Craig –v- Hitchens: Third Thoughts – Deconstructing William

manicstreetpreacher’s second out of three posts (Part I / Part III) reassessing Christopher Hitchens’ debate against William Lane Craig discusses the “Rubik’s Cube factor” of Craig’s continually evolving God in the face of objections to design.

As always, Craig started off the debate by presenting his bog-standard five “arguments” that make it seem rational that God exists: origins of the universe, fine-tuning of the universe, existence of objective moral values, resurrection of Jesus Christ and personal experience of God.  In CraigWorld these are so amazingly irrefutable that he has used them in just about every debate for the past 15 years, despite their obvious weaknesses and being corrected ad infinitum by opponents and critics.

However, Craig will still say he has won the debate unless and until his arguments have been “torn down” and “a new set of arguments” put in their place.  Has it ever occurred to Craig that his “arguments” are not worth expending the effort?  After all, you can make a plausible case that the Earth is flat or that the Holocaust never happened if you limit the debate to a narrow set of facts and arguments.

Consider the case of Thomas Aikenhead, a teenage medical student who was the last person in Britain to be executed for blasphemy in Edinburgh, 1697 for scorning the Holy Trinity as “a rhapsody of feigned and ill-invented nonsense” and “not worthy of man’s refutation”.  Can’t Craig learn anything from this?

Why resort to “arguments” at all?

Atheists hardly ever raise the argument from hiddenness in a debate, but let’s face it: there is no empirical data whatsoever in support of the existence of God.  The fact that debates have to be held on this question at all has to say a great deal.  If God does exist, why does he choose to remain hidden?  Wouldn’t it just be great if we could see God creating new planets and species in front of eyes rather than just having to makes “inferences to the best explanation”?

Anselm’s Ontological Argument declares by fiat that existence is both a necessary and great-making property and therefore a maximally great being by its very definition must exist in reality.  Fine.  I could engage in the same smart-Alec sophistry by declaring that evidence, proof and certainty beyond reasonable doubt in the minds of all living creatures in the universe are great making properties and therefore by definition such a being does not exist.

Before turning to Craig’s “arguments”, I have previously posted a series of highly amusing and irreverent YouTube videos refuting Craig’s arguments.  Victor Stenger, American atheist physicist, presented plausible rational alternatives to Craig’s supernatural “God of the Gaps” reasoning during their 2003 debate the University of Hawaii.

Cosmological argument

Craig is being flagrantly dishonest by continuing to assert that the universe began to exist with the Big Bang singularity.  Although not on this occasion, Craig has quoted Stephen Hawking as writing, “Almost everyone now believes that the universe and time itself had a beginning at Big Bang.”   However, Hawking and his partner in physics, Roger Penrose, have recanted an earlier thesis when they said that the universe began with the Big Bang singularity.  But hacks like Craig and conservative Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza mine extracts from Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and The Nature of Space and Time to make it appear that Hawking still believes that the universe began with the Big Bang singularity.

Hawking acknowledges in Brief History, “So in the end our [Hawking and Penrose] work became generally accepted and nowadays nearly everyone assumes that the universe started with a Big Bang singularity.”  However, the very next sentence Hawking writes, “It is perhaps ironic that, having changed my mind, I am now trying to convince other physicists that there was in fact no singularity at the beginning of the universe – as we shall see later, it can disappear once quantum effects are taken into account (p. 50).”

In his latest book, The New Atheism,Victor Stenger clarifies:

D’Souza has glanced at A Brief History of Time, mining quotations that seem to confirm his preconceived ideas.  He quotes Hawking as saying, “There must have been a Big Bang singularity.”   D’Souza has lifted it out of context and given it precisely the opposite meaning of what Hawking intended…  Hawking was referring to the calculation he published with Penrose in 1970, and D’Souza cut off the quotation.  This act of editorship makes it look like Hawking is confirming that the Big Bang actually happened when in fact the full quote reveals just the opposite.

Craig’s assertion “out of nothing, nothing comes” is sheer folk wisdom.  We see apparently uncaused events all the time in radioactive decay.   Firstly, Craig ought to have looked at the smoke detectors in the Biola gym and considered when a particular Americium atom decays inside it, what caused one to decay rather than some other one.  The answer is nothing that we know. Secondly, even in a vacuum, virtual particles come into existence all the time and are measurable.  Appealing to “common sense” reasoning when it is at odds with modern physics contradicts is not intellectually honest.

“Is atheism true?”

Craig responds to Hitchens’ speech by saying that he has no positive arguments to show that “atheism is true”.  This is a misrepresentation of the atheist position and part of Craig’s debating trick to shift the burden of proof onto his opponent when he is the one advancing the positive claim.  Atheism is a term devised by the religious to label people who do not share their views.  It is the opinion that theism is untrue since there are no good reasons to believe that God exists.  There is no evidence for God and saying “God did it” in order to explain away the existence of the natural world is no explanation at all.  Craig is asking the impossible by demanding arguments or evidence that God does not exist.

Having loaded the burden of proof onto his opponent’s shoulders, Craig excused himself from having to provide anything like the extraordinary evidence that his extraordinary claims warrant.  He said that he was arguing for the “best explanation of the data”.  But even if the debate were only about inference to the best explanation, Craig has still not provided anything like the level of proof required to discharge his claims.

Craig closed his first rebuttal by saying that all the evidence has been on his side.  He certainly presented reasons to believe, but that does not mean that they were any better than those for Russell’s teapot or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Subsequently, Craig showed that providing evidence against God is pointless, since far from “Christians being able to follow the evidence wherever it leads”, believers can move the characteristics of their God around like a Rubik’s Cube so that God confirms with the empirical data post hoc.  Craig’s responses to Hitchens’ objections to arguments from design proved this in spades.

Teleological argument

In his first rebuttal, Craig quotes Christian apologist Alvin Plantinga and portrays Hitchens’ belief in the scientific truth of evolution by natural selection as a faith-based commitment: atheists are ideologically committed to evolution since as an alternative to God it is the only game in town.  This is a gross misrepresentation.  Believing in evolution is not a faith claim at all, but accepting a coherent scientific hypothesis supported by masses of evidence and one that has survived sustained assaults by creationists.  Even if evolution had not been discovered, or indeed was untrue, this would still not provide one shred of evidence either for design or a designer.

After Hitchens in his opening speech rather beautifully recounted how he had the mitochondria trail of his African Homo sapiens ancestry traced with a DNA swab from his cheek by the National Geographic Genographic Project, Craig employed a ridiculous sound bite about the sheer “improbability” of evolution by natural selection.  This next clip is from a different event, but it is virtually identical to what he said at Biola.

There are two objections to a priori improbability of which Craig has no doubt been informed repeatedly.  Firstly, Craig’s obsession with low probability is irrelevant since improbable events happen every day.  If you crunch the numbers in relation to your own existence (i.e. the probability that a particular sperm united with a particular egg multiplied by the probability that your parents met, repeating the calculation back until the beginning of time), invariably you will get a fantastically low probability.

Secondly, what is the probability of the supernatural alternative?  What’s the probability that the universe is the product of a divine design?  What’s the probability that the laws of nature are violated?  It could be even lower.  And what empirical data do we have to make the calculation at all?  I have never heard an apologist answer these questions and Craig disappointed me yet again at Biola.

Then Craig moved onto Hitchens’ “98,000 Year Wait” Gambit claiming that God’s timing in bringing the Christian revelation to the largest number of people possible was perfect since only 2 percent of humans who have ever lived were born before the year 1AD.  The claim sounded highly dubious.  Sure enough, the report by the Population Reference Bureau to which Craig referred (download PDF) actually shows that at least 47 billion out of the estimated 106 billion people that have ever lived were born before 1AD. That’s about 43 percent, not 2 percent.  Craig may well have based his argument on this article by D’Souza:

I’m indebted to Erik Kreps of the Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.  An adept numbers guy, Kreps notes that it is not the number of years but the levels of human population that are the issue here.  The Population Reference Bureau estimates that the number of people who have ever been born is approximately 105 billion.  Of this number, about 2 percent were born before Christ came to earth.

“So in a sense,” Kreps notes, “God’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  If He’d come earlier in human history, how reliable would the records of his relationship with man be?  But He showed up just before the exponential explosion in the world’s population, so even though 98 percent of humanity’s timeline had passed, only 2 percent of humanity had previously been born, so 98 percent of us have walked the earth since the Redemption.”

Kreps/ D’Souza/ Craig either misread the chart thinking the number of 1,137,789,769 at “Births Between Benchmarks” for 8000BC represented the people born before 1AD or just divided 106 billion by 47 billion and thought the 2.25 meant 2.25 percent.  I just wonder how Craig’s God will be reinvented in the light of this correction.

Argument from fine tuning

This idea that the universe is fine-tuned for human life is an utter distortion of physics by apologists who have leaped on part of a scientific concept as supposed evidence for their God.

One look at the universe shows that it is anything but congenial for our kind of life.  The Earth is the one speck of dust that we know is capable of supporting life in a vast abyss of virtual nothingness. Our observations of the nearest solar systems and planets do not bode well for the prospect of having intelligent carbon-based neighbours.  Is that a universe that is friendly towards life?

The planetary version of the Anthropic Fine Tuning Principle makes even less sense.  Theists are basically saying, “Look how hostile the solar system is life.  If it wasn’t for the gravity of Jupiter sucking up all the space debris, we’d have a cataclysm of the kind that wiped out the dinosaurs every five minutes.  God must have placed Jupiter in the path of the asteroids when he was finally bothered to create beings who could worship him!”  What nonsense!

The Anthropic Cosmological Principle is like Darwinism.  It is an alternative to the design explanation, not a feature of it.  An all-powerful God would be capable of designing life to exist irrespective of the heat, cold, sunlight and asteroid conditions.  Indeed, he could design us to survive in a hard vacuum!

However, the inhabitants of CraigWorld see the vast emptiness of space and the sheer improbability of life and say, “Oh, it points to a designer God who created the universe with humans in mind!”  But theologians keep their children fed by constantly reinventing their God to conform to the empirical data.

Suppose we reverse the data and imagine a Star Trek-like universe where intelligent life is overwhelmingly probable and our extra-terrestrial neighbours visit us regularly (and not just long enough for a single frame blurry photo to be taken by someone driving a potato truck in Iowa).  The theologians would still say, “Oh, it points to a designer God who created the universe with humans in mind!”  The words, “cake”, “eat” and “have” spring to mind.

Hitchens argues that the failed galaxies and certain destruction of the Earth by the explosion of its own sun do not imply a benevolent designer.  Craig’s reply is that this does not disprove that they were designed, since manmade objects such as cars and houses are not built to last forever.  True, but this was never part of Hitchens’ argument.  However, you would be hard pressed to argue that this was all the result of an all-wise and all-loving designer who cared for his creations.

Finally, Craig says that this objection has no purchase on Christian theism, since for Christians; the end of life on Earth is the beginning of eternal life.   This is a ludicrous assertion that has no more substance than a child’s fairytale.  Craig offers no evidence for a soul separate from the physical body or the prospect of life after death, aside from ancient scriptures, which of course predicted the end would come 2,000 years ago (Matthew 16).

We are still waiting.  Perhaps it’s time to give up and move on, Doctor?  No, evidence is an occasional convenience in CraigWorld.  What matters is good ol’ fashioned faith, as my third and final post tomorrow will demonstrate to degree of probability beyond mere inference to the best explanation.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

25 Responses to “Craig –v- Hitchens: Third Thoughts – Deconstructing William”

  1. William Lane Craig –v- Christopher Hitchens: Second Thoughts « manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] « Bishop John Shelby Spong debates William Lane Craig on the resurrection Craig –v- Hitchens: Third Thoughts – Deconstructing William […]

  2. Martin Says:

    their obvious weaknesses and being corrected ad infinitum by opponents and critics.

    MSP, the arguments presented by Craig have been thorougly expanded in peer-reviewed literature. You can even read discussions of them for yourself in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. There you will find rebuttals and examinations of the controversies surrounding them, but no hand-waving away with extreme overconfidence, such as you display. I mean, quite simply, that the arguments are not obviously weak as you say. Again I reiterate my hypothesis that creationists and cheesy televangelists have lulled atheists into a false sense of overconfidence.

    We see apparently uncaused events all the time in radioactive decay.

    And this rebuttal is addressed here in the Stanford Encyclopedia, a peer-reviewed academic publication. The controversy is not so black and white as you think.

    This is a misrepresentation of the atheist position and part of Craig’s debating trick to shift the burden of proof onto his opponent when he is the one advancing the positive claim.

    This fallacy comes up so often in modern lay atheists that I despair it will ever be dropped. The burden of proof is on anyone making a knowledge claim. If Craig’s arguments are shown to be fallacious, then it does not follow that God does not exist because that would be argument from ignorance. At most agnosticism would follow from this. What I see atheists doing these days is dishonest: they clearly do not believe the Christian God exists from the way they speak, but as soon as they are asked to back up this claim (which does have a burden of proof), they retreat to agnosticism so they don’t have to bear the burden.

    Don’t take my word for it. The more philosophy you read the more you’ll see the fallaciousness of this reasoning. The debater must show that Craig’s arguments are wrong (which leads to agnosticism) and then must advance positive arguments showing that God does not exist (which leads to atheism). The question is “Does God Exist?” Yes or no? Not “Yes or I don’t know.”

    [Atheism] is the opinion that theism is untrue since there are no good reasons to believe that God exists.

    And there it is. Argument from ignorance: there are no good arguments for X, therefore X is untrue.

    This is a fallacy, and you would be creamed in a debate with any philosopher using this type of reasoning. This is why REAL atheist philosophers (Oppy, like I linked to before) advance positive arguments for atheism; they recognize that this must be done, or only agnosticism follows.

    Craig is asking the impossible by demanding arguments or evidence that God does not exist.

    Another fallacious atheist argument that won’t die. Watch me prove a negative: there are no square circles, there are no microbes with frontal cortexes, there are no married bachelors. You can read Richard Carrier dispelling this myth here and then using it to make an argument against Christianity by showing God to be logically incoherent. This is what atheist philosophers attempt to do, because they recognize that you must make positive arguments for atheism. Anything less is argument from ignorance.

    I was once confident in the future of atheism. The more I learn, the less confident I am of that.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Thank you for reading my piece and posting your comment, Martin.

      There are no good reasons to believe in Russell’s teapot and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Are you therefore withholding your scepticism in relation to their existence until your ignorance is satisfied when the evidence comes in?

      I have read Carrier’s article and his last two sentences are exactly the argument I have employed in my piece:

      Thus, the Christian hypothesis is either incoherent or unprovable, and in the one case it is necessarily false, while in the other it lacks justification, so we have no reason to believe it, any more than we have a reason to believe that there is a big green Martian on some planet in some corner of some universe. This is what it means to “prove a negative.”

      There are no good reasons to believe in the Christian God; therefore my atheism is entirely justified.

      But that is not the same as advancing positive arguments or evidence not to believe in God, which is what Craig demands. If you try to poke holes in the “evidence”, he re-invents his God – rather like a Rubik’s Cube you might say – to avoid the need for providing evidence.

      I am aware of disproving the Christian God by showing that its attributes are self-contradictory like a square circle. Victor Stenger presented four sets contradictory attributes in his first debate against WLC.

      My favourite was God being perfect and being a creator were logically incompatible since a perfect being is completely satisfied with itself and has no wants or needs, so if God has created the universe for a divine purpose, this implies that he wants something that he doesn’t have and is therefore impact.

      Craig didn’t go for it though. He re-invented his God so that the universe was created not for the benefit of the deity, but for the benefit of the creations in his boundless love. Right.

      I am aware of Craig’s objections to the smoke detectors emitting particles and virtual particles etc. We will never be able to recreate the exact conditions of the Big Bang in the lab, these are still two very important exception’s to Craig “intuitive” reasoning, which after all is based on centuries old Islamic theology, that tells us that the Earth is flat.

      And Craig is asserting that the Christian God (as opposed to Allah or Zeus) is the uncaused cause of the universe. This explains nothing. Imagine if Craig took this approach in relation to disease and earthquakes.

      Oh wait! People like Craig did take this approach for centuries until the real miracles of germ theory and seismology came along.

      While I do wonder why you visit atheist blogs if you are so despairing of the state of atheism, I hope you will at least stick around tomorrow for my third and final instalment of my second look at this debate examining the emotional blackmail factor of Dr Craig’s case for God: “Sleepless in Biola”.

      Thanks for following my blog. I value your input. 😮

      MSP

  3. Martin Says:

    There are no good reasons to believe in Russell’s teapot and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Are you therefore withholding your scepticism in relation to their existence until your ignorance is satisfied when the evidence comes in?

    If all there were were no good reasons to believe in these things, then I would at most be an agnostic on them.

    However, there are positive arguments for their non-existence which brings me to a-teapotism and a-FSMism. There have been no space missions to Mars, so Americans or Russians could not have put a teapot there; and matter does not organize itself into teapot shapes. So there are two positive arguments for the non-existence of the teapot. That is why both of us are a-teapotists, not just because there are no good reasons to think it’s there, but because there are positive arguments for it’s non-existence.

    There are no good reasons to believe in the Christian God; therefore my atheism is entirely justified.

    No good reasons to believe in the Christian God means agnosticism, as I said. To take this a step further and say that “the Christian God probably does not exist” is the fallacious argument from ignorance. You do claim atheism, not agnosticism, so regardless of how you define atheism I presume it is a stronger position than agnosticism.

    But failed Christian arguments do not in any way support a stronger position than agnosticism, no matter what.

    ABut that is not the same as advancing positive arguments or evidence not to believe in God, which is what Craig demands.

    You must. If you make a knowledge claim, you must bear your share of the burden of proof. There are no rules of logic that allow this sort of assymetric burden of proof that modern lay atheists propose.

    Does X exist?

    (a) Yes
    (b) No
    (c) I don’t know

    Positions A and B are making knowledge claims about the existence of X, and have a burden of proof. Position C does not make a knowledge claim and thus has no burden. Note that even weak levels of justification for positions A or B still require just as much burden of proof.

    It’s very dishonest to act like position B in word and action, but when asked to provide arguments in support of position B, to retreat to position C. It’s having your cake and eating it too.

    While I do wonder why you visit atheist blogs if you are so despairing of the state of atheism

    Philosophy interests me in general, and I used to term myself a “weak atheist” and probably would have agreed with everything on your blog at one point. 🙂 The more philosophy I learn, the more holes I see in “new atheist” reasoning. So I now hope to slap my fellow non-believers upside the head to get them to wake up and reason correctly, or watch Christianity make a HUGE comeback.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      OK, there are good reasons to believe that the Christian God does not exist because:

      1) We have never seen him/ her/ it in the metaphysical flesh.

      2) There are good reasons to believe that Jesus did not rise from the dead because resurrections go against all scientific knowledge and personal experience.

      3) There are good reasons to believe that Jesus was not divine because he said that he would return for the Second Coming within the lifetime of some of his followers (Matthew 16).

      We getting warmer now?

      MSP

  4. Martin Says:

    Now you are making a positive case. Good.

    The point I am trying to make is that Craig is absolutely 100% correct that his opponent has to show how his arguments fail, and then construct positive arguments for atheism in their place. The proposition that the Christian God probably does not exist has as much a burden of proof as the proposition that he does. Craig is an academic scholar who publishes in peer reviewed journals of philosophy; he’s not an idiot. I think your hatred of him is fogging your ability to reason correctly.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      We agree on thing at least – I do hate Craig and place him in the same category as Falwell and Haggard!

      However, I have never called him an idiot. I admit that Craig is an extremely clever and quick-thinking individual. But that does not make him correct, or even honest, in his arguments. I’m sure he could mount an effective argument that the Holocaust never happened which his Biola minions would lap up.

      I first saw a DVD of Craig’s debate at Liverpool University in 2007 against a professor of ecology (!) who did not know enough counter-apologetics to deal with him properly and played for the draw as opposed to the win. Common Sense Atheism Luke has posted a decent review of the event, but Craig walked all over his opponent.

      I thought Craig was smug, patronising, self-righteous and an all-round condescending bully. He also said that “an atheist cannot say that torturing babies for fun is wrong”. Disgusting. I am ashamed to have links to Liverpool Uni having heard those words uttered within its walls.

      So I will limit my attacks to the written medium. If I debated Craig live, I would probably end up throttling him.

      MSP

  5. Hansen Says:

    Martin, your entire argument is based on a complete misunderstanding of what atheists believe or what the words atheism and agnosticism mean. Now, you can be forgiven for the latter since those words are being used differently by different people. But if you want to argue against a position that certain people hold, you need to first grasp what that position is instead of just assuming you know.

    You strongly seem to suggest that atheists are making positive claims that need proofs. The vast majority of atheists do no such thing. We ask for good reasons to believe in God just like we ask for good reasons to believe anything else.

    Then you raise your arms in victory saying something to the effect of “Well, then you are not an atheist. You are an agnostic!” as if you have just proven something by applying another label onto us. Seriously, at best you have proven that your definition of the label atheist is not the same as ours. Big deal!

    Let’s look at your oversimplification of possible answers:

    Does X exist?

    (a) Yes
    (b) No
    (c) I don’t know

    Now, if you force me to choose between these answers, I have to choose either (b) or (c). But you completely miss that there are many more answers and that these answers represent a continuous range of probabilities from 100% certainty that the answer is (a) to 100% certainty that the answer is (b). And no, (c) is not the same is being 50% certain or uncertain!

  6. Martin Says:

    Hansen,

    you need to first grasp what that position is instead of just assuming you know.

    I used to term myself a “weak atheist” and at one time would have agreed 100% with everything MSP says here on his blog, so I’m well aware of the arguments you are about to make. The more philosophy you read, the more you’ll see the dishonesty of the modern “weak atheist” position. I don’t care how many lay atheists define it this way, professional atheist philosophers do not argue like this. This is telling. To me, this is sort of creationism in reverse. Armchair experts who think they know better than people who have devoted their entire academic lives to a subject.

    …you completely miss that there are many more answers and that these answers represent a continuous range of probabilities from 100% certainty that the answer is (a) to 100% certainty that the answer is (b).

    I did keep it simple by leaving out answers such as “don’t care” and “we can’t know” and others you may think of. As for certainty, I addressed that:

    Note that even weak levels of justification for positions A or B still require just as much burden of proof.

    Craig says in his articles that the position he defends in debates is “weak theism,” and he alludes to this all the time by saying “my arguments make God’s existence more probable than not.” He doesn’t present it as 100% proof.

    So the weak vs strong position is how strong you think your arguments are that supports the “yes” or “no” position, but they are still “yes” or “no” positions and thus both absolutely have a burden of proof because they are both knowledge claims.

    So if you term yourself a B, but with weak justification, then what are your positive arguments that support that position?

    • Hansen Says:

      It is talk like this that make me very sympathetic to Sam Harris’ reluctance to use the term atheist at all. By calling ourselves atheists, we make it seem like we are making positive claims about the world when we are not. Furthermore, because “theist” and “atheist” sound so similar, they suggest to many people that they are equally reasonable. It also allows for rhetorical tricks such as labeling some of the brutal, dictatorial regimes of the 20th century as “atheist regimes.”

      This kind of dishonest rhetoric sometimes tempt me to accept the label “agnostic” as you seem to define it. If I thought for a second that using the term agnostic would somehow burst the self-inflated bubble of importance that many theists seem to live in, I would go for it immediately. But I don’t believe it will. It will not take long before theists start using “agnostic” in the pejorative like they are already trying hard to make “secular” into a big scary word.

      Anyway, back to your question:

      So if you term yourself a B, but with weak justification, then what are your positive arguments that support that position?

      Sorry but I don’t accept the premise of your question. The default position is to be skeptic of any positive claim, to demand evidence, and if the evidence is not forthcoming, to reject the claim until further notice.

      • Martin Says:

        By calling ourselves atheists, we make it seem like we are making positive claims about the world when we are not.

        I can’t speak for everyone but in general it seems that “weak atheists” or “new atheists” or whatever you want to call them do indeed make positive claims about the Christian God.

        This is what I was saying. In action and deed they expose themselves as Christian God atheists; this is a positive claim, no two ways about it. But when asked to provide, they retreat to agnosticism: “oh well, we’re not making positive claims; we just think the Christian claims have failed so we remain skeptical.”

        So they say one thing, but act another way. Christian claims may fail, but then they say things like “imaginary sky fairy” and “superstitious bronze age book” and so forth. Clearly they don’t think the Christian God actually exists, regardless of how they define themselves.

        I’m sorry, but when you make assertions like this you have stepped into one huge pile of epistemological shit. You have now made a positive claim and you must provide arguments to back that up.

        Sorry but I don’t accept the premise of your question. The default position is to be skeptic of any positive claim, to demand evidence, and if the evidence is not forthcoming, to reject the claim until further notice.

        OK then, so you are really a C. Fine with me. But if you even slightly brush against position B, you gain a burden of proof. If you think that you can weakly assert position B because Christians have failed to provide evidence, then you are committing the appeal to ignorance fallacy.

    • Hansen Says:

      OK then, so you are really a C. Fine with me. But if you even slightly brush against position B, you gain a burden of proof. If you think that you can weakly assert position B because Christians have failed to provide evidence, then you are committing the appeal to ignorance fallacy.

      Wrong again! I weigh heavily towards position B on questions like “Does X exist?” no matter if replace X with God or Santa Claus or Pink Unicorns. And it doesn’t give me even the slightest burden of proof.

      • Martin Says:

        I weigh heavily towards position B on questions like “Does X exist?” no matter if replace X with God or Santa Claus or Pink Unicorns. And it doesn’t give me even the slightest burden of proof.

        Of course it does. You just don’t think about it because there aren’t large groups of people seriously asserting that Santa actually exists so you never really have to sit down and state your case.

        You take position B on Santa not as a default but because you have positive arguments for that position:

        1. Reindeer do not fly
        2. There is no solid land mass at the North Pole
        3. There is no large toy warehouse at the North Pole
        4. Eight hours is not enough time for Santa to deliver all the presents
        5. Etc.

        As I said, the person making a knowledge claim, even a negative one, has a burden of proof.

        Personally I don’t see what the problem is; if you don’t think the Christian God exists (even weakly), then state that as your position, call yourself an atheist, admit that you have a burden of proof, and make your positive case using the Problem of Evil, the argument from non-belief, or whatever you want. This is what professional atheologists do.

        Why lay atheists would want to shirk their epistemological duty is baffling to me.

    • Hansen Says:

      Why lay atheists would want to shirk their epistemological duty is baffling to me.

      But it’s quite easy to see why even professional theists want to dishonestly shift the burden of proof. They know themselves that their position is untenable. They need to assure the lay theist that “Yes, dear believer, it’s ok to believe fairy tales. It doesn’t make you deluded and indoctrinated. You are on at least as solid ground as those mean atheists.”

      • Martin Says:

        But it’s quite easy to see why even professional theists want to dishonestly shift the burden of proof.

        I don’t think you read a single thing I wrote.

    • Hansen Says:

      So they say one thing, but act another way. Christian claims may fail, but then they say things like “imaginary sky fairy” and “superstitious bronze age book” and so forth.

      I find this pretty telling. Are you seriously suggesting that by using those terms we are making positive claims?

      We are simply putting God and the Bible in their right places. They belong there until you provide evidence to the contrary.

      • Martin Says:

        Are you seriously suggesting that by using those terms we are making positive claims?

        If you use the term “imaginary” to refer to God, it’s clear you don’t think God exists. This is a knowledge claim. Burden of proof required.

    • Hansen Says:

      If you use the term “imaginary” to refer to God, it’s clear you don’t think God exists. This is a knowledge claim. Burden of proof required.

      When people claim knowledge resulting from a warm fuzzy feeling, or when people claim to “talk with God”, the word “imaginary” is an excellent, even objective description. No burden on proof on anyone else than those claiming this kind of ridiculous “knowledge”.

  7. Martin Says:

    MSP,

    He also said that “an atheist cannot say that torturing babies for fun is wrong”.

    I haven’t listened to this particular debate yet, but if it’s the same moral argument he always makes then he isn’t saying that a person cannot be moral without believing in God, but that without a transcendental anchor point there are no grounds for objective morality.

    I.e., if everyone were brainwashed to believe that torturing babies was OK, we probably would all agree (Christians and atheists alike) that torturing babies would still be wrong. But why? The answer isn’t as simple as you think.

    I do hate Craig and place him in the same category as Falwell and Haggard!

    Yep. A very, very bad position to take. A recent comment on Luke’s blog sums up my thoughts perfectly: “I think the really poisoinous factor that keeps making atheists so poorly prepared (in both argumentation and debate strategy) is arrogance. They equate God belief with yokels who crowd churches every Sunday and think, ‘Sure, I’ll study up on on modern theology, right after after I complete my research on imaginary fabrics!! Boo -ya!’ And so they stroll into debates with a little ‘But who made God?’ and a ‘People just believe God because they were raised to,’ and quite justly get creamed.

    Snap out of it, man!

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Martin

      If I had been in the live audience that night, I would have told Craig (apart from how disgusted I was with his comment) that I can say that torturing a baby is wrong because objectively it causes needless pain and suffering, I can identify with that child’s plight, I would not want the same thing done to me and I would hope that one of my fellow humans would ease help my suffering if I were that child.

      That’s more than Craig’s imaginary sky father can be bothered to do.

      And have you read Craig’s appalling views of the horrors of the Old Testament? It appears that God can’t make his mind up about whether torturing babies for fun is wrong.

      No, I won’t snap out of my hatred of people like Craig. Don’t fall into the simplistic Star Wars-esque philosophy of “giving in to hate” and “turning to the Dark Side”. Hatred can be a very useful and positive thing if you use it properly.

      We have to hate hatred and be intolerant of intolerance.

      MSP

  8. Craig –v- Hitchens: Fourth Thoughts – Sleepless in Biola « manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] manicstreetpreacher …religion, politics, philosophy, history, debate… « Craig –v- Hitchens: Third Thoughts – Deconstructing William […]

  9. Martin Says:

    I can say that torturing a baby is wrong because objectively it causes needless pain and suffering

    So it sounds like you are advocating consequentialism, the form of ethics that states that an action is moral if it leads to happiness instead of suffering. But it’s easy to show situations where this fails. If the Nazis had won WWII and brainwashed everyone else, you would have a situation where the entire population of the earth, suffering with great fear of the evil Jews, would be very happy to see them baking in the ovens. A great amount of happiness at the expense of a little bit of suffering.

    Yet even in this case you and I would still agree that the Holocaust is wrong.

    And I’m sure you could think of answers to that objection.

    Which just brings me to my original point: the answer is not as simple as you seem to think. And in a debate, even a written one, Craig would Socratic-methodize you right into a contradiction.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Thanks for the links, Martin. Interesting stuff.

      Yes, I am a consequentialist. But your scenario of the Jews being wiped out because it would ensure the happiness of the rest of the world’s population is sheer Benthamite twaddle! I already said that I draw the line at whether the happiness of one person or group comes at the price of the misery of another.

      Morality and truth are complicated. Perhaps it would be wonderful if there was an absolute / objective moral standard out there somewhere in the universe. But I simply do not see any evidence for it.

      Let’s say that Craig’s Nazi victory scenario was a reality and poor old God was up in his heavens weeping his metaphysical eyes out. Would God’s opinion make the slightest bit of difference to what was happening on the ground?

      No.

    • chickchoke Says:

      Common problem with your reasoning Martin… If the Nazis killed everyone else who disagreed with them, MSP’s argument that their actions were objectively wrong would hold because their happiness came from needless suffering. Once all disagreeing people are dead, only then would the moral landscape shift. Indeed, there would be no need for a distinction between morality and immorality if everyone was in complete ideological / philosophical agreement. The uniqueness of people is what makes the moral debate interesting. A belief in God does not contribute anything to the debate.

  10. Christopher Hitchens Debate Reviews: The Not So Good | manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] Biola University, Los Angeles, 4 April 2009 (Video / MSP review / MSP review one year on in three parts).  This one hurt quite a lot.  While not the massacre that the first blog reports had us […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: