Sunday, August 19, 2012

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.

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