Sunday, August 26, 2012

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.

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