Saturday, June 30, 2012

NT Notes - Mark 1 - 10

In November 2010, I set out to re-read the Bible from start to finish, from Genesis to Revelation. By the end of the year, I stumbled upon Project: The King and I - a blog by Bruce that also attempted to re-read the Bible, except in an open "book club" format. It was great fun, especially the first several months of the OT, which brought out believers and non believers in many digressions of apologia. Over all, it was civil and worthwhile, but a frequent grind. It heightened my interested in Christian apologetics - there were some elementary attempts by a few specific believers (who shall remain nameless) at defending the faith that were maddeningly inane.

That blog appears to be on hiatus now. Can't blame Bruce - this is tedious stuff. The end of the OT is a dreadful bore, and for most ex-Christians, the NT is old ground - nothing new to see. I still want to get through it, though, so I'll unearth my notes and slog through the New Testament on an infrequent basis here.

Today, a quick look at a few chapters from the Book of Matthew.

First, it should be noted that many NT scholars believe that Mark was the first Gospel written, followed by Matthew and Luke, then by John. Wikipedia, speaking about those scholars, states:

Their conclusion is largely based upon an analysis of the language and content relationship between the various books.

I believe a shallow summary would be that the "Markan Priority" view holds that Mark was written first because its verses appear in both Matthew and Luke so that it appears to be the common ancestor of both texts. Because Mark, Matthew and Luke share many points about Jesus, they are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels. John looks like it is written from an entirely different viewpoint, and for an largely different purpose and audience.

Second, there is a school of thought that places Matthew as the first Gospel written. This is called the "Matthean Priority" view, as opposed to Markan Priority. The Matthean view seeks to include the birth narrative and resurrection as fundamental, which Mark does not provide. Note that Mark 9-20 are widely believed to be later additions to the original texts, and thus make it appear that the oldest gospel says nothing of Jesus' virgin birth or resurrection - major components of the Christ mythology.

This minority view, aka "The Augustinian hypothesis":

... addresses certain fundamental points of contention surrounding the synoptic problem, such as how reliable the early Christian tradition is...

Third, and the point that jumped out at me many years ago during my escape from Christianity, is that the earliest texts written that refer to Jesus are from Paul, usually considered to be Thessalonians c. 49-51 CE:

  • First Thessalonians (ca. 51 AD)
  • Philippians (ca. 52-54 AD)
  • Philemon (ca. 52-54 AD)
  • First Corinthians (ca. 53-54 AD)
  • Galatians (ca. 55 AD)
  • Second Corinthians (ca. 55-56 AD)
  • Romans (ca. 55-58 AD)
Some scholars believe that Galatians should be dated at 49 C.E. - which is worth noting. Regardless, Paul's works appear to be a good 19-20 years before the gospels. His references to Jesus are (in my understanding, which I'll confirm upon re-reading) the product of word of mouth and/ or revelation, not personal experience with Jesus. This makes the Gospels, in my view, more decoupled from reality than I originally perceived them as a young, fervent Christian.

and now...

Matthew

This will be a light, superficial treatment that highlights the action without attempting to glean any deeper meaning.

Chapter: 1: the generations from Abraham to Joseph (through King David) are enumerated. Wonder why Joseph is included, since he's not the dad! Mary's found to be with child, an angel appears and tells Joe to chill, it's cool, Jesus is born of a virgin, just like the prophecy said. Remember to look hard for the prophecy in the OT ... It's pretty vague, as all prophecies necessarily are.

Chapter 2: explains that JC was born in Bethlehem, that Herod wants to kill the new born messiah, and that JC has to be hidden (ala Moses). There are also wise men, angels, and they move to Nazareth. Never mind that a historical Nazareth doesn't exist at that time:

In 1620 the Catholic Church purchased an area in the Nazareth basin ... This "Venerated Area" underwent extensive excavation in 1955 ... the settlement apparently came to an abrupt end about 720 BC...

Chapter 3: John the baptist, JC gets baptized - (KJV) Matthew 3:17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Chapter 4: JC is tempted by the devil - repels him with aphorisms, starts his ministry, gathers apostles to be "fishers of men"

Chapter 5: more famous aphorisms! ... very memorable chapter. Worth being familiar with!

Chapter 6: still more of Jesus speaking. I noted that his words start at 5:3 and end at 7:28.

Chapter 7: finishes Jesus' teachings.

Chapter 8: Jesus comes down off the mountain, heals a leper, tells him to tell no one. In Capernaum, he heals a centurion's servant. He then cures Peter's mom, then casts some demons into the sea - all in all, a magicky good time was had by all.

Chapter 9: more healing and good sayings and a declaration by JC that he has the power to forgive sins. He picks up Matthew as a follower - which raises the question of which Matthew this is. If it's supposed to be the gospel-writer, then this doesn't make sense! He then raises a ruler's daughter from the dead; heals a dumb man by driving out a demon, and continues to teach and to be followed by multitudes. Then we have 2 verses that, although sounding innocuous enough, may be the beginning of the most sinister scam foisted upon the human race:

He's gloating about all the of the uneducated rubes that are about to throw away their independence and reason. Do I read that right? ;-D

Chapter 10: JC confers powers onto the 12 apostles and sends them out to do work, telling them all manner of magicky stuff to do. He shows that he's a jealous twit, just like his dad:

All said, Jesus does some good, but shows some of the same traits that make daddy such a dick in the Old Testament. You can see that the cracks are already there.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Dr. Pigliucci's Opening Statement

Today we start a review of Dr. Massimo Pigliucci's opening statement from the 1995 debate with Dr. William Lane Craig on "Does God Exist?" I've previously discussed Dr. Craig's opening statement starting here through here.

As always, my "analyses" are that of an amateur, biased skeptic. Also as always, I recognize that this debate is 17 years old, but I wanted this precise topic, and I wanted a written transcript. This one provides both.

Dr. Pigliucci:

Thank you. First of all, let me thank a few people: the Issues Committee for inviting me here to carry out this enviable task, and the Rationalists of East Tennessee which are scattered around the room and over there at one of the tables, providing me with great support, and, of course, Dr. Craig, who has offered very valuable arguments on his count, and to all of you for coming. I realize that this is a minority position that I will explain in the next few minutes. I hope that my statements tonight and my suggestions will help you in your personal intellectual journey a little as they helped me in the past.

Let me start first of all with a disclaimer of some sort. This is a disclaimer by a philosopher named Baruch Spinoza; he used to say: "I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." This is my position tonight. I'm not here to make fun of anybody. I'm not here to ridicule anybody. I'm simply here to state what I think is a logically self-consistent and incredibly enlightening position. I would like also to make clear tonight that my positions are actually provisional. I'm not married to any particular faith. I'm going to be married in a couple of months to a wonderful woman, but that's a different matter!

Nice opening - non-controversial - conversational - the reference to his personal life is a nice touch. Dr. Pigliucci is in front of an audience that is largely Christian, so the personal, conversational tone is probably an effective strategy. You'll notice that I'm commenting on style as well as substance. That's really the point here, since Dr. Craig's substance is non-existent, he wins debates by rhetorical tricks and, as far as I can tell, playing pretty loose with citations of scientific facts and by scientists.

Clarification of the Term "God"

So let me start by clarifying what is it that we are actually talking about tonight and what my position is, and therefore we need to talk about the ways of science and its limits. About the limits of science: science cannot investigate negative statements, and you cannot prove negative statements, so no matter what whoever will tell you. There is no way you can prove the inexistence of something, unless you define that something by positive statements. So, for example, you can't ask me to come up with a proof of the inexistence of God without clarifying what you mean by God--it's completely impossible. That is why the atheistic position is not a position--the extreme atheistic position if you want--it's not the position that I am supporting . If you read the program, I'm defined here as a non-theistic naturalist, which, I hope , it will be clear in a minute what that means.

Here's my first criticism - he didn't address Dr. Craig's "2nd Question" by name, even though that's exactly what he's doing. I wish he would have said something like "Dr. Craig says 'What evidence is there that serves to falsify this hypothesis?'. That's a nice rhetorical question, but not a substantive one. Science doesn't answer rhetorical questions, it answers questions that are anchored in reality by observation". That would have made the connection unmistakeable.

He continues:

So what kind of God can we talk about? First of all, there are three kinds of Gods I can think of. There is a metaphysical kind of God. That's the kind of God that doesn't have any attributes, that doesn't interfere with the regular everyday life of the world. He may have created the world, but then after that he retired. That kind of God is completely unfalsifiable; science doesn't have anything to do with it, and rationalism doesn't have anything to do with it. There is no way to deny that kind of God. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that not many people here actually believe in that kind God because it's not particularly satisfying. It doesn't do anything for us.
A second kind of God is called the imperfect anthropomorphic God. He is a God that has human attributes, or human-like attributes, but is he imperfect; he makes mistakes. The ancient Greeks were the first ones to describe this kind of God, and they even didn't believe that much about this kind of entity, simply because again if he is fallible, then he is not much better than a human being. You can think of him as a very powerful human being, but he is still a person. So we will set aside that kind of God also.

What we are talking about tonight is what we call a perfect anthropomorphic God, that is, a God that does have something to do with the everyday working of the universe, but he is perfect, he doesn't make mistakes, he's always good, he's all over the place. That is the kind of God that I think can in fact be falsified to some extent. In other words, if you believe in that kind of God, you are making positive statements about what should happen in the universe; and if you make positive statements about what could happen in the universe, then science and rational thinking can have something say about it.

This was a little chatty - he could have stuck to specifying the third kind of god only, and made the point. It might have been useful in pointing out how man has these different conceptions over the millennia, but he didn't do that. I'd look for something like "Dr. Craig claims that there is a supernatural omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, omnibenevolent creator of the universe and observer or supervisor of all events here and in the afterlife for all eternity, and that this being is the Christian God. Not the Jewish God Yahweh, but the Christian God Yahweh as seen through Dr. Craig's own belief in Jesus". That would have: put him in clear juxtaposition with Dr. Craig, implied the implausibility of Dr. Craig's formulation; and left him free to focus on that implausible formulation.

Overall, Dr. Pigliucci's first few opening paragraphs begin well. He's on solid, if unspectacular ground so far. If I can get a video or audio of this, I'll have to listen, because I'd love to compare his verbal and physical presentation to Dr. Craig's .

Next time, Dr. Pigliucci takes on Dr. Craig's Argument from Design.

Intermission Time

As a brief intermission between my "analysis" of the opening statements of Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Massimo Pigliucci (the first one here and the most recent one (so far) here), I thought I'd point out where others have piled on ... errrrr ... offered thoughtful criticism of Dr. Craig's arguments and tactics. These are not isolated cases, the web is full of this stuff, but I read both of these blogs frequently, thus their significance to me.

The Uncredible Hallq - Chris Hallquist at FreeThought Blogs has a couple of things that caught my eye:

First, a gentle chiding of another blogger that (Hallquist thinks) is over-complicating why Dr. Craig arrives at a misunderstanding of the idea that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. It's always worth hearing criticisms from differing viewpoints.

Second, today he posts a link to his review of Dr. Craig's book "Reasonable Faith"

The original is posted at The Secular Web (Infidels.org), and is lengthy, as is most of the stuff at Infidels. That's why it's good reading - a little more depth than you get in the average blog post - Richard Carrier not withstanding. I haven't read Hallquists' review yet, but hope to in the next day or two.

Third, the blogger A is for Atheist has a post at Debunking Christianity that dissects the kalam and moral arguments for god. Since that's what I just did a few posts ago, I'm interested in the different take.

Good times!


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Poke #6 - Dr. Craigs argument from the immediate experience of God

This the fifth and final opening argument that Dr. William Lane Craig presents in the 1995 debate with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci on "Does God Exist?" I discuss other segments at: Dr. Craig's opening words, "The origin of the universe", "The complex order in the universe", "The existence of objective moral values" and "The historical facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus".

Remember that I'm a firm non-believer - so I have that going for me. I've watched enough of Dr. Craig's debates on YouTube to be already skeptical.


It is interesting to look at the written transcript line-by-line, because I can take the time and attempt to understand what the words mean and whether the argument is valid and true. So far, the written words are not compelling. Dr. Craig will, I believe, win because of his knowledge of the material, the very nature of debate as opposed to the establishment of facts, and his command of the debate format and useful techniques within that format.

Here's the whole final argument:

Fifth Argument

5. The immediate experience of God. This isn't really an argument for God's existence; rather it's the claim that you can know God exists wholly apart from arguments simply by immediately experiencing Him. If you're sincerely seeking God, God will make His existence evident to you. The Bible promises, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."{18}We mustn't so concentrate on the proofs that we fail to hear the inner voice of God to our heart. For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives.

In conclusion, then, we've yet to see any arguments to show that God does not exist, and we have seen five reasons to think that God does exist. Together these reasons constitute a powerful cumulative case for the existence of God.

This is brief & easy to rebut. The trap lies in - when debating a believer - not wanting to offend or otherwise elicit negative feelings that will turn an opponent or the audience off to the simple reasoning and evidence otherwise available to them

Dr. Craig states that "the immediate experience of God" is not really an argument - so what he may be doing in these closing lines is signaling to the audience that "it's ok to believe". I won't dissect this in detail because it seems trite - but look at each sentence in the first paragraph and observe that there is no argument nor evidence. It's simply exhortation to the believer.

His final paragraph - a summation - starts out by declaring "we've yet to see any arguments to show that God does not exist". I'm sure Dr. Craig knows that the responsibility of arguing for a proposition falls to the party asserting the proposition. He intentionally discards this very fundamental principle of discourse in order to make it seem like all non-believers everywhere have failed to disprove the existence of God, therefore God Exists. This little spin is effective - it detracts from the absence of evidence or sound argument that might otherwise support the contention that God exists.

His final sentence "Together these reasons constitute a powerful cumulative case...", is just marketing hype. We didn't see powerful evidence. We didn't even see powerful argument. As you'd expect, I don't see anything in his five opening arguments that made me pause in the slightest.

I think it's fair at this point to say that in the 17 years that have passed since this debate, Dr. Craig's arguments have no doubt gotten better. They are not bad to begin with - trust me, I would never survive 20 minutes with him, even at this 1995 standard. As a complete layman, non-debater, non-philosopher, non-scientist, I just look for "does the argument make me pause, does it lead me to rethink my position, does it show me where I'm wrong?" In this case, it did none of those things.

My final thoughts on Dr. Craig's Opening Statement:

Before we ever start listening to the debate, we must have asked ourselves a fundamental question: "Why are we debating this topic?" The answer is that the topic is worth questioning - i.e. it is not established fact. We assume that people have differing opinions that they wish to convince others are a superior view of the topic. If God existed and cared to manifest itself, the topic of this debate would be established fact, and no debate would be necessary. It hasn't manifested itself, however, so we can debate God's existence.

Similarly foundational is the fact that - as I just stated earlier in the post - It is always the responsibility of the party asserting a claim to justify it if they wish it to be taken seriously. Otherwise, any outlandish claim could be made, and humanity would slog to a halt in a quagmire of nonsense. I can assert that the universe is the creamy filling of a tasty golden brown snack cake, but I need to provide argument and/or evidence before my view begins to be taken seriously. The question "Does God Exist?" implies that someone, somewhere, once asserted that there was a "God", that this God has some characteristics and behaviors, that overall this God was worthy of worship, and then the idea that "God Exists" took hold in the minds of mankind sufficiently to be considered plausible, thus worthy of debate. Dr. Craig is, by proxy, asserting that proposition.

Dr. William Lane Craig's four arguments, plus his fifth, self confessed non-argument, fail in these ways:

  1. Claiming that God is the best answer for the origin of the universe suffers from at least two fatal flaws:
    • it presupposes an entity that itself has to have a "somewhere" as a platform in which to exist and from which to cause the universe's existence. This raises the question of where did God and his "somewhere" come from - a classic infinite regress problem. If you claim he doesn't need to be created, then that's special pleading - the universe does need creating, and God does not;
    • it postulates more than is needed to explain existence. Assuming the extra added term "God" is a violation of Occam's razor. It does not clarify or simplify the solution.
  2. The apparent complex order in the universe is a misunderstanding of physics, chemistry and biology. The universe looks the way we would expect it if it were not designed by an intelligent agent. What we observe to be our universe appears to have emerged from a small, hot, dense mass 13.7 billion years ago. The formation of elements, stars, galaxies, planets, complex molecules and life itself follow predictable patterns. We don't know where the universe came from with certainty, and we don't know how complex molecules came together to result in the simplest living things, but all signs are that this is within our reach. These gaps in our knowledge are not wide enough that they require shoe-horning a conjectural super being into the picture to explain things. We exist in a universe like this precisely because we can exist here. That is not a miracle. It would be a miracle if the "fine-tuning" indicated that we could not exist. Then you'd have something!.
  3. Objective moral values in the world ... is a non-argument, an appeal to emotions. We feel joy and repulsion, and they indicate to us individually that something must be inherently good or bad. Dr. Craig never indicates what the standard of objectivity is, nor how we could determine how that objective standard applied in all cases in the timeframe in which it might be in force.
  4. The historical facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus ... is one of the weakest "real" arguments that he makes, but is one that has a lot of emotional appeal to believers - it's the basis for Christianity. Without it, Christianity is a philosophical framework, not an inerrant record of miraculous & existential importance. No record of Jesus first 30 years exists, nor is implied to have ever existed. His life, works, death and resurrection were not important enough to warrant mention for at least twenty years after his death, and then were mentioned first by a man - Paul - who had a track record of using and misusing influence. Paul made the claims he did based on revelation, not on oral legend or personal observation. Not compelling at all. Mark, Matthew, Luke, John and the other John all followed suit years and decades after Paul's personal revelations about a subject he wasn't personally privy to. This is an extraordinarily weak association between the final product (the New Testament) and the purported events it is based on.
  5. Dr. Craig himself notes that his "personal experience of God" argument is not an argument at all, so it's not worth rebutting. Nice feint!

I'll look over Dr. Pigliucci's Opening statement next.

Poke it with a stick - The Resurrection

This is my fifth post reviewing the 1995 debate on "Does God Exist" between Dr. William Lane Craig and Massimo Pigliucci, held at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. The other four are: Dr. Craig's opening words, "The origin of the universe", "The complex order in the universe" and "The existence of objective moral values".

Dr. Craig's fourth argument in favor of the existence of God is "The historical facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus".

First, a brief impression of his previous arguments: the first two are somewhat technical - the cosmological and teleological arguments. They might be hard to follow for the uninitiated - which is most of us. I'll guess that the majority of people not having at least an introductory course in argumentation and rhetoric under their belt, and a passing acquaintance with current cosmology, will be at the mercy of the two opponents in this debate.

The "existence of objective moral values" argument discussed in my prior post is just an appeal to your instinct - and not to your intellect. It didn't - as presented by Dr. Craig - really make a sound argument - let alone present evidence - for objective moral values and how we might validate their objectivity. Consequently, he doesn't move his overall "God Exists" thesis forward.

This post's argument is even more indirect. It is however, probably effective when delivered to believers because they're prepared to accept the Bible as (at least) reliable enough. I'll admit to being biased against the "historical facts of Jesus" argument primarily due to my own journey through Christianity. When I really looked, only the Bible claimed that Jesus existed and was resurrected, and those claims weren't even formulated in writing until a good twenty years after his passing. Every subsequent claim of Jesus and his resurrection leads back to 1) the Bible; 2) hearsay (e.g. see Josephus )

Dr. Craig:

Fourth Argument

4. The historical facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The historical person Jesus of Nazareth was a remarkable individual. New Testament critics have reached something of a consensus that the historical Jesus came on the scene with an unprecedented sense of divine authority, the authority to stand and speak in God's place. He claimed that in himself the Kingdom of God had come, and as visible demonstrations of this fact he carried out a ministry of miracles and exorcisms. But the supreme confirmation of his claim was his resurrection from the dead. If Jesus did rise from the dead, then it would seem that we have a divine miracle on our hands and, thus, evidence for the existence of God.

Notice how tentative this begins when you read the words. "New Testament critics have reached something of a consensus that ...". It sounds a lot different when you hear it as Dr. Craig delivers it - that's part of his magic. So we get an assertion that scholars "somewhat" agree that Jesus had a divine sense of authority ... yadda-yadda-yadda. What Jesus felt about himself is irrelevant, and Dr. Craig immediately zooms past that to attempt the case for the resurrection. This is kinda sneaky: he gets to toss the term "consensus" at the audience, then drills right into "facts" that he hopes you'll believe support the argument. With any luck, that throw-away word "consensus" will be still ringing in your ears, you'll associate it to his "facts", and you'll interpret it as "there is consensus on these facts" - even though he didn't explicitly say there was consensus on the "facts" that he subsequently presented. Sneeeee-keeeee.

Next - "supreme confirmation of his claim was his resurrection from the dead" , and the conditional "if he was resurrected then it's proof of God". It appears Dr. Craig's whole argument here hinges on this, just as we suspected. Since there are no reliable first-hand reports of either his death or resurrection, we can assume that there's more eloquent word-smithery in our immediate future.

Dr. Craig resumes:

Now most people would probably think that the resurrection of Jesus is something you just accept on faith or not. But there are actually three established facts, recognized by the majority of New Testament historians today, which I believe are best explained by the resurrection of Jesus.

Fact #1: On the Sunday following his crucifixion, Jesus' tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers. According to Jacob Kremer, an Austrian scholar who has specialized in the study of the resurrection, "By far most scholars hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb."{13} According to D. H. Van Daalen, it is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions.{14}

AHA! Dr. Craig's introduction to Fact #1 is another nice piece of word-smithing. He declares "three established facts, recognized by the majority of New Testament historians today, which I believe are best explained by the resurrection of Jesus". Notice that he doesn't say that the majority of scholars believe that the purported facts are "best explained by the resurrection of Jesus" - it's Dr. Craig supplying this. This is indirect. The audience won't notice - I surely didn't - but you can see it when it's written down.

There is a lot of contingent, conditional, indirect truthiness here. We know what truthiness is.

I'll beat a dead horse here and point out that Fact #1 relies wholly on words from the Bible. No independent confirmation is available. There is no implication that such confirmation ever existed.

Dr. Craig's second "fact":

Fact #2: On separate occasions different individuals and groups saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death. According to the prominent New Testament critic of Vanderbilt University Gerd L├╝demann, "It may be taken as historically certain that . . . the disciples had experiences after Jesus' death in which Jesus appeared to them as the Risen Christ.{15}These appearances were witnessed not only by believers, but also by unbelievers, skeptics, and even enemies.

ummmm ... more hearsay.

More "facts":

Fact #3: The original disciples suddenly came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus despite having every predisposition to the contrary. Jews had no belief in a dying, much less rising, Messiah, and Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone's rising from the dead before the end of the world. Nevertheless, the original disciples came to believe so strongly that God had raised Jesus from the dead that they were willing to die for the truth of that belief. Luke Johnson, a New Testament scholar from Emory University, muses, "Some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was . . . ."{16} N. T. Wright, an eminent British scholar, concludes, "That is why, as a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him."{17}

Dr. Craig makes claims about the disciples personal dispositions toward a dying and rising Messiah without having any possible way of making that claim. We can reject this as a bare assertion. Adding quotes from other scholars is a nice way to weave his bare assertion into a scholarly analysis, but does nothing to establish fact.

Finally:

Attempts to explain away these three great facts--like the disciples stole the body or Jesus wasn't really dead--have been universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. The simple fact is that there just is no plausible, naturalistic explanation of these facts. Therefore, it seems to me, the Christian is amply justified in believing that Jesus rose from the dead and was who he claimed to be. But that entails that God exists.

Entails. I love the use of the word "entails". It sounds so logicky!

Seriously though, Dr. Craig makes an impressive-sounding closing, as if three bare assertions combine to make a not-bare-assertion. There is "just is no plausible, naturalistic explanation of these facts" because there are no facts. Plausible, naturalistic explanation is not needed here. He signals the implausibility of this with the tepid "it seems to me, the Christian is amply justified in believing ...". He's not saying "Thus every reasoning being in the universe must assent that this is undeniably, unassailably true". He's saying "you guys that already believe this are okay to keep on believing it".

This fourth argument is worthy of being included in a Sunday Sermon, but not in a discussion of how reality works.

Next up, the "argument" from personal experience.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Three Commandments

I mentioned a better set of Commandments that a Real God could have posted on the Moon so we could see them for all time - if he, she or it existed. I have another set that I just thought of, in case a Real God had a Heaven and a Hell that they wanted to fill with souls:

1. If you contributed a net increase in the well being of living things when you lived, then when you die, you go to Heaven.

2. If you contributed a net decrease in the well being of living things when you lived, then when you die, you go to Hell.

3. If I can't detect either a net increase or net decrease in the well being of living things due to your contribution in life, then when you die, you must start over.

Poke it with a stick - Dr. Craig's argument to Objective Moral Values

This is my fourth post reviewing, line-by-line, the 1995 debate on "Does God Exist" between Dr. William Lane Craig and Massimo Pigliucci, held at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. The other three are: Dr. Craig's opening words,
the origin of the universe and the complex order in the universe.

Today I'll tackle Dr. Craig's third argument - the existence of "Objective moral values in the world". I originally thought that this would take more line-by-line criticism, since it seemed that many of his statements were worth addressing individually. Instead, I realized that the whole argument relies solely on an unproven premiss and circularity, so I scaled it down considerably.

I consider Dr. Craig to be at his polemical best so far when he makes this argument, because he draws clear battle lines between the theist and atheist position. The implication is made that atheists accept behavior that is clearly immoral to the theist - an obvious but effective play to the theist' (presumed) sense of superiority. In spite of not providing any evidence that the theist position has a basis in reality - he hasn't and he won't - his rhetoric is sure to strike a chord with believers. In a sense, his whole third argument is one long ad hominem attack on baby-eating atheists.

Dr. Craig:

Third Argument

3. Objective moral values in the world. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. Many theists and atheists alike concur on this point. Michael Ruse, a noted agnostic philosopher of science, explains,

The position of the modern evolutionist is that . . . morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says 'Love thy neighbor as thyself,' they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory.{11}

Dr. Craig begins by claiming that
If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
I couldn't agree with him more on both points!

Setting aside my snide comment for a moment, this argument hinges on the existence of both "God" and "objective moral values" to have any meaning, You couldn't slide this by a neutral, attentive and informed high school logic class, but he usually does it with ease when confronted with atheists who are less experienced debaters, and who do not know the material well. Since there is no formal judge in this debate, Dr. Craig scores points with the audience because of the crisp and confident way he delivers the claim, in spite of its obvious shortcomings. I assume that audiences attending his debates are predominantly theist by the same proportion that the American public is - say 90:10. I will also guess that he can depend on the majority of the audience taking as a given that some subset of the laws, ethics and social conventions we adhere to are "objective moral values" - and that the reason they can be called objective is that they come from a higher power. Heck - even I suspect that morality comes from a higher power - but in my atheistic view, that higher power is the weight and momentum of a species that constantly adapts its behavior in order to better perpetuate the species.

The Doctor attempts to bolster his case:

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.

I think that Friedrich Nietzsche was right.

Here, Dr. Craig is doing some fine word-smithing, intended for his target demographic. First, he outright calls Nietzsche an atheist. Although I'm quite happy to think that he may have been, it's not clear that he was. From Wikipedia:
The statement "God is dead", occurring in several of Nietzsche's works (notably in The Gay Science), has become one of his best-known remarks. On the basis of it, most commentators[116] regard Nietzsche as an atheist; others (such as Kaufmann) suggest that this statement reflects a more subtle understanding of divinity.
Then, by claiming that Nietzsche "understood that the death of God meant the destruction of all meaning and value in life" - he paints another picture of atheists that believers probably find repugnant. They want life to have meaning. They assume meaning and purpose come from God. Particularly for the disadvantaged, the hope that their existence is part of a higher purpose is seductive. Nihilism - the idea that life has no intrinsic purpose, is likely abhorrent to them. Yet, what Nietzsche also says is:
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!"[120]According to Nietzsche, it is only when nihilism is overcome that a culture can have a true foundation upon which to thrive. He wished to hasten its coming only so that he could also hasten its ultimate departure.
He's not nearly as dark as Craig paints him, in fact "Central to his philosophy is the idea of "life-affirmation", which involves an honest questioning of all doctrines that drain life's expansive energies, however socially prevalent and radical those views might be".

In Craig's brief passage, Nietzsche is painted as "the other" (an atheist!) who holds a view antithetical to Christians, who assume that we are all part of God's plan. The "other" instead says that life in fact has no meaning. This misrepresentation of Nietzsche is effective if you don't care about misrepresenting the positions of dead philosophers, but doesn't really make any sense as a warrant to support an argument for the existence of God.

Dr. Craig continues:

But we must be very careful here. The question here is not: "Must we believe in God in order to live moral lives?" I'm not claiming that we must. Nor is the question: "Can we recognize objective moral values without believing in God?" I think that we can.

I'm not clear on why this paragraph is valuable to Dr. Craig's argument. Is he just making idle chatter?

More Dr. Craig:

Rather the question is: "If God does not exist, do objective moral values exist?" Like Prof. Ruse, I don't see any reason to think that in the absence of God, the morality evolved by homo sapiens is objective. And here I think Dr. Pigliucci would agree with me. He writes, "It has been pretty obvious since Darwin that we, indeed, are nothing but machines."{12} In the absence of God, we're just accidental by-products of nature which have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time. On the atheistic view, some action, say, rape, may not be socially advantageous and so in the course of human development has become taboo; but that does absolutely nothing to prove that rape is really wrong. On the atheistic view, there's nothing really wrong with your raping someone. Thus, without God there is no absolute right and wrong which imposes itself on our conscience.

There are at least two tacks being taken here. One, that God and Objective Moral Values exist and are inextricably related; two, a subtly anti-evolutionist we-are-the-product-of-direct-creation-by-God-and-not-sullied-by-the-unholy-action-of-eons-of-evolution-that-does-not-have-us-as-its-sole-objective tack. Dr. Craig says that "In the absence of God, we're just accidental by-products of nature which have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time."

Yeah - and that's not an awesome, exhilarating and humbling realization how?

Seriously, the "accidental by-products of nature" trope is effective if you believe that you are the crown of creation, but Dr. Craig is closer to telling the truth than some of his demo are comfortable with. Strictly speaking, we are not accidental in terms of incremental changes over time. We are a successful adaptation descended from another successful adaptation, on nearly ad infinitum. I think he uses the adjective "accidental" to further appall believers who really want to feel that they are the apple of God's eye.

Next, Dr. Craig makes his most blatantly bare assertion:

But the problem is that objective values do exist, and deep down we all know it. There's no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world. Actions like rape, cruelty, and child abuse aren't just socially unacceptable behavior--they're moral abominations. Some things are really wrong. Similarly love, equality, and self-sacrifice are really good.

...and Reality replies:
  • Dr. Craig: "Objective Moral Values Exist". Reality: "Based on what?"
  • Dr. Craig: "...deep down we all know it". Reality: "What humans 'deep down know' is irrelevant".
  • Dr. Craig: "There's no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world.". Reality: "I'm waiting for evidence - when can I expect it?"
  • Dr. Craig: "Actions like rape, cruelty, and child abuse aren't just socially unacceptable behavior--they're moral abominations. ". Reality: "I couldn't agree with you more - but you're avoiding citations from your holy book that sanction murder, rape, killing children, and ignoring the subjective nature of even the ten commandments"
  • Dr. Craig: "Some things are really wrong." Reality: "No offense Doc, but I didn't need you to tell me that."
  • Dr. Craig: "Similarly love, equality, and self-sacrifice are really good." Reality: "You're really a risk-taker, aren't you? How could we have known this without your ground-breaking explanation?"
Dr. Craig attempts to drive this nail home:

Thus, we can summarize this third consideration as follows:
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective values do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

At this point, it's fair to say that Dr. Craig hasn't made any progress in justifying this argument as support for the proposition that God exists. Objective Moral Values were never defined, and are never shown to exist; the existence of God is the subject of the debate, and can't be used in association with Objective Moral Values to prove itself unless an unbreakable link between is established. This, of course, is not done. On balance, the argument fails abysmally. I do think the fact that he delivers this argument, pulls on your heart strings, makes bare assertions and uses undefined terms in the space of a minute or two, and doesn't bat an eye, crack a smile, or exhibit a facial tick that might be interpreted as a "tell" - well, there's still a lot to admire here. He's not really lying, but he could be related to "Baghdad Bob".

A final thought on Objective Moral Values, whatever they are. The Christian will assume that they are the Ten Commandments, because they were obtained directly from God. Further, the words of the Old and New Testaments can be presumed to be the word of God as well, and thus arbiter of Objective Moral Values. Dr. Craig never has to say this in this portion of the debate, because he knows believers have a general disposition to accept this uncritically. Non-believers are critical, however, and for good reason. Take the Ten Commandments. Read it for yourselves, and realize on first glance that most of this is useless. You can say that "Thou shalt not kill" (or "thou shalt not murder" - depending on which version of the Bible you choose to read), "Neither shalt thou commit adultery", "Neither shalt thou steal", "Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour" are all sound principles for civil society, and several others are sound for preventing descent into immoral behavior, but these ten are insufficient for life, many are unenforceable, and many require the existence of God to be even seen as plausible.

Instead, as much as literalists and fundamentalists might holler, there is a better way of behaving morally in the world, particularly compared to the ambiguity, inconsistency, and/or contradictory dictates of the Bible. Without spending more than a few minutes, I can suggest: "Have respect for your well being so that you can be healthy enough to feed, house, clothe, administer first aid to, love, respect and nurture your wife, your parents, your siblings and your offspring is the first commandment. When this is fulfilled, extend it to your neighbors; when this is fulfilled, extend it to your community; when this is fulfilled, spread it throughout the world." God - if he, she or it existed, could have written these words - or something beautiful and more concise - on the moon in letters miles high so that we could be reminded of them every day of our lives. He, she or it didn't do that. THAT alone is enough reason to disbelieve any claim that God exists.

Next time - The historical facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. \


Edit 1 - 6/10/2012 - eliminated redundant criticisms of the unproven propositions "God" and "Objective Moral Values exist" - and their reliance on each other as a proof of the existence of God

Edit 2 - 6/10/2012 - further redacted redundant criticisms and general wordiness.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Poke it with a stick - Dr. Craig's Fine-Tuning Argument

This is the third in a number of posts reviewing, line-by-line, the 1995 debate on "Does God Exist" between Dr. William Lane Craig and Massimo Pigliucci, held at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

The prior post covered Dr. Craig's "argument from first cause". This post focuses on "The complex order in the universe" ... a "fine-tuning argument".

Two notes:

1) In case you wondered why I didn't pick a more recent debate of Dr. Craig's, there are several reasons. A) I wanted to find one that addressed the "Does God Exist?" resolution and that had Dr. Craig speak first. The reason was that I wanted to put together another imaginary debate between he and I, where I get to respond to arguments that he's made in a real debate. I got sidetracked into this review, because, frankly it's interesting, and will be good preparation. B) The Craig-Pigliucci debate was the first one that I found that had a written transcript; C) I didn't feel that the age of the debate makes much difference in the arguments that Dr. Craig makes. He himself declared in 2010 that he's been making "the same five arguments ... for 20 years".

2) I know I'm not the first to point this out, but Dr. Craig can present his arguments quickly because his audience - most of the actual audience members - already "know in their hearts" that god exists, so his more technical-sounding arguments can omit rational and evidentiary support. His target audience never misses them because reason and evidence are not part of the world view that arrives at the "goddidit" conclusion. Opponents such as Massimo Pigliucci likely have more technical and unfortunately lengthier arguments to make when developing a positive case for non-belief. Pointing out the logical fallacies that Dr. Craig employs will satisfy a qualified debate judge, but may be over the head of, or simply uninteresting to, a lay audience. I've not seen a debate in which he's appeared that used judges.

Second Argument

2. The complex order in the universe. During the last 30 years, scientists have discovered that the existence of intelligent life depends upon a complex and delicate balance of initial conditions given in the Big Bang itself. We now know that life-prohibiting universes are vastly more probable than any life-permitting universe like ours. How much more probable?

As I said, this is a "fine-tuning" argument - a version of the well-known teleological argument - or "argument from design". There are LOTS of sober, clear counterarguments against this (see the appendix at the end of this post), not the least of which is that the universe is preposterously hostile to us. Human beings are unable to exist on 70% of the Earth's surface because it's water, and the other 30% contains deserts and mountains in which life is not ideal. Add that there are approximately 410 nonillion cubic light years in the universe, and we occupy less than 394 septillionths of a single cubic light year. I believe that says we occupy less than one in 1.6 x 10^59th part of the universe. Please check my math! If the universe was truly fine tuned for our existence, we'd just require one patch of land, and the all knowing all-loving creator could feed and clothe us via god mail or carry-out. We'd hardly expect that at least a septillion stars spread out over at least 410 nonillion cubic light years was required so that we - god's creation - could exist. The big guy wasted 162 octodecillion times more space than he needed to. Evidence of design? Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad design maybe. Or maybe bad planning - could be either.

Also - did you catch that Dr. Craig posits "universes" (plural)? "We now know that life-prohibiting universes are vastly more probable...". If he's copping to the possibility of multiple occurrences of universes, this implies that the possibility for occurrences to be realized are endless. Endless occurrences in which to realize a specific combination of parameters having a non-zero probability means there are endless occurrences of life-permitting universes. Surely he doesn't want to go down that road.

The answer is that the chances that the universe should be life-permitting are so infinitesimal as to be incomprehensible and incalculable. For example, Stephen Hawking has estimated that if the rate of the universe's expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have re-collapsed into a hot fireball.{5} P. C. W. Davies has calculated that the odds against the initial conditions being suitable for later star formation (without which planets could not exist) is one followed by a thousand billion billion zeroes, at least.{6} John Barrow and Frank Tipler estimate that a change in the strength of gravity or of the weak force by only one part in 10100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe.{7} There are around 50 such quantities and constants present in the Big Bang which must be fine-tuned in this way if the universe is to permit life. And it's not just each quantity which must be exquisitely fine-tuned; their ratios to one another must be also finely-tuned. So improbability is multiplied by improbability by improbability until our minds are reeling in incomprehensible numbers.

Honestly, I believe he's just thinking backward here. Even if we accept his numbers - and we have no idea whether he knows what he's talking about - the facts that we can determine are 1) we are here; 2) any a priori probability he throws out is irrelevant once we affirm that we are, indeed, here. He might as well argue that we're not here.

If it was physically impossible that we exist in the universe, and yet we did, then positing the existence of "something else" that makes life possible would be understandable. It still does not indicate that his formulation of that first cause - God - is required, because God is even more improbable than we are. The Christian God layers more improbability on top of improbability until our minds are reeling in incomprehensible numbers. Sorry for making fun of you Dr. Craig! :-D

Since Dr. Craig himself does not claim that we are an impossible occurrence, it is not impossible that we exist. That we do exist just indicates that we are the realization of that non-zero probability.

Duh!

There is no physical reason why these constants and quantities should possess the values they do. The one-time agnostic physicist Paul Davies comments, "Through my scientific work I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact."{8} Similarly, Fred Hoyle remarks, "A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics."{9} Robert Jastrow, the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, calls this the most powerful evidence for the existence of God ever to come out of science.{10}

This deft quote-mining doesn't yield anything that says "Davies, Hoyle and Jastrow all provide undeniable evidence of the existence of god". Not one quote says, "this is the smoking gun". The first guy "believes", the second guy claims a common sense interpretation but gives us no clue as to whether he thinks it is a correct interpretation, and the third guy (Jastrow) gives you a relative value without telling us what "best" means in absolute terms. If previous evidence of god was non-existent, then even the most trivial but plausible tidbit can be claimed to be "best". If this is truly "the most powerful evidence for the existence of God ever to come out of science" - then we can go home and enjoy a Pete's Wicked Ale right now, comfortable in the knowledge that apologists have no more evidence now then they had 2 and 3 thousand years ago.

So once again, the view that Christian theists have always held, that there is an intelligent Designer of the universe, seems to make much more sense than the atheistic view that the universe, when it popped into being uncaused out of nothing, just happened to be by chance fine-tuned to an incomprehensible precision for the existence of intelligent life.

The paragraph above is one of my favorites - Dr. Craig applies some "so, the universe just popped out of nothing" ridicule to non-believers, and substitutes it with some "the universe popped out of nothing because god did it" jujitsu.

I mean absolutely no disrespect when I say: "sometimes you just gotta say 'What the Fuck?' "

We can summarize our reasoning as follows:
1. The fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe is due to either law, chance, or design.
2. It is not due to either law or chance.
3. Therefore, it is due to design.

What you see here is:
1. The first premiss is technically incomplete, thus a False Choice. To be complete, we can include evolution of the universe (on the conjecture that the universe evolves like biological life evolves); we can include the idea that the universe is cycling through all combinations of parameters that have non-zero probabilities in a natural manner; and as long as we're positing the supernatural, we can include any supernatural entity performing anything that might result in a universe. The Great GoogaMooga's kid Skippy could have been tweaking dad's etch-a-universe, and had an accident.
2. The second premiss is a bare assertion - there is no reason why this is so. Dr. Craig hasn't argued that, until now.
3. The conclusion is false because premisses 1 & 2 are fallacious.

This concludes his second argument - I'm stunned that it's so full of holes so far.

Appendix


Here are some links that I ran across and used during my analysis of the fine-tuning argument:
...and here's a discussion of Time that affects Dr. Craig's Cosmological Argument from previously: Infidels - the Intractable Problem of Time

Interlude - Sophisticated Theology

Reasonable Doubts ("Your Skeptical Guide to Religion") has a podcast available that discusses the debate between Dinesh D'Souza and Susan Jacoby from earlier this year. One thing that stuck in my head - among many - was D'Souza's claims that atheists argue against the most simplistic understanding of the Bible. This implies that the literal view - that the Bible says what it means and means what it says and is inerrant - is wrong. My response to that is if it takes a Sophisticated Theologist™ to understand what it really means, then God is one of the worst communicators of all the deities that I know of. The Bible can then be considered unreliable for that vast, vast majority of us, who are not Sophisticated Theologists™, and we must rely on the sooth being said from Dinesh D'Souza and his ilk.

Looks like a scam.

Poke it with a stick - Dr. Craig's Cosmological Argument

This is the second in a number of posts reviewing, line-by-line, the 1995 debate on "Does God Exist" between Dr. William Lane Craig and Massimo Pigliucci, held at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

The initial post covered just the first three paragraphs of Dr. Craig's opening statement. This longer post will address his famous "argument from first cause".

A note that I should have added last time: since the transcript of the debate is from Leadership University, I leave the outline headings from there in place here. For example, you will see that "Second Question" and "First Question" appear as distinct sections.

Another note: I linked previously to Common Sense Atheism's post William Lane Craig on Debating Atheists. There, Dr. Craig claims to have the better arguments, with which Luke (the principle blogger there) agrees. Luke goes on to state:

Dr. Craig is correct. Craig’s dominance in debating technique is not the only reason he wins nearly all his debates.

Dr. Craig also wins his debates because Dr. Craig gives better arguments.

Let me explain what I mean. It might be the case that, for example, none of Craig’s arguments are as ‘good’ as an argument from evil or an argument from reasonable nonbelief, two popular atheistic arguments. However, Dr. Craig’s arguments are almost always stronger than the atheist’s arguments as presented in these debates.

It's important to note that debates are contests in which the opponents are judged on the strength of their arguments. It is not a court of law, and it is not a community of scientists trying to understand how the world works. It is much nearer to a popularity contest in this setting when compared to even the more traditional Lincoln-Douglas debates held scholastically. Dr. Craig uses his formidable knowledge of philosophy and theology, sprinkles in just enough cosmology, mathematics and other current hard sciences, then applies the mix in a predictable and disciplined manner to WIN THE DEBATE. That's what he does. Whether we non-believers like it or not, he wins. That doesn't mean that he has evidence that God exists - he clearly has never presented it. We wouldn't have debates about the existence of God if God could take time out from his busy schedule to put a stop to all this horsing around. So let's keep our eyes open and see what Dr. Craig does to win this debate.

A final note for the day. Dr. Craig uses the term "logic" in his Opening Speech. For the record, there is a distinction between sound and unsound logic that we will point out where ever we see it. I found a succinct explanation at Lander.edu that's worth noting:

1. truth: a property of statements, i.e., that they are the case.
2. validity: a property of arguments, i.e., that they have a good structure.
(The premisses and conclusion are so related that it is absolutely impossible for the premisses to be true unless the conclusion is true also.)
3. soundness: a property of both arguments and the statements in them, i.e., the argument is valid and all the statement are true.

Dr. Craig may have valid arguments (the structure is good), but does he have sound ones (are they structured correctly and the conclusion is true)? I'll be keeping that in mind as we progress.

Let's hear his Second Question:

Second Question

Now with respect to the second question, I'll leave it up to Dr. Pigliucci to present the reasons why he thinks that this hypothesis is false. 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. Dr. Pigliucci, on the other hand, in his article "God as a Falsifiable Hypothesis," says, "My position is that belief in God can be falsified" on the basis of the evidence.{1} So rather than attack straw men at this point, I'll just wait to hear Dr. Pigliucci's answer to the following question: What good evidence is there to show that God does not exist?

Through this point in the debate, Dr. Craig has only spoken for a minute or so of his 20 minute allotment, and throws down a challenge that can't be met - to falsify the hypothesis that God exists. It's a winner for Dr Craig two ways - 1) the non-believer must address it and expend valuable time explaining to the audience how science works and how "God" is not a testable hypothesis. Addressing this steals time from either making a positive case for non-belief, or rebutting claims that are weak. 2) the non-believer can ignore the challenge, but Craig can then claim that they "dropped" it, and impress on the audience that he wins this point by default because the non-believer can't or won't answer the challenge. He doesn't have to lie, cheat or steal, he just wins by default. Honestly, this is brilliant! Now, Pigliucci says "belief in God can be falsified", so it will indeed be interesting to see how he delivers that argument in a reasonable time, and how WLC attacks (or drops) it.

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

Dr. Craig continues:

First Question

Let's look, then, at the first question: What evidence is there that serves to verify God's existence? Tonight I'm going to present five reasons in support of the specific hypothesis that a personal Creator and Designer of the universe exists, who is the locus of absolute value and who has revealed Himself in Christ. Whole books have been written on each one of these, so all I can present here is a brief sketch of each argument and then go into more detail as Dr. Pigliucci responds to them.


What impresses me here is just how specifically he describes God. It's been said many times, an argument for an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent creator is not an argument for a specific religion's favored representation of that, so I expect that he'll have trouble justifying the claim.

He get's to the real meat:

First Argument

1. The origin of the universe. Have you ever asked yourself where the universe came from? Why everything exists instead of just nothing? Typically atheists have said the universe is just eternal and uncaused. But surely this is unreasonable. Just think about it a minute. If the universe is eternal and never had a beginning, that means that the number of past events in the history of the universe is infinite. But mathematicians recognize that the idea of an actually infinite number of things leads to self-contradictions. For example, what is infinity minus infinity? Well, mathematically, you get self-contradictory answers. This shows that infinity is just an idea in your mind, not something that exists in reality. David Hilbert, perhaps the greatest mathematician of this century, states, "The infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought. The role that remains for the infinite to play is solely that of an idea."{2} But that entails that since past events are not just ideas, but are real, the number of past events must be finite. Therefore, the series of past events can't go back forever; rather the universe must have begun to exist.


In this introductory paragraph to Dr. Craig's Argument from First Cause, we observe a number of maneuvers that further frame the debate in his favor. He says "Typically atheists have said the universe is just eternal and uncaused." This straw man is an oversimplification in at least three ways: 1) atheists, while a convenient "other" that serves to focus the argument in the eyes of believers on an adversary that they already despise, distrust and/or fear, are not the only people that don't agree with the Christian God that Dr. Craig's specifically arguing for. Seventy percent of the world doesn't believe in Yahweh; 2) the generalization that "the universe is just eternal and uncaused" is a bit of detail that Dr. Craig doesn't provide evidence for. It may be that non-believers hold that the Big Bang Theory ("BBT") really implies that space-time began at that moment. It may be that they believe there is a cyclic universe (still uncaused, but naturally generated as "everything" cycles between matter and antimatter over quadrillions of years. It could be some "many worlds" conception. It may be one of Buddha's belches that brought the world into existence. It may be any other supreme non-yahweh figure. All he's doing is clarifying the battle lines and preparing for a "first cause' argument through the use of a false dilemma.

Dr. Craig moves on to argue that an actual infinite is impossible - but he uses citations out of context. David Hilbert would have been correct in saying that an "actual infinite" is never found in nature, but that just speaks to the limits on what we can observe and the amount of space, matter and energy that we can detect within the observable universe. S0 far, we can only estimate a finite amount of space, matter and energy. Dr. Craig is on solid ground with the average lay audience, because we instinctively say "yes, no matter how big the numbers get, they're still not truly infinite". The more scientifically inclined may say "it's too early to tell", but I'll bet that they're in the minority in most theology debates. See the discussion on "Craig's mistakes re infinite hotels". It's too much to refute in a twenty minute debate segment, but points out why Dr. Craig's argument misses the mark.

Let's move on to his next paragraph before winter returns:

This conclusion has been confirmed by remarkable discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics. The astrophysical evidence indicates that the universe began to exist in a great explosion called the "Big Bang" 15 billion years ago. Physical space and time were created in that event, as well as all the matter and energy in the universe. Therefore, as Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle points out, the Big Bang theory requires the creation of the universe from nothing. This is because, as you go back in time, you reach a point at which, in Hoyle's words, the universe was "shrunk down to nothing at all."{3} Thus, what the Big Bang model requires is that the universe began to exist and was created out of nothing.


I love - LOVE - Dr. Craig's use of current science - regardless of whether he's portraying it accurately. It gives a sense that this is a man that's done his homework! The use of BBT to "confirm" that the universe had a definite beginning from nothing is one of his most effective pieces of rhetoric.

Before I cut into it further, it must be said that this debate is 16 or 17 years old, and the research has advanced somewhat, so I won't get into Hawking's and Krauss's explanations on how "from nothing" is possible. Instead, given that state of knowledge in 1995, Dr. Craig still misused what BBT did actually say. It says that the universe once existed in a smaller, dense, hotter state approximately 13.7 billions years ago. It most specifically did not say that the universe arose from nothing. In fact, in the small hot dense state that scientists can measure (and/or calculate) the laws of quantum physics break down, and given the limitation at present, nothing further can be known. Dr. Craig is smart to use the lay persons natural inclination to assume that this small hot dense mass, when extrapolated back further, would be a single point, and would further be infinitesimal or nothing if extrapolated to it's extreme. Science does not make that claim. It couldn't be considered a "law" until there was sufficient evidence and testing down to rule out other competing theories. We are tens, hundreds, even thousands of years away from that day.

More Dr. Craig:

Now this tends to be very awkward for the atheist. 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."{4} But surely that doesn't make sense! Out of nothing, nothing comes. So why does the universe exist instead of just nothing? Where did it come from? There must have been a cause which brought the universe into being.

Here Dr. Craig doubles down on the "universe from nothing" gambit by citing Dr. Kenny saying that "...an atheist, must believe that the . . . universe came from nothing and by nothing". Now, why do we give a rat's patootie what Anthony Kenny of Oxford University says? First, I had to Google him to see that he's a philosopher and not a dishwasher. Second, is Dr. Kenny reliable? We have no way of knowing. Third, is Dr. Kenny espousing the consensus view? We have now way of knowing. We can be sure that Dr. Craig chose the citation to bolster the argument that believing something came from nothing is absurd, but he hasn't yet given us that valid and true argument that closes the deal.

He summarizes:

We can summarize our argument thus far as follows:
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

This is the traditional formulation of the argument from first cause, and is uncontroversial as stated, in spite of having presented no evidence that the universe didn't previously exist in some way. Notice that this formulation of the argument says nothing about the nature of the first cause.

He fills in the blanks next:

Now from the very nature of the case, as the cause of space and time, this cause must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power which created the universe. Moreover, I would argue, it must also be personal. For how else could a timeless cause give rise to atemporal effect like the universe? If the cause were an impersonal set of necessary and sufficient conditions, then the cause could never exist without the effect. If the cause were timelessly present, then the effect would be timelessly present as well. The only way for the cause to be timeless and the effect to begin in time is for the cause to be a personal agent who freely chooses to create an effect in time without any prior determining conditions. Thus, we are brought, not merely to a transcendent cause of the universe, but to its Personal Creator.


Here's where WLC goes off the rails completely.

By claiming "this cause must be an uncaused, changeless, timeless, and immaterial being of unimaginable power which created the universe. Moreover, I would argue, it must also be personal." - he is making a specific claim as to the characteristics and behavior that he hasn't lifted a finger to justify. A non-technical term for this is called "pulling it out of your ass". There is not a shred of supporting argument or evidence that will bolster this claim. Depending on what direction you look at this, one or all of these fallacies are committed in this brief paragraph:
  • a bare assertion - making a claim without supporting argument or evidence
  • a false dilemma - asserting that if not A, the only answer is B.
  • argument from ignorance - "I can't think of a conclusion, therefore my preferred (unsupported) conclusion is the only possible answer"

Breathtaking!

Dr. Craig concludes his argument from first cause:

Isn't it incredible that the Big Bang theory thus fits in with what the Christian theist has always believed: that in the beginning God created the universe? Now I put it to you: which makes more sense: that the theist is right or that the universe popped into being uncaused out of nothing? I, at least, have no trouble assessing these alternatives!

To a theist audience, this probably sounds like "game, set, match" - but it's clearly not. That final paragraph introduces what - to the critically minded - should be an unnecessary complication in Dr. Craig's argument. The appearance of the universe out of nothing - still unproven by science - would still be infinitely simpler that a universe that appears as an effect from a cause by another unexplained entity. He's ignored that the believer believes the same thing as the non-believer, except has to insert the eternal all-powerful being to make it all happen, and then claims that this eternal all-powerful being needs no explanation. This is also known as "special pleading". The non-believer would be right to counter with "if God is eternal, then that proves something can be eternal, thus the universe could be eternal, eliminating the necessity for God. Occam's Razor tells us this is the simpler and more likely answer". Game. Set. Match.

My impression so far, after having read the transcript a few times, and having written out this analysis, is that the argument from first cause to prove the existence of Yahweh flat doesn't work. You can argue that there is an uncaused cause effectively, but that's all. It doesn't have to have a specific set of characteristics as Dr. Craig claims, and his argument was not good in this regard. The volume or argument and evidence required to make Dr. Craig's scheme work make this line of "reasoning" fall way short of conjectural ... it's really just making stuff up.

What you miss when you read a transcript as opposed to viewing the video is the even, calm pace with which Dr. Craig delivers his arguments - he's professorial, good natured, and reasonably likeable. He also speaks clearly and almost completely without affectation - no "ummm" nor "uhhh" - no hesitation nor backtracking. I've not watched all his debates, but I'd venture to say that his demeanor and fluidity are always better than his opponent.

Next time - Dr. Craig's second argument - the complex order in the universe.