which I assume this was, that's 45 minutes per participant.

After reading each segment completely, I returned and wrote comments on each paragraph, then made a third pass to address particular phrases or sentences of interest - plus looked up stuff on the inter tubes when it was necessary or interesting. As the debate proceeded, the participants attempted to rebut previous segments by the opponent, so I had to refer back frequently. Finally, I took my notes, drafted a blog post or several, and edited.

The editing part is where I struggled, because I lost sight of my stated mission, which was to understand how Dr. Craig wins debates. This requires less (but still some) focus on the truth, validity and soundness of the arguments, and (according to my stated mission) more focus on how Dr. Craig framed the debate, presented his arguments, attacked his opponent's arguments, and painted an overall picture that the audience could apprehend and ultimately accept or reject.

What I needed to do, from a writing standpoint, was to separate the concerns - debate effectiveness, argument truth, validity and soundness, other discourse techniques - into separate subsections in each post, so that their focus was unambiguous. I won't go back and correct that now, because I'm not delivering a thesis for work or school, it was purely for my own interest. It is, however, a lesson learned.

I achieved my goal - I now can discern how someone with poor and even vacuous arguments can make it sound like he's speaking indisputable facts. It looks like a handy skill for a purveyor of hogwash to have. Still, it's dishonest, and does the people of the world a huge disservice to perpetuate a world view like Dr. Craig's that includes imaginary entities and schemes that people are expected to revere and live by.

Debate Post-Mortem 1 - What have we learned?

I've been done with the Craig-Pigliucci debate on "Does God Exist" for over a week now.

My initial goal was just to get a general sense of how Dr. Craig orchestrates his debate performance.


I wasn't originally out to rebut Dr. Craig's arguments for the existence of God - most of them are well-known, and have long been rebutted. What I did want to do was to really get a feel for the offensive and defensive tactics that an allegedly top-notch theist would take during an organized debate - and prepare myself for the same at an informal, street-level setting. What I was able to discern about his performance is obvious to most observers: He carries himself well, he appears serious, knowledgeable, and occasionally light-hearted; he speaks clearly and confidently, he's organized and economical with his arguments, he's well-rehearsed and sticks to his talking points, he is familiar with the opponent's objections and with the opponent's own positive case; he frames the debate effectively.

I also noticed that he does a lot of other shit, as well.

Prior to reading this debate transcript, I had watched his debates against Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Lawrence Krauss on YouTube. From those, I got the impression that he was masterful at controlling the flow of the debate and assertion-bombing the opponent in order to diffuse the opponent's effectiveness, and obscuring the weak arguments he (Craig) has to give. Several blog posts from Luke Muehlhauser at Common Sense Atheism* and Andrew at Evaluating Christianity* lead me to believe that the guy was an unstoppable debating machine. That may well be, but now I see why. Beyond having a solid debating style, he's really reprehensible in his tactics and rhetoric. It's hard to tell if he's being dishonest, but it comes off that way. You can't make all these factual and logical mistakes and not be accused of being incompetent, dishonest, or well-paid. Maybe all three.

The following sections provide a sampling of errors in reasoning that he employs. Note that all these examples are from his twenty minute opening statement alone. That's as far as I had to look. Note also that in some cases, the examples shown demonstrate more than one fallacy or misuse of words and ideas. It would be hard for you and I to cram so many errors into such a short talk, but Dr. Craig does it with "style".

He misleads the audience by asserting that the proposition being defended ("Does God Exist?") must be falsified by his opponent (this is also called shifting the burden of proof):

...we need to ask ourselves two questions with respect to this hypothesis [the hypothesis that God exists]: (1) What evidence is there that serves to verify this hypothesis? and (2) What evidence is there that serves to falsify this hypothesis?

This is wrong - the affirmative must present the positive case. Period. Craig uses this tactic of shifting the burden of proof to claim that the opponent has failed to make the case against the proposition - and we saw that he came back to this again and again.

He misleads the audience into thinking his arguments will follow the rules of logic (this is also called lying)

If our goal is to determine rationally whether or not this hypothesis is true, we must conduct our inquiry according to the basic rules of logic

Of course, we see just in this brief listing, how frequently his logic fails. It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham. It's a travashammockery.

He makes use of bare assertions

...this cause must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power which created the universe

This always cracks me up, because it's such hogwash. By the way, we could say that this phrase is also a false choice (the possible cause is not limited to Craig's preferred explanation)and possibly, an appeal to ignorance (I don't know what did it, therefore God). You can't get this kind of entertainment just anywhere!

He appeals to authority - often using authorities that are not qualified for the subject matter, or of unknown quality

For as Anthony Kenny of Oxford University urges, "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."

The World's Foremost Authority

Anthony Kenny is a nobody to most of the world, so this is curious use of an authority. Dr. Craig chose a philosopher to provide a quote about what an atheist "must believe" if he believes the big bang theory. What research supports this? Of course, we're not treated to any! There's not a shred of evidence that an atheist "must believe" any specific thing, let alone something that somehow supports the point that Dr. Craig is attempting to make.

He uses circular arguments

His whole Argument from the Existence of Objective Moral Values is circular.

He cherry picks quotes and quotes out of context.

Friedrich Nietzsche, the great atheist of the last century who proclaimed the death of God, understood that the death of God meant the destruction of all meaning and value in life.

What Nietzsche said, in context, was

"I praise, I do not reproach, [nihilism's] arrival. I believe it is one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength!"

He misrepresents the opponents position.

Atheists have tried for centuries to disprove the existence of God, but no one has ever been able to come up with a successful argument.

Technically, atheism is just a lack of belief in a theistic deity - so there's no inherent stance about hypotheticals such as God. And **technically**, Craig could be correct if he's just referring to two or more atheists - but he makes it sound as if it's **many** atheists trying to do the falsifying. I suspect using atheism as the foil here - as opposed to other forms of non-belief - is convenient in order to gin up the tribal "wagon-circling" that will help believers defend their cherished views against those who don't share them.

He misrepresents current scientific and mathematical thinking

...mathematicians recognize that the idea of an actually infinite number of things leads to self-contradictions

For a correction of Dr. Craig's erroneous thinking, see the Wikipedia page on infinity for an overview. I'm sure you've noticed that he makes an unsupported generalization - claiming "...mathematicians recognize..." as if the broad class of professionals identified as mathematicians say such a thing. Again, we are shared no data that supports this. It's fascinating, his ability to make two or more errors in one phrase!

He uses false choice

The fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe is due to either law, chance, or design

Here, we see Dr. Craig confine the choices, which he's not qualified to do, nor are his cited authorities. The initial conditions are the result of something that we're not near to discovering, so Dr. Craig has fabricated talking points that have no meaning to the scientific world.

Unwinding this one further, we see that it is WE that have adapted to the universe. So the false choice, in a sense, masks a more fundamental error in reasoning.

He uses appeals to ignorance

The answer is that the chances that the universe should be life-permitting are so infinitesimal as to be incomprehensible and incalculable

Actually, this also demonstrates a misunderstanding (or purposeful misuse) of probabilistic-like terms. If he takes into account the evidence that we do, in fact, exist, then prior probability is useless to his argument.

He uses appeals to emotion

For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives

In fact, his whole "Fifth Argument - The immediate experience of God" - is a non argument, which he acknowledges while delivering it.

All-in-all, he's really reprehensible.

I can't take away much positive to say about Dr. Craig as a person, nor his arguments for the existence of God, after poring over this debate rather closely.

Although I may have missed other errors of language, reasoning and what we often refer to as facts, I feel completely justified in dismissing Dr. Craig as a credible commenter on the spiritual, the supernatural or the natural world, such as they may be.

*Sadly, both sites are not being actively updated, although you can still get to the links I provide below:

More recently, Chris Hallquist has written a series of posts at The Uncredible Hallq that give WLC a good working-over:

...and Deacon Duncan at Evangelical Realism and Alethian WorldView did a lengthy review of Craig's book On Guard that is well worth reading! It's many installments, so be patient - start here and read through the end here.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Dr. Pigliucci's Closing Statement

The final closing statement for the 1995 Dr. William Lane Craig - Dr. Massimo Pigliucci debate on "Does God Exist?" comes from Dr. Massimo Pigliucci:

Second Question

First of all, Dr. Craig said that I'm asking for the burden of proof on his side but that at the same time I'm suggesting I can falsify God. Let's be more precise here. I did say two different things: I said that the burden of proof for entities, energies, or kinds of events that we have no idea and no visible proof they exist is on the side of the person that suggests that these things are actually real. At the same time, I was referring to falsifiability and the possibility to deny some specific arguments. I referred to specific descriptions of God's interference with the universe. If you tell me God did this, like Noah's flood, which Dr. Craig conceded must have been either non-existent or a local event, well, then, I can falsify that. So the two things are very distinct.

I get what he's saying, but he could have been clearer. Maybe something like:

Dr. Craig claims I said "x". What I said was "y".
Dr. P appears to mix falsifiability into the burden of proof question. A clearer definition is required. I'm guilty of this as well ... I can read the concept, and it makes sense, but conveying it to someone else extemporaneously is not something I do well.
First Question

First Argument

Dr. Craig said that it follows from his premises that the ultimate cause of the universe must be timeless and personal, and he claims that this is a logical statement that follows with irrefutability. Why? Have you ever stopped and thought why is it that the cause of the universe should be timeless and personal? Just because a philosopher tells you that that is the case? What do we know about the ultimate cause of the universe? Well, I can conceive of causes of the universe that are not timeless or are not personal. I have no problem whatsoever with that! So you have to be careful in distinguishing what is actually, really, totally logically consistent and what in fact is an assumption.

Makes sense ... I have no quibble with this last paragraph.

And speaking of internal consistency, Dr. Craig said that his positions are internally consistent. They probably are. You can come up with a lot of internally consistent logical systems that nevertheless have nothing to do with reality. You do it all the time when you play a computer game. You create an entire universe that is logically consistent, that has rules, and has behaviors that are predictable, and you can play with it­but it doesn't exist in the physical world. So the fact that something is logically consistent does not mean that it is real. The two are completely different things. "That something that is logical must, therefore, exist" is a fallacious argument.

I think this is very well said. We amateur counter-apologists should make note of the phrases: "the fact that something is logically consistent does not mean that it is real. The two are completely different things. That something that is logical must, therefore, exist is a fallacious argument."

Third Argument

We keep going on this thing of morality; is it objective or is it not objective? Dr. Craig says that I'm waffling and I'm going back and forth on my positions. I'm not going back and forth on anything. All I'm saying is that morality can change, and, in fact, I'm arguing that morality better change because human beings, the needs of human beings, and what we must decide, do change. So why would you want a system that is completely fixed and is impossible to change? Why would you follow the morality or the rules that were laid down by people that lived 2,000 years or 3,000 years ago? Let me give you a simple example that doesn't have anything to do with Christianity. As you know, most strict Muslim people don't eat pork meat. The reason not to eat pork meat is very good; indeed, before the invention of refrigeration it was a really bad idea to eat meat in the desert, which is where Mohammed was preaching. Today that's no longer true because of things called refrigerators, freezers, and things of that sort. Of course, occasionally you still have E. coli which is going to get you, but most of the time that doesn't happen. That rule doesn't make any sense anymore. So people that are following that rule do it out of tradition, which is a perfectly respectable reason to do it, of course; you can follow all the traditions you like. But it is not an objective value, an invariant way of constructing a morality.

Again, I agree. I think Dr. P's example is good, but for me, the argument that "without God there can be no objective moral values" as an argument in the cumulative case for God is circular on it's face. It assumes that which your attempting to prove. Since I've been reading this transcript, I realize that it can be rejected because of its circularity, and it can be neutralized with the observation that objective moral values do not exist - only the "feeling" that they exist is an actor in the world.

Fifth Argument

We touched briefly on the personal experience thing. Well, of course, personal experiences are very important. We do a lot of things by personal experience. All of the daily decisions in our lives are personal experiences. We fall in love; that's a personal experience. There's no logic behind it most of the times. The problem is, we are talking here about admissible evidence. Well, I'm sorry, but admissible evidence doesn't include personal experiences because personal experience can be good for you, but it's hardly communicable to everybody else. People that are on drugs have all sorts of personal experiences which I'm sure you wouldn't confuse for reality.

Although I agree that this is true, and should be points for Dr. P from a technical standpoint, if the goal is to persuade audience members, I can see where this might put some people off.

Let me close by saying that I hope that tonight we have all really learned something. I certainly have learned a lot from Dr. Craig, and I want to thank you and thank him for this. I hope that there is going to be some more understanding and some more thinking among all of us on this very important question we have addressed tonight.

Conclusion for this speech:
I knew in advance that the First Cause and Fine Tuning /Design arguments for the existence of God were full of holes. Several years ago, I picked up the Philosophy of Religion CD from The Teaching Company. Prof. James Hall laid out there how each is said to fail. This debate did not change my understanding of the fundamental arguments, but aided me in identifying the sophistry and smoke-blowing that someone like WLC can slather on top to make it look like a cake.

The argument to Objective Moral Values is one that I was less familiar with. It suffers from the two main defects already mentioned - It is "circular on it's face", and that objective moral values don't exist. Makes it hard to take seriously.

Craig's last two arguments are the weakest, but maybe the two that most believers identify with. Jesus' resurrection is still just hearsay at best, utter fabrication at worst. I tend to think that it's a legend that was constructed to give Jesus - a great local teacher - the same status as other recent - and competing - deities. Personal experience is, as mentioned, extraordinarily weak as support for the cumulative case for God.

Pigliucci's arguments for naturalism are in the right ballpark - let me see if I can summarize. He makes a case for naturalism - fair enough. He cites problems of evil, in theism (believing that something beyond matter and energy exist); of morality and of Christianity in general; as well as rebuts Design and Fine Tuning.

Comparing the two styles, by reviewing the written transcripts only, it seems like Craig's five arguments are neatly arranged and well rehearsed. Pigliucci's positive arguments for a naturalistic world view were not neatly organized or ordered, making the first couple of segments indirect and less effective. I thought his second rebuttal and his closing remarks were both good. This may have been due to necessity, but it was more effective.

I still don't think this was a blowout for Dr. Craig. If I were scoring it like a boxing match, then the first two rounds go to Craig, and the last two go to Pigliucci. Now, the first two rounds contain the vast majority of the content, and they were first, so there are extra points for overall quality and first impression. Make this a 38-36 win for Craig.

Dr. Craig's Closing Statements - an exemplar of organization

I've finally arrived at the closing statements for the 1995 Dr. William Lane Craig - Dr. Massimo Pigliucci debate on "Does God Exist?"

Now, Dr. Craig's's closing statement:

I certainly hope you've enjoyed the debate as much as I have this evening! It's been a very stimulating exchange, I think.

Second Question

Argument from Imperfections

First, what arguments have we seen that falsify the hypothesis that God exists? Well, in the last speech we basically heard again the so called "imperfection argument." But, here, I think, it became evident from Dr. Pigliucci's comments that his arguments are based on the false assumption that according to theism the world is perfect. Frankly, I can't imagine where he got that idea. As Christians, we believe God is perfect, but not that the world is perfect. Look at Genesis, as God saw that the creation was "good."24 And I think it certainly is good! But the idea that it is a perfectly functioning machine is no part of Christian theology or theism. And without that assumption his whole argument evaporates.
Dr. C still keeps hammering with "what arguments have we seen that falsify the hypothesis that God exists?". This is at least the third time he's said this. I wonder if a debate opponent has ever thrown up their arms and exclaimed "Are you stoopid? How many times do we have to tell you that we have no responsibility for falsifying your delusional claims?!?"

As for Craig's claim that "God is perfect, but the universe doesn't have to be" - yes, I get that. God works in mysterious ways, he created a universe that looks exactly as if he doesn't exist. Crafty fucker, ain't he? Looks like he's almost as big a trickster as Loki is.

God - apparently
As for the argument concerning evolution, he misquoted me. He said there is no consensus that human beings would not have evolved by chance. My argument from Barrow and Tipler said that there is a consensus among every evolutionary biologists that sentient life which is comparable to homo sapiens in information-processing ability is so improbable that it's unlikely to have evolved anywhere else in the visible universe. And, therefore, you cannot use evolution as an argument against theism. On the contrary, evolution is actually an argument for theism because it is so improbable that it's unlikely to have occurred in the absence of a supervising Designer.
This is nonsense. If Barrow and Tipler had said something that changed the general understanding of the world, we'd all be singing the praises of Barrow and Tipler and shaking our heads at how wrong everyone else was. That's clearly not the case.

It sounds as if he's retreated to a deist conception of God. How does he defend this?

Pragmatic Argument for Naturalism

Finally, he argued that naturalism is tested everyday, and it works. I would say that it only tests that there are natural laws. But that's consistent with the idea that there is a Creator who has made a universe that functions normally according to natural laws.
I guess we should start calling this "The Argument From Loki".

The idea of a creator - as articulated in this debate by Dr. Craig - is not resolved at all. On the theistic view, God could have created the universe any way it pleased, yet chose to create it so that it looks as if it had absolutely nothing to do with it. Why does it hide behind a framework that gives every indication that no intervention by any entity was ever involved? Why does nature never give any indication that anything supernatural, no matter how un-omni-anything, is going on? Oh, I forgot - It must be part of God's plan.

So none of these arguments provide good grounds for thinking that the God hypothesis is false. In fact what has emerged from this aspect of the debate are two arguments for the existence of God in addition to the five I gave, namely, (1) the argument from evolution and (2) the argument from the existence of evil. So I thank Dr. Pigliucci for giving me two additional arguments on my side of the debate for the existence of God tonight!
For the umpteenth time, Craig swings this "none of these arguments provide good grounds for thinking that the God hypothesis is false" tack hammer to drive a bridge piling. As long as human beings think that any mythical nonsense is valid until proven false, delusional nonsense of this sort is free to propagate throughout the world. This may be the single most compelling reason to reject belief in the supernatural - the crippling effect it has on the human intellect.

First Question

Now what about reasons that verify the God hypothesis?

First Argument

First, I argued that God is required by the origin of the universe. We saw that whatever begins to exist has a cause; the universe began to exist; and, therefore, there must be a transcendent, personal cause of the universe.
We saw that this is wrong.

Refer to the following:

...or Google it!
Second Argument

Secondly, I argued that complex order of the initial conditions of the universe points to God as a Designer over the universe. And here Dr. Pigliucci now says that "This is such a waste of space! The universe is so large!" Not at all! These stellar spaces are necessary in order for the stars to cook up the heavy elements which are necessary for the existence of life on Earth; and in order to be that old the universe would have expand 15 billion years. So the size of the universe is related to the age of the stars, which is related to the furnaces necessary to make the elements requisite for intelligent life. And, frankly, as a theist I may argue that there may be life elsewhere in the universe that God has created. How do we know that it is wasted space? Perhaps God has created life elsewhere. But wherever life exists, it all depends upon that fine-tuning present in the Big Bang itself, which no one has been able to explain by chance.
Audacious of Dr. Craig to claim that this universe, that looks exactly as if it came from a small hot dense mass of quarks and gluons 13.7 billion years ago, somehow needed "an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power which created the universe. Moreover, I would argue, it must also be personal.".
The refutations of fine-tuning and the design arguments are many:
...or Google It!
Third Argument

Thirdly, objective moral values exist. Again, we saw that in the absence of God we are left with moral nihilism: there is no right and wrong. If you do believe that there are objective moral values, then, I think, you will agree with me that God exists.
A shining example of appealing to emotions. We were never treated to any demonstration of, or proof that objective moral values exist. He just appeals to the very common attitude that some things are just plain wrong, and that everyone shares that exact same set of attitudes.
...or Google the mother!!!
Fourth Argument

Finally, with respect to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, I think I showed that the resurrection is the best explanation of those three facts recognized by the majority of New Testament scholars today.
Lack of evidence, anyone? Just to get your mind warmed up, visit the Wikipedia page on The Historicity and origin of the Resurrection of Jesus. Since the Resurrection is really a claim to fact, the discussion is less about sound arguments, and more about the existence of cold hard, undeniable evidence. Since there is none, this is a less persuasive argument in my eyes.

I noted earlier in the series, and even the tepidly curious can independently verify, that Paul (Saul of Tarsus) is the earliest writer of Christian literature, circa 49-51 AD, or about 20 years after Jesus' passing. Another twenty years pass before we see Gospels written in the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and (later) John. No contemporary civil records exist - the facts of his childhood as related in the Synoptic Gospels do not match each other and the historical record - the historical references to Jesus come late in the First Century, and none have independent verification associated with them. For all anyone knows, it's a complete fabrication, although considering it a local legend is the most charitable interpretation I can give it.
Fifth Argument

Finally, the immediate experience of God. Let me just say this: I wasn't raised in a Christian home or a church-going family. But when I became a teenager, I began to ask the big questions in life--about the meaning of life and death--,and in the search for answers I began to read the New Testament. And I discovered in the person of Jesus a figure that just arrested and captivated me. His words had the ring truth about them. And after a period of about six months of the most intense soul-searching--to make a long story short--, I just gave my life to God, and I experienced a sort of inner rebirth. God became an immediate living reality in my life, a reality that has never left me. And I would just challenge you: if you would like to know God in that sort of way yourself, begin to do what I did. Read the New Testament. I believe it could change your life in the same way that it changed mine.
Dr. Craig has dispensed with debating and is simply preaching here.

I'm glad that Dr. Craig is not the mass-murderer that I can only assume he would be without an abiding belief in a supernatural sky-daddy, but this is unquestionably his weakest argument.

The universe is indifferent, incapable of caring about what we think. Dr. Craig's personal feelings, no matter how broadly people sympathize with them, are irrelevant, thus useless as an argument.

Dr. Pigliucci's 2nd rebuttal - a new hope

We're (thankfully!) nearing the end of my review of the 1995 Dr. William Lane Craig - Dr. Massimo Pigliucci debate on "Does God Exist?"

Dr. Pigliucci's second rebuttal:

Thank you. First of all, let me remind the audience of the dynamics of this debate. The reason I'm not answering directly the last few things that you just heard is because I'm using my previous notes and responding to Dr. Craig's previous arguments. There's a time lag here. We would need an infinite number of rebuttals to go through all this, and I don't think even your patience is going to be that lasting. The other thing is, I really didn't drop arguments. Once that I stated an argument once I think that's enough. You can think about it, and we can talk about it later, and you can ask questions. I'm trying to move on and respond to some of the other arguments; so if I'm not going back over and over to the same points, it's because I'd rather use my time in order to make new points, if that's possible.

I wonder, as an audience member, how I would react to this paragraph within the flow of the fast-paced 90 minute discourse? Would it sound as if Dr. P is in fact dropping points, and just seeks to preemptively defend it? Is it a whine?

I have the luxury of poring over the debater's word for several months. I can spend an hour on a single phrase, if I so desire. I can spend as much time as I want, trying to understand what was said, what had meaning, what was crap, how the speakers might have framed and controlled the debate to their advantage, how the total presentation had an effect on the audience, how different demographics within the audience might have responded. The single audience member does not have that luxury or desire, and thus, may rely on shortcuts to arrive at agreement, disagreement or indifference to the speaker's case.

I heard it said recently that people hear half of what you say, and understand half of what they heard. Twenty-five percent. What part makes an impression? It's a consideration that we non-debaters don't have to make.

Personally, knowing what I know after reading this far, I'd have the following strategy for Dr. Craig:

  • know Craig's five arguments and rebut them economically
  • limit my positive case for non-belief to three or four clear points (e.g. Naturalism, the problem of evil, Occam's razor)
  • Relentlessly criticize Craig's arguments, relentlessly promote and clarify your arguments (duh!)
  • don't let Craig lie, equivocate or move the goal posts
  • don't apologize or spend much time trying to convince the audience you're a good guy. You only have a limited amount of time for each statement, use it wisely.

More Dr. P:

Second Question

Argument from Imperfections

Okay, now let me go back to some of Dr. Craig's previous points. He had a field day with my falsifying God arguments. He said that, "Well, of course, it's true that we live in an imperfect universe. So what? Imperfection is not incompatible with God." Oh, darn, I was raised Catholic, and I was taught that God was perfect! Now somebody is telling me that from a Christian point of view there is no problem with imperfection! Well, I find that hard to believe. It doesn't really fit with what I've learned about the Christian God. But maybe I was wrong on this.

This is a funny anecdote, but I don't know whether the general Catholic believes in God's perfection the way Dr. P describes. The on-line Catholic literature is not unanimous. In many cases, the idea of God's alleged perfection is not even addressed.

Dr. Craig said that we presume to know what God wants. No, we don't. We're just asking the question. And, again, if the answer is, "I don't know," I'm afraid that the theistic position is on the weak side because--think about it: why is it that everybody is here tonight? I'm sure that each person has a different, particular reason for being here tonight, but what I think probably unifies this audience, including the speakers, the moderator, and everybody, is that we have a great curiosity of finding out what's going on in the rest of the universe--which means that we need to be answering questions. So, yes, we are trying to inquire into the mind of God--that's the whole point of the debate--, and if you say that the mind of God is closed and that there is no way to it, well, that's the end of the debate. You can keep your faith, of course; that's obviously your prerogative, but you have not advanced by a single iota the knowledge that human beings have about the universe and their place in it.

This written transcript is hard to argue with. It sums up to "we wouldn't be here debating if the existence of God were an unambiguous, undeniable fact about the universe."

Let's go back to this numerological stuff. All these probabilities--for example, the probability of the evolution of human beings--, are being really twisted around. There is absolutely no consensus that human beings are so highly improbable that they couldn't possibly evolve. No evolutionary biologist has ever said that. What they mean by this is that human beings are simply one possible outcome of several possible evolutionary trajectories. Say that there are millions of possible trajectories that could have started billions of years ago when life on earth originated; what they mean by "improbable" is that probably only a few of these trajectories would actually lead to something comparable to human beings. So what? If instead of having human beings around here, say, for example, 65 million years ago, the dinosaurs did not go extinct because a meteor did not happen to strike them, well, we would have a nice assembly of reptiles tonight talking about the fact that there are these little creatures called mammals that somehow have failed to evolve and that used to be competitors for us dinosaurs. So that's what biologists mean by saying that we are improbable, meaning that the specific results that you're looking at are improbable. That doesn't mean anything at all in terms of "Therefore it couldn't have happened." Of course, it could have happened! We know how it happened, and it did happen! We're here, but it could have happened in a variety of other ways, all equally probable. It wouldn't have mattered at all to the rest of the universe.

Once again, this makes perfect sense to me.

Speaking of the rest of the universe, we finally got that it is highly improbable that the universe as a whole originated the way it is. Therefore, there obviously is one very implausible universe that can carry life. As I said, that's actually a very difficult argument to make on probabilistic grounds. But let's assume that that is the case; let's assume that, yes, it is highly improbable that life as we know it on Earth originated in any other kind of universe. And that, again, should be the evidence for what kind of designer? Think about it. If you know anything about astronomy, if you have ever seen any documentary on astronomy, you know there are a hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone, and the latest count is of about a hundred billion galaxies (and that's probably a gross underestimate) in the rest of the universe. And all of this for us? I think that this is really presumptuous. Think of the waste, if you are a designer! What kind of design are you doing? You are throwing away not 99, but 99.99 and so on--I could on with 9's for the rest of the evening!--percent of what you've done just to produce us! And what a result, anyway--no offense, of course! I'm part of that design, too.

Again, Dr. Pigliucci is making sense to me. It seems that these last three paragraphs are a nice summary refutation of the design argument.

Pragmatic Argument for Naturalism

Dr. Craig also pointed out that naturalism works in practice but in fact never tests its own assumptions. I tend to disagree. There are several scientists that also take that position--in other words, that a naturalistic explanation of the world is a fundamental assumption of science, and therefore everything else derives from it. I think that is really flawed. It is an assumption obviously. I mean every time that I am in my office and, for example, a student presents me the results of an experiment, usually that student comes out with an explanation for that experiment--like why did this plant flower today as opposed to in a month--that does not invoke any particular kind of God. No student comes to me and says that's because God did it! And I wouldn't accept that kind of explanation. Why? Not because it was impossible, but because, again, we need very convincing arguments that that's the case, because we know fairly well how hormones work in plants and why plants flower earlier or later. That explanation is sufficient to me. That doesn't mean that there are no other explanations that are possible and, in fact, even explanations that are true. But how do we know?

Well, one way to know is one day I find a plant that has a behavior that is totally and completely opposite to any biological, chemical, and physical law that we know of.. Then I would have to seriously question the naturalistic assumption. If we were living in a universe that had no predictability or a lower level of predictability, in which miracles pop out at any particular moment without any warning, then the naturalistic assumption would not work, and the universe would make much less sense than it does now. The reason the universe is predictable, I would think, is because the naturalistic assumption works. The moment the universe will stop behaving as we think it's supposed to behave, then you have positive proof and positive evidence of a supernatural explanation. So far I haven't seen it. Thank you.

I just don't have any criticism or insight to add here - this **continues** to make sense. I mentioned somewhere back that Luke Muehlhauser had rated this debate as ugly, but this 2nd rebuttal from Dr. Pigliucci seems to be very solid. Unfortunately, Luke seems to be shutting down Common Sense Atheism, and migrating some material to, so I can't find the reviews at the moment.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Repeating the arguments, again.

As I continue this rocket sled to oblivion, today's offering in the review of the 1995 debate on "Does God Exist" between Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Pigliucci, held at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, is Dr. Craig's Second Rebuttal.

Dr. Craig:

Second Question

The absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. For example, we have no positive evidence of an early inflationary era in the history of the universe, and yet if you look at many cosmologists, they believe that such an inflationary era actually existed. The absence of evidence is not a proof that it did not exist. And over and over again in the arguments Dr. Pigliucci offered to falsify the God hypothesis, he came back to me by saying that I haven't carried the burden of proof. But his objections, he claims, falsify God. Now if that's true, he's got to carry his share of the burden of proof. All I have to do is show that these objections are inconclusive.

The phrase "The absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence" in this context is just silly. To those paying attention, Dr. Pigliucci doesn't say there's no evidence - he says that naturalism explains what used to be explained by God; that evil, morality and Christianity all have inherent problems when backed up with the God concept most of us assume is being claimed - creator of the universe, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omni benevolent, infinitely just, eternal, etc. Although Craig's target demographic will nod and think "right on!", Dr. Craig is just highlighting that there is an absence of evidence that should leave people with no reason to think anything supernatural is going on, ergo no God.

Regarding Dr. C's jab at the inflationary epoch, it's hard to tell whether it's worth rebutting. If it is valuable and if he has time, Dr. Pigliucci should point out that "inflationary epoch" is a proposition by some scientists to explain how the universe came to look like it does now. It is not a claim to fact in the same sense that Craig claims for God. The two claims differ in their ability to describe the world.

Looked at a different way, "inflationary epoch" is part of a model constructed to fit the observational evidence, and is indicated by other observational evidence and mathematical calculation. "God" is a model that is built on a lack of understanding, and fits no observational evidence. It can be used by the unscrupulous, however, to make money and exercise power - so it's got that going for it.

More Dr. Craig:

Argument from Imperfections

So, for example, take his argument from imperfection. I responded with three points: (1) He assumes a static theory of creation, but creationists accept microevolution. He didn't respond to that point. (2) I said that it assumes to know what God would do, which is presumptuous. And he says that's true, but we must have an answer. No, not at all; it's he who thinks you have to be able to presume what God would create if He existed to carry the objection. I'm the one here to say, "I don't know, and you don't know; therefore the objection is inconclusive." (3) I said perfection is a relative term. A watch which doesn't function perfectly is still designed. He didn't respond to that.

I then gave the argument from evolution and pointed out that apart from God it's just too improbable to think that natural selection and genetic mutations could have resulted in the sort of biological complexity that we see. He didn't deny the point; he just said that I didn't quote biologists. But notice, he didn't deny the calculations or the point. In fact, Barrow Tipler in that same book reported that there's a consensus among evolutionary biologists today that the life of comparable information-processing ability to homo sapiens is so improbable that it's unlikely to evolve anywhere else in the visible universe.{1} That's what they report as a consensus among biologists today.

The previous two paragraphs might appeal to someone steeped in the minutiae of debate technique, but aren't immediately enlightening to the average man on the street. Maybe that's why he does it. The net effect is to make it sound as if Pigliucci drools, Craig rules. A case in point: Craig attacks Pigliucci for not responding to Craig's rebuttal point #1 to Pigliucci's "argument from imperfection". Joe six-pack won't care. Joe six-pack probably won't even hear the words as much as he hears the tone of voice and gets a general impression that Pigliucci has no answer to Craig on some point that sounds important.

We have - by virtue of having the written transcripts of the debate and an extensive amount of time in which to consider the debaters arguments, rhetoric and debate tactics - the luxury of slowly and carefully considering what was said, so that we can absorb, assimilate and analyze the validity, truth, soundness and the persuasiveness of the overall presentation.

The big arguments have been laid out. The big objections have been offered. Now we're being subjected to second-order arguments, objections, and debate technicalities that do not clarify our understanding of the proposition being debated. If the big arguments and objections are not persuasive because of their clarity, truth content, and rational support, these more indirect nits are unlikely to be of value.

Still more Dr. Craig:

Other Objections

He dropped his regression argument, dropped his "Naturalism works" argument, dropped his Problem of Evil argument, dropped his Noah's Ark argument. So I hope that you've not seen any persuasive reasons tonight to think that the God hypothesis is false. Dr. Pigliucci has simply failed to falsify that hypothesis.

Debate insiders will be impressed by this. Layman will probably have a vague feeling that Craig has shown that Pigliucci is retreating like a whipped dog. It is up to Pigliucci to reverse this. So Dr. Craig get's to say "Dr. Pigliucci has simply failed to falsify that hypothesis" - which may have a persuasive effect. In fact, Dr. Pigliucci does not owe anyone falsification of a hypothesis since he is not making the affirmative proposition. It is the proposition's claimant that must present the test(s) that proves the hypothesis. This has never been done anywhere, let alone by Dr. Craig. Remember - the universe was created by a Twinkie, you can't disprove that.

Even more Dr. Craig:

First Question

Now what about my reasons for believing in the existence of God?

Normally I wouldn't comment on a single sentence in-line, but it's worth pointing out here that he says he's giving reasons for why he believes in God, not reasons that make a "powerful cumulative case for the existence of God" as he claimed he would do at the start of the debate. Is he expecting this to appear in court and he's establishing plausible deniability? ;p

Return of Dr. Craig:

First Argument

(1) The origin of the universe. Here he admits the premises that Whatever begins to exist has a cause, and that The universe began to exist. "But why," he says, "think that the cause is God?" I gave the arguments in my first speech. I showed that it deductively follows from a cause of space and time that the cause must be timeless and spaceless. Therefore it cannot be anything physical and material that transcends time and space. It must be changeless. And I argued that it must be personal because otherwise you cannot explain how a temporal effect can originate from an impersonal, timeless cause. And he didn't refute any of those arguments. So I think in the formulation of the argument that I gave I answered all of his objections.

. . . . . . y a w n . . . . . . yeah, isn't the Argument from First Cause fabulous? I particularly like 1) that a spaceless timeless thingamabob exists; 2) it's personal. There's just such a mountain of evidence that such things exist. We non-professionals would do well to familiarize ourselves with this Iron Chariots page on First Cause.

Son of the dawn of Dr. Craig:

Second Argument

(2) What about the complex order in the universe? I explained the theory of probability. I did show why his example of the people in the room is a flawed analogy. "But," he says, "Look, there's no basis for these calculations. We don't know that these things are really improbable." What he's really suggesting to you here is that somehow a life-permitting universe is necessary, that if we knew of some Theory of Everything, we would see that life necessarily exists. And that is an enormously implausible hypothesis. Paul Davies, the astrophysicist, says,

There is absolutely no evidence in favor of it. . . . Even if the laws of physics were unique, it doesn't follow that the physical universe itself is unique. . . . the laws of physics must be augmented by cosmic initial conditions. . . . There is nothing in present ideas about 'laws of initial conditions' remotely to suggest that their consistency with the laws of physics would imply uniqueness. Far from it.
. . . it seems, then, that the physical universe does not have to be the way it is: it could have been otherwise.{2}

And, in fact, as I said, when you alter those constants, those conditions, those laws, you find out that we are balancing on a knife's edge. The origin of the universe is like the Empire State Building's popping into existence out of nothing. That's what the atheistic hypothesis is like, if they believe this really just happened by chance. And I find the design hypothesis far more plausible.

Dr. Craig really likes to throw jargon out there to see if it sticks. He claims to have "explained the theory of probability"., not in this debate he didn't. We can confirm that by reviewing his opening statement and his first rebuttal. So this statement is false, and does not add to his case. Now, it may be that the uncritical folks will nod their heads and say "yes Dr. Craig, we believe what you say", but that is not the same as making a factual claim. So he might have been persuasive, but he was not telling the truth.

Dr. Craig also says "What he's [Pigliucci] really suggesting to you here is somehow a life-permitting universe is necessary" - I presume so that he can put words in Dr. Pigliucci's mouth and offer a canned response. The term "necessary" is also identifiably philosopher-speak. He ignores the fact that we can exist only where conditions permit, which points out how backward this argument is constructed. Depending on how Dr. P mentally ranks this in importance, this is worth a brief rejoinder.

The most mystifying bit of jumbo-jumbo is the word salad from Paul Davies. I think it's an argument against the necessary existence of life. Same rebuttal applies - regardless what the a priori probability is, arrived at using whatever variables you choose, the answer is irrelevant once the a posteriori conclusion (life exists) is observed. If that's not what he's blowing hot air about, then maybe the people in the front row were cold. I can't tell. It comes off sounding like an elaborately-constructed straw man argument. Dr. Craig still gets to make a claim (however irrelevant it may be) that comes from someone who (he makes it sound like) should know what they're talking about. It can add to the persuasiveness, if not to the truth value of his cumulative case.

If it sounds like I'm separating the "persuasiveness" aspect of the debate from the aspect that counts truth, sound and valid as it's focus, I am. As our friend jimfoster from The Uncredible Hallq comments pointed out, the idea is to persuade, truth is optional.

Bride of Dr. Craig:

Third Argument

(3) What about objective morality? Here Dr. Pigliucci is clearly in a deep existential dilemma: he affirms that morality is not objective--it is the invention of human beings--, but he cannot bring himself to say that therefore anything goes. He wants to cling to moral values. But, you see, for an atheist these values are floating in the air: they have no objective basis. On atheism moral values are just social conventions. You could have chosen to go on the red and stop on the green. They're just human inventions, the byproducts of socio-biological evolution. But that means that a society like Nazi Germany or South Africa, where apartheid was practiced, or what happened in Cambodia in the killing fields, that those aren't morally wrong, that is, they are morally indifferent. And I, at least, cannot bring myself to believe that. It seems to me far more plausible that there is objective right and wrong; for example, torturing babies for fun is wrong. And if you agree with me tonight that that is objectively morally wrong, then you would agree with me that therefore God exists. For he admits that if we have no God, these things are not objectively wrong, but they're human conventions.

This paragraph is fascinating. We can do an entire blog post on this one alone.

The argument from the existence of Object Moral Values is circular to begin with ... it introduced a premise that is as contentious as the existence of God, and that relies on the existence of the proposition being (supposedly) supported to warrant its own promotion from mere conjecture to fact-that-is-worthy-of-supporting-an-argument-for-God.

Having said that this argument is circular several times already, let's continue. Craig claims that Pigliucci has a moral dilemma ... a claim that he, Craig, alone fabricates. The dilemma that he fabricated is that, by denying that objective moral values exist, that Pigliucci must ... MUST say "... therefore anything goes". Dr. P is not constrained by any such thing. Dr. Craig's whole sub-case (can't really call it an argument any more) boils down to "Christians are moral, atheists are not, don't believe a word of biology, sociology or evolution". The dog whistle is strong with this one! He has never made a sound argument that objective moral values exist; even if he could, he then has to make the case that those objective moral values come from some source; even if he could do THAT he needs to make the case that God exists; even if he could do THAT he has to tie the existence of objective moral values to God. He hasn't done a bit of that at all.

Son of the bride of the dawn of Dr. Craig:

Fourth Argument

(4) What about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? Here he asks, "Why think that Jesus was special?" Very simply: because of the evidence for his resurrection! No other founder of any religion in history has had such a thing claimed of him. "But," he says, "Isn't it arbitrary to believe in a miracle in this case if you don't believe in miracles in many other cases?" Not at all! You should believe in a miracle, I think, when (1) No naturalistic explanation of the facts is available that plausibly explains the facts, and (2) There is a supernatural explanation suggested in the religio-historical context in which the event occurred. The resurrection of Jesus is significant not just because anyone or someone rose from the dead, but because Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed to be the absolute revelation from God, rose from the dead. And what is significant is that Dr. Pigliucci hasn't been able to deny any of those three facts that the majority of New Testament critics hold to today: the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the disciples' faith. Those are the historical facts. Now you can pursue agnosticism if you want. You can just say "Well, I don't know the explanation." But I certainly think a Christian is within his rights to say, "You know, it looks to me like those men were telling the truth," that the best explanation is that Jesus did rise from the dead. So you can remain agnostic if you want to, but it seems to me that as a historian I'm certainly within my rational rights to say the best explanation is that Jesus rose from the dead.

This paragraph uncovers an exhortation to ignorance that is worth commenting on.

First, we're back to "Dr. Craig claims the resurrection happened". We don't have any evidence whatsoever that this happened, contrary to Dr. Craig's claim. The Bible claims it happened, but we know that the first person to comment on the event, and whose written record exists that we can refer to - Paul - did not claim to have known Jesus, and did not make claims to the physical facts of his life and death (i.e. no reference to the empty tomb). There is no doubt that Paul believed that Jesus was resurrected, but it was up to later authors, the folks that wrote and edited Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, to fill out the details. This does not bode well for the claim of resurrection, as it appears that the physical events are unknown to Paul at the time of his writing. Claims that historians wrote of Jesus ignore the fact that the historians apparently relied on the same sources, so knowing whether there was independent verification is impossible. All we can say with strong confidence is that the STORY was compelling and memorable.

The "exhortation to ignorance" is "You should believe in a miracle, I think, when (1) No naturalistic explanation of the facts is available that plausibly explains the facts, and (2) There is a supernatural explanation suggested in the religio-historical context in which the event occurred." If you don't know of an explanation, claim ghosts did it.

Finally, Dr. Craig concludes:

Fifth Reason

(5) Finally, the immediate experience of God has not even been discussed tonight in this debate. But I think one can know immediately that God exists as well.

I think Dr. P is being polite by not attacking Dr. CraIg's belief personally ... but "knowing" is not what we humans do. We feel certainty, we believe, we can be certain of events that leave a physical piece of evidence (a burn scar on a finger), but not much else. This is still the weakest argument for the existence of God, but the one that, I'm guessing, resonates most with the believer. I can understand not attacking it - it has almost infinitesimally low explanatory power, and it is probably not worth alienating people that believe in God primarily because of a similar personal experience.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The home stretch

The next few debate posts will probably be even briefer than the last one, as there is not much more to be learned in the final four segments. In the second rebuttal for each participant, Dr. Craig will refocus on his five arguments, hammering away at the same sub arguments that he started with. Dr. Pigliucci will open his second rebuttal with a disclaimer that the lag time between Craig's argument and his rebuttal makes it appear that he's not addressing Dr. Craig, then he proceeds to defend against Dr. C's attacks on his argument from imperfections and "pragmatic argument from naturalism". Dr. Craig's closing argument addresses these last two arguments against the God hypothesis, then recaps each of his own five arguments. Dr. Pigliucci, speaking last, opens by restating the burden of proof (good for him), then mounts a brief final attack on the design argument, the argument from Objective Moral Values and the argument from personal experience.

I came into this little project with a distinct bias - some of it received from other atheist critiques of Dr. Craig, some of it developed through watching videos of his debates. That bias is that Dr. Craig knows how to win debates. Getting into the details has been interesting, but the "cumulative case for the existence of God" is being made mostly by the persuasive power of Dr. Craig - not by any new evidence or profound philosophical insight.

I retain grudging respect for Dr. Craig's ability as a debater, but it has opened my eyes to the unscrupulous tactics being used by one of the (allegedly) most prominent Christian apologists in the world today. As I head into the home stretch on this little project, I hope to have learned from this exercise - what to expect from a theist, what to respond with and how as an atheist. If I can do that, then this will have been all worthwhile.

Attacking Design arguments - again

Today I'll wing through Dr. Massimo Pigliucci's First Rebuttal as part of my on-going review of the 1995 debate on "Does God Exist" between Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Pigliucci, held at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Dr. Pigliucci begins:

My response is going to be: "Show me one." Until you show me one, you cannot accuse me of being close-minded because I don't want to consider or acknowledge the existence of unicorns. I'll consider it; but before I'll acknowledge it, you have to come up with a positive argument.

I have no idea what Dr. P is referring to here ... I presume that this is a misplaced part of the transcription.

This next section is marked as addressing Dr. Craig's First Argument. As before, I presume it is labeled so by Dr. Craig or one of his associates to allow the reader to relate his opponent's words to Dr. Craig's original arguments.

First Argument

About this origin of the universe thing: Dr. Craig said that the universe has a cause, and it has a beginning. As far as I know, that is true (and I am qualifying this because astronomers and cosmologists do change their mind quite often, and things have changed in the last 20 or 30 years, so I wouldn't bet my life on these things). But let us assume that in fact the universe had a beginning and in fact the universe had to have a cause of some sort. Well, that does not imply by any means that that cause was what we refer commonly to as God. It only means that there was some kind of cause that we really don't know much about. It doesn't imply by any stretch of the imagination that that cause was conscious, that it had supernatural powers, that it has omnipresence, omniscience, and all the other "omnis" that you want. The two things simply don't follow. It only means that there is a cause, O.K.? Dr. Craig said that therefore that implies that there is a personal agent. And once again I'm asking, "Dr. Craig, where does this agent come from?" Why does he think it was personal as opposed to impersonal? After all, we might not be that far from each other because scientists do agree that there must have been a cause and that cause probably was impersonal. It's just a matter of defining what you mean by "cause."

Dr. Pigliucci is addressing Craig's Argument from First Cause, and I agree with the substance of his criticism. He accepts that the universe has a cause. He doesn't' accept that the cause is God. He doesn't think the omni-whatever characteristics that Craig asserts are necessary, and he doesn't see the "personal" nature of the cause as necessary. I agree with all of those things wholeheartedly.

What I have a problem with is the way that Dr. Pigliucci says them. Even through a printed transcript, devoid of visual or aural cues, Dr. P comes across as indirect and even unsure. Case in point: "About this origin of the universe thing" ... He comes across there as cavalier, maybe even flippant. I would give anything to see a video of this so that I could tell! Case 2: he spends several sentences saying "Dr. Craig and I both agree the universe had a beginning, which implies a cause". He spends several more sentences that could have been replaced with "Nothing Dr. Craig presented indicates that the cause was any conscious agent, let alone God" - he could elaborate on criticisms of Dr. C's preferred God from there.

Pet peeve: the phrase "It only means that there is a cause, O. K.?" is what makes him sound unsure to me. I wouldn't be fishing for approval. Omit the "O.K?" and we're good.

My comments so far don't address the effectiveness of Dr. Pigliucci in rebutting Dr. Craig's claims in the context of the agreed upon debate format. There are - and should have been all along - some common aspects of the debate we want to keep in mind. I've concentrated on "conversational" aspects: the style and organization, whether sentences or paragraphs make sense, how a layman like me detects strength or weakness in an argument, whether an obvious fallacy or lie was committed. I've been less concerned with technical debate aspects up until now, because I was more familiar with the arguments themselves at the outset of this venture. Now that I'm more familiar with Dr. Craig's tactics and the content of his arguments, I can see how the relative speaking and debate-specific skills come into play.

More Dr. P:

Second Argument

Let's go back to the complexity of the universe and the balance of the initial conditions. As I said before, it's really hard to estimate probabilities. These estimates that Dr. Craig referred to as the Anthropic Principle are really, really wild. If you ask a lot of physicists, as I have done, they'll tell you that those calculations really have no basis whatsoever. We simply don't know. We don't know enough. It's very easy to pull out of the hat any kind of number that shows that something is highly improbable. I don't know if you have noticed, but Dr. Craig keeps presenting these probabilistic arguments--for example, for the probability of the evolution of humans. And the people that he cites are either physicists or chemists, not biologists. Don't you find that peculiar? I mean, the problem there is this: I don't feel qualified as an evolutionary biologist to go into a physicist's lab and tell him how the atom works. That's not my job; that's the physicists' job. I find it peculiar, on the other hand, that physicists and chemists have no problem whatever getting into the field of biology, counting out their numbers out of their hats, and not furnishing any good reason for doing that. It is their prerogative, of course, to do that--inquiries are open to everybody--, but you have to have solid reasoning to do that.

I would have attacked the fine-tuning argument with something simple: "Dr. Craig throws out all these impressive-sounding statistics while ignoring the simple fact that we can live only where the conditions permit". I would attack the thinking, and ignore the numbers altogether. Taking a Douglass Adams / puddle tack would be light-hearted and effective, whereas going down the probabilities and statistics hole is not for your average man on the street.

Dr. Pigliucci:

By the way, I'd like to mention that you should never believe something just because somebody says it, no matter how important or famous that person is. Case in point: Dr. Craig has cited a couple of times Fred Hoyle. Fred Hoyle is a very well- respected and known British astronomer. He came up with quite a few bizarre ideas throughout his career. In fact, he came up with so many bizarre ideas in his career that the British Astronomical Association gave him, and only to him, a medal for the highest number of wrong theories proposed in a career. Notice that that is an important fact because Fred Hoyle, for example, was one of the people that opposed the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe, and the British Astronomical Association gave Fred Hoyle this medal because we do have in fact a lot of people working on the Big Bang theory, and we have learned so much about the Big Bang theory in part because so many people were upset with Hoyle when he proposed his theory. So you know, wrong proposals do have very good and positive results sometimes. That doesn't mean you should believe them.

Here again, Dr. Pigliucci is correct. He gets points from me for going after Fred Hoyle, who is an easy target to attack. I would have used a few less words, but that's all. For extra credit, a general case can be made that many of Dr. Craig's authorities are less than trustworthy - either because the citations have been cherry picked / quoted out of context - or are by people speaking outside their area of expertise.

Back to the debate:

Third Argument

Let's go back to this thing of objective morality. I think that there's a little bit of twisting and turning around here with terms. Again, it's not a matter of "Is there out there an objective morality?" We know that there isn't. There are some components of your own morality that are not shared by other human beings. So either you are pretentious enough to think that your morality for whatever reason is the only correct one, or everybody else in the world is wrong.

I think that that is pretentious. Of course there are some universals that all human beings share. Just today, for example, I told my students in a biology class that there are some things that human beings and society would never approve because of the way human societies are built. One, of course, is homicide; another one, of course, is rape. However, what we call homicide or rape or, in fact, even infanticide is very, very common among different types of animals. Lions, for example, commit infanticide on a regular basis because they want to make sure that the little offspring that is being raised by the lioness is their own and not someone else's. Now, are these kinds of acts to be condoned? I don't even know what that means because the lion doesn't understand what morality is, that's for sure.

Morality is an invention of human beings. It's a very good invention. I'm not suggesting we should abandon morality. I'm not suggesting, more to the point, that we should abandon ethics. Ethics is a perfectly valid way of thinking about things. We can all agree as a society that there are things that are wrong and things that are good. We can act on them, and we can enforce those things, but there is no higher power or no higher reason to tell us that this is right or this is wrong. Unfortunately, we are on our own; that's my humble opinion. I would really like for somebody to come down from the sky and tell me what is right and what is wrong. My life would be much, much easier. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen.

Dr. P is correct again - but this could have been trimmed a bit. Overall, though, these three paragraphs get an A for correctness and a B- for style. Not bad.

Fourth Argument

How about these historical facts of Jesus that somehow Christianity explains? Well, there are a few things that I would like to bring out on that. That, obviously, is a little bit on the side of the scientific arguments. It is really difficult to do a science of history. In some cases you can do it, but certainly with a unique historical event it is difficult. That's one of the limitations of science. Science, by the way, has limitations. I hope that that will be clear from tonight' talk. I'm not advocating science as a substitute for an omnipowerful God. But there are a few things that we can surmise from what we know about the origin of mythologies and the origin of religion in general.

This opening paragraph to rebut the resurrection of Jesus is pretty meandering. It could have been simple and harsh, as in "there are no contemporaneous records of Jesus, nor of any of his apostles. Consequently, we cannot know whether Paul, Matthew, Mark and Luke were speaking of actual occurrences, or repeating campfire stories."

A demerit: I think he blows it here: "I'm not advocating science as a substitute for an omnipowerful God"


For one thing, according to Roman documents of the time, Jesus was just one among a lot of people that told people that they were prophets and were doing miracles. There were a bunch of them. He was just one of many. He probably was a particularly gifted one, and that's why his particular brand of religion eventually succeeded. But there were many; so why think that that particular one was special? Just because by historical accident it happened to be one of the most successful? So was Mohammed's, Islam is incredibly successful; in fact, it is the second most popular religion in the world. Well, are all the Muslims wrong and off track just because they happen to believe in the wrong prophet? On what basis can you make that judgment?

I think the criticism that there appeared to be a lot of "prophets" and "miracle workers" at the time is fair, but it's not persuasive to me as stated. I can see doing a few hours of research, listing instances and sources, and restating the above to include them.

Now what about these miracles? We can find a bunch of people that claimed to make miracles, that claimed to be prophets, throughout history, including today. I think you can get the address and send e-mail to people who claim to be prophets and miracle makers. Would you believe them? Well, I don't--not without seeing something really in person. Now, of course, people do claim to have seen miracles in person, but then again people also claim to have been abducted by aliens or to have seen fairies around, or gnomes, or whatever else you want. Now, by the way, even though I don't believe in UFOs and alien abductions, I think that those are much more credible than miracles. For one thing because a race of aliens coming in on Earth and interfering with our personal affairs--although you might ask, "Why would they want to do that, why would they want to travel out this way just to abduct a couple of people from the countryside of Iowa?"--this puzzlement aside, they don't violate any physical laws that I know. It may have taken them a long time to travel at subluminal speed without violating the theory of relativity to get to this planet, but they could have done it; there is no question about it. They are not violating any physical laws. Miracles do. Now there is nothing wrong with that either, and you can still believe in miracles. The problem is, you can't pick and chose; you can't think that naturalism in absence of miracles works most of the time and then when it is convenient for you a miracle happens. Because the most likely explanation for that is that something happened for which you simply don't have any other idea of what it was, and I think it's much more humble and less pretentious, if you want to use this term, to just say, "I don't know." There's nothing wrong with that. "I don't know" is much better than saying, "Well, I'm going to make up a whole story about what has happened, and this is the result of a higher being, of which I know nothing and I can know nothing."

That was drifty.

The simplest rejoinder is "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" ...also... "that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence". Throwing some Hitchens at them would be fun!

Honestly, a discussion of miracles could take more time than it's worth. If I were to take Dr. P's paragraph here for my own, I'd trim it down to focus on how miracles must be validated, and how they can be reliably attributed to God or another supernatural agent, then state that such a project has never yielded a successful result.

Argument from Imperfections

Dr. Craig finally pointed out that it is pretensions of atheists, or non-theists, as I said I prefer to be called, to guess the mind of God. Of course, it is pretentious, but it's a trick. Here is the trick. I can say I'm not pretentious enough to know the mind of God, but I still need an explanation of why God is doing things one way or the other. To simply recoil into "Well, he did it because he felt like it" or "He knows better" again is no explanation. It is not satisfying from an intellectual point of view. It may very well be true. After all, probably mice in laboratories all over the world do wonder what the heck are we doing with them, making them go round and round in circles, and testing their intelligence. They probably do that, and they certainly don't have the brain to understand what's going on. At least that's what we think. But you have to ask the question, and if the answer is, "I don't know," then I'm afraid that the theistic position is in no better shape than it was when we started.

I get what he's saying - but it seems indirect. Dr. P gets drawn in to using the term God as if it's a real, active agent in the world. I wouldn't have done that. The assertion by Dr. Craig was that the appearance of design implied a designer, and Dr. P rebutted that the design has a lot of imperfections. It makes sense to point out that the lack of perfection implies any conjectural designer appears imperfect, but I think that the right thing to do would be to change focus from the the "imperfections" and re-focus on how the universe appears just as you would expect if there were no designer.

My thoughts on Dr. Pigliucci's First Rebuttal as a whole? I think what he says holds up in a non-debate setting. If the purpose of the debate is to persuade people to adopt your view over the opponents, I don't think Dr. P does that, in spite of the fact that what he says can be supported by most rational thinkers and scientists. Dr. Craig makes his case with authority and economically ... Dr. Pigliucci seems to drift somewhat. This is something that I, as a casual street-level debater, probably need to drive out of my theism debate thinking.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A former debater shares his expertise

While reviewing and commenting on the 1995 Craig-Pigliucci debate (here and elsewhere), I ran across a nice explanation on debating by UncredibleHallq commenter jimfoster, who summarizes debate tactics for the uninitiated:

"I debated in high school. Craig debated in high school and/or college. His presentation style comes across as holdover from that training: Look good. Stand tall & straight. Speak clearly, neither too fast nor too slow. Be the incarnation of confidence and scholarly appearance. Be well organized with arguments streamlined in advance. Keep arguments few, simple and crystal clear. Real evidence and real logic are acceptable but you can let them play second fiddle to persuasion. Invoke authority. Use "most experts agree". Don’t give anything up. Most counter arguments may be ignored. Tell the audience what you are going to tell them; then tell them; then tell them what you told them. The point is to win the debate. If you also happen to be right that’s OK, too. Student debate clubs are not hot beds of critical thinking. Craig curls my toes."

With this in mind, it might worth my while to spend less time micro-analyzing the style and tactics of the two debate participants, and focus more on

  1. "are the arguments good or bad, and why?"
  2. "do the counter-arguments refute the arguments, why or why not?"
  3. "are there any egregious errors, omissions or ethical transgressions that would affect the persuasiveness, validity and - hopefully - truth of the arguments and the conclusion they support?"

I think I've determined that Dr. Craig runs through his prepared material without a hitch, appears to have somewhat anticipated the objections, and has prepared responses for them. Dr. Pigliucci, while representing a position I agree with, appears, even in writing, to be less direct, his presentation doesn't flow as well, and he gives the impression of being too conciliatory of Dr. Craig, even conceding a tangential point or two that he didn't need to. This last bit is more of an opinion from me, as I can understand not wanting to offend believers. In light of the exhortation above to "Don’t give anything up", in retrospect, it's probably a mistake to do this.

Defending the Argument for Design in the Universe

In Dr. William Lane Craig's rebuttal to Dr. Massimo Pigliucci's counterarguments to the Design argument, Dr. C gives three counter-arguments: 1) the dynamic theory of creation allows for imperfections to be replaced by more perfect entities over time; 2) we can't know what God would design; 3) perfection is a relative term.

In the spirit of "what I wish I'd said", I offer the following additional thoughts: 1) "Theory of Creation" has no underlying basis on which to accept it as an explanation for the appearance of entities in the world - it requires a full explanatory edifice before it can be introduced as support for imperfect-appearing constructions; 2) invoking God while using that same sub-argument as support for the argument that he exists is circular; 3) this is just plain weaseling out of the criticism - if a human being can conceive of a more perfect design, and if God is responsible for the original design, then God is a less capable designer than we are.